Don’t you just bloody hate these home wins. At least when we lose most of the fans have disappeared and you can hop on the first train down the line. Win and you get everyone (well, most) waiting to cheer them off the pitch, even without a Chris Powell leap of glory, and a queue to get away. Never mind, normal service will no doubt be resumed next time around.
There wasn’t anything normal about this game. When you run out the first 45 minutes 3-0 up at home against a team that has only mustered a couple of efforts on goal at the end you’re feeling pretty pleased with life. You kind of settle in for a low-key second half, something of a disappointment in that you tend not to bang in a few more. You don’t expect to get taken to the cleaners. (NB: don't panic, it's all right in the end.)
So, the game. A combination of sloth, rain, reluctance to go to the pub before the game, and Network Southeast’s inability to deliver the 14.46 on time meant that by the time I took my seat we were winning 1-0. It was a cracking goal, I’m told. Certainly it set the game up for Darren Ambrose, who took up a position as the most advanced midfield player in what could only be described as a 4-1-3-1-1 formation. This involved Holland playing the holding role, Reid and Sam on the flanks, Zhi in central midfield and Ambrose in the hole behind Iwelumo, more advanced than Zhi. Don’t laugh. It worked.
There was bite in the tackle and with Ipswich lacking in ambition in the first half, and with us having taken the lead at the start, we dominated. We scored again – from a fluke. A corner came back off the far post and seemingly went in off Iwelumo. And then, just when you are ready to bask in 2-0 at the break we scored a beauty. A knock back to Ambrose and a crisp shot into the corner. The formation was working and Ambrose was inspired (the old club syndrome but also the fact that with a goal under his belt he had confidence). Ipswich by then had altered their set-up, bringing on Counago. But I remember thinking that I was most pleased that, despite their obvious targeting of Chris Powell, we had limited them to one half-chance (given offside) in the entire first half.
Now the plot started to unravel. Ipswich made a further change and as the match resumed hell opened up in a flurry of thunder and lightening. It was reasonable to suppose that they would throw caution to the wind as they had nothing to lose. What was disappointing was that we didn’t seem able to react, to take the heat out of the game, and suddenly we were being pulled apart.
I lost count of the number of chances they created. Nobody was surprised when the linesman gave them a penalty (more on linesmen later). If they had pulled it back to 3-1 early in the second half it’s a different game. But Weaver pulled off a splendid save – and we thought we had weathered the storm. Trouble is nobody had told Ipswich.
The next 20 minutes or so saw chances come and go at both ends. Iwelumo and Sodje both squandered free headers in the box, Holland had a superb drive turned onto the post by their keeper, while at the other end Ipswich hit the woodwork a couple of times and had a number of half-chances. Finally they scored. Finally we made a tactical change by bringing on Semedo to stiffen the midfield. At 3-1 up at home we didn’t need the game to be open. The change didn’t stop the flow of Ipswich chances, but it did reduce it.
On the break there were more opportunities to put the game to bed, but no more goals followed and it was with some sense of relief that we entered injury time, with Varney having come on and Bougherra to replace Powell after a clash of heads in the box. Mills, who had somehow once more contrived to annoy their players and supporters, had switched to the left but had no time to work out how to start a feud on the other side before the referee blew the whistle for full time – and Fortune decided to fell one of their forwards. Something had clearly been going on, but getting a straight red after the final whistle ain’t that bright.
Some plaudits. The referee was excellent, even to the extent of giving us a penalty only to change his mind after talking to his linesman. I still think it was a penalty and a red card, but I can’t find anyone else who agrees with me. It’s a bit much when the linesman at one end gives a penalty against us and the one at the other convinces the ref to change his mind and not give us one. But damn it they were probably right. And credit to Ipswich. They helped to make it a cracking game of football (don’t you just love it when you can be all nice after winning?)
Weaver: 9/10. Superb. The penalty save was crucial, no chance with the goal.
Mills: 8/10. Oh Danny. This time he didn’t lose it, despite the provocation.
Powell: 5/10. Chris. You are a legend and we love you. Fact is Ipswich targeted him all game and he was beaten in the air and stretched on the ground. You deserve better, Sir Chris, and that’s not being asked to play so many games in such a short period of time.
Sodje: 6/10. The defence went from assured to mush in the second half. Did nothing obviously wrong (apart from missing a good chance) but there was a collective responsibility.
Fortune: 5/10. I thought he had an excellent first half and was raving about his composure. Fact is you can’t deck a player after the final whistle and get a three-match ban and expect a decent rating.
Holland: 8/10. Excellent. Semedo has done nothing wrong for us, but Holland demonstrates that he can do the same job and provide more.
Reid: 8/10. It’s a fine line for him as sometimes it works and sometimes not. But I thought he had a fine game and caused them all sorts of problems.
Zhi: 7/10. Effective, seemed almost relieved not to be on the end of chances in the box.
Ambrose: 9/10. My man of the match. He carried the ball superbly and scored two great goals (well, I saw one of them). Please keep doing it.
Iwelumo: 7/10. No shortage of effort; missed one good chance in the second half.
Positives? Three points, home win, super game. Negatives? Decimated defence for the next game. No Fortune, Mills and maybe Powell. Well, let’s worry about that tomorrow. And Sir Chris, I hope you’re feeling better. We missed your celebrations.