Ah, let’s just take a minute or two to bask in the warm glow of a glorious victory. Plaudits and congratulations all round, three points in the bag, possible crisis averted. It’s so nice to celebrate with a glass of wine rather than having to gulp it down in a headlong rush to forget. OK, we all realise it was far from perfect. Just as on every other day so far this season it could easily have turned out differently. But there were enough sturdy performances and enough cohesion and purpose to ensure that Ipswich, while a touch unlucky to lose on the balance of play and chances created, could not claim to be robbed. Perhaps most significant, just like us a week ago after they went 2-1 down they failed to create a single clear-cut chance; Lisbie did seem to get between Hudson and Weaver and be in a position to head over the keeper and into an empty net. But he was never going to do that, was he?
Given that in a recent post I was questioning whether the Holland/Bailey combination in central midfield was not our best option (which is not to say that either is not worthy of a place) and whether we could really afford to start with Bouazza and Sam, it follows that I thought the changes to the starting eleven were astute. The back five was unchanged, with Cranie still getting the nod at right-back, but Holland dropped to the bench for Zhi to return, while Sam also stood down for Ambrose and Todorov got the nod over Gray.
I thought in the first 20 minutes we were clearly the better team. There was better movement and control than in previous games, even if we had the handicap once more of scoring first. A free kick in a reasonable position and Bailey drove the ball hard and low. My first reaction was it was going wide – and I think Wright in the Ipswich goal thought the same. Seems to have taken a deflection and next thing you know its in the net. Credited to Bailey, but maybe a case for the dubious goals committee. Zhi ensured better link-up play, while Todorov, while not surprisingly still looking short of match practise, held it up well and almost played in Varney on a few occasions.
However, we were getting little joy down the flanks; Bouazza was to have a very poor game, save one moment, and Ambrose flitted in and out of the game. Both seemed spectators when they didn’t have the ball and did not do enough to make themselves available. Shortly after the goal Bailey was clattered from behind and fell awkwardly, the first occasion when referee Hegley made the wrong decision over cards. He had to go off, although with Holland coming on you can’t say it made us materially weaker. Bailey and Zhi had looked good together.
Whether or not the change affected us – and Ipswich also made a substitution, bringing on the lively Counago - as the half progressed Ipswich got more of a grip on midfield, pressuring Zhi in particular. He thrives on moving the ball on quickly, which means players making themselves available. When they don’t he can be caught in possession. A poor mistake by Youga, who otherwise was playing well and creating more than Bouazza going forward, almost led to a goal and it was no real surprise that another cross from their right side caused problems. Cranie had to play the ball running towards goal near the far post, with a forward on his shoulder. Unfortunately he planted it in the net. After that Ipswich clipped the top of the bar from a free kick, but at the break it was pretty much a case of honours even and all to play for.
I don’t know if he was injured or just upset at the own goal, but Cranie was replaced at half-time by Semedo. It was to be a significant change as Semedo, who hadn’t before looked to me comfortable at right-back, took his opportunity with both hands. He was energetic, enthusiastic, and during the second half cropped up in advanced positions on the break, leaving Ambrose some way behind.
The next goal was always going to be crucial, but with Ipswich enjoying better control in midfield but Varney causing them problems with his pace and running it was an even bet which team would get it. In the event Ambrose and Semedo seemed to run down the right together before the former put in a superb cross. Bouazza had read it well and was in the right place. But he seemed to completely screw it up. However, after connecting with something the ball bounced down and then up and over Wright into the net. A free kick going wide before being deflected, an own goal, and a miskick. Ah well, who cares, this is the Championship.
After that we threatened on the break, with Varney getting around their defender only to be pulled down either outside or just inside the box. From the East Stand we couldn’t tell. The referee gave it outside, but for some reason didn’t give the defender even a yellow card, having booked Bouazza in the first half for a tug back in the Ipswich half. I think he just forgot. In this brave new world players are not supposed to call for cards, but if the referees singularly fail to make such obvious decisions what are they supposed to do? Respect? Don’t make me laugh.
The defending was sometimes frantic in the last 20 minutes, but in general Hudson – who had another very impressive game – and Primus dealt with what was thrown at them. Weaver was called on once or twice, but it never looked desperate. We found it difficult to keep possession, however. Again, Semedo showed up both Ambrose and Bouazza with the pace and energy he showed getting forward and back. Gray replaced a tiring Todorov and after a few mild scares it was all done and dusted.
The overall performance was mixed, but Todorov, Ambrose and Zhi presumably need more games to get fully up to speed. I think it’s positive to view, for now at least Holland and Bailey, and Todorov and Gray, as interchangeable. There’s a two-week break now and at least I can look at the Sunday papers – and yes, even the league table – without suffering palpitations.
Weaver: 7/10. Capable enough, only called on to make saves a few times.
Cranie: 6/10. Have to see why he was replaced at half-time; no real blame for the own goal, these things happen and he had to play the ball. But Semedo gave us a lot more in the second half.
Youga: 7/10. Generally impressive, but one bad mistake in the first half could easily have cost a goal.
Hudson: 9/10. I thought he was excellent today, held the back line together, good tackles and interceptions.
Primus: 8/10. Also very good. Nice to see him knowing how far he could go in dealing with Counago in particular.
Bouazza: 5/10. I thought he had a very poor game, not finding or making space, not getting past the full back. Capable of much more. But saw the opportunity for what proved to be the winner.
Bailey: 7/10. Only on for around 15 minutes but looked good with Zhi in that time – and presumably he will keep the goal.
Zhi: 6/10. Something of an enigma today. Looked good moving forward and did get in a fair share of tackles. But Ipswich had better control of midfield and Zhi was outmuscled on a number of occasions. Should be a case of sticking with him and him getting fully up to speed.
Ambrose: 6/10. Moderately encouraging but he too can do more. Was a bit peripheral for much of the game, but gets credit for the cross for the winner.
Todorov: 6/10. Needs more games, good movement and passes in the first half but conditions were not easy for him.
Varney: 8/10. Didn’t score, but almost single-handedly worried Ipswich in the second half with his pace and running.
Subs: Holland 7/10 (does what it says on the bottle); Semedo: 8/10 (something of a revelation); Gray: 6/10 (no great impression on the game).