Warning bells out

THE warning bells have been ringing for a while now and, ironically enough, when they actually played quite well the Blues' luck ran out.Good results at Sheffield United and Preston, and another at home to Leicester, papered over the cracks and the Blues needed to improve performances.

THE warning bells have been ringing for a while now and, ironically enough, when they actually played quite well the Blues' luck ran out.

Good results at Sheffield United and Preston, and another at home to Leicester, papered over the cracks and the Blues needed to improve performances.

They did look more like their old selves against a below-strength Watford side but the good fortune that has blessed them of late was not with them, as Darren Bent, Tommy Miller and others scorned finishes.

Although Town dominated, they never took their chances, while Watford had five opportunities at best and put two of them away. Ipswich have not lost two games in a row all season and with QPR on Saturday, they will be hoping that continues.

Both Watford goals, Jay Demerit on the stroke of half time and Bruce Dyer late in the second half, came totally against the run of play.

Miller taking a penalty is a safer investment than an ISA, and he duly kept up his 100 per cent record from the spot to set up a thrilling climax.

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Unhappy with recent performances, Blues boss Joe Royle tried freshening things by dropping Darren Currie and moving Ian Westlake back to the left side of midfield, allowing Kevin Horlock and Jim Magilton to get a grip of the centre of midfield.

As is the norm at Portman Road these days, Watford strung five across midfield. Every team except Leicester has done the same since Sheffield United were beaten 5-1, and it has proved an awkward tactic for Town to untangle.

Watford were without leading scorer Heidar Helguson, whose 16 goals have seen them do well in the League Cup and pull off some good league results, including a draw at Wigan.

His place was taken by young French prodigy Hameur Bouazza, who scored in the 2-2 draw with the Blues at Vicarage Road earlier in the campaign.

Set-piece specialist and left-footed midfielder Neal Ardley was surprisingly left on the bench.

Ipswich took advantage of Ardley's absence to attack down Watford's left flank, with Fabian Wilnis getting some joy, putting good diagonal balls into the danger area and Paul Jones did well to smother a couple of early efforts with James Scowcroft lurking.

Jones was playing his final game on loan for Watford and returns to Wolves today. He got down well to a Bent shot on the half-hour after Miller had sent the young striker scampering free following battling work from Magilton and Horlock to win the ball deep in their own half.

Miller struck a 20-yard low shot which Jones grabbed and also hit a first-time shot well wide as he latched on to a Scowcroft knock down.

But for all their possession and neat moves Town could not find a breakthrough and did not take advantage of the half chances that came their way.

It was heartening to see them play better than they have in the past three matches and the midfield looked better balanced and tighter in the middle. At the same time, they missed Currie's flair out wide on the left.

The Hornets had little to worry Town up front and when Danny Webber looked to wriggle free, Wilnis tracked him and blocked his progress with a good tackle.

When Watford did get the ball into the Town area Richard Naylor and Horlock dealt with it until the stroke of half-time, when a deep angled cross by Neil Cox was delivered. Fellow centre-back Demerit rose above his marker Scowcroft and his downward header took a slight deflection off Naylor's shoulder and evaded the despairing Kelvin Davis.

It was a harsh blow for Town going into the break and, as undeserved as it was, a surprise for the young American, scoring his first goal for the Hornets.

Four minutes into the second half Bent burst through and, despite being pulled back by Watford skipper Gavin Mahon, got his shot away from 14 yards but it skimmed the outside of a post.

The England Under-21 striker ran on to a ball from Miller after he won a tough challenge but the Watford defence got back in numbers to deny him a clear shot. Moments later Bent did well to find room to squeeze a shot in but it was left-footed and off target, with Mahon challenging.

Currie went on for Westlake and livened things up. He delivered a cross which neither Scowcroft or Bent could reach. Bent then put a good ball wide and Currie cut inside to shoot at Jones, who fumbled, and the predatory Miller could not put the rebound on target.

Miller was getting into the box with dangerous intent and hit another shot wide, after a David Unsworth cross was headed back by Bent.

Bent was unfortunate to see a volley go over the bar after Currie had played in a delightful lob over the Watford back line. He had a header tipped over the bar and, from the corner, Unsworth hit a Jason De Vos knock-down over the bar from six yards.

It was clearly not his night as Bent agonisingly saw his 16-yard lob over Jones crash back from the crossbar.

Although it was all Town, on-loan Spurs midfielder Johnnie Jackson gave them a reminder not to neglect their defensive duties with a thunderous 25-yard volley that was not far wide.

Royle gambled by taking off a defender and Dean Bowditch replaced Wilnis and it proved a disastrous move with Watford getting the second almost immediately.

Bruce Dyer was completely unmarked as he headed in a Jackson corner.

That just stung Ipswich into further action and Miller made it two goals in as many games when he slotted in a penalty with three minutes to go. It appeared to be a fortunate decision for Ipswich with Scowcroft actually handling the ball and not Cox, who the referee thought was the culprit.

Currie had a 20-yarder turned wide and even four added minutes was not enough for Town to pull off one of their famed comebacks.

derek.davis@eadt.co.uk

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