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Thursday, March 31

Off the bottom

Waterford's Daryl Murphy

Town's second string secured consecutive victories for the very first time this season with a 1-0 win over Tottenham and FPR last night. Owen Garvan hit the games only goal in 40th minute to secure the points and lift the Blue's off the bottom of the FA Premier Reserve League (South) for the first time since the opening month of the season. 302 hard core reserve team fans resisted the call of BBC 1's live coverage of England v Azerbaijan to watch another impressive performance, with the back-four in particularly defiant mood, restricting the Londoner's to just a few meaningful chances. Dean McDonald, already a favourite with reserve match regulars, had another excellent game, and must surely have done enough in the past few months to earn himself a long-term contract when his current deal runs out in the summer, while Pablo Counago, lively at times, has long since thrown in the towel.

Waterford United's Daryl Murphy looks set to join Town for a fee of GBP100,000. Waterford player-manager Alan Reynolds, said of the youngsters most recent trial at FPR: "Things went well for Daryl. He finished training and it is clear that they are interested in him. Joe Royle has gone to his board to see what kind of money they have to spend. But he seemed happy with Daryl and Daryl seemed happy with how the week went."

And lastly, a Town side comprising Academy U-14's and U-15's were beaten finalist in the Nike Cup held at Warwick University earlier this week. Middlesbrough and Manchester City were beaten in the quarter-final and the semi-final before a 2-0 loss to Arsenal in the final.

Wednesday, March 30

International wrap-up

Sixth U-21 Cap

Darren Bent picked up his second cap in the past four days as the England U-21's beat Azerbaijan by two goals to nil at the Riverside, Middlesboro, last night. Bent, who scored in the 2-2 draw with Germany on Saturday, saw several goal attempts blocked and saved before making way to former Ipswich team mate Darren Ambrose in the 81st minute.

Lewis Price apologised to his team mates for the mistake which led to Austria's opening goal in the Welsh U-21's 2-0 defeat in Neuseidl Am See, also yesterday. Wales finished the game with 10 men following Craig Morgan's dismissal early in the second half. It was Town's second choice 'keepers 6th appearance at U-21 level.

And earlier this evening Dean Bowditch and Darryl Knights, where, respectively, unused subs in the England U-19's 1-0 defeat of Moldova and the U-17's 3-1 victory against the Republic of Ireland, as the recent flurry of international activity came to a close.

And lastly, Town have signed former Barnsley U-15 Academy player Jordan Rhodes, son of goalkeeping coach Andy, for GBP5,000. Rhodes Jnr is a striker.

Tuesday, March 29

Automatic promotion still on

The Beat

Assistant manager Willie Donachie believes Town can recover from their recent down turn in form and secure a top two finish in the Championship: "We would have taken the position we are in now if it had been offered to us at the start of the season. But having got to here, we want to push on and finish in the top two. Whatever happens though, I think the players have been terrific this season and it's been a great year. We know there are seven games to play and everyone of them is vital but we have to keep believing and if we do that, we have a great chance of making that top two finish."

Former England and Ipswich central defender Kevin Beattie, is to receive replica's of the PFA Young Player of the Year award and three England caps, the originals of which were lost in a fire. The Beat, who was the recipient of the inaugural young player award back in 1973, said: "I really can't believe how lucky I am. I lost the originals but this has got to be the next best thing. To be honest, I had a tear in my eye when I was told. You can't really put into words what it means to you."

And the latest news on the international front: Darryl Knights supplied the cross for one of England's goals as they comfortably beat Northern Ireland 3-0 in the UEFA U-17 Championship qualifier at Molineux. Knights almost made the scoresheet himself with efforts at the end of each half that narrowly missed the target. Dean Bowditch picked up his second England U-19 cap of the Easter weekend as the young lions scored a last gasp 1-0 victory over Sweden at Bury's Gigg Lane. The win ensures England's place in the finals of this summer's European U-19 Championships in Northern Ireland. Lewis Price is set to replace Lee Worgan between the sticks in the Welsh U-21's game against Austria in Neuseidl Am See tonight. Town's second choice keeper was with the Welsh senior side for the 2-0 loss to Austria at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

Sunday, March 27

Emphatic win for Reserves

Juan: Hit his first Town goal

A rare daylight outing for the Reserves ended in an emphatic 4-0 win over Derby County at FPR yesterday afternoon. The ever impressive Dean McDonald opened the scoring after 28' and Jimmy Juan scored his first for the Blue's, since joining on loan from Monaco, heading home Owen Garvan's free-kick on 37'. Young Irish striker Billy Clarke hit the third on 77' and Owen Garvan completed the rout in injury time. A rare victory for the second string against a strong Derby line-up featuring Marcus Tudgay and Tommy Smith among others.

