Town's difficult target

IPSWICH Town's financial salvation through an immediate return to the Premiership via the play-offs is still just possible. There is no hiding the fact that two more dropped points against battling Brighton at Portman Road on Saturday make it a very difficult target.

By Tony Garnett

IPSWICH Town's financial salvation through an immediate return to the Premiership via the play-offs is still just possible. There is no hiding the fact that two more dropped points against battling Brighton at Portman Road on Saturday make it a very difficult target.

It was a miserable weekend for Town supporters. The news of the imminent sale of Darren Ambrose to Newcastle and Hermann Hreidarsson to Portsmouth only served to underline the club's perilous position.

Hopefully the administrators will now have enough money to see the club through for the final weeks of the season. If Premiership football cannot be achieved, then other players will have to depart to reduce the massive wage bill.

How many, though, are saleable? Darren Bent is worth good money but established players like Matt Holland and Marcus Bent are currently on sizeable contracts at Portman Road. Other clubs will think long and hard before committing themselves to such an outlay. Then, of course, there is Finidi George, who is currently being treated for a hip injury. He has been available on a free transfer since the summer with no genuine interest being shown.

Ipswich needed a comprehensive victory over Brighton to help them forget their long-term worries for an hour or two. It was not to be.

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It is unusual for a loanee, especially one carrying an injury and playing in his farewell match, to be his team's outstanding player. All credit, therefore, to Trinidad international Tony Rougier for his tremendous efforts on behalf of a Brighton side cobbled together with precious few funds.

Brighton had not previously picked up a single point this season when Bobby Zamora, their talismanic striker, has been missing from the side. Rougier proved to be an outstanding replacement and deserved his two goals, although the record books will almost certainly credit him with only one.

Ipswich should have made sure of victory before the interval but wasted some great chances with Pablo Counago being the main culprit. Some clever flicks by the Spaniard were impressive but his finishing let him down.

Town had to settle for a 20th-minute goal from Marcus Bent. He finished clinically enough after Danny Cullip had made a nonsense of tidying up a through ball from Holland. Brighton have a no-blame policy in their dressing room, but Cullip will surely hold his hand up to this error.

Counago sent a close-range effort spinning over the bar in the ninth minute when he met a low free-kick from Martijn Reuser at the near post when under pressure from Kerry Mayo. Then, in the 33rd minute, Counago fired over the bar from a quality cross from Fabian Wilnis after Jim Magilton had sent the Dutchman clear.

Holland pushed forward when possible and once tested Dave Beasant with a low shot that gained full marks for accuracy but lacked the power to beat the veteran goalkeeper.

Brighton, sensing that Ipswich could be vulnerable, increased the pace of their game after the interval. Their equaliser in the 66th minute was no surprise as Gary Hart had sent a shot on the turn skimming only a foot or so wide five minutes earlier. Paul Brooker, whose positive running worried Ipswich, sent Hart clear down the left. The cross was met by Rougier whose powerful header struck the underside of the bar.

The ball bounced down and would not have crossed the line had it not hit Andy Marshall who will, regrettably, be credited with an own goal that Rougier genuinely deserved.

Ipswich had a golden opportunity to regain the lead and perhaps snuff out the Brighton flame a couple of minutes later. Chris Makin ran full speed into the Brighton penalty area, Richard Carpenter brought him down and a spot kick was awarded.

Young Darren Bent is a confident lad who was quite happy to take the responsibility. He blazed over the bar.

Beasant is a formidable figure in goal but Bent is too young to recall how the former captain of the Crazy Gang saved the spot kick from John Aldridge of Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final at Wembley.

In the 81st minute Rougier was left with a simple task from close range to blast his shot past Marshall after the Ipswich defence had been carved wide open. Brooker pulled the ball back from the by-line on the left to find Rougier unmarked. Ipswich were now staring their seventh home league defeat of the season in the face.

Town buckled down and were level again four minutes later. Tommy Miller had taken over in central midfield from Magilton. His extra pace gave Brighton a fresh problem and his terrier-like determination enabled him to roll the ball back for Reuser to let fly from well outside the penalty area. His right-foot drive went like a rocket just inside the post.

Brighton had great vocal support from their fans and showed the spirit that can lift them clear of the drop. Perhaps it will not be long before Derby County, currently in freefall, join the troubled four at the foot of the Divison One table.

Ipswich had the extra quality but Brighton were so much sharper up front thanks to Rougier, Hart and Brooker. Wilnis joined the Ipswich attack when possible and had the ball smothered at his feet by Beasant, who could well continue in league football until he is 50.

"Typical Ipswich" was the comment I heard more than once on Saturday evening. It is so frustrating that they play superb football against powerful opponents like Reading and Sheffield United yet come unstuck against clubs like Brighton, Stoke City and Grimsby – all battling against relegation. Despite these upsets of form, Ipswich have lost only two of their past 19 matches.

Ipswich cannot afford any more slips if they are to catch either Wolves or Nottingham Forest, who both won again at the weekend.

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