Royle admits the best side won

JOE Royle praised his players and the magnificent Ipswich fans but admitted they were second best on the night, writes Derek Davis.The Blues' valiant battle to return to the Premiership failed at an emotional Upton Park last night.

JOE Royle praised his players and the magnificent Ipswich fans but admitted they were second best on the night, writes Derek Davis.

The Blues' valiant battle to return to the Premiership failed at an emotional Upton Park last night.

Goals from Matthew Etherington and Christian Dailly destroyed the dream as they overcame Ipswich's first-leg single-goal lead and set up a final with Crystal Palace at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium at the end of May.

Either side of the goals was a brilliant chance missed by Darren Bent and Ian Westlake hit the woodwork in the last minute while Town were denied a penalty when Christian Dailly pulled down Matt Elliott.


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But Royle refused to look for excuses. He said: "That would be too easy. West Ham deserved to win and deserve to be in the final.

"Too many of our players froze. We were honest but didn't play and going forward we didn't look anything like our best.

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"We could have scored the first goal which might have made a difference and we might have scored at the end. We could have had a penalty but it is all ifs and buts.

"They had three £1m strikers up front while we have a side of loans, free signings and young boys and over a season I can't fault them.

"I couldn't argue with the result on the night."

Although heavily outnumbered, more than 5,000 Town fans made themselves heard and Royle was delighted with their effort.

He said: "The fans were outstanding, they have been all season, it is just a pity we could not give them the performance they deserved."

Never a fan of the play-offs, Royle admitted he thought Sunderland should have gone up by right and hated seeing Ipswich go out in the semi-finals.

He said: "I would rather have finished seventh. Sunderland should have gone up, they were the third best in the league."

Richard Naylor was pressed into a defence that Royle described as heroes but the pain of failure was etched on his face.

He said: "It goes to show what a fine line there is between success and failure. If Westlake's shot had been two inches to the right it would have gone in and things might have been so different.

"As it is the whole thing is a real anti-climax and massive disappointment."

Alan Pardew praised Ipswich's spirit and admitted he felt concerned in a 10-minute period before half-time.

He said: "We played terrifically well and played the sort of football I'm about. We were fast, we got the ball into the box, and playing the game the right way..

"Matthew Etherington had to be patient as he was well marked but when he got his chance he produced a piece of absolute Premiership quality.

"In the first half after starting so well we just lost belief for the last 10 minutes or so and Ipswich got their diamond going in our midfield and we started to have problems."

The former Reading boss, who has tasted failure in a play-off final, empathised with Royle and Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy.

He said: "It is a horrible way to end you season and I feel for Joe and Mick; both of those clubs would have graced the final."

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