On the International front: Darren Bent scored his 8th goal for the England as they drew 2-2 with Germany in the UEFA European U-21 Championship qualifier at Hull's KC Stadium. Shefki Kuqi won his 39th cap in Finland's 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Czech Republic in their World Cup Qualifier in Teplice. Jamie Peters added to his cap collection as the Canadian's lost 4-1 to Portugal in a friendly played in Barcelos. Dean Bowditch, currently on loan at Burnley, played the full ninety minutes in the England U-19's 1-0 win against Denmark at Crewe's Gresty Road. This was the first of two European Championship qualifying games for the U-19's this weekend the second coming tomorrow when they face Sweden at Gigg Lane, Bury.

Saturday, March 26

Juninho on trial

No not him, another one

Academy and reserve striker Darryl Knights played the final 15 minutes of England's 3-1 victory over Serbia and Montenegro in their UEFA European U-17 Championship qualifier at the Britannia Stadium on Friday night. This is the first of two games for the U-17's this weekend with Knights expected to start against Northern Ireland on Monday at Molineux.

Elsewhere, Brentford have signed 18-year-old academy defender Jerome Sobers on loan until the end of the season, while Brazilian Juninho, or Dongos Goncalvez Gomes Junior to his mates, has joined Town on trial for four days. The 25-year-old midfielder, from Rio de Janeiro's Flamengo, spent last year on loan with Racing Club de Paris.

Thursday, March 24

Scowcroft wants permanent return

Out of contract this summer

James Scowcroft has spoken of the importance of the next two months as far as his and Town's future's are concerned. Scowcroft has failed to find the net in the six senior matches he has taken part in since re-joining Town on loan from Leicester. Although to his credit he has managed to accrue three bookings either side of a one-match ban. Now 29 the Stantonian is out of contract with City in the summer and wants to prove himself at FPR and earn a permanent return. "The next two months are massively important. Not only for me, it is a big stage in players' careers for everyone at the club."

Midfielder Jaime Peters will join up with the Canadian U-20's in Germany next month for an 11-day training camp. The Canucks have friendlies with China and Egypt lined-up during that period as the squad ready themselves for the FIFA World Youth Championship being held in the Netherlands during the summer. The Canadian have been drawn in Group E alongside Colombia, Italy and Syria. Peters is also in the senior squad for this Saturday's friendly between Canada and Portugal in Barcelos. Pride of Anglia will have representatives at said youth tournament on June17 (Utrecht) for Morocco v Chile and China v Panama and June 18 (Enschede) for USA v Egypt and Nigeria v Switzerland. See you there.

Elsewhere, the Dutch press report that Town have been keeping an eye on Sparta Rotterdam striker Rahamat Mustapha, the 23-year-old former Dutch U-20 international is available on a Bosman this summer, and Philip Hope-Cobbold, a Town director since 1995, has been appointed by the Queen to serve as High Sheriff for the County of Suffolk for 2005-06.

And lastly, belated apologies if you have tried to access the match programme archive over the past few days. Due to an "on going" technical fault this section of the site is currently experiencing very very slow page download speeds, but will be back up to spec as soon as possible.

Tuesday, March 22

Reserves 1 West Ham 1

Too late

Pablo Counago's 30th minute wonder-strike from the edge of the area put the second string ahead against West Ham at FPR last night, but Town ultimately had to settle for a draw following Hogan Ephraim's second half equaliser. Counago's all-round performance was one of his more convincing one's of late, reminding the watching BFJ and the crowd of 510 of what he is capable of when he puts his mind to it. With his contract up in the summer it is almost certainly a case of too little too late for the Spaniard who was Town's top scorer just two seasons ago.

Incidentally, the reserves make a rare daylight appearance at FPR this Saturday when they take on Derby County at 1pm. George Burley's Derby are of course Town's next Championship opponents at FPR on April 2.

