Town's new 'bad boys' tag

WHILE the three points at Southend were very welcome, the six bookings cost Ipswich Town a £5,000 fine on top of the usual penalty for the players but, more worryingly, suspensions are beginning to prove costly.

By Derek Davis

WHILE the three points at Southend were very welcome, the six bookings cost Ipswich Town a £5,000 fine on top of the usual penalty for the players but, more worryingly, suspensions are beginning to prove costly.

The worst offender in the country is Alex Bruce, who has already served a one-match ban and is creeping closer to the 10, which would make him miss two more matches.

Mark Noble will be forced to sit out the Luton match, although it will give his groin injury more time to settle, while Gavin Williams used his enforced weekend off for five bookings to recover from an operation.

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Town have picked up an unprecedented 38 bookings already this season, only Millwall, of the 92 league clubs, with 37 yellow and two red have more.

Manager Jim Magilton has made it clear the players will bear the brunt of the fine, although even Ipswich can handle a £5,000 penalty. The worry is, if it continues not only do the fines add up but the league has the power to hand then a substantial penalty at the end of the season, although, as it will be the first time Ipswich will have ever had to worry about that, it would probably be suspended.

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Just three years ago, Ipswich qualified for Europe through the Fair Play League and a lucky draw but it shows how the change has come about.

'Get stuck in' is hardly the most innovative of coaching tips but something yelled from the terraces by Ipswich fans frustrated at the soft shoe shuffling by Blues players over recent years.

Yes, we have seen Mauricio Taricco hurl his slender frame into more than one unsuspecting opponent and the usually-placid Argentinian turn an ultimate fighter on occasion but, on the whole, Town have been regarded as the nice chaps from Suffolk who are a decent passing side but a soft touch.

Not any more, it would seem, as the Blues' disciplinary record suggest an inner steel, coupled with a determination to scrap for every ball, a refusal to give an inch without spilling blood and it matters little who's.

The label of the league's bad boys will come as a surprise to many throughout the game and is already worrying the backroom staff.

Interestingly enough, the team's indiscipline does not reflect on the manager who, while passionate enough, only picked up 13 bookings and was sent off just once in his 13-season career.

Magilton denounced the indiscipline on Saturday and warned the players who bear the cost of the fine imposed by the league to the club, as well as the usual club measures.

He has told Bruce, in particular, that seven bookings in 12 games is not acceptable and warned the rest of the team to clean up their act.

But, at the same time, he doesn't want teams bowling up and thinking they can outmuscle Town or bully them into submission.

The prime example this season was Sunderland, who tried to imitate their own manager's style but without any finesse. Town withstood the battering and went on to outplay the Black Cats too.

There is a fine line between being strong and firm and being dirty or ill-disciplined.

Three of Town's bookings were unnecessary. Indeed, Sylvain Legwinski might have been dismissed by another referee when he lashed out at Adam Barrett in retaliation.

Simon Walton will argue he was merely passing the ball back to an opponent when he got booked for kicking the ball away, while Bruce got there when he could with his block.

Most managers will accept most bookings for their players as mistakes by the referee or deserved for a necessary action by his player. What he will not accept from his players is most acts of dissent or stupidity.

The stupidness of the rules at times, and the lack of common-sense from officials, is beyond his control and, therefore, not worth getting agitated about.

If, in the long run, the team win games they might have otherwise lost, picked up points against sides they weren't expected to because they played with more edge than expected, then the fans, manager and, hopefully, the board, will accept that.

To be able to play the fluid football Town are famed for, they must first win the ball and, at times, that means going to get it. In days of yore, that usually meant holding off a player and allowing team-mates to be in position to intercept or patiently wait for a mistake.

That inevitably led to frustration at possibly the whole midfield never making a tackle in the game, never mind attackers getting back to harry and defenders trying to be cute instead of decisive.

Even today, where the physicality is being driven out of the game, there is room, and a necessity, for hard tackling and ferocious challenges and, if that means a few more bookings and a few more points, then so be it.

But the rule is generally the cleaner your team, the higher they finish.

That said, Cardiff have had two sendings-off, although nearly half as many yellow cards as Ipswich, while Colchester now have 15 after their trip to Coventry on Monday night.

In essence, Town must continue to show passion and battle for every ball but curb the temper, bite their lips and time tackles better.

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