Football: Burley fears loss of his best players

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IPSWICH TOWN'S manager, George Burley, accepts that he faces a battle to hold on to his best young players this summer after the club missed out on promotion to the Premiership by losing in the play-offs for the third successive season.

Kieron Dyer, the England Under-21 player who scored two goals in Wednesday night's play-off second leg against Bolton, will be high on the shopping lost of many Premiership clubs this summer, as will the England Under- 21 goalkeeper Richard Wright. At the end of Wednesday night's play-off semi-final, second leg at Portman Road, which Ipswich won 4-3 only to go out on away goals with the aggregate level at 4-4, Dyer threw his shirt and boots into the crowd in what was seen by many as a parting gesture.

Burley may also receive offers for the other player who scored twice against Bolton, the midfielder Matt Holland, plus the promising strike partners, David Johnson and James Scowcroft. It all adds up to pounds 20m of talent that may leave Portman Road, and Burley knows he cannot stand in the way of any player wishing to go.

"All the younger players here appreciate the club and are on long contracts, but there is no doubt that at some point they might want to go to a bigger club, especially a top Premiership one," Burley said yesterday. "They have really come on at this club and are in England squads, so who knows? We have a number of players who are quality and at the end of the day it is up to the players. If a player doesn't want to leave he won't go."

Dyer is one who is reported to be happy to stay, but although the summer break is short, it will feel long enough to a player dwelling on the possibility of performing at a higher level.

For Wednesday's winners, their thoughts will be of Wembley on 31 May and the potential riches beyond.

Bolton's manager, Colin Todd, had words of sympathy for Ipswich, but could afford to be generous, as he contemplated a swift return to the top flight after last season's relegation. "Commiseration's to Ipswich because they finished third, 10 points ahead of us, and deserve to go up," he said. "But I don't make the laws or the rules of the competition and here we are 90 minutes away from the Premiership. We want to be winners, not losers. The players and I don't want to go through the disappointment that we experienced on the last day of last season at Chelsea."

While for Ipswich the agony has come in triplicate, Bolton are on an amazing quadrennial cycle. In 1991, they lost 1-0 to Tranmere in the final and four years ago they were promoted after beating Reading 4-3 at Wembley. Now they hope 1999 will also be their year.

Joe Royle claims Manchester City's long-suffering fans deserve their day in the Wembley spotlight to make up for all the misery they have had to endure.

With the Nationwide League giving his fallen giants 37,000 tickets for the Second Division play-off final against Gillingham, Royle paid tribute to the Maine Road masses. He said: "I continue to find it hard to understand it, their love for this club and the crusade that they are on. They deserve Wembley."

City, who crawled into the final after a tense 1-0 victory over Wigan that sparked celebrations that went on long into the night, were hoping for more than 40,000 tickets but the League have confirmed the initial allocation is 37,000, although it is expected to rise to over 40,000 - with Gillingham getting 34,442.