Monday, March 21

Butcher sorry

Butcher's Motherwell tonked

Terry Butcher's hopes of landing Scotland's CIS Insurance Cup proved futile yesterday as his current side Motherwell were thrashed 6-1 by Glasgow Rangers. The Motherwell manager, whose side suffered the biggest losing margin since the 1971 final, apologised afterwards for his team's dismal performance.

Shefki Kuqi has been called up for Finland's Word Cup qualifying match with the Czech Republic on Saturday, and joins Lewis Price (Wales), Jaime Peters (Canada), Darren Bent (England U-21's), Darryl Knights (England U-17's) and the on loan Dean Bowditch (England U-19's) who are all involved in international matches at the weekend.

That's it.

Sunday, March 20

Gillingham 0 Town 0

Priestfield yesterday

From a Gillingham perspective, and sitting with the home fans I had one, this was a very good result for the Men of Kent as, with Coventry losing 1-0 to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, it moves them out of the relegation zone for the first time since mid-October. And if it weren't for a number of excellent saves from Kelvin Davies and the intervention of a cross-bar at the death, the Gills could have made off with all three points and it would have been deserved. As for Town, they could have carried on playing for another ninety minutes and would still have struggled to find the net. A performance far removed from the one put in in last Saturday's trouncing of Forest.

With BFJ hot footing it out of Priestfield to catch a plane for Liverpool so he can commentate on today's Merseyside derby, Willie Donachie was left with the task of the post-match excuses:

"We knew it would be tough and it just wasn't our day today. We didn't create anything or support our front two enough. Gillingham are a very tough side to play against and created the better chances. If they had a natural goalscorer, we would have been in trouble today. It just wouldn't happen for us today, but if we are consistent in winning at home and picking up something away, then we feel we will be in with a chance of promotion come the end of the season."

So in the three-club race for the automatic promotion places Mick McCarthy's men are now two-points clear at the top as Wigan, like Town, also dropped points drawing 1-1 with second bottom Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.

Elsewhere, Good luck to former Town and England captain, and now Motherwell manager Terry Butcher, as he and his charges prepare to take on Rangers in the CIS Cup final at Hampden later today.

Coca-Cola Championship Top Six

P Gd Pts
1. Sunderland 39 30 78
2. Wigan 39 40 76
3. TOWN 39 25 73
4. Preston 39 5 64
5. Derby 38 9 61
6. Sheffield United 38 0 58

Friday, March 18

McGarry Dies

Former Town manager Bill McGarry (right) has died at the age of 77 in South Africa. McGarry began his playing career with local side Port Vale, before joining First Division Huddersfield Town in 1951, and enjoyed a successful playing career, winning four England caps. After managerial spells at Bournemouth and Watford he joined Town in 1964, guiding them to the old second division championship in 1968. He left Town for Wolves in November, whom he guided to the UEFA Cup Final in 1972 and League Cup victory at Wembley two-years later.

Three years at the helm of Newcastle United proved to be less successful as did a (brief) return to Molineux in 1985. He passed away on Tuesday of this week after a long illness. As a mark of respect flags around FPR will be flown at half-mast for 24 hours, while Wolves will hold a minute's silence before their home game with McGarry's home-town club Stoke City tomorrow, the day of his funeral.

Priestfield last season

Town are at Gillingham tomorrow, a side that survived the drop on the last day of the 2003/04 season and are struggling again this time around. However, the Gills who are third bottom in the Championship, drew level on points with Coventry and Cardiff the two sides immediately above them, with a 2-1 home win over Stoke City during the week. They are now managed by ex-Burnley boss and serial whinger Stan Ternent, who succeeded Andy Hessenthaler earlier in the season.

Paul Scally, Gills Chairman, has recently accused Premiership Charlton of poaching fans from his club (the Addicks run bus services from various pick up points in Kent to the Valley for home games) a tad hypocritical considering the plans he has recently put forward to move the Gills from Priestfield to a new site just one mile from the home of Conference side Gravesend & Northfleet.

The development, in Gravesham Borough, would include a 25,000-seater stadium, casino, hotel, housing and all the usual malarkey that goes will the building of a new stadium. Not only has this brought him into direct conflict with fans of the Fleet, it is also likely to alienate a sizeable percentage of his own fans who live in the Medway area. Up rooting the club from one borough and plonking them down in another, Fleet fans argue, not only shows a complete disregard for the feelings of both sets of fan's, but reeks of Franchise FC a la MK Dons.

