What next for the team?

THE moment Steve Dunn blew his whistle and the Claret and Blue contingent started their celebrations, Blues supporters' thoughts turned immediately to the summer holidays and what does next season hold for Town, writes Derek Davis.

THE moment Steve Dunn blew his whistle and the Claret and Blue contingent started their celebrations, Blues supporters' thoughts turned immediately to the summer holidays and what does next season hold for Town, writes Derek Davis.

Football, for them, was over for another three months and while there will be passing interest in the FA Cup final tomorrow and the play-off final at the end of the month, the seaside, trips abroad, shopping and days out will occupy the thoughts when not doing the daily grind.

There will of course be the inquests.

To finish third was a more than creditable result over the season considering the signs did not look promising last summer.

So the Blues exceeded early expectation but left everyone feeling disappointed, despondent and not particularly optimistic about next season.

For a start Darren Bent will be sold in the summer. As much as it will be a wrench for him to leave, he wants Premiership football and if Charlton or Aston Villa don't pick up a bargain from abroad in the meantime, it is likely they will show an interest again.

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But they won't pay over the odds and £2m, plus perhaps a player, would be the most Town would get, if that.

Even though he notched 19 goals and was again prolific for England Under-21s, which he won't be eligible for next season, Bent is still unproven in the top flight.

There is also a host of other Championship strikers who may prove more attractive – Andy Johnson at Palace, Peter Crouch and Kevin Phillips at Southampton, David Nugent at Preston if they don't go up.

Kelvin Davis is probably Town's most valuable asset now after his player of the year season.

Arsenal are showing an interest and one or two other clubs will show their hand in July. With the more than capable Lewis Price and Shane Supple waiting in the wings, Town would not need to find a replacement keeper.

Shefki Kuqi was being watched by Bolton earlier in the season and a top-flight club could well go for him as a free agent and the Finn is unlikely to pass up the opportunity.

Tommy Miller and Jason De Vos may also attract some interest but apart from that Premiership clubs are not likely to pay much attention to the Town squad.

Dean Bowditch is not yet ready to move upwards, Ian Westlake went backwards this season and Matt Richards has gone sideways trying to adapt to the midfield role he is being groomed for after his defensive qualities were questioned by Joe Royle.

There will not be the mass exodus of last year, although one or two will go. Pablo Counago will benefit from returning to Spain and will be a star player in his new setting, playing for a manger who appreciates his obvious ability.

The £12,000 a week saved on his wages would considerably help Royle's budget, which will be tightened even further this year.

It could pay Mo Camara's wages, should he join from Burnley as expected. Darren Ward, the Millwall defender, is being looked at, while a move for Reading's Steve Sidwell is now unlikely.

Jim Magilton is likely to move on to pastures new and take up a role as a player/coach somewhere. He may well be offered a contract by Royle as the Irishman's influence in the dressing room is immense and he has been a wonderful captain for Town.

He could confound his critics and show he has another year in his legs in the Championship but it is more probable that he would be used less and less and there is no room for another coach at Town. Quite how he would settle for being on the sidelines when he could be more involved at another club is doubtful.

Drissa Diallo would be a useful squad player and could be offered a short contract to prove his fitness.

The dependable and efficient Fabian Wilnis will stay for another year while Richard Naylor is assured of staying for his testimonial season.

Tommy Miller is not a sure thing.

Town will want to keep him but he is now a free agent and there is bound to be interest for the talented midfielder who was at his most effective in central midfield. That could be a factor in deciding whether he stays or not. The thought of another year stuck out wide right could be enough to tempt him to look elsewhere.

Kevin Horlock has been a good addition to the squad and is well worth keeping. Jimmy Juan has not yet decided if he wants to stay another year on loan from Monaco, and it will be interesting to see if he can develop at Portman Road.

Although Royle has been gushing in his praise of the youngsters, he has not really given any of them a chance.

Next year will necessitate the emergence of a few with Owen Garvan, Dean McDonald, Jaime Peters and Billy Clarke likely to lead the charge.

In defence Chris Casement and Aidan Collins will push the central defenders. It will be a big year for Scott Michell, Scott Barron and Gerard Nash, who have all been blighted by injuries.

The Blues will of course say they don't have to sell, and certainly they are not in as precarious a position as they were a couple of years ago, but they do need to balance the books. Town will make a loss on this season and they need to break even in the next financial year.

Missing out on a £20m pot of gold was Town's failure to capitalise on a five-point lead.

The warning signs started flashing at Reading in January, when they went ahead in the last minute but still contrived to drop two points by allowing the Royals an instant reply.

Although they won at Sheffield United and at home to Leicester City neither performance was convincing. Royle admitted they got away with highway robbery by nicking a point at Preston but even though points were being whittled away, they still hung on to top spot.

With Watford and QPR coming up in February it looked a great time to consolidate and even extend their lead but they were stung by the Hornets, despite actually playing quite well that day, and then kicked in the teeth by Rangers. Those two home defeats were to be a defining moment.

Even a 6-0 win over Forest and 5-1 against Crewe just hid the truth, Town weren't good enough. Four draws in their final five regular league games underlined that while Wigan and Sunderland carried on winning.

For them the future is bright and they will spend their summer filled with hope, not dread.

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