Tough test for Blues

THE rich rewards of play-off success can be clearly illustrated by visitors Crystal Palace at Portman Road today, writes Derek Davis.While Blues boss Joe Royle has scrimped and shaved his budget to bring in two free signings and has to further slash his squad to bring in anyone else, Eagles boss Iain Dowie is spending a war chest which could top £10m by August.

THE rich rewards of play-off success can be clearly illustrated by visitors Crystal Palace at Portman Road today, writes Derek Davis.

While Blues boss Joe Royle has scrimped and shaved his budget to bring in two free signings and has to further slash his squad to bring in anyone else, Eagles boss Iain Dowie is spending a war chest which could top £10m by August.

After securing Finland international winger Joonas Kolkka this week to add to the signings of keeper Julian Speroni, Mark Hudson and Emmerson Boyce, Dowie is looking to bring in three more players by next week.

Two of those are from West Ham, the side which dumped Ipswich Town out of the play-offs, before being beaten in the Millennium Stadium final by Palace. Dowie has made an audacious £2m bid for Michael Carrick and has offered a further £1.5m for Marlon Harewood, although that was rejected by the Hammers yesterday.


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He is also keen to sign Fitz Hall for £1.5m from Southampton, after having to sell him to the Saints when he was the Oldham boss.

If successful it would take Dowie's spending to £8m and another decent- money signing could still be on the cards.

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Palace rejected the chance to buy Tim Cahill from Millwall for £2m, and the Australian signed for Everton yesterday.

Although even bigger favourites for the drop than newly-promoted Norwich or West Brom, Palace are ready to gamble more than a third of their £25m Premiership pot on trying to stay up.

Ipswich on the other hand, like West Ham, and to a lesser extent Sunderland, the other play-off contenders, have had to prune their squad. John McGreal, Jermaine Wright, Chris Makin, Martijn Reuser, Alun Armstrong, Marcus Bent and Chris Bart-Williams have all left, while Matt Elliott returned to Leicester City after his loan spell.

Today's game, which kicks off at 12 noon, gives Town the first opportunity to show their home fans what can be expected this season. Although less than 8,000 are likely to show up they will be looking to see if centre-back Jason De Vos and holding midfielder Kevin Horlock can improve a defence which shipped 72 goals in the regular league season, while still being able to create as many goals without the influential Players' Player of the Year Wright.

Horlock is expected to play after recovering from bruised ribs, while Town are hoping Fabian Wilnis does not suffer further reaction to a back problem which forced him to miss the 5-1 win at Oxford on Tuesday.

Much will be expected of the youngsters who performed so well last year. Darren Bent, Ian Westlake and Matt Richards were all coveted by Sir Bobby Robson, who brings his Newcastle side, complete with Patrick Kluivert, Alan Shearer, Kieron Dyer, Darren Ambrose and Titus Bramble to Portman Road on Wednesday for Dale Roberts' Testimonial match.

Also looking to kick on are Scott Barron, Scott Mitchell, Aiden Collins, Gerard Nash and Scott Mitchell, although only Barron will figure today.

Town likely line up: Davis, Diallo, Richards, Horlock, De Vos, Naylor, Magilton, Miller, Counago, Bent and Westlake. Subs: Bowditch, Price, Kuqi, Murray, Barron and Wilnis.

n Former Ipswich Town striker Richard Logan, who played for Peterborough United against the Blues a fortnight ago in a friendly, will miss the start of the new season after a freak accident left him with a broken jaw in two places. Logan is reported to have slipped in the medical room at Posh's London Road ground.

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