Thursday, March 17

U-18's in Cuckoo Land

Goalmouth action at Layer Road

A healthy crowd of over 2,800 saw Town's U-18's thrash their Colchester counterparts 5-0 in round 6 of the FA Youth Cup at Layer Road last night. The first half was a fairly even affair before Town took the lead through Darryl Knights in time added on following an Owen Garvan free-kick. Two further goals in the ten minutes after the break, from Aidan Collins and Knights, ended any chance of comeback by the home side and the rout was completed in the 78th and 88th minutes with strikes from Liam Craig and Billy Clarke. Town will take on the winners of tonight's Watford-Spurs clash in a two-legged semi-final.

Dean McDonald scored a hat-trick as Town's second string beat Cambridge 6-1 in a reserve friendly at Playford Road yesterday lunchtime. Liam Manning, Jaime Peters and an own goal rounded off the scoring for Town with former Academy player Ashley Nicholls netting the U's only goal.

Col U's new home

Last nights venue Layer Road, which had passed its sell-by date when I watched Colchester take on Bognor Regis in an FA Cup game their in the early 1970's, is to be replaced by a new 10,000-seater stadium at Cuckoo Farm on the northern edge of the Town, a development which is planned for completion at some point during the 2006/07 season. Work on the stadium and regeneration of the surrounding area is likely to get underway next year with the recent news that Deputy PM John Prescott's office is happy with the scheme and will not be 'calling the plans in' as they had done with Brighton's proposed new stadium down in Sussex.

And lastly, Tom Osman, son of former Town and England central defender Russell Osman, is on trial with Weymouth at the moment and made his debut against Wimborne Town on Tuesday night [thanks to Bromley FC stalwart Don for that snippet of non-league news].

Wednesday, March 16

Cardiff 0 Town 1

Ninian Park last night

Tommy Miller's 12th goal of the season, and his second from the spot in the last two games, secured a vital win and another three points in a 1-0 victory against Cardiff City at Ninian Park last night. The home side spurned chances early in the game but Town's counter-attacking football always looked the more likely to produce a goal. The breakthrough came in the 62nd minute, when Miller was obstructed by Danny Gabbidon in the box, and he duly converted his 23rd consecutive penalty-kick. Despite the now customary late wobble the Blue's hung on to keep the Bluebirds at bay and register back-to-back clean sheets.

"During the last 20 minutes or so, some of our players switched off and the ball kept coming back at us - but realistically our goalkeeper wasn't kept busy throughout the whole game. We were comfortable for most of the 90 minutes, and I was disappointed we gave the ball away so often. But we got the three points, and that was the most important thing."

A 4-2 win at Brighton, Wigan's ninth win in 12 games, keep's Paul Jewell's side at the top of the pile, while Sunderland eased past Plymouth 5-1 to retain second spot. All of the Latics goals came in the first half while three goals in the fifteen minutes before the break at the Stadium of Light broke Argyle's resistance.

Three wins and a draw from their last eight games will virtually guarantee Town a play-off place and a possible return to Cardiff for the play-off final on May 30.

Coca-Cola Championship Top Six

P Gd Pts
1. Wigan 38 40 75
2. Sunderland 38 29 75
3. TOWN 38 25 72
4. Preston 38 3 61
5. Derby 37 9 60
6. Reading 38 8 57

Monday, March 14

Leckwith delays threaten Bluebird's


Sunderland are the only side in the top three playing at home tomorrow when Town visit struggling Cardiff City. You would expect the Black Cats to beat Plymouth Argyle and record their fifth consecutive league win, while Wigan should pick up all the points from their fixture with Brighton, although the south coast side did surprise Sunderland a few weeks back with a 2-1 win at the Withdean.

Town's opponents the Bluebird's, in addition to hovering just above the drop zone, are currently facing serious financial difficulties with debts of almost GBP30m. Player's salaries have recently gone unpaid and club captain Graham Kavanagh was sold to leaders Wigan just over a week ago to ease the club's cash flow problems (making his Latics debut against Town the following day). Unexpected delays in the construction of Cardiff's new home in neighbouring Leckwith (above) are being blamed for the crisis, with income connected with the retail side of the development delayed until construction starts. Many fans have turned against Chairman, and head slapper, Sam Hammam, who was once hailed as the clubs saviour, as the full extent of the Welsh side's problems are revealed.

