Royle living in the real world

THE proliferation of Fantasy Leagues and Dream Teams has meant we are all top managers in the making.There are not many among the 27,000 at Portman Road on a cold Boxing Day afternoon who would have gone with one up front at home against a team that have not won in four matches and have been beaten away recently by mediocre sides.

By Derek Davis

THE proliferation of Fantasy Leagues and Dream Teams has meant we are all top managers in the making.

There are not many among the 27,000 at Portman Road on a cold Boxing Day afternoon who would have gone with one up front at home against a team that have not won in four matches and have been beaten away recently by mediocre sides.

But Joe Royle lives in the real world, the harsh world where reality means he feels he has no realistic choice other than to play with one striker because that is all he has available to him. With Sam Parkin out with injury long- term, and Adam Proudlock not yet recovered from a knee injury, Town have a limited choice of experienced strikers.

If he had any one of the three strikers that sat on the Palace bench, and that included former Colchester United hit-man Wayne Andrews, he would undoubtedly have been a bit more ambitious in his starting formation and gone at least two up front.

The wily old boy has been around long enough to know that his other option of playing with the teenagers Dean Bowditch, Danny Haynes or Dean McDonald, or any two from those three up alongside Nicky Forster, was also fraught with danger.

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We saw last week at Sheffield Wednesday that Haynes, as fresh, enthusiastic and lively as he is, struggled to make an impact from the start. Bowditch has not dealt in the currency that keep strikers in the side since he knocked one in for Burnley last season, and he has not netted for Town for more than 14 months, while McDonald is considered a back-up no more, with his only ever league goal coming for Hartlepool during his successful loan spell.

And therein lays the difference between you and I, who can dabble in the transfer market, trading Thierry Henry for Michael Owen, or swapping Sol Campbell with Rio Ferdinand, and if it all goes belly up, we get a bit of grief off our mates as we slide down the 'In for a Tenner League'.

Of course, I would have opted for the daring McDonald, Forster, Currie attack, with three in midfield, others might have preferred to see Haynes or Bowditch and, perhaps, things would have been different.

Certainly, the fans would have been more positive but, with five attack-minded midfielders Royle's formation did have some merit. All have scored this season and between them they have mustered seven goals. Unfortunately all lack the bustling strength of a centre-forward and, apart from Jimmy Juan, also lack height. So, for the most part, the balls into the box, mainly from Currie, were being gobbled up by Palace's towering defenders and once again it was only at set pieces that Town really threatened.

Frenchman Juan was a gnat's whisker from turning in a mid-height Currie curler of a free-kick, which the keeper kept a sharp eye on before gathering. This was during a purple patch from Town, who had been rocked by a 15th-minute Palace opener.

The normally-dependable Sito Castro does have a propensity to hit wayward passes and, after making a good tackle at left-back, he played a ball straight into the path of an unmarked Johnson on the 18-yard line.

The England striker, who was recently the target of a failed £5.5m bid from West Ham, had earlier been allowed space and so Town were asking for trouble when they left him alone again.

He ghosted past Richard Naylor and Jason De Vos before cutting the ball in for Jon Macken to skilfully turn in from six yards.

Another loose ball from the Spaniard landed in Jobi McAnuff's path and he strode forward purposefully before unleashing a 30-yarder that Lewis Price turned around his post.

The Welsh keeper also made excellent saves from a Ben Watson free-kick and Johnson, who raced on to an exquisite reverse pass by McAnuff before hitting a low shot against the keeper's knee.

It was good keeping by Price and made up for his woeful kicking which fell way short of his usual standard, perhaps not helped by a groin problem he picked up in training.

While Price was busy, Hungarian keeper Gabor Kiraly was having an easy day against the shot-shy Blues. The eccentric Palace stopper superstitiously never goes in goal before a game to warm up by saving shots.

There was no chance of him getting caught cold by the Town attack and he had to wait 20 minutes before being called into action, which may explain why he acted like a panto dame after taking a Currie cross and collapsing dramatically.

Another 10 minutes elapsed before Forster unleashed from 25 yards but that went over the bar and Currie then showed good skill to create an opening only for his shot aimed for the top corner being grabbed by the keeper.

Town persisted with the same formation in the second half and, after doing reasonably well, were felled by a stunner from Northern Ireland international Michael Hughes.

Slack marking in midfield allowed him time and space to move forward before delivering a wicked left-footed drive from 30 yards that Price will be angry about not tipping away.

The Blues had been denied what looked like a penalty for hand-ball when Australian Tony Popovic appeared to handle with Ward right next to him from a Williams drive and Palace went up the other end and scored.

It was only when Haynes went on 20 minutes later that they really livened up, as the 17-year-old caused some problems with his pace and directness.

Sito and Westlake combined well with the Spaniard, setting him clear with a cheeky back-heel but Town's reluctance to shoot on sight meant many half-chances were squandered.

Even when Palace went down to nine men, with Macken sent off for deliberately elbowing Owen Garvan and Watson for two soft bookings, Town never looked as if they were going to get anything from the game, not even a consolation goal.

Against a Palace side that boasted £12m up front, and quite a few million quid's worth on the bench, perhaps Ipswich these days should not expect to get anything out of the game.

Town simply don't have the firepower or the quality to match the top sides, whereas the next three opponents don't have wealthy benefactors or parachute payment to support them and so there can be no excuses.

It is not fantasy football to expect to pick up points at Hull and Stoke, and at home to Luton it has to be a reality.

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