Wednesday 26 December 2012

Poor And Paid The Price

Thanks a bundle Santa. Two away defeats, a drop down the league, and some pressure on for a performance and a victory. We didn’t get either and today was a worrying display. There’s no point in trying to focus on a spirited second-half effort to get something out of the game. For a start it wasn’t that spirited; when you get one back with 20 minutes to go, at home, you expect more. Yes, we could have nicked a point, but even if we had it wouldn’t have disguised the error-strewn, limp and uncoordinated first half display, or the fact that Ipswich saw out the final period reasonably comfortably. Even given their keeper’s uncertainty with the high ball and our focus on it.

The team saw a bit of a shake-up of the available options. Jackson and Kermorgant dropped to the bench, while Kerkar and Wright-Phillips didn’t make the subs (Harriott did). Fuller returned to supposedly partner Hulse up front, making it a 4-4-2, but while both have their merits and put in shifts it would be wrong to suggest a partnership as they spent the first half competing for balls in the air 20 yards apart. Green came in, with Haynes on the other flank, with Frimpong and Stephens after his suspension in the centre, while the back four and keeper were unchanged.

With the exception of a couple of moments – an early shot-come-cross from Haynes which was palmed over and a superb free-kick from Stephens after Fuller had been upended which came back off the foot of the post – the first-half was at best tame and otherwise shoddy. The crowd was thin on the ground and the atmosphere lacking, which all contributed to a low-key affair from our perspective. Instead Ipswich, without doing anything spectacular, showed how to control midfield with a physical presence mixed with movement and feed a front two who had some idea of how to play together. One big guy and a lively partner full of confidence, supported by midfielders who made timely and angled runs forward. It wasn’t rocket science but it won them the game.

After the mixed opening their guy cut into the edge of the box and a clumsy challenge by Frimpong sent him tumbling. The only question was whether he still had control of the ball, no doubt about it being in the area and as penalties against us go it was pretty uncontestable. Campbell stepped up and put it high and wide – although with Hamer going the right way I think he would have saved it had it been on target. Instead of the let-off inspiring us, we remained subdued. There were moments, from a number of individuals, but nothing coordinated or indicative of a team knowing what it is meant to do. Instead the game arguably turned on two moments after half-an-hour. First, we had the Stephens free-kick, which was worthy of a goal but didn’t even come back off the post at the right angle for incoming forwards. Second, a few minutes later at the other end we conceded a soft goal. The ball went across the goal to beyond the far post and everyone followed it, only for it to be pulled back to an unmarked Campbell who finished with ease.

Goals do change games and having gone behind we really needed to get to the break and regroup, with perhaps some straight talking from Sir Chris. Instead Stephens was caught on the ball in a dangerous area and while the resulting shot was well blocked by Hamer it fell to their bigger forward to put it in the net. Two poor goals to concede and they’d missed a penalty. And it was raining. Not exactly what I’d promised my French partner Suzanne and not exactly what I’d been asking for either.

The second goal meant changes were essential, to add more drive and determination, hopefully more accuracy too. Frimpong gave way for Pritchard and Green for Jackson, but a number of others could have been replaced. We needed an early goal to get back into the game and the best chance of the half did indeed come not long into the second half. A ball towards the far post had Jackson bearing down on it, only for Fuller not to get a call or be aware and try to take it on. The excellent chance went begging and the nature of it seemed to sum up the game.

Ipswich, who had been wasting time from very early on, entered the second half with no great intentions of going forward and this did give us more of the play, with Pritchard making a difference (to the extent that they brought on Rio-Coker to try to nullify the effect) and Solly getting forward more in support of Haynes down the right. But it was really a case of an away team 2-0 up sitting back rather than us driving forward with intent. The aerial threat was always there, but the right delivery or right connection never came.

Instead we did get back into the game with enough time as Solly broke into the box and was flattened by a challenge as poor as that of Frimpong. Jackson was on the pitch, but seemed to pass on the opportunity and instead Haynes stepped up to plant one in the top corner of the net.

Still 20 minutes to go and it should have been game on. Instead we still struggled to really put them under pressure. Kermorgant stood on the sidelines to probably replace Hulse, until Fuller stretched for one and pulled something to depart a few minutes later. One free kick went narrowly wide, there were a couple of scrambles in the box, and the final moments saw Hamer up for a corner and Kermorgant hook one over his head which went just over the bar. But if I was an Ipswich fan I would have said they saw out the game relatively untroubled and would have felt aggrieved if we had grabbed an equaliser.

Today’s display was not good enough. It might prove to be a case of just insufficient tempo and drive in a poor first half, leaving us to chase a game in a fashion that was never going to be pretty. More worrying for me was the impression that there wasn’t much of a game plan before the start. We put out what looked like an attacking formation but had two forwards miles apart, a midfield that was out-thought, and hesitancy in defence. For me every decent team knows its strengths and plays to them. Today I didn’t really know if we were intent on a long-ball game (and if so why do it half-heartedly?) or something else, while we’ve shipped six goals in three games. Getting the best out of the component parts still looks a work-in-progress, with the possibility of more changes to the squad in January depending on loan signings.

Not the end to 2012 I was hoping for (I have to pass on the Derby game on Saturday as Suzanne and I are off to Brussels to see in 2013), especially with the sad news of the passing of Colin Cameron (which does put a football match into context). But the year has seen many other much better moments. Can we please have another year like it overall, just not like today?

Player Ratings:

Hamer – 7/10. Can’t be blamed for either goal (arguably the parry for the second might have gone somewhere else, but it was a decent save in itself), might have saved the penalty if it had been on target, and not much else to do.

Solly – 7/10. If you had to pick a man of the match for us it would have been him. Won the penalty and did nothing wrong that I saw.

Seaborne – 6/10. Defensively seemed fine, especially in a tough first half, but something happened to his control and distribution in the second half as suddenly everything he touched went astray.

Morrison – 5/10. Strangely uncertain in the first half as their movement from midfield and combative front two caused us problems, while their first goal was just poor from a defensive perspective.

Cort – 6/10. Much as Morrison. The fact that the defence was untroubled in the second half really doesn’t count for much.

Haynes – 7/10. Not everything worked for him but was a threat throughout and took the penalty perfectly.

Frimpong – 5/10. We were outplayed in midfield in the first half and his clumsy challenge gave away a penalty.

Stephens – 5/10. Has to lose a mark for losing the ball that led to their second, while a number of the passes in the second half didn’t come off.

Green – 5/10. Perhaps unlucky to be replaced at the break as others were as ineffective, but failed to make an impression.

Fuller – 5/10. Did hold the ball up well, won a free-kick on the edge of the box, but surely if you play with a partner up front you have to try to make it work together.

Hulse – 5/10. Found himself competing for balls with no support and then one of a number jumping for them in the second half.

Subs – Pritchard (7/10 – did make a difference by adding more energy and drive in midfield); Jackson (6/10 – might have been different had Fuller not taken the ball away when he was poised to score early in the second half); Kermorgant (6/10 – his late hook over the bar nearly sent me home content if not happy; but this time it didn’t).

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