Saturday, March 12

Town 6 Forest 0

Two goals for Tommy

Town bounced back from a run of three consecutive defeats in emphatic style at FPR this afternoon, hammering six for no reply past League One bound Nottingham Forest. Richard Naylor opened the scoring with a header from Jim Magilton's corner and Ian Westlake added a second eight minutes later with the simplest of tap ins from Shefki Kuqi's headed knock-down. After the break the dispirited visitors caved in and the Blue's scored four more. Darren Bent cut in from the left to set up Tommy Miller in the 51st minute and Miller then scored from the spot (his 22nd consecutive penalty conversion) after Bent was fouled by Wes Morgan on 64. Fabian Wilnis's header rebounded off the cross-bar to Kuqi for Town's fifth after 67 minutes and Bent rounded off the scoring after 71 minutes to end his six match goal drought.

Today's match was Town's 60th league game since a nil-nil draw, the last being the away fixture at Millwall on December 13th, 2003.

"This result was a big confidence booster and when our first goal went in you could almost hear the hissing as the pressure was being released. It was hard to pick a man of a match because there were so many candidates. Our front men, Kuqi and Bent were involved in everything and Tommy Miller gave his best performance since he has been with the club."

Town remain three points behind Wigan and Sunderland who both won their games as well. Goals from Ellington (a penalty) and Roberts secured a 2-0 win for leaders Wigan against Millwall, while second placed Sunderland beat Crewe 1-0 at Gresty Road.

Coca-Cola Championship Top Six

P Gd Pts
1. Wigan 37 38 72
2. Sunderland 37 25 72
3. TOWN 37 24 69
4. Derby 37 9 60
5. Preston 37 3 60
6. Reading 36 9 57

Friday, March 11


Town fan?

The film version of the Sound of Music celebrates, apparently, its 40th Anniversary this year and lead actress Julie Andrews, it transpires is a fan of the Blue's. Yesterday's edition of The Advertiser describes how, while on a close season tour of Barbados back in 1974, Bobby Robson and the boys were invited on set to watch Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif shooting scenes for the film The Tamarind Seed. During a break in filming Andrews was heard to ask who the guests were and when told they were from ITFC she exclaimed "Oh, that's my favourite team." Now how's that for street cred!

One good piece of news ahead of the weekends home game with Nottingham Forest is that former Town striker David Johnson will not be around to punish the Town defence as he did in the corresponding fixture last season. Johnson, after a falling out with Forest manager Gary Megson, has joined Sheffield United on loan until the end of the season. However, while still second bottom Forest have won three of their last four league matches and, if they play anything like they did when they trounced Town 1-1 at the City Ground earlier this season, could be a stiff challenge again tomorrow.

Loanee David Unsworth admitted to driving nearly three times over the legal drink-drive limit in court yesterday and has been banned from driving for two years. The Portsmouth defender was breathalysed near his home on the south coast at the end of last month. Defending his client, solicitor Dan Souter said Unsworth's family life had suffered as a result of his loan move to FPR and that he had been stopped after an argument with his wife.

Powergen's sponsorship of Town will continue for a further year making next season the energy company's third as the club's main sponsor. Powergen inherited the deal from the now defunct TXU Energi in 2003.

And lastly, Middlesbrough's watchability has increased over the years, a far cry from the dour Jack Charlton managed sides of the 70's, and tuning into watch their UEFA Cup exploits on Channel Five this season has been enjoyable. But they allowed Sporting Lisbon to run amok last night, conceding three goals in the first twenty minutes of the second period before pegging the visitors back to 2-3 in the final ten. So another English side's unbeaten home record in Europe comes to an end. Town of course are long standing members of an exclusive group of English club's that are unbeaten at home in major European competitions, having themselves played 31 without defeat. The others: Southampton and Birmingham (12 unbeaten apiece), QPR (6), Fulham (3), Stoke, Sunderland and Coventry (2) and Millwall (1).

Thursday, March 10

Bowditch to Burnley

Turf Moor bound

Dean Bowditch has joined Burnley on a month's loan. The 18-year-old, who turned down a similar move to Oldham yesterday, has made just a handful of starts for the seniors this season, netting on three occasions. "This is a good chance for him to gain some experience. With the two main strikers doing so well, until just recently, there has been little chance for Dean. But this is just a loan, there is no chance of anything more," said BFJ of the move. Bowditch recently put pen to paper on a new contract that will keep him at FPR until 2008.

