Make or break time for Town

THE next few weeks will be a make or break period for Ipswich Town as supporters make up their minds whether or not to renew their season-tickets to enable manager Joe Royle to start his rebuilding plans for next season.

THE next few weeks will be a make or break period for Ipswich Town as supporters make up their minds whether or not to renew their season-tickets to enable manager Joe Royle to start his rebuilding plans for next season.

Royle has been well aware all along that he needs to strengthen his goalkeeping position. He brought in Paul Gerrard on loan for five matches in the autumn but since then his hands have been tied by the restrictions imposed by the club going into administration.

Andy Marshall's errors this season have proved costly. Once again on Saturday his misjudgement of a low cross from David Connolly gifted a 28th minute goal to formidable striker Neil Shipperley.

Wimbledon could hardly believe their good fortune because they had been comprehensively outplayed before that although the match had an end-of-season feel to it from the outset.

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A catalogue of early missed chances was frustrating enough. After the interval attack-minded Ipswich were repeatedly caught on the break and ended up licking their wounds after a 5-1 mauling.

It was the worst result imaginable at a time when it is so important that the club retains the backing of the fans in these hard times.

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Many made their feelings known and left in disgust. Others stayed to give Royle and his players, Matt Holland in particular, an astonishingly warm ovation.

When it comes to the "leap of faith" to which chairman David Sheepshanks has referred, it remains to be seen how many will be writing cheques to secure their full benefits before deadline day at the end of May.

Royle's appointment has been a resounding success. He will have been bitterly disappointed at the embarrassing end to the home campaign because I am sure he hoped to introduce teenagers Dean Bowditch, Aiden Collins and Matt Bloomfield from off the bench. It would have been unfair to do so.

It could have been so different. Ipswich could have been four up at the interval with sharper finishing or had they faced a lesser goalkeeper than Kelvin Davis, perhaps the best shot stopper in the Nationwide League.

Ipswich won four corners in the opening 11 minutes before carving out a series of great chances that all went to waste.

Marcus Bent headed wide from a right-wing corner from Jim Magilton who might have had a hat-trick himself in what may have been his farewell appearance at Portman Road.

In the 15th minute Matt Richards, always prepared to chase seeming lost causes, kept the ball in play and crossed low for Magilton to fire over the bar.

Three minutes later Magilton's aim was again too high while in the 20th minute Davis dived to his right to save from Marcus Bent after breathtaking build-up between Magilton and Pablo Counago.

Wimbledon only hinted at being a threat until their confidence was boosted by a soft goal from Shipperley courtesy of Marshall.

Had Ipswich struck back quickly, as they should have done, there might have been celebrations rather than tales of woe. Fabian Wilnis pulled the ball back from the right but Magilton blazed over the top from 10 yards. The Irishman was trying so hard to end the home programme in a blaze of glory.

In the 37th minute Davis dived full length to turn a free-kick from Holland round a post, Magilton headed another chance wide and Richards fired past the far post after latching onto a sensational back-heel from Counago that opened up the defence. Davis did well to narrow the angle.

The suspect Ipswich defence had an escape a couple of minutes before the interval when Shipperley headed against the bar. There was total confusion between Marshall and Chris Makin as they tried to deal with Connolly's shot from the rebound. This enabled Connolly to have another attempt which was charged down by Thomas Gaardsoe.

Wimbledon manager Stuart Murdoch, a former primary school head teacher in Ipswich, introduced two of his more experienced midfield players for the second-half. Norwegian international Trond Andersen returned after injury and Adam Nowland after serving a one-match ban. They certainly tightened it up for the Dons.

On the hour Nowland scored after a one-two with Connolly. The North Stand became restless and started their own brand of entertainment by chanting the names of favourite players who have been forced to leave the club to help ease the financial crisis. Hreidarsson, Clapham and Stewart all featured.

In the 79th minute Darren Bent headed home from Magilton's cross from the left. Bent had taken over from Wilnis in the 56th minute when Ipswich changed their formation.

The glimmer of hope was soon extinguished. Connolly struck twice in the space of three minutes as the Ipswich defence creaked against sharp breakaway raids. The first was set up by Shipperley and the second by Nowland.

Alex Tapp made it five from Connolly's pass a couple of minutes from the end. An extra five minutes, largely because of injury to referee Mark Warren after 76 minutes, was the last thing Ipswich fans wanted. The final whistle to put them out of their misery was far more welcome.

When will Ipswich next have crowds of 29,503, 29,396 and 25,564 in successive League matches? It all depends on how supporters view the future and whether they are prepared to give the club another chance.

Maybe the Ipswich Borough Council have a part to play here as landlords. It is in the interests of every business in the region to have a thriving football club.

As far as I am concerned it was sad that my final home match report in the East Anglian Daily Times before my retirement makes such unhappy reading.

Maybe the club can enable me to sign off finally on a winning note at Derby County on Sunday.

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