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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 14/12/02, 3pm
Ipswich Town
Tom & Jerry
By Matt Rowson

It reminds me of an incident when I was about eight or nine when my best mate told me that he always rooted for Tom over Jerry. This was a significant milestone for me... a landmark event. It wasn't the particular futility of the policy that was surprising; I was already making visits to Vicarage Road, the concept of involvement without hope or expectation of reward was not unfamiliar.

But Tom & Jerry represented the purest representation of Good against Evil that was immediately available. In a complicated world, here was an issue that took little thinking about, something on which we can all agree, a no-brainer. Except, apparently, it wasn't. (My friend was wise ahead of his time of course - or perhaps I was a late developer. In any case, the further revelation that Jerry was a smarmy little tyke wasn't long in dawning on me either, in the event).

I was reminded of this incident this week when arguing the toss about the AFC Wimbledon / Boxing Day thing on a Watford Messageboard. It wasn't the arguments that I was opposed with that upset me, it was the fact that arguments were being presented at all. Surely this is something that everyone agrees about, surely this is simple?

The world isn't like that. There are rarely clear-cut cases of right and wrong, good and bad (whatever a certain superpower near Canada appears to believe). Whatever the issue, however straightforward a question to one person, there will be others going "yes but", and the Internet just shrinks the whole thing and makes it more evident, gravitating together contradictory opinions when pre-Internet people might be expected to tend towards those who share their points of view.

So I'm particularly looking forward to "The Two Towers" next week, the second in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Quite apart from bringing the most fantastic story ever written to life, quite apart from taking on the massive task of conveying the storming of Helm's Deep (a kind of literary parallel to our playoff semi-final at St.Andrews, but so only far on paper and in your head), the Lord of the Rings is, in one respect, very simple. Good and Bad, Right and Wrong are clearly defined and reinforced, even when intermingled in the same character. Sorted.

As for Ipswich, a similar quandary seems to exist at the moment. The "Those were the Days" messageboard debates the merits of Burley past versus Royle present, and tries to square the virtues of the Tractor Boys' passing tradition with the number of games lost to more direct opponents this season, most recently Rotherham on Saturday. The borders look set to blur, of course... big Joe's teams have never been anything but pragmatic, and a "big lump" of a striker seems to be a priority for January, with Sheffield Wednesday's Shefki Kuqi a target.

In goal for Town will be Paul Gerrard, on loan from Everton, who made his debut for Ipswich in the fixture at Vicarage Road last month. Andy Marshall has dropped to the bench.

Injuries mean that options look seriously limited at the back; Mark Venus (knee) and Chris Makin (hamstring) both missed out on Tuesday at Brighton, and John McGreal limped off early in the game with what appeared to be a knee injury.

Should all three miss Saturday's tie, Fabian Wilnis, a scorer against Rotherham on Saturday is likely to play as right wingback with Jamie Clapham, more frequently a midfield workhorse of late, dropping back to left wingback, although youngster Matt Richards, a sub on Tuesday, is another option here.

Regular left wingback Hermann Hreidarsson reverted to the left of the central trio in place of the injured Venus, whilst Matt Holland would appear to be the most likely candidate to fill the third slot on the other side of Danish lynchpin Thomas Gaaards°e, the outstanding player in Town's win at Vicarage Road. Wayne Brown, to be released on a free transfer, still does not feature. Which seems bizarre.

In midfield, Jim Magilton, Town's goalscorer on Tuesday night, is a fixture. Holland and Clapham have been his regular partners, but should they be forced to drop back Jermaine Wright and the exciting Darren Ambrose should step in although Martijn Reuser, who has been playing reserve games following knee surgery, could also come into contention. Tommy Miller, who starred in the recent Worthington Cup tie with Liverpool, has a knee problem and Finidi George has been granted a free transfer.

Town's biggest problems appear to be up front; Pablo Cou˝ago and Darren Bent have formed a willing but hardly prolific partnership. The Spaniard looks tidy but needs a stronger foil than the talented but lightweight Bent - Alun Armstrong, goalscorer at Vicarage Road, and Richard Naylor would appear to be candidates. Marcus Bent is returning from injury, but whilst his ability is not in question, his attitude has not impressed since relegation.

Ipswich have generally enjoyed a lot of possession in recent games but haven't been converting chances, and with the team's record at Portman Road unimpressive, the crowd have been getting restless and whiney. Joe Royle still talks positively about the playoffs but his bold assertions sound less and less realistic with each point dropped. Following a brief flurry of form on his arrival, Town have not won in four games. Another season in Division One (and despite their nineteenth place, this is surely the worst they will commit themselves to) will have grievous consequences; at last week's AGM, David Sheepshanks made the sort of financial portents that are becoming all too familiar with the phrase "50% reduction in wage bill" featuring grimly.

With Uriah Rennie due to officiate, Saturday promises to be anything but dull. If the Pennant-less Watford can pull together a more cohesive performance than Saturday's freezing disappointment at Derby, Town are fragile enough to be there for the taking. And a Watford win would be a Good Thing just before Christmas.

Wouldn't it...?