Town can 'do a Norwich'

TOP of the League at Portman Road.Less than a year ago those very words haunted Ipswich, as the eventual champions roared back up the A140 and proved irremovable.

By Derek Davis

TOP of the League at Portman Road.

Less than a year ago those very words haunted Ipswich, as the eventual champions roared back up the A140 and proved irremovable.

Today, things are very different. Since that 2-0 defeat to Norwich, the Blues have not failed to score at home, have not lost in Suffolk since the beginning of April and have shown it is they who now have the resilience to keep clean sheets.


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The five now achieved at the fortress known as Portman Road equals the amount managed home and away in the league all last season.

The squad may be small, and in desperate need of reinforcing, but, as Norwich showed, one or two good buys will mean goodbye to this division.

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With just three teams left to meet for the first time this season, Crewe, QPR and Wigan, there is nothing Ipswich should fear, except themselves.

Sunderland looked good, Nottingham Forest have failed to live up to their early promise, while Leeds and Leicester gave a glimpse of what may be to come from them.

But on the whole, Ipswich, with their free-scoring strikers and stingy defence, have shown they as good, if not better, than virtually everyone. Even Stoke and Derby, who beat them away, could find the favour returned at Portman Road.

At the moment, Town are winning without always playing particularly well, the test will come when they lose a game after an excellent showing.

On its day, the midfield is more than a match for the best, although they have visibly struggled in the past couple of weeks.

Tommy Miller was back after missing out on his dream trip home with an elbow injury, and showed what had been missing at the Stadium of Light.

But Kevin Horlock didn't shine the way we know he can. A couple of misplaced passes and infrequent tackles peppered a quiet afternoon.

Jim Magilton was being shadowed by Richard Carpenter, who chipped away at the skipper, forcing him into an unusually high amount of errors, early on, although his accuracy returned in the second half.

Once again, Ian Westlake had one of his anonymous matches. That said, when he did show up it was to spectacular effect.

Kelvin Davis passed to Fabian Wilnis, who in turn fed the midfielder, who hit a terrific long-range shot.

His drive crashed off a defender and fell invitingly, in front of Brighton keeper Michel Kuipers, for Shefki Kuqi to reach first with the deftest of touches and his ninth goal of the season.

While no one will consider the performance against hearty, but humble, Brighton as even close to brilliant, they achieved most of what they set out to achieve.

Bouncing back after the disappointment of Sunderland was paramount, and the manner in doing so.

Town got the three points, they went top and, even though they never hit third never mind top gear, the Blues could easily have finished with a more comfortable score.

Determined defending, sublime saves, and selfish shooting denied Town.

The returning Miller almost found a way through early on, when he beat two defenders to surge into the area but, as he was about to shoot, Paul Reid pulled off a stunning tackle 12 yards out.

Miller was thwarted in the dying seconds when he got clear but Kuipers made an outstanding one-handed save to push the goal-bound ball away.

Kuqi, with his tail up, was shooting from all angles without joy and incurred the wrath of his wide-open strike partner Darren Bent, when one shot was saved and, instead of pulling back the rebound, tried to force the ball in from an impossible angle.

Bent's chances were few but he had one saved from a Westlake pass and his own low crosses went unconverted.

Jason De Vos, a colossus at the back, made his presence felt up front and, when another good Magilton free-kick was headed back across goal by Richard Naylor. keeper Kuipers pulled off a terrific save from Kuqi and De Vos' follow-up header was blocked by the ubiquitous Danny Cullip.

The Seagulls' skipper was enjoying a good tussle with Kuqi and was not impressed when the commanding Canadian intervened.

Cullip was even less happy when booked for diving when he went down under a Horlock challenge.

Brighton claimed they should have had another penalty when lively substitute Leon Knights tussled with Fabian Wilnis before getting his shot away.

The whole game may have gone differently if Darren Currie, chosen ahead of the highly-rated Knight, had finished from 10 yards, when 38-year-old Steve Claridge crossed for him a minute before Town got the vital breakthrough.

Davis had little else of real concern, although he and defence didn't seem on the same page at one point, but when you are at the top these things don't go against you.

One the whole, though, the Blues defence did a sterling job when needed, which was possibly a little more often than they would have liked, especially towards the end.

Brighton made no bones about their intentions, with a five-man midfield, but is was less defensive-minded than Burnley, who scored early, and more attack-minded like Leeds, who paid the price.

More teams will come to Portman Road looking to sneak a goal, and a point, and as table-toppers Ipswich are there to be shot down.

It was hard getting there - it will be even harder staying there - but, for the moment, it's Top of the League at Portman Road.

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