Town lose again

ON the face of it things look bleak. Beaten for the third time in a row, the first time that has happened to Ipswich since exactly a year ago when Stoke Norwich and Millwall beat them.

ON the face of it things look bleak. Beaten for the third time in a row, the first time that has happened to Ipswich since exactly a year ago when Stoke Norwich and Millwall beat them.

A failure to score for the second game running and worst still not even creating a chance worthy of note, as toothless Town looked shot shy.

Then there is the league position, third by right, or in the bottom 22 as Joe Royle, with a heavy hint of sarcasm, puts it, with Preston and Derby rapidly bridging what once looked an insurmountable gap.

The blip is slowly turning into a downward spiral where confidence, belief and luck are not as apparent as just a month ago.

But every Ying has a yang and even the darkest night has a dawn.

When Town toppled Wigan from the top of table last December; they too went three defeats in a row - look where they are now.

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Paul Jewell didn't make radical changes and it was pretty much the side that took them top also took them back three months later.

The Blues don't have three months but they do have 10 games and one win could so easily be the start of a run that will see them nudge aside either Sunderland or Wigan.

In that last triple defeat, Town then went on a run, starting in mid-March which saw them win six of their next seven matches and they became an established play-off side.

The fear, of course, is that whichever of the leading three fail to win an automatic promotion will also bomb in the play-offs.

So Town need to re-discover the formula which got them into the top two in the first place.

The Blues are the second highest scoring side in the division for a reason but the supply to the forwards has dried up.

Darren Bent was hauled off at half time after getting an earful on the pitch midway through the first half from Royle who had made the trip from directors' box to touch-line.

By then it was apparent to all that the Blues were getting mullered.

Wigan did everything but score as they tore the newly-formed central partnership to shreds with David Unsworth hopelessly exposed more than once by the brightest attacking pairing outside the Premiership, and there are few in the top flight that could match them too.

The first warning came within the first couple of minutes when Jason Roberts pulled a ball back for Nathan Ellington but his weak effort rolled wide.

Gary Teale blasted a couple of shot wide, defender Ian Breckin headed wide and then the Latics best chance fell for Ellington.

Defender Nicky Eaden played a terrific ball over the stranded Unsworth, Ellington easily outpaced the one-time England centre-half and as Richard Naylor closed him down the striker chose to shoot across goal and wide, rather than square for the unmarked Roberts.

Roberts let his flu-suffering mate know exactly what he thought of such selfishness but that didn't stop him trying a 25-yard drive which Kelvin Davis pushed around a post.

The Ipswich central pairing were caught again as a Lee McCulloch through ball found Roberts but he rapped his shot against a post and Jimmy Bullard skied the rebound over the bar with his left foot.

There is no doubt Wigan deserved a goal but the one they got was harsh on Town.

Roberts turned brilliantly to give himself space, threaded a ball to Ellington who was clipped by Fabian Wilnis just outside the area and both tumbled in the box, landing by the penalty spot which the referee was pointing towards.

Ellington's nonchalant spot kick sent Davis the wrong way and Wigan returned to the top of the table.

The best the Blues could offer in a one-sided first half was a curling shot from Bent which went wide plus a snap shot from Miller after Filan came out of his area and collided with Bent and the ball went loose.

The England Under 21 striker is clearly struggling for something - confidence, belief, hunger?

But it was apparent that instead of being in the danger area looking for a chance he was going wide and looking for the ball, to be a creator instead of a finisher.

So when Currie delivered a good ball into the area, there was no-one attacking it. In the second half when Ian Westlake turned smartly and galloped down the wing his cross was ignored by the Town attack all treating the penalty area like a minefield.

Kuqi's much-heralded return failed to inspire and he looked like a ring-rusty cruiserweight taking a fight at too short a notice.

Although the second half was much better from a Town perspective it still lacked conviction.

The Blues played some neat passing football at times while Wigan let them get on with it, patiently waiting for a mistake or a punt up-field and possession was once again theirs. They also did more with the ball when they had it.

Davis made a fabulous save from Bullard and the outstanding Wilnis was on hand to clear up. The Dutchman was calmness personified when Teale got behind Matt Richards and crossed but Wilnis chested the ball to Davis.

Royle tried to freshen things up by replacing Bent with Bowditch but it was only when Jim Magilton went on for Darren Currie that the Blues actually looked as if they could do something.

A previously vapid midfield looked more inventive, feeding the three man attack as Pablo Counago replaced Kevin Horlock but still they never really tested Filan. At the other end Wilnis made a wonderful tackle on Teale, while Naylor made a last ditch block to deny the Latics a cushion. The JJB faithful sang Hold On To What You Have Got and Town piled on some late pressure.

The players and manager could not apportion any blame to the 3,000 travelling Town supporters, who were magnificent in their non-stop backing, and the team will hope for the same at home on Saturday.

Hopefully they will give the fans more to cheer about after a first half in which a streaker brought the only light relief.

Town will also get Jason De Vos back and that will be an important element although Richards will feel hard done by if he is shunted out again after flourishing at left back following a shaky start.

So while things look a little bleak at the moment it is not all bad. The team is capable of putting a winning run together. A change of luck, a couple of goals and a clean sheet will soon change all this doom and gloom.

Seven wins and a draw could well be enough but Town are running out of time to get over the dip and start putting the pressure back on the others, who are just as likely to slip up in a couple of games too.

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