Sam earns Town a point

THE deckchairs were firmly locked away on Brighton seafront and the only cigars being smoked were by those Seagulls' fans celebrating their stadium at Falmer success.

By Derek Davis

THE deckchairs were firmly locked away on Brighton seafront and the only cigars being smoked were by those Seagulls' fans celebrating their stadium at Falmer success.

Last season, when Town were runaway leaders of the Championship, I wrote that, if Town continued as they were going, the supporters could get the cigars and deckchairs out.

Those who read the article properly will have seen that comment was a preface to a massive BUT. I warned at that time, to the chagrin of people at the club and some supporters who accused me of being negative, that the Blues were winning when they were not playing particularly well and I could see things falling apart.


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I went on to warn that, if Town slipped out of the top two, which I saw as a possibility even though they were seven points clear at the time, they would flop in the play-offs.

I'm not happy to say they were prophetic words and my cautious approach was well-founded, despite the criticism.

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Using a similar theme, I will say that, if things carry on as they are at Portman Road, then it will be time to get the maps out for places like Scunthorpe, Port Vale and Yeovil. Two points from a possible 12 is relegation form in anyone's book.

Now, here comes this massive BUT.

The Blues will be safe, and I will go further to say they will climb into the top 10, although the play-offs may be an adventurous target,

After watching the first half-hour at Brighton, and performances against Reading and Watford, many will think me mad - but bear with me.

This injury blight has to end soon.While Town were blessed last season with virtually no major problems, Drissa Diallo apart, and Shekfi Kuqi's at that vital period in March aside, this year physio Dave Williams and fitness coach Simon Thadani have been on permanent overtime.

And, so it was on Saturday, when Nicky Forster was forced to cry off in the morning with swelling to the knee, which had meant him missing six weeks earlier in the campaign.

It can be churlish to use injuries as an excuse but the disruption Joe Royle's side has had to endure this season is beyond the pale. It has meant that, as soon as a partnership is about to develop, a new one has to be found.

Once the Blues have a fit squad, even one with a couple missing instead of four or five, and more strength in depth then you might start seeing them putting a run together.

This division is distinctly average, with teams not just capable of beating each other but, Sheffield United and Reading so far excepted, are doing so.

A point at struggling Brighton may not be seen as brilliant but it is no worse than Town have done on their last two visits to the Withdean, and a positive outcome at 'lucky' ground Pride Park on Wednesday, would set things up nicely for Plymouth's visit on Saturday.

Confidence, on the pitch, and on the terraces, may slowly return and that, in turn, would lead to a more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere to play and watch football.

The off-field distractions will be pushed to one side and all supporters will be like the 500, cramped into a temporary stand at the Withdean, who earned praise for their backing.

Town do have a side good enough to be top 10, they do have players with enough quality to raise eyebrows and stress opponents.

It is just a case of things coming together at the same time and the manager can stop juggling dust for a while.

Like a kid's party magician, Royle had to pull something out of the hat to a background of the majority of people celebrating but a couple of outsiders who are enduring a miserable time.

After 15 minutes of turgid dross, Brighton scored a goal that would grace any stadium, although, alarmingly, it came from a Town free-kick.

The ball was cleared to Leon Knight in midfield and he played a wonderful ball wide to Colin Kazim-Richards, who was sprinting down the right flank.

The youngster, bought from Bury, hit a superb low cross, which Dean Hammond met first time at full pelt and buried.

An already unsure looking Ipswich were reeling and the Seagulls found some belief. Lewis Price pushed away a free- kick and the defence creaked under pressure.

But then came an unlikely change of fortune.

The mild-mannered Jimmy Juan was showing some aggression and made a crunching tackle on Charlie Oatway that left the Brighton skipper clutching his face and shoulder and needing hospital treatment.

As Alexis Nicolas replaced him, Royle tweaked his own midfield, with Jim Magilton going on for the unfortunate Matt Richards, which allowed Darren Currie to go back out wide left with Dean Bowditch dropping into midfield and Adam Proudlock going up front with Sam Parkin.

The switch paid dividends, again from an unexpected source. Currie risked the wrath of the coaches by taking a throw-in, he should usually be the one to receive it, and fed the ball to Fabian Wilnis. The Dutchman overlapped superbly and hit a sublime left-foot cross from almost the corner flag.

Sam Parkin timed his run to perfection to get in front of Paul McShane and met the high ball with an excellent header and glanced the ball past a flat-footed Wayne Henderson.

Level at the break, when they didn't deserve to be, the Blues cranked it up in the second half and, three minutes into it, Parkin had the chance for his sixth away goal of the season, when Currie found him with a free-kick, but his header clipped the top of the crossbar.

Homecoming-kid Currie was on good form, providing balls for Richard Naylor, Jason De Vos and the lively Bowditch.

West Ham target Bowditch showed good movement and got into a couple of goal scoring areas but his finishing let him down after Wilnis, and then Juan, picked him out.

Albion were not just lying down and the former Chelsea team-mate of Parkin, Knight, was causing problems with his pace and shooting from range.

A 30-yard pile-driver crashed down from the underside of the bar and, although Paul Reid followed up, Naylor got his head in the way, which allowed Town to break but Bowditch's ball to Parkin was inches too far in front of the big man.

Not totally convincing, perhaps, but no need to be asking for maps this Christmas.

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