Town go top of the tree

Ipswich Town 2Wigan Athletic 1WHEN the big moments come you need your star players to step up and deliver.Darren Bent did just that, with a minute left at Portman Road last night, to send Town leapfrogging Wigan to the top of the league and, very probably, into the Premiership.

By Derek Davis

Ipswich Town 2

Wigan Athletic 1

WHEN the big moments come you need your star players to step up and deliver.

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Darren Bent did just that, with a minute left at Portman Road last night, to send Town leapfrogging Wigan to the top of the league and, very probably, into the Premiership.

A big statement, with half-a-season left to go, but history is also on the Blues' side.

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Only twice, since the inception of the Premiership, have the team that were top of Division One at Christmas failed to win promotion.

The manner in which the Blues did it encapsulates the story of this season so far.

While Bent popped up with the winner, there were tremendous displays from all around the team.

Darren Currie showed why Town spent £250,00 on him. Richard Naylor was awesome, while Matt Richards showed he is not going to give up his place without a fight.

A goal behind to an incredible 40-yard shot by Leighton Baines, Town came back to preserve their unbeaten home record and see off a very good Wigan side in an excellent game of football.

The squad may still be short in numbers but they have enough spirit to fill 10 teams - and they needed every ounce of it.

Naylor equalised with his fourth goal of the season and was, once again, outstanding at both ends of the park.

Wigan may wonder how they ended up losing but, overall, the Blues were worthy winners and will be worthy champions if they can keep up this sort of form.

Kevin Horlock, serving a one-match ban, and Drissa Diallo, out for at least a month with a hamstring tear, were missing so Town made two changes to the starting line-up that won at QPR 10 days ago.

Currie made his home debut in midfield while Richards started at left back and Fabian Wilnis went to right-back.

The game got off to a rip-roaring, end-to-end start, with both sides enjoying chances.

Town were given an early warning, with Gary Teale getting down the right flank to put in a dangerous ball which former Latics skipper Jason De Vos cleared.

But then Jason Roberts got the better of Naylor and pulled the ball back for Teale, whose shot was brilliantly saved at point-blank range by Kelvin Davis.

The free-scoring Roberts ran from the halfway line, shrugged off Richards but his low shot was weak and easily taken by Davis.

Blues responded, with Jim Magilton hitting a long-range angled shot which not far away from the target. Both full-backs were joining in well and Wilnis had an effort blocked.

Ian Westlake hit a dipping 30-yard effort over the bar, while Currie's 25 yard free-kick was comfortable for John Filan.

All that was in the first 12 minutes and then the fog descended. Wigan lost their way a little as Town started to get on top.

Town's best chance fell to Bent after Shefki Kuqi charged out of his own area from a corner and more good skill from Currie kept it in play. He released Bent, who cut inside the area but his shot didn't curl enough and drifted wide.

Kuqi then had great chance of his own, when Ian Breckin misjudged the flight of a ball which went over him, but the Finn fired high.

Two minutes later, Kuqi turned a header wide of a post from six yards after good play by Currie to get his cross in.

Wigan still looked dangerous, although Jimmy Bullard hit a wild effort wide, while former Town favourite Alan Mahon and Lee McCulloch pressed forward.

Town went in at the break looking the happier and started the second half the brighter too, with Kuqi and Bent showing good understanding with some neat interplay.

Magilton went back into the middle of midfield, dropping into a more defensive role in front of the back four.

Currie got one shot all wrong but moments later forced a save from Filan, who could not hold on, but neither Bent nor Kuqi could force in the rebound.

Wilnis connected with a low drive but it whizzed wide of a post.

But Town were stung by a wonder goal by defender Leighton Baines.

He picked up a loose ball from Currie just outside the centre circle and hit a thunderous 40-yard drive that arrowed straight into the top right-hand corner of the net.

It was the 20-year-old's first-ever senior goal, and he will probably never hit a better one.

He almost repeated it 10 minutes later but this time Davis was well positioned to pluck the swerving drive from the air.

Naylor has scored more than a few in his time and the equaliser from a Currie free-kick was among his best, as he twisted in the air to head the ball back behind him into the top right-hand corner.

The winner, a minute from time, stemmed from good play deep in Town own half as they played their way out of trouble.

Miller then delivered a deep ball from wide on the halfway line which Kuqi went up for but didn't get any contact on.

But the predatory Bent pounced and beat Latics skipper Matt Jackson to the ball to half-volley the ball over Filan.

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