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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 23/10/04, 3.00pm
Ipswich Town
It's all really dull
By Matt Rowson

On the way home this evening I listened to Talk Sport.

This is not something I would ever choose to do; however, it was my turn to be passenger in our shared commute and the unspoken rule that the driver is God in his own vehicle very much extends to audio selection.

Jean-Yves is French, and therefore supports Arsenal, but was uncharacteristically animated by being told that Middlesbrough's UEFA Cup game in Athens had just kicked off and proceded to rotate through all available frequencies in optimistic search for commentary. Finally admitting defeat, he was distracted by Talk Sport's five minute circular and utterly banal debate on the merits of Jens Lehmann and the die was cast.

I've managed to avoid Talk Sport to a great degree in the past, but whatever criticisms can and shall be levelled at it, it does seem to do what it says on the tin; it Talks about Sport. Talking is probably the furthest one can stretch the definition, mind... there's no insight here, nothing beyond the basest bloke-behind-me generalisations and clichés, several steps down the ladder even from 6-0-6. Tony Cascarino and Paul Elliott both featured this evening to varying degrees ("Aaaaah, but I remember Cascarino with Marseilles - 'e was a great player!", "I think you must be thinking of someone else"), adding strength to suspicion that this is where old TV pundits go to die - expect to hear Brian Marwood and Barry Venison on the airwaves soon.

The next subject for discussion, we are enthusiastically informed, is whether football is becoming boring. Not, in itself, an unreasonable topic and there are plenty of sensible and interesting directions that the debate could have taken. Needless to say, none of these were touched on..."Chelsea, no goals, Tottenham, no goals, Porto, Greece, it's all really dull," gushed the presenter. Paul Elliott rambled aimlessly for five minutes, then Brian from Norwich had his say. "It's kinda okay," was the gist. "Norwich City have had a load of nil-nil draws, but we've been pretty enterprising nonetheless and have defended well. It's been quite enjoyable really."

This wasn't what our host was after at all, clearly, and Brian from Norwich never got to extend his argument. "Yeah, but Chelsea, no goals, Tottenham, no goals, Porto, Greece, Kevin Keegan's Manchester City..." he continued, utterly ignoring Brian from Norwich's contribution. "Call us if you think football's really dull." The next caller was Chelsea fan Steve, which excited our host to the point of hysteria but finally severed the last remaining threads of my attention.

Leaving aside for one moment the apparently short shelf-life of a radio station that seems insistent in devaluing its product (like turkeys going on strike, insisting that Christmas should happen every week), I'm not sure that football's any more or less dull than it's ever been. Take it or leave it. The G14 and friends may introduce yet more buffers to protect their ongoing supremacy (the UEFA Cup group stages the most recent such artefact, a paper-thin mattress just in case one of the big boys get careless) but there's always incompetence to be counted on somewhere along the line. Real Madrid's current predicament, for example, is hilarious. Manchester United, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Alan Smith, Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha, nine goals in nine league games. Fantastic.

What is dull, really really dull, is losing to Ipswich every sodding season. It's not even as if we've found any particularly novel or creative ways to do it... no defeats snatched from the jaws of victory, not even much in the way of well-fought scraps, only the afterthought of an improbable fightback that reduced the deficit to a single goal at Portman Road in the play-off season and only the home win that season to show for the last eight encounters.

Ipswich are currently taking full advantage of the malleable nature of the Division to sit in third place, despite having reduced their senior squad precariously (although they do still boast a squad masseuse, even if her name is Roy according to the squad picture on their Official Site). If you're going to retain very few players, make them good ones, I suppose, although Joe Royle - and doesn't it seem a long time since he was a manager you kinda respected at Oldham - will have problems if and when injuries hit.

At the moment, the one senior player on the sidelines is Kelvin Davis, always popular with the Watford crowd, who is expected to start training next week having taken longer than anticipated to recover from a back problem. Welsh U21 keeper Lewis Price has been performing admirably in his absence, most recently at the Walkers Stadium on Tuesday night; seventeen year old Irishman Shane Supple, a fine name for a goalkeeper, will be on the bench.

Ipswich have recently been described as "a side with a soft underbelly", and only Plymouth in the top half have conceded more so far. Dutchman Fabian Wilnis is a familiar enough face at right back; the other three consist of two centrebacks and a striker who's been playing at centreback, so which of them plays on the left is frankly beyond me and I really can't be arsed to keep pillaging websites at 11.15 on a Thursday evening...

Jason de Vos is very large... Ipswich fans have complained that there isn't a nasty bastard in the team, but de Vos is hardly fluffy. The Canadian international is rumoured to be considering quitting his national side, given that they've outdone their usual fine efforts in screwing up World Cup Qualification already and he'll be thirty-six by the time the next one comes along. Drissa Diallo, ex- of Burnley, is also lumbering around at the back whilst Richard Naylor's energy, pace and commitment almost make up for the token mistake or two that he can be relied upon for per game. Matt Richards, a natural left back who hasn't looked entirely confident from what I've seen of him, is likely to be on the bench.

In midfield, last season's Player of the Year Ian Westlake should line up on the left, alongside playmaker Jim Magilton who scored a fine goal in this game last season, former West Ham anchorman Kevin Horlock and regular goalscorer Tommy Miller. Scott Mitchell, who debuted in the 4-1 fiasco at Portman Road earlier this year, should be on the bench.

Only Wigan have scored more than Ipswich in the division, and there are four strikers competing for two places although Royle went for a 4-3-3 when chasing Tuesday night's game. Pole position should remain with England U21 striker Darren Bent, back from a hamstring injury, and Croat-born Finnish international Shefki Kuqi, who scored on his Ipswich debut in this game last season and really should be older than twenty-seven. Dean Bowditch, whose hat-trick in February lives on in Lenny Pidgeley's nightmares, is likely to be on the bench having got in an early rebuffal of rumours linking him with a January move to Liverpool, as will Pablo Couñago who doesn't appear to have always been Joe Royle's favourite player.

With Ipswich having reportedly struggled with the physical side to Leicester's game, it's a shame that Boris looks like being out for a couple of weeks. But in any event, an exciting break from the norm against these opponents is to be hoped for on Saturday.