The second string will take on Cambridge United Reserves in a friendly at Playford Road next Wednesday. The fixture that has been arranged to give a number of senior players a run out, following a number of postponements due to the wintry weather, with Gerard Nash, Drissa Diallo and Jimmy Juan all needing match practice as they comeback from injury. The game will kick-off at noon.

Tickets for the FA Youth Cup game against Colchester United at Layer Road later that day are selling well, according to the official U's site, with a crowd in excess of 2,000 expected for the quarter final.

Wednesday, March 9

City battle goes to second replay

The House of Lords. Earlier.

Despites yesterday's verdict by a London Appeal Court that BFJ must pay back the GBP423,000 awarded to him in his battle with his former employer's Manchester City, Town's manager has vowed to fight on: "When I was given the money after the earlier case, City suggested it go to charity, so I assume they will adhere to their own suggestion. I don't want to become embroiled in a war of words and the final line is this is going to the House of Lords. I don't have any regrets about the way this has gone because the legal system is there to be used."

Loanee defender Danny Karbassiyoon has returned to North London. The Arsenal youngster made six appearances for Town, following his arrival at FPR in December, but recently lost his place to fellow loan signing David Unsworth, and has not seen first team action since the Leicester home game almost a month ago.

Elsewhere, Dean Bowditch has turned down a loan move to Oldham Athletic, common sense seems to have (temporarily) prevailed in promotion rival Wigan's battle with the Greater Manchester Police over policing at the JJB Stadium, and Icelandic goalkeeper Oskar Petursson is close to signing a two-year deal with the Academy, the 16-year-old among a number of players from Iceland currently interesting the Blue's.

Tuesday, March 8

Thirty-Eight Thousand and Ten

BFJ will have to repay the GBP423,000 compensation awarded to him when he was sacked as manager of Manchester City in 2001 following their relegation from the Premiership. The Court of Appeal ruled today that he was not entitled to compensation on a full-salary basis as City were technically a First Division side when he was dismissed.

On the playing front Town's manager is confident that the Blue's can recover from the run of three consecutive defeats that has seen them drop from first to third in the Championship. "What we are taking about is a week of bad results and one bad performance. In the second half against Wigan, who are the league leaders, we did very well although we didn't really create anything. We are now beginning a new ten-game season and we need to get back to playing the way we know we can, and that starts with Nottingham Forest."

On the continued selection of Darren Bent, who has not hit the back of the net for six games, he is not so sure: "There is a decision to be made with Darren. His goals have been a big plus for us and have helped to get us where we are. He is going to be a terrific player one day but he is currently experiencing the sort of spell that all young players go through. It is a confidence crisis but it is nothing new and he's not the only one - and our problems are certainly not all down to Darren."

Dean Bowditch has been named in the England squad for the young Lions three UEFA U-19 European Championship qualifying games to be played at the end of the month. England take on Denmark, Sweden & Moldova at Crewe (March 26), Bury (March 28) and Blackpool (March 30) respectively. Darryl Knights will be similarly occupied with the England U-17's as they take on Serbia and Montenegro, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a mini-tournament hosted by Walsall from March 26. The winner of the tournament qualifies for the UEFA European U17 Championship.

The Canadian U-20's have drawn Columbia, Italy and Syria in Group E of this summer's FIFA World Youth Championships to be held in the Netherlands from June 10 to July 2. The Canadian's, who will almost certainly include Town's Jamie Peters in their number, will be play their group games in Tilburg and Kerkrade.

Elsewhere, the ticket office are reporting a healthy flow of season ticket renewals for next season, while Essex and England cricketers Darren Gough, Ronnie Irani and James Foster joined Town in training yeserday as the trio start their preparations for the new cricket season.

And lastly, it is exactly thirty-years to the day that the ground attendance record of 38,010 was set at FPR for the visit of Leeds United in the sixth round of the FA Cup. The sides drew 0-0 on the day and required three replays before Town triumphed and advanced to the semi-finals for the first time in their history.

Monday, March 7

Wigan 1 Town 0

Despite putting in one of their better performances of the past two weeks, and bolstered by the return to action of leading marksman Shefki Kuqi, goal shy Town lost 1-0 to Wigan on Saturday and are now three points off the automatic promotion places.

The winning goal, a 42nd minute penalty by Nathan Ellington, was awarded against Fabian Wilnis for bringing down the Latics striker, a decision Town's defender says was wrong on two counts: "I went for the ball and he was already falling before I made contact. It was also outside the box when I made the challenge so there are two reasons it shouldn't have been given."

