Watford edge out leaders on Demerit

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The Independent Football

Ipswich Town 1 - Watford 2

Ipswich Town 1 - Watford 2

Ipswich Town took to the field last night with the chance to extend their Championship lead to six points and with the exhortation of their manager Joe Royle sounding in their ears: "It's in our own hands." By the end of a Siberian evening, however, they had allowed three points to slip through their frozen fingers.

Although Tommy Miller pulled a goal back from the spot after Neil Cox was penalised for handball three minutes from time, the damage had already been done. Having conceded a goal just before the break, Ipswich allowed Watford to double their lead in the 81st minute when Bruce Dyer was left to head home a corner from the aptly named Dominic Blizzard.

An East Coast wind that had brought earlier snow flurries with it reduced the temperature to sub-zero as the match got under way, but the home side warmed to their task from the start as both Darren Bent and Miller gave Watford's defence moments of acute anxiety.

But a Hornets side which contained three talented loan players - the keeper Paul Jones from Wolves, and midfielders Johnnie Jackson, from Spurs, and Manchester United's Chris Eagles - regained their equilibrium as manager Ray Lewington settled them down from the touchline.

Miller, however, was clearly on a mission and he came close to opening the scoring in the 29th minute with a sharp drive from 25 yards. A minute later he played a neat one-two with James Scowcroft, on loan from Leicester for the rest of the season and playing at Portman Road again after departing nearly four years ago. But once again, Jones held his shot.

As the first half moved into time added on, Ipswich appeared to have lost some of their momentum and Watford shoved them into a backwards trajectory just before the half-time whistle sounded as their American centre-half Jay Demerit, who was playing for Northwood FC only seven months ago, rose between two defenders to head Eagles' cross from the right past Kelvin Davis.

Ipswich resumed with predictable urgency after the break and once again Miller got into the action as he narrowly failed to steer in a rebound from a fierce shot by the substitute Darren Currie. But his frustration was as nothing to that of Bent, who missed three chances in succession. As the snow returned, a chill was settling into Ipswich hearts.

Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Davis; Wilnis (Bowditch, 78), De Vos, Naylor, Unsworth; Miller, Magilton, Horlock, Westlake (Currie, 56); Bent, Scowcroft. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Richards, Karbassiyoon.

Watford (4-5-1): Jones; Chambers, Cox, Demerit, Darlington; Eagles (Doyley, 87), Mahon, Jackson, Blizzard, Bouazza; Webber (Dyer, 77). Substitutes not used: Chamberlain (gk), Ardley, Young.

Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).