Reality check for Town

AS reality checks go this one has come at a good time for Ipswich Town.Losing at Watford is not a particularly damaging result, and if anything it gives the Blues a gauge of how far they still have to go.

By Derek Davis

AS reality checks go this one has come at a good time for Ipswich Town.

Losing at Watford is not a particularly damaging result, and if anything it gives the Blues a gauge of how far they still have to go.

No one could have seriously taken any notice of Town being joint top of the Championship table before Saturday's game, on a day which saw the league have three leaders in as many hours, including the Hornets, who took the spot from Bristol City, before Coventry finally regained it.

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Town fans could be rightly encouraged by a three-match unbeaten run to start the season, coupled with four without loss at the end of last season, and no doubt will be confident they can bounce back from this set-back.

Certainly the forthcoming two-week break is timely from Town's point of view. Alan Lee for one will be grateful for the break after limping off with a hamstring strain at Vicarage Road.

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The Blues will need him to be back to his best for the trip to West Brom, just as they will need many other players to find their form after this below-par showing.

The Hornets' life president Sir Elton John was in the main stand as Watford hit the high notes. The musician, who once did a special rendition of one of his hits to the Town squad while they were on pre-season tour in Estonia, was taking time out from his show The Red Piano to see his club.

He picked a good game to see from a Watford perspective as they flew at Ipswich with their customary fast tempo, direct and powerful approach - a sort of Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting approach. The Blues by contrast were like a Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word-type ballad.

They were caught out after just six minutes when a quick throw-in was knocked forward by Jordan Stewart to Lee Williamson, who had got behind the Blues defence. He laid the ball back for an unmarked Darius Henderson, whose shot went under keeper Neil Alexander's body.

Watford pretty much laid siege to the Town goal for the rest of the half as they dominated midfield and only stoic work from Town's defence, mainly Alex Bruce and Dan Harding, denied Henderson and the lively Marlon King.

David Wright took a while before he got to grips with Jobi McAnuff, not helped by the out-of-sorts Gary Roberts, who had switched flanks with Jon Walters who went over on the right.

Owen Garvan was being shrugged off the ball too easily and while Tommy Miller was trying to close down, Gavin Mahon and Williamson were in control.

Even when Town were more upbeat in the second half they never really threatened. Mart Poom, who came within hours of signing for Town in 2001 before breaking a finger, had nothing of consequence to do in the Watford goal all afternoon, with Town's best effort sailing high and wide.

Watford always looked the more dangerous and Jason De Vos and Bruce were doing a sterling job in the centre of defence while Alexander was making some sharp saves.

Billy Clarke went on for Lee, whose hamstring finally gave out on the hour, while Jaime Peters replaced the ineffective Roberts, but their bright enthusiasm made little impression on the sturdy Danny Shittu and co.

Sylvain Legwinski was also on the bench after rushing back from France where he had been to the funeral of a 38-year-old close friend, and perhaps that was a factor in why he was not used while Ipswich were clearly struggling.

Town were undone again 15 minutes from time when Tommy Smith cut inside from the right flank and let fly, left-footed, from almost 30 yards and drilled his shot home for a wonder goal.

That knocked the stuffing out of the Blues and the 2,200 travelling Town fans.

The scenes at the end could not have been more different from the ones that greeted the final whistle the last time these two sides met.

Back in February Town went down by a single goal to Premiership side Watford in the FA Cup after losing the influential George O'Callaghan to a wrongful red card after he had helped the Blues outplay the Hornets.

This times Town were outplayed, out-thought and out-fought by a side that had lost their past two matches.

Substitute Nathan Ellington, a £3.25m record signing last Wednesday, highlighted the difference in spending power between the sides and hit a post with a 20-yard drive after a delightful shimmy.

Ellington was denied a debut goal by Bruce, who made a superb tackle in the area after the striker had played a one-two with King and shaped to shoot.

Town had a half-hearted shout for a penalty when Garvan appeared to be obstructed in the box but never seriously troubled Watford and only Pablo Counago showed much fight - usually when tussling with his marker Jay DeMerit, but the niggle was sensibly sorted out by referee Mike Jones.

It is back to the drawing board for Jim Magilton, who directed operations from the touchline in the second instead of staying in the stand as he usually does this season. He won't let the team dwell on the defeat but instead learn lessons from the defeat by a better side and focus on trying to win the next game.

Reality has bitten but that should not stop Town from trying to better themselves.

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