Town have now failed to score from open play for well over three games, a fact not lost on BFJ: "We have gone off the boil. We don't have a goal in us at the moment and that is a concern. We didn't create any chances for our strikers today but sometimes you have to do that yourself. The service to Roberts and Ellington wasn't that good but on that evidence, they proved why they are the best two strikers in the league."

The Latics victory puts them back on top of the Championship after Sunderland had briefly assumed the lead on Friday night with a 2-0 win at Burnley, while George Burley's Derby moved within six points of Town with a 1-0 home win over Plymouth.

Blue's fans were caught up in the ongoing row between Wigan Athletic and the Greater Manchester Police on Saturday - with many arriving at the ground after the game had kicked-off - as huge queue's of traffic built up between the M6 and the JJB stadium just two miles away. Inside the ground a streaker was allowed to hold up play for a few minutes in the first half and finally gave himself up as neither police nor stewards made a moved to eject him. The GMP, reportedly owed GBP300,000 by the Latics for policing at the JJB Stadium, will move today to have Wigan's ground safety certificate revoked.

And lastly, it was sad to hear of the death of former Dutch national coach Rinus Michels, who passed away at the age of 77 last week. Michels, the pioneer of 'Total Football', led Holland to the 1974 World Cup final in Munich, were they lost 2-1 to host nation West Germany, but returned to the Olympic Stadium fourteen years later to lead the Dutch to a 2-0 win over the USSR in the final of Euro '88. Michels return as head coach also signalled a late upturn in former Town star Arnold Muhren's international career with his recall to the side for the first time since he had left Ipswich in 1982. At the age of 37 the midfield maestro's recall by Michels proved to be a master stroke as he helped inspire the Oranje to their European Championship triumph.

Coca-Cola Championship Top Six

P Gd Pts
1. Wigan 36 36 69
2. Sunderland 36 24 69
3. TOWN 36 18 66
4. Derby 37 9 60
5. Preston 36 3 59
6. Reading 36 7 54

Wigan v Town pictures

Friday, March 4

Town stress free

BFJ maintains he is under no pressure ahead of tomorrow's game with Wigan and is trying to ensure his players remain stress free: "I saw them beat Leeds 3-0 recently and it was three going on six or seven. They really took them apart and their success this season has not surprised me. Their pitch isn't the best but it is not stopping them. We need a win but I would be saying that in any case - not just because we're playing one of our main rivals. It's a big game on Saturday but they all are now. Whoever wins it, nothing will be decided, but it's our most important game for the simple reason that it's our next one."

Shefki Kuqi passed a fitness test at the Playford Road training ground earlier today and will join the squad for the journey to the North West. With Jason De Vos and James Scowcroft both suspended the travelling sixteen are: Bent, Bowditch, Counago, Currie, Davis, Horlock, Karbassiyoon, Kuqi, Magilton, Miller, Naylor, Price, Richards, Unsworth, Westlake and Wilnis.

A further two Wigan players have been hit by the flu virus doing the rounds at the JJB Stadium. Leading scorer Nathan Ellington and fellow striker David Graham have joined Alan Mahon, Jimmy Bullard, Gary Teale and Jason Roberts - who all missed training yesterday - on the sick list.

Latics manager Paul Jewell is reported to have made a GBP350,000 bid for Cardiff City's captain Graham Kavanagh. The Republic of Ireland midfielder may line-up against Town if he is signed before today's 5pm registration deadline. Tomorrow's Fly Emirates sponsored match official is Graham Laws from Whitley Bay. Law's refereed Town's 2-0 win at Carrow Road in March 2003 but has an otherwise unremarkable record in recent games featuring the Blue's.

And lastly, Sunderland can go clear at the top of the table if they avoid defeat in the Sky Televised Championship game at Burnley tonight.

Thursday, March 3

Shefki winning battle

Shefki Kuqi is winning his battle for fitness and could be involved against Wigan this weekend says BFJ: “The big fella has a great chance. I am confident he will be in the squad but I wouldn't like to say whether he will be able to start or will be on the bench."

Meanwhile, the Latic's Alan Mahon, Gary Teale, Jimmy Bullard and Jason Roberts have all been hit by a virus as they prepare to take on Town at the JJB Stadium. Former Town man Mahon told the EADT: "A few of the lads have gone down with it and I'm feeling it. I have got my grandmother's old recipe for chicken soup, which has a secret ingredient in it and I'm sure that will do the trick."

