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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 22/02/05, 7.45pm
Ipswich Town
Happy talking, talking...
By Matt Rowson

If you've come here looking for glittering prose and shrewd insight into Tuesday's encounter, you can f*** right off. I'm tired and grouchy and hung over; the combination of the family together for my sister's thirtieth and the venue being Leeds, a stamping ground of both myself and my brother, is a potent one. I drove back from Yorkshire this lunchtime feeling fine and was hit like a sledgehammer as I stepped through the door. I guess I should be grateful it held off until then.

And this sodding preview still has to be done, although quite whether the form or make-up of the Ipswich side bears any relevance to Tuesday night is questionable. We always lose at Portman Road, irrespective of the form of either side; we've two draws to show for the eight times I've been there and although the record books suggest that we did get a win there thirteen years ago, I have no memory of that whatsoever.

So whilst Ipswich being top and picking up results despite wobbly form and with a degree of resolve demonstrated by the fact that Friday's draw at Preston was their twelfth game in which points have been gained after going behind should be wholly discouraging, I'd argue that it's actually a good thing. Much better that this inevitable defeat comes against Ipswich as league leaders, rather than Ipswich having gone through the season without a victory only to claim three points that we might fancy a shot at against any other rubbish opposition.

Conversation on Ipswich messageboards, meanwhile, revolves around the questions of whether promotion and the inevitable season of scrapping, inflated prices and ticket drought is preferable to subsistence at the top of Division Two, and whether promotion if it came should be followed by financial prudence or a gamble on survival. Familiar themes, and increasingly unresolvable questions. If a side like Ipswich, with a reasonable catchment area and decent pedigree, is having these debates, what chance the likes of us of making an impression at any point...? Once again, you have to wonder about the value of a Football Association, nominally in charge of the interests of the game but actually preoccupied with the interests of the Football Association, who have at best permitted this state of affairs to develop and, more realistically, been accessories to it.

The current Ipswich side is perhaps a little more direct than many of its predecessors, somewhat inevitably given the presence of Joe Royle at the helm. I must confess to being surprised at seeing them in such a lofty position; at the start of the season when so many senior players departed Portman Road, I was half-expecting them to struggle. Certainly, there's a lack of experienced cover in several departments but Ipswich's healthy youth system - Town will face our young stars in the Youth Cup semis should their U18s beat Colchester and ours beat Spurs - seems to have covered for the summer exodus.

A blow for Ipswich in the last couple of weeks has been a knee injury to Shefki Kuqi, a very Joe Royle kinda player, which will keep him out for some time. James Scowcroft has been recruited on loan from Leicester, for whom he left Portman Road four years ago, and he should make his second home "debut" on Tuesday night. Reports from Friday night suggested that Scowcroft's head proved rather too tempting a target for an under-pressure Ipswich side at times. Scowcroft will be partnered by Darren Bent, hugely talented but erratic of form, with Dean Bowditch, who hit a hat-trick in this fixture last season, likely to be on the bench. American Danny Karbassiyoon, on loan from Arsenal, is also likely to be a sub, but Pablo Couņago is out of favour and hasn't featured in the league since November.

In midfield, the biggest quandary is the continuing dependence on Jim Magilton, whose legs are pushing thirty-six but who seems vital in making the side tick. Kevin Horlock, signed from West Ham in the summer, impressed earlier in the season but less so recently. Tommy Miller, who scored Ipswich's equaliser at Preston, and last season's "Player of the Year" Ian Westlake are also candidates for a midfield place. Another issue is the lack of a natural wide right player, but set-piece expert Darren "nephew of Tony" Currie's arrival from Brighton in December does provide some width on the left.

At the back, Canadian Jason de Vos and long-serving one-time striker Richard Naylor form a fairly solid central pairing, although Drissa Diallo's position as back-up still appears too close to the first team for some. Fabian Wilnis is another who's been around a while, he recorded his two hundredth league start for Town against Preston whilst on-loan David Unsworth, who played under Royle at Everton, will perhaps not be overly keen on facing the Hornets again, having been part of the Pompey side steamrollered at the Vic earlier in the season. Young left-back Matt Richards is likely to be on the bench.

Kelvin Davis remains in goal, and has decent back up in the form of Lewis Price, who expresses his concern on the official site at the prospect of John Toshack persuading Carlo Cudicini that he's Welsh, thus blocking Price's progress to the national side...

Right, done. Now where's the Nurofen...?