Town get a roar deal off the Lions

AFTER witnessing yet another cataclysmic display of inept defending which handed Ipswich their third defeat in a row it would be easy to forgive a bit of negativity.

Ipswich Town 1

Millwall 3

AFTER witnessing yet another cataclysmic display of inept defending which handed Ipswich their third defeat in a row it would be easy to forgive a bit of negativity, writes Derek Davis.

But before people throw in the towel, raise the white flag, or simply shrug their shoulders and say 'that's that, then', consider this.

Walsall, Watford and Wimbledon, to come in the next fortnight.

While nothing can be taken for granted, and we warned a couple of weeks ago, 'beware the sides of March,' nine very achievable points would push Town right back into the play-off pack.

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Of course, some things still need to change. For the umpteenth time this season poor marking allowed soft goals and, until Dean Bowditch replaced Shefki Kuqi at half-time, the Millwall keeper had little of substance to do.

Since missing the game against Preston through suspension, the big Finn has not found the form that saw him net five goals in eight games.

With Pablo Counago out injured, Alun Armstrong recovering from a thigh strain and still no sign of the long-hoped-for loan-striker, Bowditch was given his chance.

Some would say it is long overdue, but while his cleverness, pace and finishing prowess, combined with Darren Bent's proven quickness, would undoubtedly cause defences in this division a multitude of problems, it is a lot of to ask of a 17-year-old, week in week out.

Still, he showed his ability when his astute positioning gave him space for Tommy Miller to pick him out with a fine deep diagonal ball, the young England striker beat defender Robbie Ryan for pace and delivered an inch-perfect low cross for Bent, whose speed had taken him away from his markers, to tuck the ball past a stranded Andy Marshall.

But by then the game looked out of Town's reach, and it all stemmed from a 22nd-minute incident.

Up until that point Ipswich looked the side more likely to break the deadlock.

Kuqi, Bent and Westlake all had sniffs of a chance without actually getting anything on target.

But once a pride of lions gets the scent of blood they move in for the kill and that is precisely what they did. After cautiously tracking their prey without ever threatening, Millwall pounced when claret flowed from Ipswich centre-half Drissa Diallo, who needed five stitches to a head wound after colliding with Mark McCammon, who also went off semi-conscious.

Wounded Lion Neil Harris, who had been dropped from the starting line-up, ripped into a lame Ipswich.

He scored the opener before Richard Naylor had had time to settle, pouncing on a close range lay-off from Danny Dichio.

Harris, who used to play in the old Jewson League for Maldon Town, then crossed unchallenged for an unmarked Darren Ward to steer in his header.

Then Ipswich's other starting centre-back Georges Santos went off before half time with a gashed nose requiring four stitches after colliding with Paul Ifill.

Although Ipswich regrouped the feeding frenzy continued, and Harris netted his second two minutes after the break.

It is not clear how referee Mike Riley or his assistant Glenn Turner could be sure the ball had crossed the line after Harris's header from an Ifill cross came down from the crossbar before being pushed away by Davis, who then smothered the follow-up.

Riley looked to his assistant for help and Turner, shading his eyes from the sun, was happy to do so.

All three officials on parade will represent England in Euro 2004 and one suspects controversy will dog them in Portugal.

While that goal should possibly not have been given, what should not have happened is the freedom for both the crosser and striker, another example of shoddy defending.

No one knows for sure how crucial that third goal was because the Lions were content to gorge themselves and allow Ipswich some scraps.

Bent scored and Town had two good appeals for penalties turned down.

Westlake was brought down by Ryan while Bowditch was clipped by Kevin Muscat, who later admitted it should have been a penalty. To rub salt into the wound, Bowditch was booked for supposedly diving - another refereeing error.

The former Academy striker was also denied by Marshall, who pushed away a fabulously-struck volley from the England youth.

Marshall made it clear there was no Portman Road return for him as an Ipswich player by celebrating each of the Millwall goals, much to the annoyance of sections of the Town crowd.

But that was a minor irritation compared to the defending and the lack of a cutting edge, especially first half.

With 10 games to go, seven must be won to satisfy Joe Royle's target.

The last time Town went on their winning run it started against Walsall, followed by Wimbledon and Watford, and the same could happen again.

Back then, Alan Mahon, Shekfi Kuqi and Chris Bart-Williams were brought in to add impetus and freshness.

This time, if loanees can't be found, then surely youth will be given its head. Perhaps it should be anyway, even if a temporary signing is made within the next 10 days.

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