Town lose to West Ham

THERE is no nice way to dress this performance up.The league leaders were poor. They deserved to lose to a better team on a day when the Blues looked far from convincing Championship leaders.

THERE is no nice way to dress this performance up.

The league leaders were poor. They deserved to lose to a better team on a day when the Blues looked far from convincing Championship leaders.

The way Town gave up their unbeaten home record was disappointing and after going through the whole of 2004 without failing to score in every game at Portman Road the goals dried up in awful fashion.

Ipswich will take some comfort from results elsewhere, as Sunderland lost to ensure Town stay top and history tells us that the team that tops the table on New Year's Day has been promoted every year since the Premiership inception.

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There was little comfort they could take from a game where they looked more hung-over than many of the 30,000 crowd, although not a drop of alcohol will have passed the players' lips.

A minute's silence was immaculately observed and the Town players looked to still be contemplating the more important things in life as the Hammers accepted a gift-wrapped present.

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A comedy of errors in the form of poor passes and miscommunication allowed Marlon Harewood in for a simple goal inside the first minute.

Ian Westlake's misplaced pass fell to Harewood who hit a ball to the wing from the centre circle. There looked no danger as Matt Richards played a sloppy pass back. Not until Kelvin Davis and Richard Naylor had a communication breakdown and the centre back heeded a shout and left it for the keeper who failed to clear and Harewood took full advantage to steer the ball into an unguarded net from 20 yards.

Ipswich got away with almost conceding a second when skipper Nigel Reo-Coker finished from a Matthew Etherington free kick but the linesman flagged for an alleged offside against Malky Mackay.

It looked a harsh decision from the linesman who hails from Norwich.

It didn't matter in the big scheme of things as the Hammers wrapped up their deserved win in the last minute with Harewood once again at the heart of things.

He beat Richards by a corner flag before driving a shot across goal. Fabian Wilnis cleared off the line and then blocked Sergei Rebrov's follow up effort. But the ball fell for the ubiquitous Matthew Etherington who tapped in for his second goal in three games against Town.

In truth 2-0 was kind on Ipswich who looked toothless up front. They had almost no drive or creativity in midfield meaning there were very few chances for the prolific front two who are beginning to look jaded.

Tommy Miller dragged a shot wide, Ian Westlake had a couple of shots blocked and skipper Jim Magilton hit a wayward effort.

Darren Currie plugged away but even he never found the precision we have seen already that he can produce.

The £250,000 signing cut inside to hit a good drive but Stephen Bywater was behind it. He whipped in a dangerous free kick, which the Hammers struggled to clear, but clear they did.

Town's only bright spell, late in the second half, coincided with Dean Bowditch's arrival, but nothing really fell for him.

With the Plymouth game uppermost in the manager's mind Royle did not use any other of his substitutes.

Although Jim Magilton was visibly wilting again late on, Kevin Horlock was saved for Monday, while Pablo Counago continued to miss out although he has been successful against the Hammers in the past.

Jason De Vos met a Magilton cross with a good header but it went straight to Bywater. With his dad visiting him from Canada it could have been a nice moment for the towering defender.

De Vos eventually got his back line under control after an extremely nervous start where Town's defending was absolutely woeful in the first 20 minutes.

They could easily have been three down in that period and only a poor shot from Gavin Williams, which Davis then fumbled, deprived West Ham again after another incisive move.

Etherington had a shot cleared off the line by Naylor with Zamora lurking and Davis was well-positioned when an Etherington free kick found an unmarked Zamora.

To compound matters Kuqi picked up a leg injury which could rule him out of today's clash at Plymouth and a rare flash of temper when he retaliated to something Carl Fletcher said to him cost him a booking.

It was one of those days when almost nothing went right for Town but they will accept for only the second time this season they have lost to a better team.

Let us hope that that is the last time this season it happens and the next time they get beaten by a better side, it is after August and the side will be of a Premiership persuasion.

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