Town's next home game, against Nottingham Forest on Saturday March 12, will go ahead as planned after Forest lost their FA Cup 5th round replay against Spurs 3-0 last night. Sixth round tie's are due to be played that weekend and the league game would have been postponed had Forest progressed.

Wednesday, March 2

Darren third best/Deliagate

In a reader poll conducted by FourFourTwo magazine, Darren Bent has been voted the third best player outside of the Premiership, with Reading's Steve Sidwell and Wigan's Nathan Ellington voted 1st and 2nd respectively. Darren Currie finished 43rd in a list of 50 that can be viewed at length in the publications April edition.

Preston 'keeper Gavin Ward, who was injured in a challenge with Ian Westlake in the closing stages of Town's 1-1 draw at Deepdale just under two weeks ago, has been given the all clear to resume training.

Shefki Kuqi is desperate to get himself match fit - and ready for Town's trip to Championship leader's Wigan on Saturday - as he recovers from the thigh wound that has forced him to miss out on Town's last three games. "Things are improving all the time and I know I'm a quick healer but it's the first time I've had an injury like this and I know it has to be properly healed inside before I can start playing again."

Before Delia-gate becomes very very old - quite amazing incidentally the number of column inches devoted to the former Town fan's televised outburst (see a sample below) - a quick mention for the 'Lets be 'avin you' commemorative wallpaper available at tractorboys.com and the Delia's Carrow Cake recipe at F365 (Ingredients: One tired and emotional TV chef, a free hospitality bar, 24,000 people, a microphone, a rotten football team and absolutely no shame whatsoever.)

Deliagate: I wasn't tipsy says Smith, Delia denies being drunk, Delia denies being on the wine, Had a tad too much cooking sherry have we Delia?, Delia eats some humble pie, Delia cooks up storm with a half-time outburst, Delia Fury at Drunk Allegation, Norwich director cooks up a storm, Delia defends her Norwich City outburst, Double Standards - The Yolks on Delia, I hadn't been on the wine - Delia, Delia: I wasn't drunk, Delia denies slur-ring, Delia defends antics and so on and so forth.

Meanwhile in Portsmouth, loan defender David Unsworth was arrested near his home on the south coast on Sunday for driving while (allegedly) almost three times over the legal limit, which puts Delia's Tuesday night escapade in a different light. Its one thing being lashed-up in front of a live Sky TV audience but being lashed-up (allegedly) behind the wheel of a large automobile is another thing altogether. Could he not have stumped up the cash for a taxi?

Tuesday, March 1

Let's be having you! Come On!

Bethd fooohtbal shupportshuhs infa werlt, hic

The Canaries precarious grip on life in the top-flight took another blow at Carrow Road last night as visitors Manchester City recovered from two-goals down within the first sixteen minutes to record a last gasp 3-2 win. But the highlight of the evening wasn't Robbie Fowler's 92nd minute winner but Delia Smith's half-time rallying call to the home fans. Seemingly somewhat the worse for sherry she lurched onto the pitch and, grabbing a microphone, screamed: "We need a twelfth man here! Where are you? Let's be having you! Let's be having you! Come on!" A class act our Delia. What chance a re-take by Rob Chandler at our next home game?

(Watch Delia in action here.)

The second strings game with Charlton Reserves due to be played at FPR last night was called off due to a frozen pitch. With Jason De Vos suspended for Saturday's trip to the JJB, BFJ would have been hoping to take a look Matt Richards and Danny Karbassiyoon with a view to playing one of them in a reshuffled defence against Wigan.

Shefki Kuqi is targeting Town's home game with Forest on Saturday March 12th for his return having been given the go-ahead to step up training. "I feel good in myself but we will take it steady. The season will not be decided on one game and it would be better to miss the Wigan match and be right for the rest of the season than come back too early and be out again." Town's leading marksman was carried-off following a clash with Leicester's Dion Dublin at FPR two-weeks ago and later required surgery to repair a deep thigh wound.

And lastly, Reading are to give our good friend Hassan Kachloul a trial. The Moroccan midfielder spent three years at Southampton before signing for Town, sorry Aston Villa, in the summer of 2001. Kachloul, now 32, is currently unattached and recently had trials with both Bolton and Crystal Palace. You can let Kachloul know exactly what we all think of him in Suffolk right here.


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