What a difference a year makes

DESPITE their rotten start to this season, Ipswich Town are now an amazing 11 points better off than at the same stage last year.Town will surely gain heart from this encouraging statistic, especially when it is considered that they only missed out on the Division One play-offs by one place and four points last term.

DESPITE their rotten start to this season, Ipswich Town are now an amazing 11 points better off than at the same stage last year, writes Carl Marston.

Town will surely gain heart from this encouraging statistic, especially when it is considered that they only missed out on the Division One play-offs by one place and four points last term.

Manager Joe Royle has been quick to insist that his side are not just eyeing up a top-six spot this campaign. He believes that his players are good enough to finish in the top two and so gain automatic promotion to the Premiership.

George Burley, who was still in the Portman Road hot seat during the first couple of months of last season, also predicted that his old team would be returning to the top flight, and that was both before and after his Derby County side's 2-1 defeat at Town on Saturday.


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The comparison with 12 months ago is an interesting one. After 22 league games, the Suffolk club were preparing for a pre-Christmas away game at leaders Portsmouth.

They had accumulated just 27 points from those 22 fixtures, which left them wallowing in 19th position, a daunting 26 points behind front-runners Portsmouth and 24 points adrift of second-placed Leicester City - both Pompey and the Foxes duly clinched promotion to the Premiership.

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This year, however, there is a completely different look to the Division One table, not least in the distribution of points between the top two and the rest.

Ipswich are going great guns after a recent record of just two defeats in 16 league games. That sensational run has seen Royle's troops march up the table, from rock bottom in mid-September to their current position of third, a mere two points behind second-placed Norwich City.

Town's weekend victory over Derby boosted their tally to 38 points, a healthy 11 points better off than this time in 2002-03.

The future looks bright, therefore, as Town prepare for their next challenge at mid-table Millwall on Saturday.

And it is not just Ipswich's position that has changed radically from 12 months ago. The top two in the week leading up to Christmas last year were a massive 12 points clear of the chasing pack. The scramble was already on for the minor places.

Back to the present and there are no clear-cut favourites. The top 10 are all bunched together.

“The top two were away and clear last season, and we were at the wrong end of the table,” recalled Town manager Joe Royle.

“But we have given ourselves a much better chance of promotion this season, and the expectations of the club are such that we are looking to finish in the top two.”

Whereas last season was all about what happened during the first half of the campaign, this time around nothing will be determined until the second half.

An intriguing next four-and-a-half months beckons.

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