Superior Wigan outclass Blues

NOT only were Ipswich outplayed to slip out of the top six, but they are also in danger of being priced out of a promotion place.

NOT only were Ipswich outplayed to slip out of the top six, but they are also in danger of being priced out of a promotion place, writes Derek Davis.

With results earlier in the day meaning whoever won would go third, it was Wigan who seized the day to win 3-1 at Portman Road and move behind Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion, while Town exited the play-off places and dropped to seventh place.

"Where's the money gone?' chanted a frustrated and disillusioned North Stand. A rhetorical question surely, given the well documented explanations over the past year.

Quite simply, the stadium restructure and astronomical player wages, could not be funded when Ipswich went from finishing fifth in the Premiership to being relegated.

Ordinarily, relegation would have been cushioned by player sales but the collapse of the transfer market, coupled with a disastrous start in Division One meant a crisis of confidence by financial backers and a closed transfer window meant no off-loading of high earners.

It was a year ago that Ipswich went into administration, a blow they are slowly recovering from. But as David Sheepshanks celebrates his 17th year since joining the board this week, even the raising of more than £3million in fund-raising since the summer does not mean he can give Joe Royle the cash to buy players.

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Instead we watch from a distance as Darren Ambrose, Hermann Hreidarsson, Matt Holland, Jamie Clapham and others prosper in the Premiership.

By definition, their replacements, made up of free signings and loan deals, are not going to be of the quality of the outfield players who have departed.

While it is only right and proper that Blues followers should be optimistic about their chances of a Premiership return, there also needs to be a sharp dose of reality.

To even be mixing with the likes of Norwich, Wigan, and West Brom - who have all invested a couple of million pound each just on strikers - is not bad going, especially when after six games Town were rock bottom.

To get back into the top six, Town need reinforcements, but without the cash to buy players it needs to be loan deals and, as Joe Royle has found out, it is not that easy to bring in new players.

So, until fresh impetus can be provided, Royle must make do with a reasonably decent squad who have lost their way, especially at home, with too many under-performing and costly injuries to key defenders.

Wigan proved to be the classic example of a modern football team with the sort of quality which, if you can't grow your own, has to be bought.

Their athleticism coupled with clever and continuous movement and a sharp cutting edge left Ipswich chasing shadows.

The Blues were blown away in a first half in which wonderful Wigan dominated in every department on the pitch, apart from goalkeeper.

Wigan had never before played at Portman Road and they relished the superb playing surface, especially compared to their muddy mess at the JJB Stadium. Little wonder they have not lost in their past five away games. Conversely, Ipswich have lost three of the last four league games at Portman Road.

Now Wigan have added to their squad by buying Alan Mahon from Blackburn Rovers, giving their already potent midfield even more balance and poke.

The Irish wing wizard did not have the best of debuts by his standard but went close a couple of times to getting off the mark.

It mattered little that he was still finding his feet as the right-sided midfielder, Gary Teale, had a stormer, setting up one goal and scoring a spectacular third.

While the Wigan midfield, with Jimmy Bullard and Jason Jarrett, were outstanding, the Town midfield was left standing, flat-footed and devoid of ideas.

Spaniard Pablo Counago is struggling with form and confidence and while he will bemoan the lack of service he does little to use his own pace and cleverness to give the providers something to aim for.

Shefki Kuqi did snatch a consolation, after latching onto the much-maligned Jim Magilton's clever chip-through ball, and had enough strength and perseverance to hold off Ian Breckin before beating John Filan.

But too often his bullish approach ends with wild shots instead of the subtlety required to either find a better-placed man or the target.

Wigan went ahead when a mistake by Drissa Diallo on the halfway line allowed Jason De Vos's header to sneak through to Roberts and the £1m signing from West Bromwich Albion slipped it low past Kelvin Davis.

Diallo had made two critical tackles in the opening five minutes as lively Wigan swarmed over Town and Matt Richards cleared a Roberts shot off the line.

Battered Ipswich went two behind when Nicky Eaden played a ball up to Teale, who pulled it back for Nathan Ellington to sweep in unmarked from seven yards.

Ipswich shook things up with three early second-half substitutions but Diallo's bad day got worse when he blocked an Eaden cross but it fell into Teale's path and his venomous volley crashed in off the underside of the crossbar. Darren Bent also hit the crossbar, while Magilton wasted two good opportunities early in the second half.

But even when Leighton Baines was sent off following two yellow cards, leaden-legged Ipswich never really looked as if they were going to overhaul a superior Wigan.

Kelvin Davis was once again brilliant and helped keep the score-line at least respectable.

The Blues players, and supporters, will spend the next couple of days licking their wounds after such a mauling, but six points, from two extremely winnable games at home to Bradford City and away at Burnley, would put a whole new complexion on the situation.

Especially if there was at least one new face to freshen things up.

derek.davis@eadt.co.uk

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