Royle's problems with the Royals
WITHOUT spending anything like the £120m that Chelsea have, Joe Royle is experiencing similar problems to Claudio Ranieri.In short, how to fit a quart into a pint pot.
WITHOUT spending anything like the £120m that Chelsea have, Joe Royle is experiencing similar problems to Claudio Ranieri.
In short, how to fit a quart into a pint pot.
While Ranieri has choices all over the pitch, Royle's problems seem to be how to get the best out of a midfield in which he is spoilt for choice.
They in turn can be the providers for under-performing artillery, which, at the moment, picks itself.
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With Darren Bent injured, Alun Armstrong scoring at Norwich for Bradford and Marcus Bent on loan at Leicester City, Shefki Kuqi and Pablo Counago were certain starters with Dean Bowditch itching to be more involved.
The engine room though has many stokers to choose from.
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Jim Magilton, Jermaine Wright and Chris Bart-Williams, are automatic picks, and on the showing at the Madejski Stadium, no reason to think otherwise.
Royle's problem is where to then fit Tommy Miller, an undoubted talent with the ability to score, pick out passes and create problems.
Also, where to accommodate Martijn Reuser or Ian Westlake.
The left side cried out for someone who can provide a semblance of width but at Reading Ipswich started with Wright on the left and Miller on the right. When that did not bring an end product he switched them. That did not provide the answer either.
Only when Reuser was brought on, when Ipswich were trailing, did they really threaten.
There was a sense of déjà vu at that point, shades of West Ham on Boxing Day.
Just as at Upton Park, Ipswich went behind to a classic counter punch. This time, keeper Marcus Hahnemann cleared with a kick after a Town attack broke down. The ball went to Scott Murray who got the better of the covering Fabian Wilnis on Reading's right wing.
Murray crossed for Lloyd Owusu who was unmarked and he glanced his 14-yard header wide of the exposed Kelvin Davis as the Town defenders tried to get back.
The Blues response was to swap an out-of-sorts Counago and out-of-position Miller with Reuser and Bowditch.
It must have been particularly frustrating for Miller, who was being watched, along with Reading's Graeme Murty, by Scotland boss Bertie Vogts.
When Miller had started on the right side, still not his preferred position, he had combined well with right-back Wilnis.
They at least tried to get the ball into Counago who was being closely marshalled by Adie Williams and Steve Brown. They were also doing a good job in containing the more mobile Kuqi who placed a couple of headers wide.
The former Hartlepool goal machine volleyed wide from the inside right channel, while the Finland international curled a shot wide, choosing control over power for a change.
The strength of Town's midfield was evident but for all their pretty football and great approach work, a goal never really looked like coming and Hahnemann was enjoying a relatively quiet afternoon.
Wright was the main architect of the flowing football, punching passes, and full of clever running.
He provided a couple of decent crosses which were wasted, a looping header went just over the bar and then got booked for arguing in favour of a corner which never came.
Magilton was playing deep, almost alongside Bart-Williams and the Town captain was always looking to put the strikers in. Both seemed reluctant though to make runs. Counago wanted balls to feet but he had very few options once he had it. Kuqi was doing a lot of work but was rarely in the box when it mattered so things end up fizzling out with either a frustrating pass easily dealt with, or a hopeful punt to nowhere. For all the technically fine football the first hour was as dull as ditch-water and credit has to be paid to the 2,500 travelling Town fans who kept up the noise from their end, defended Magilton when he was constantly booed by the Royals' fans and waited patiently for some goalmouth action.
They got plenty once Reading went ahead.
Reuser lifted their spirits and the game. For the third time in four games he played a big part in a Town goal. This time his well struck corner was played on by Kuqi, Bowditch headed goal-wards, thinking for all the world he was about to score his first league goal, but John McGreal applied the finishing touch as he stood alongside the goalkeeper four yards out with Nicky Shorey playing him onside.
That set up a thrilling final 20 minutes with Kuqi scorning a wonderful opportunity on a break. The Kosovan had Reuser wide in space unmarked to his left and Bowditch screaming for the ball to his right but he ignored both and ran into a resolute Steve Brown 25 yards out central to goal.
He then had a shot blocked at the second attempt after a superb through ball by Reuser. The lively Dutchman hit a shot wide and had another dangerous corner cleared as Ipswich failed to find the winner.
They were always susceptible to a Reading counter and Davis made good saves from Andy Hughes and Graeme Murty after the young Scot had been put in by former Colchester United forward Dean Morgan.
Although Ipswich extended their unbeaten away record to nine games (they have not lost since the 3-2 defeat at Sunderland) they will be disappointed.
There was no shortage of endeavour, indeed plenty of quality in midfield and solid defending by the Naylor/McGreal pairing but for the division's top scorers to look so lacklustre up front is worrying. More invention, more width and more clinical finishing are needed which will come when the balance of the side is found.