Plenty of positives for Town

IN what was by far the toughest of their pre-season games Joe Royle's Blues showed there is plenty to be optimistic about when things get going for real in a week's time, writes Derek Davis.

IN what was by far the toughest of their pre-season games Joe Royle's Blues showed there is plenty to be optimistic about when things get going for real in a week's time, writes Derek Davis.

Pablo Counago hit what looked to be the winner before the 'Manchester United of Bulgaria' struck a late leveller in a game Town deserved to win.

The three new signings look fantastic acquisitions. The 4-3-3 system has the potential to be exciting and fruitful, although the attacking trio did not have their usual pizzazz after scoring so easily in the previous five games against lesser opposition.

And at long last a defence that looks solid and dependable.

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Although a friendly, the game had the feel of the first leg of a tight European competition match with the home side doing most of the attacking against a well-organised visiting defence who were dangerous on the break.

Almost 10,000 Town fans saw the new-look Town at Portman Road for the first time with new signing from Wimbledon Kelvin Davis having little to do in goal and he could do nothing to prevent the Bulgarians' cracking equaliser from Temile Omonigho.

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Andy Marshall may be a little rueful that the defensive four looked so much more composed and tight with the introduction of Drissa Diallo.

Richard Naylor is still learning the centre-half role but is making great strides and his heading, tackling and positional play were excellent. They are helped enormously by the commanding presence of George Santos sitting just in front of them in a three-man midfield.

With Chris Makin failing to recover from an injury picked up in training, Matt Richards resumed his left-back role and although still a little behind the others in terms of readiness showed great energy, defending solidly and joining in the attacks.

On the other flank Fabian Wilnis also combined good defensive work with forward foraging, although he did get caught out once with a ball behind him.

Jim Magilton bossed the midfield and was involved in everything, taking corners and free-kicks and having goes on goal as he showed his determination to lead by example.

The system allows Tommy Miller more opportunity to get into the box and he took full advantage supporting the lively front three.

Marcus Bent got through a terrific amount of work but he and Darren Bent will be disappointed not to extend their goal tally. Perhaps they are saving them for next week.

Counago's goal was brilliantly taken; after controlling a Miller corner on his chest he made space for himself on the six-yard line before driving his right-footed angled shot past Dimitar Ivankov in the 69th minute.

The defensive good work was spoiled by the failure to pick up Nigerian Omonigho who hit a terrific equaliser 10 minutes from time with a superbly executed volley on the run from 25 yards.

Darren Bent burst clear but the keeper's legs blocked his shot after great skill by Richards, who turned inside his marker before delivering a superb 50-yard cross-field ball for Bent to run on to.

Ivankov saved Sofia again when Counago sprinted behind the defence and tried to dink the ball over keeper with the outside of his boot but his effort was clawed away.

Skipper Magilton found space magnificently to meet a wonderful deep angled cross by Santos but the Town skipper somehow steered his header wide. The Irishman had earlier tried to chip the wandering keeper from outside the area but was off target.

Russian defender Vladimir Gerasimov was fortunate the referee was unsighted as he handled a ball from Miller in the area meant for Magilton.

Flame-haired Bulgarian international Elin Topuzakov also appeared to handle when Miller tried to find Counago but again Levski got away with it and their defence held firm until the break in an entertaining enough 45 minutes.

Nren Demba tried his luck from 35 yards but went wide then Davis did enough to prevent Bulgarian international Georgi Chilikov from flicking in an Andonov cross and Naylor did likewise as the Sofia side opened up a little.

Brazilian Lucio Wagner felt the full force of a Magilton challenge as the tempo of the game increased second half.

Marcus Bent had a back header cleared off the line by Gerasimov from a Magilton corner won by Santos.

Bent blazed over when a driven Wilnis cross was cleared to him and Santos was laid flat out by Ivankov as he tried to get to a Magilton free-kick.

Ipswich Town: Davis, Wilnis, Richards, Naylor, Diallo, Santos (Wright, 87) Magilton, Miller, Counago, M Bent and D Bent. Substitutes not used: Price, Reuser, Bowditch, Westlake and Collins.

Levski Sofia: Ivankov Stoyanov, Stankov, Topuzakov, Wagner (Telkiyski, 88) Gerasimov, Simonovic (Bukarev, 87) Andonov (Angelov, 84) Demba, Chilikov (Kolev, 64) and Omonigho. Substitutes not used: Petkov.

Referee: Keith Hill (Herts) Attendance: 9,360

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