Football: Royle rates City a cut above the rest

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The Independent Online
THERE IS nothing like an encouraging tussle with a team from the elite to embolden a First Division club's ambitions but forthright declarations that a degree of parity exists, especially following a defeat, could be read as hubris bordering on self-delusion - unless, of course, you happen to be the manager of Manchester City.

Such is the rollercoaster nature of City's recent history - two months ago they were in the Second Division having plummeted from the Premiership; now they lead the First - that for Joe Royle to suggest that his side are good enough to hold their own in the top flight once again seems a trifle premature.

In mitigation, City did give Southampton an almighty scare before losing their Worthington Cup tie 4-3 on Tuesday, but the Saints from the south coast are hardly high-rollers. "We have nothing to fear at Premiership level," declared Royle yesterday. "We've just got to get there now. We saw last year with one-goal defeats against Wimbledon and Derby we have nothing to fear."

Beyond doubt is that today's confrontation at Portman Road with the First Division's nearly men, Ipswich, will provide Royle with a clearer indication of his side's potential to make the great leap upward. "Tomorrow's game will be a big test for them as well," Royle said. "It would be nice to put distance between them and us at this stage.

"Even if you include the first game of the season against Wolves that we lost, our overall League run is still very impressive. We've only had four defeats in over 40 League games and in the Wolves game we played well enough, we just didn't score when we needed to."

Which just goes to prove that there are statistics and, well, concrete facts, such as the expected return of Andy Morrison, Gerard Wiekens and Danny Granville, to the City side, although Richard Edghill could miss out after suffering concussion following the confrontation with Mark Hughes at Southampton which saw the Welsh firebrand dismissed.

Some consider Ipswich equally qualified to restore their elite status, but their manager, George Burley, is less inclined to hyperbole. "We know if we beat Manchester City we can go second at least," he said. "We're behind Birmingham with a game in hand, so we've got everything to look forward to."

Burley's latest signing, Gary Croft, is ready to make his Ipswich debut after joining from Blackburn for pounds 950,000, but the suspended John McGreal is missing.

Last Saturday, Ipswich lost their unbeaten League record against Birmingham and succumbed to Crewe Alexandra in the Worthington Cup on Tuesday after squandering numerous chances to win the tie. "We don't like losing," Burley said, "especially when we were so much on top. But that's football and we've got to learn from that."