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Ipswich manager George Burley
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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Avoiding the drop
Ipswich Town
Ipswich celebrate promotion to the Premiership
As Ipswich went on an open-top bus tour of the city a day after their triumph in the First Division play-off final at Wembley, the thoughts of manager George Burley were already turning to next season.

Burley has under three months to build a squad capable of, at the very least, staying in the Premiership. It won't be an easy task.

Both teams to come up through the play-offs in the last two years have gone straight back down again the following season.

Charlton at least put up a fight up in 1998. Last season, Watford set a new record for wining the fewest points in Premiership history.

The signs are not good for Ipswich. Last time they were promoted to the top flight, in 1992, the Premiership was a different place.


David Sheepshanks
Will chairman David Sheepshanks splash the cash this summer?
Smaller clubs could still flourish. That year, Norwich finished third, QPR fifth.

But things were changing. Big clubs were becoming more powerful, the smaller ones gradually flushed out into the First Division. In that first season, with a squad that mirrored today's in its blend of promising youth and experienced old pros, Ipswich managed 16th.

In 1994 they had slumped to 19th. By '95 they were down. The man in charge as they waved the Premiership goodbye? George Burley.

So can they avoid a horrible repeat story? Taking the example of Sunderland and Bradford, the two promoted teams to stay up in 2000, there seem to be two ways of doing it.

Cash

You can splash the cash and hope your young striker bags shedloads of goals. Alternatively you can rope in a load of old stalwarts and hope they have enough energy in their legs to keep you up.

Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks has already promised George Burley money to beef up the squad, but whether it'll be enough to compete for the signatures of the very best - let alone whether players will want to move to Portman Road - is open to question.

And even the most ardent Town fan would concede that the chances of David Johnson or Marcus Stewart doing a Kevin Phillips are pretty slim.

Sterling

What of the current squad? Of them all, only Richard Wright would seriously challenge for a place in a top Premiership team - and he's only got one more year to run on his contract.. The defence looks old and, despite his sterling display at Wembley, Tony Mowbray can't go on for much longer.

In midfield, Jim Magilton was considered not good enough by relegated Sheffield Wednesday, while Joe Royle wants Matt Holland at Maine Road.

Up front, David Johnson has done little to suggest that he's anything but an excellent lower division striker who will struggle in the Premiership, while James Scowcroft is steady but unspectacular.

This isn't to deny that Ipswich deserve their promotion, that their football is good to watch and that the team spirit rock-solid. All these things are true.

It's merely to suggest that success for Ipswich next season won't be qualifying for Europe or gaining revenge at Old Trafford for that 9-1 defeat in 1995.

It'll be spending this time next year wondering how to stay up - again.

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29 May 00 | Football
Ipswich triumph at last