Owls caught out by storming Town start

EVERYTHING has been geared to getting off to a storming start and explosive Ipswich did just that against a shockingly bad Sheffield Wednesday side.Manager Jim Magilton got his Town players back almost three weeks before any of their Championship rivals for pre-season training.

By Derek Davis

EVERYTHING has been geared to getting off to a storming start and explosive Ipswich did just that against a shockingly bad Sheffield Wednesday side.

Manager Jim Magilton got his Town players back almost three weeks before any of their Championship rivals for pre-season training.

They train in the afternoons, instead of the traditional morning sessions to ensure the players' body clock is right and, of course, the jellybeans have been the added secret ingredient.

Magilton's plan was to make sure the Blues hit the ground running and started the new season as they ended the last one, on a high and re-establishing momentum.

Of course no one could quite have expected that it would take them just 38 seconds to get the breakthrough, with summer signing Pablo Counago hauled down by Owls skipper Lee Bullen.

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Alan Lee confidently stepped up to send Lee Grant the wrong way and any doubts about his mental state of health after a road accident on Tuesday were swiftly dispelled.

It takes bottle to take a penalty at any time and getting in ahead of Mr 100% spot-kick taker Tommy Miller takes supreme belief.

Things got even better when Counago played a ball down the right channel for Lee, who hit a perfect deep cross for Gary Roberts to meet with the sweetest of side-foot volleys, with the left peg, that rocketed past ex-Derby keeper Grant.

Town were out of sight by the 25th minute. Counago was again the architect, winning the ball in his own half before picking out Lee, who hit the ball first time on the half-volley from 20 yards. Grant will be embarrassed at not stopping the shot, as wicked as it was.

The Spaniard, making his 100th league appearance for Ipswich, got the goal he richly deserved on the hour when he turned in a low Jon Walters cross eight yards out, totally unmarked, with Wednesday all over the place.

It was Counago's fourth goal in his last three Portman Road appearances after he scored in the 5-1 romp over Crewe in his last home game before leaving for Malaga two years ago and bagged a double in the friendly win over Panathinaikos eight days ago.

This was the Spaniard at his most enthusiastic, battling for the ball, holding off defenders with his back to goal so he can bring others into play and picking out inch perfect passes.

He and Lee already look as if they have established a good understanding, and with Walters looking impressive coming in from the right flank this looks a formidable attack.

Roberts, goal aside, did not have the most influential of games, although Miller, storming through the middle, might have had a goal on his return to Ipswich.

Miller and Owen Garvan had the freedom of the central midfield, with the Irishman finding time to get out of any trouble they were in with some crisp passing and sharp movement.

It has to be said that it is unlikely Town will come across such generous opponents too often again this season, but that should not detract from the sparkling all-round display.

Alex Bruce, perhaps stung by the jibes from Francis Jeffers, whether in jest or not, was in fine form and with Jason De Vos he allowed very little to penetrate the Blues' defence, which meant debut-making goalkeeper Neil Alexander had little to do until late in the game.

Jeffers was jeered all afternoon, with his alleged avarice used in a chant that also suggested he was born out of wedlock.

His failure to get fixed up elsewhere after rejecting Town's offer has meant his pre-season training has clearly suffered and he looked off the pace - totally the opposite to Counago, who came instead for far less money.

The only black mark for Town came at the death when they allowed a deep cross from Marcus Tudgay to come goalwards, and even though Bruce did well to clear off the line, substitute Leon Clarke was open to knock in the rebound. “A joke goal,” was how Magilton later described it.

But while it is something for the Blues to work on, it would be churlish to worry about that too much.

Magilton was understandably delighted to get an early win under his belt after having to wait five games before a victory at the start of last season.

He said: “I asked for a quick start and we certainly got that. For the first half-hour we looked fitter, sharper and keener and we did the basics better than they did.

“We were prepared and ready and the start was important. Last year we started well but didn't get a foothold in the game and it came back to bite us, this time we got the good start.

“We took our chances and kept our shape right up until the last minute so it is a better start than last year and now we have to build on that.”

It was a perfect start for Magilton and chairman David Sheepshanks and Ipswich will hope the result, and the manner of the win, will encourage the stay-away fans to return after this match saw the lowest crowd for a first home game of the season in the six years since the new stands were built.

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