Royle challenges his strikers

"SHOW me you want to play with Darren Bent."That is the challenge set down by Blues boss Joe Royle to his shot-shy strikers as they step up their pre-season campaign, writes Derek Davis.

"SHOW me you want to play with Darren Bent."

That is the challenge set down by Blues boss Joe Royle to his shot-shy strikers as they step up their pre-season campaign, writes Derek Davis.

Royle threw down the gauntlet after two unimpressive performances up front so far in games, and little evidence in training that players want to start.

Only lively Darren Bent has shown his worth so far and Royle has made it clear the position next to him is still wide open.

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Richard Naylor will partner Bent against Aab Aalborg tomorrow night but the longest-serving Town player is also pencilled in for a place in the back four, although Drissa Diallo will play alongside Jason De Vos in the Danish game.

Royle said: "My main concern at the moment is, Darren apart, our form up front. Shefki Kuqi, Pablo Counago and Dean Bowditch have not looked as if they are busting a gut to play up front with him. They may disagree, but not from what I have seen.

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"The only time we looked like scoring goals was when Darren came on, which is completely different to this stage last year when we were scoring freely.

"That said, there are only two games gone so there is no great alarm, but if I could get another front man in I would."

Spaniard Counago is the least likely to grab a starting spot after a laconic two showings and a 'manana' type attitude in training.

The club's highest paid player does not look happy and Royle has made it clear since the end of last season he would listen to offers for the former Celta Vigo striker.

His going would allow Royle to bring in a new forward to fire up the current crop of misfiring hit-men. "We still have a little bit of housekeeping, so if we want to bring someone in we have to move someone out. Pablo's situation is the most obvious.

"As it stands at the moment we can't keep him as he represents three players in terms of budget. He knows the situation so we will have to wait and see what happens."

Kuqi has worked hard as usual up front but his failure to mark at set pieces means he still needs to do a lot of work.

Bowditch has not shown anything like the form which saw him burst on to the scene so spectacularly last season – but time is on his side.

Royle said: "Dean is the least of my concerns. He is only young and has come a long way in a short time. If you are going to have a lean spell this is the time to do it. He will come good, I have a lot of faith in him.

"I'm more concerned that the two senior strikers, Shefki and Pablo, have not even threatened goal."

Counago did have a shot which deflected past Mark Tyler at Peterborough but did not get a sniff in the goal-less draw against Randers FC on Tuesday night.

It is looking unlikely that Mark Rivers will be offered a contract although he may get a last chance to stand out as a substitute against Aalborg.

Royle admitted he had not made his mind up yet, or even talked terms, but even allowing for a lack of fitness the former Crewe and Norwich winger has not yet made his mark.

He said: "We have one more game left and we will take it from there."

Georges Santos and Matt Richards sat out training at Varub FB, a small club outside Randers, last night with the Frenchman ruled out of the next game with a hip problem, while the young defender has a sore knee but will start tomorrow.

Ipswich Town's probable starting line-up on Friday night against Thomas Gaardsoe's old club is: Davis, Wilnis, Richards, De Vos, Diallo, Magilton, Miller, Horlock, Westlake, Bent and Naylor.

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