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TOM Ince is patently a good player. But, un­til he stops the Hou­dini im­per­son­ation, he will never be a great one.

Three weeks ago, the 23-year-old tore Bris­tol City to shreds with a vir­tu­oso hat-trick that show­cased just why In­ter Mi­lan were once in hot pur­suit. Pace, trick­ery, lethal fin­ish­ing off both feet – the qual­ity was Premier League class.

That was fol­lowed by a win­ner against Leeds, then a late lev­eller at Ful­ham. Yet, against Boro last week­end, Ince was about as bright as a burnt-out Christ­mas light.

Tired­ness af­ter a tax­ing fes­tive pe­riod? Maybe, but only if you ig­nore the fact that this tale of pur­ple patch fol­lowed by van­ish­ing act has been a fea­ture of Ince’s en­tire ca­reer.

Speak­ing to a col­league from Derby af­ter the match, I asked if he didn’t get frus­trated. “Oh, mas­sively,” he said. “But you just have to ac­cept it and hope he has a good one.”

That’s fair enough. Ge­orgi Kin­kladze, Matt Le Tissier, Paolo Di Canio – the game has a rich his­tory of mer­cu­rial ma­gi­cians whose abil­ity to get sup­port­ers on their feet was matched only by their ten­dency to leave them scratch­ing their heads.

They are the stuff of misty-eyed mem­o­ries but not of Eng­land hon­ours or top Premier League sides.

Ince has the class to achieve both, yet lacks the con­sis­tency to merit a place in a top-flight side.

As a young­ster, such de­fi­cien­cies were un­der­stand­able. At al­most 24, they are not. If Ince wants to be re­mem­bered as more than a tal­ented lux­ury player, he needs to turn up more of­ten.

INCE: Mr In­con­sis­tency

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