We owe the Hammers

THE SEASONAL revenge mission, part two, kicks off at Portman Road today. Having paid Stoke back for the 3-2 defeat at their place in the Autumn, we now turn our attentions to a bigger fish.

THE SEASONAL revenge mission, part two, kicks off at Portman Road today. Having paid Stoke back for the 3-2 defeat at their place in the Autumn, we now turn our attentions to a bigger fish.

Always a big match, West Ham at home has a little extra edge for Ipswich fans, as we owe them one for the play-off defeat last season.

You couldn't argue with the result on the night back in May as the better side won, but nonetheless, this is as close as we'll get to a local derby this season, and the recent history between the two clubs adds a little New Year spice.

Sometimes a name carries more weight than the team itself. It's noticeable that today is a sell-out for home fans whereas the Wigan game wasn't, despite Paul Jewell's men being a step above the Hammers this season.

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But despite the grumblings of some of their support, who rightly believe that with the resources at his disposal Alan Pardew should have dragged them higher in the table, this is a side which, long term, could cause us problems.

They have the quality in their squad, the support and the resources to mount a challenge if they pull their finger out. The key for us today would be to beat West Ham and then watch them (hopefully) take points off our rivals over the rest of the campaign.

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It's a little early in the season to have the calculators out, but things do get decided at Christmas, despite what the managers say. The fact that the team bottom of the Premiership on Boxing Day morning always gets relegated, and most of the teams top of Division One (I refuse to call it the Championship) at this time of year get promoted tells its own story. Start the New Year in a position of strength and you're likely to build on it.

Foreign managers despair when they look at the next three days, which sees teams play two games and travel hundreds of miles inbetween. It becomes less about who is the best side, but which club has the bigger squad and more resilience.

That aside, the top of the Championship goes into the melting pot for the next three days, and a return of four points or better would surely keep us top. We have a head start on most of our rivals as well, as the early kick off means Shefki and co will be polishing their boots in a departure lounge somewhere while the rest are still playing.

But given that this is a day when many people have to peel their faces off the kitchen or bathroom floor and spit out a half-eaten kebab before making their way to the ground, the early start is a little harsh on the fans.

It never helps the atmosphere as well. It was noticeable against Stoke that the noon start took an edge off the crowd noise compared to the Wigan match under floodlights a week earlier.

The difference today will be a large travelling support. Between them, Stoke and Wigan barely mustered enough fans to be heard, but at least this afternoon there will be an opposing choir.

They'll sing that song about bubbles, we'll tell them we saw them cry on the telly in Cardiff back in May, or something along those lines. But as I said, it's not really a derby, just a decent footballing occasion.

One man I'm looking forward to seeing again is Tomas Repka. At the end of the semi-final at Upton Park he went out of his way to celebrate in front of the Town fans in the away end, the courageous chap. I hope he's still as brave this lunchtime.

I don't want to keep banging on about the play-offs though, we don't want some sort of Bolton-style feud developing between the two clubs, something that lasts for years.

Just a win today will be fine by me.

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