Talisman Lee raises Blues' hopes

FOUR wins and three draws in seven league games has left the Blues, not so much knocking on the door of the play-offs, but opening the garden gate ready to wander down the drive.

By Derek Davis

FOUR wins and three draws in seven league games has left the Blues, not so much knocking on the door of the play-offs, but opening the garden gate ready to wander down the drive.

There was some hesitancy against Burnley at pushing the gate open at first but, once they realised the win at Norwich meant little to anyone else outside East Anglia and that the Lancastrians had their own agenda, Town flexed their muscles and unleashed Alan Lee to batter the way open.

The former Claret, who has come along way since he managed just one LDV Vans Trophy goal in 20 appearances for Burnley, led the way with an equaliser, won the penalty which Matt Richards buried for the winner, hit the woodwork with a header and was denied by some smart keeping by Brian Jensen.

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The talisman, who has yet to be on a losing Blues' side, is proving a bargain buy and his three goals in five games since signing show he clearly he relishes being at Ipswich as much as he is welcomed.

But it would be amiss to suggest Lee is a one- man winning team. Certainly, the midfield seem more confident about joining in the attack with him winning balls up front, and with his strength and chasing others, while also closing down quickly with deceptive pace.

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The defence is getting a bit more of a breather and there is generally more cohesion and balance about the side.

Once they get going!

For the first quarter-of-an-hour or so, the Blues looked as if they were still celebrating at Carrow Road and only poor finishing from Michael Ricketts and Gifton Noel-Williams meant Town's sloppy and statuesque defending went unpunished.

But Ricketts, who scored against Town while on loan at Cardiff from Leeds earlier in the season, is too good to miss too many. He punished Town a minute before the break, when he was allowed to run on unchecked after initially winning the ball in the air and then collecting a Noel-Williams flick-on, set himself and slid the ball across goal and past Shane Supple.

The goal was a wake-up call and a lesson in what happens if you don't take chances because, as slack as Town were for the first 45 minutes, they could have easily been a couple of goals to the good themselves. Darren Currie went agonisingly close with a long-range free-kick that evaded Jason De Vos' head and far post alike, with Burnley's defence beaten. A Scott Barron cross was deflected by Michael Duff and hit an upright before bouncing safely into the keeper's arms.

The Clarets back-line were nowhere again when Ian Westlake found Lee with a good cross but the Irishman's header struck a post and rolled threateningly along the line, underneath and between Jensen's legs as he jumped out of the way, and the ball went away to safety past the other post.

It was moments later that Ricketts scored, and was booked for responding to the earlier North Stand taunts, a correct decision by the letter of the law.

Referee Darren Deadman, well known to regular reserve team watchers, had earlier booked Westlake for a fulsome challenge that few officials would have punished and must have felt obliged to do likewise when Wayne Thomas committed a similar challenge - and that was to prove costly for the defender and Burnley.

He also refused to give Town two first-half penalties before giving the third, the most dubious of the three. Richard Naylor's appeal came after being pushed over by John McGreal and a later handball involving the former Blues' defender was also overlooked.

A wide-awake Town, with Naylor joining Lee up front, set about Burnley in the second half and totally dominated, with the Clarets mustering just one attempt on goal the whole second period.

Town's pressure paid off after 62 minutes when Lee finished a Currie cross.

The deserved winner stemmed from a superb long ball from Owen Garvan, who put it on a plate for Lee, who surged into the area.

Duff moved across to challenge and the striker tumbled for the penalty.

Thomas then picked up his second booking for protesting at the decision and was sent off.

More Burnley time-wasting ensued but Richards held his nerve before driving the ball in left-footed, beating Jensen, who dived the correct way.

It was a composed and clinical finish from Richards, who has been unerring since becoming the dedicated penalty-taker earlier this season and now has four goals under his belt. Jensen will have gained some comfort from denying Lee with two good low saves, the second in particular when the striker had made a terrific run in from the left flank before hitting a low reverse shot that looked destined for the bottom corner.

It mattered not, as Town deservedly saw off an awkward and stubborn opposition, who lacked any real quality, and moved up to 10th in the table.

Those of us who like to see the pretty flowers, rather than the weeds and brambles, in the garden like to think the nine-point gap from the top six is attainable but are also realistic enough to know that those near the summit are there because they have yet to really slip up.

With two more difficult opponents to face this week, with Crewe and Wolves accustomed to taking points off Town, the Blues face yet another mini-test but have shown themselves equal to these challenges of late.

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