Promotion prize slipping away

THE prize of a play-off place is slipping further away from Ipswich's Town's grasp and two more points were dropped against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park last night.

THE prize of a play-off place is slipping further away from Ipswich's Town's grasp and two more points were dropped against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park last night.

Now Joe Royle's men need a sprint finish to the season if they are to make up the leeway on Wolves, the club currently in the top six who appear to be the most vulnerable.

Palace had by far the better of the first half with a 19th-minute goal from Andy Johnson to show for their supremacy.

Ipswich developed into the superior side after the interval as Palace wilted badly. The Town equaliser came from a glorious header by Marcus Bent in the 67th minute direct from a corner taken by Jim Magilton, who ruled the roost in midfield in the later stages.

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Ipswich could easily have grabbed a winner in the last minute. Substitute Gary Borrowdale fouled Fabian Wilnis on the edge of the penalty area on the Ipswich right. Martijn Reuser pinpointed his free-kick directly to Richard Naylor, whose glancing header flew across goal and agonisingly past the far post.

In injury time Ipswich had one last chance when awarded a free-kick some 25 yards out in ideal Reuser territory. The Dutchman's shot was blocked by the wall.

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Palace had an excellent goalkeeper in Cedric Berthelin, who prevented Ipswich from going ahead with a close-range header from Matt Holland in the 11th minute. It would have been fitting if Holland, restored to a role in central midfield, had scored on his 250th successive league match for Town.

There has been talk of Naylor playing a central defensive role for several weeks now. Joe Royle put the plan into practice last night and Naylor settled in as though he had been doing the job for years.

The gamble on the fitness of Darren Ambrose backfired which meant another chance for Matt Richards down the left from the 23rd minute.

Palace tended to be quicker on the ball before the interval with youngsters Tommy Black on the right and Julian Gray on the left both looking good for the future.

It was Ipswich who grew in stature and produced some of the best football of the match as they battled to save the game.

Ipswich played in an all-white strip to avoid a colour clash. One hoped they would be more like Real Madrid than Swansea. Unfortunately, that was not the case during a faltering first half although Town were starting to look a polished outfit by the end apart from some wayward finishing.

In the fourth minute Thomas Gaardsoe brought down Johnson in a central area just outside the box and Granville fired over the bar.

Gaardsoe was forced to concede a corner after Johnson made a swift break down the right but Naylor and Marcus Bent were on hand to clear Derry's flag-kick.

Ipswich produced a great move in the 11th minute. Magilton sent Darren Bent down the right and he cut in to produce a fierce shot that Berthelin turned for a corner.

Magilton's flag-kick was headed on by Naylor at the near post. Up went Holland for a close-range header that looked a goal all the way until Berthelin produced an acrobatic save to touch the ball over the bar.

Palace almost surprised Ipswich on the break. Butterfield carried the ball forward, rounded Marshall, and then pulled it back from the by-line on the left. Makin read the danger well and saved the day with a timely interception.

Naylor rose well to head clear a curling free-kick from Derry after a foul by Wilnis near the touchline. The match was being fought at a fierce pace.

Naylor then dealt with a cross from Black but Ipswich fell behind in the 19th minute. A poor kick by Marshall set Palace on the attack.

Black crossed from the right for Johnson to head home, the ball looping over Marshall who was well off his line.

Ipswich were rattled by the setback with Johnson speeding down the left and knocking a dangerous ball across the face of the Ipswich goal.

Ipswich tried Richards on the left in place of Ambrose, who was clearly still short of fitness after the mauling he received from Fleming in the local derby at Norwich.

Marshall dived to cut out a cross from Gray then the match went through a quiet spell until Darren Bent made ground on the right. Magilton's attempted chip cross was held by Berthelin high above his head.

Whelan let fly with a long shot that was well wide but Ipswich were still very much in the game. Holland supplied Wilnis with a good ball down the right but the Dutchman, after cutting in, crossed way behind his strikeforce.

Marshall saved Ipswich from falling further behind in the 37th minute. Gray made a spectacular run down the left and found Johnson, whose cross met Derry with only Marshall to beat from close range. The Ipswich keeper spread himself and did exceptionally well to block the shot.

Four minutes before the interval a run by Richards inspired an Ipswich attack involving Magilton and Makin that earned a corner. Gaardsoe met Makin's flag-kick but headed high over the bar.

Marshall held a deep cross from Butterfield after a Palace attack involving at least seven of their players. Then Black fired over from long range after a move involving Johnson and Whelan.

In the 53rd minute Darren Bent beat the offside trap and crossed for Marcus Bent, whose close-range shot was closed down by Powell. A minute later Ipswich increased their attacking options by introducing Counago after his four-match ban.

After 61 minutes Palace made a double substitution. Before their new formation had settled down Darren Bent had appeared on the left to knock the ball in front of Marcus Bent six yards out. The experienced Town striker, a former Palace player, could make no contact.

Ipswich were now enjoying the greater possession and, as at Wolves last week, were making a positive comeback.

Most of their approach work seemed to involve Magilton and the equaliser came in the 67th minute.

Ipswich had forced a corner when Powell deflected a goalbound volley from Holland over the bar. Magilton's well-flighted flag-kick from the right was headed powerfully home by Marcus Bent. It was a magnificent finish.

Palace could have fallen behind when Counago, from an acute angle, hoisted his shot over the bar.

Palace were forced to rely on break football but went close when Freedman chipped the ball to the far post and Johnson's angled header grazed the top of the crossbar and flew over. Then Johnson put a low drive across the Ipswich six-yard box.

Ipswich brought on Reuser for Darren Bent and five minutes from the end he crossed for Wright to knock the ball back into Marcus Bent's path on the edge of the penalty area. The finish ended over the bar.

Then came Borrowdale's foul which gave Ipswich their last real chance and it was so unfortunate for Naylor not to put his name on the scoresheet in his first full game as a central defender.

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