Football: Clever Ipswich make fools of pundits

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The Independent Online
Ipswich Town. . .1

Chelsea . . . . .0

THERE are brains behind the rural burr that once again is making itself heard at the top of the Premiership. Last season it was Norwich confounding expectations; now it is their country cousins with three wins in three and not so much as a single goal against to block the script.

Cousins they may be, but Ipswich are no country bumpkins. Intelligent players make up this intelligent team, Clive Baker (maths), Phil Whelan (accountancy) and Steve Palmer (computer studies), all passing through university with honours.

Naturally, inside Portman Road they are known as the Three Degrees, each easily identifiable by the posh papers left outside their hotel rooms on overnight stays. Around them helping to make the most of a programme which, admittedly, has been kind to them is a supporting band every bit as vital in ensuring it is the colour blue that shines brightest of all in the Big League this morning.

Ipswich, who go to Norwich on Wednesday seeking a third successive victory over their Norfolk rivals, have a quality that cannot be learned in any classroom or coaching manual: the spirit which unites players in a common, hard working cause for the team.

When Chelsea were asking serious questions of them late on, Ipswich funneled back in numbers like riot police on the retreat. Breaking into attack they always had different options available. It is an energetic game plan that drives opponents to despair.

A year ago Ipswich were unbeaten in their first eight games, but it took them until No 11 to accumulate three wins. So badly did they collapse after Christmas that relegation became a distinct possibility. It seemed their methods had been rumbled and little more than a week ago it made sense to tip them as relegation fodder.

Not any more. John Lyall and Mick McGiven have offset the departure of the influential Jason Dozzell with the introduction of Paul Mason, a midfielder from Aberdeen, and Ian Marshall, the Oldham utilitarian who was proving his worth whether at centre half or centre forward long before Paul Warhurst was heard of, and he has now grabbed a goal a game.

Palmer, a former Cambridge University captain - some of whom go on to lead their country - who missed most of last season with a thigh injury, crafted this winner with an intuitive pass and he was foremost in disrupting Chelsea's flow. Especially in the second half the visitors wasted promising possession far too often.

'I believe in the way we are playing and know it will come right,' Hoddle said. 'I've told the players that it's a test of character that they continue to believe in it, even when results are not going our way.'

Goals: Marshall (34), 1-0

Ipswich (4-4-2): Baker; Stockwell, Linighan, Whelan, Thompson; Williams, Palmer, Wark, Mason (Genchev, 64); Marshall (Whitton, 69), Kiwomya. Substitute not used: Forrest (gk).

Chelsea (3-3-2-2): Kharin; Johnsen, Hoddle, Kjeldbjerg; Clarke, Donaghy (Lee, 72), Myers; Wise, Peacock; Fleck (Newton, 59), Cascarino. Substitute not used: Hitchcock (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).