Royle rues lack of finishing touch

Crewe Alexandra 1 Ipswich Town 0
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The Independent Football

Joe Royle, Ipswich Town's straight-talking manager, had a predictably terse reply to the question about whether worry was setting in at his side's early form.

His retort was inappropriate for pages such as these, yet the comparison with last season is a plausible one. The Tractor Boys came with a rush in the final third of 2002-03 and missed the play-offs only because their opening results, which cost George Burley his job, had been poor.

For a club that has been in and out of administration and which this week stages a senior England international, this is perhaps small beer. But the start is again unmistakably slow. Goals are the problem with only one from two Nationwide League games - a penalty against Reading - and one in Carling Cup extra-time at home to Kidderminster Harriers.

Ipswich had enough presentable chances on Saturday to have taken something from an enterprising game that deserved considerably more than just one breakthrough.

Newly-promoted Crewe Alexandra, beaten on the first day at Wimbledon, so dominated the first 50 minutes that Royle withdrew Martijn Reuser and the yellow-carded George Santos at 0-0 and introduced Pablo Counago and ex-Alex midfielder Jermaine Wright.

Counago, after what his manager called the "jolt" of being named on the bench, did much to revitalise the team's performance and followed Tommy Miller in being denied by a goal-line clearance.

With Richard Naylor floating a header on to the bar and Fabian Wilnis, Marcus Bent and Darren Bent (twice) bringing saves that earned keeper Clayton Ince the man-of-the-match award, Crewe had to hang on.

"We found it hard in the second half and defended with our hearts rather than our heads," said the mercurial Dario Gradi. "But it was a super game."

Midfielder Kenny Lunt's Giggsesque 69th minute free-kick (well, you have to be topical) saw to it that the home side secured their first League victory of the season.

Striker Dean Ashton, who dovetailed with new Northern Ireland cap Steve Jones in the first half in a manner that made light of Rob Hulse's summer departure, was a big handful and the main reason why the talent-spotters' seats were again filled. Liverpool's chief scout, Ron Yeats, was there on Saturday, so were Manchester United, while Newcastle virtually had a season ticket in 2002-03.

In many ways, Crewe are a small Ipswich: adept at producing their own players and instilling good habits. Both managers will work on finishing in training this week.

Goal: Lunt (69) 1-0.

Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Ince; Wright, Moses, Foster, McCready; Lunt, Brammer, Cochrane, Rix (Bell 90); Jones, Ashton. Substitutes not used: Bankole, Varney, Walters, Smart.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnis, Naylor, Diallo, Makin; Miller, Santos (Wright HT), Magilton, Reuser (Counago HT); Darren Bent, Marcus Bent. Substitutes not used: Price, Bowditch, Richards.

Bookings: Ipswich: Santos, Naylor, Diallo.

Referee: Roy Pearson (County Durham).

Attendance: 6,982.

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