It’s impossible to lose a game to a stoppage-time goal and not feel hard done by. But some go your way and some don’t. Nobody would deny that a draw would have been a fair result on the balance of play and chances created, with really nothing to choose between the two sides in a decent game. Fact is the game is about putting the round white thing into the net and today two teams spent 94 minutes failing to do that, despite creating enough possibilities (had to check the BBC stats and according to them we had 21 attempts and five on target, Ipswich 19 and six respectively; at the end of the day only one mattered). If it had been us taking the points in stoppage time by actually scoring Ipswich could have had no complaints; by the same token neither can we (especially as we’ve won games this season by scoring the only goal late on).
With Henderson and Wiggins still unavailable, the defence picked itself. But whereas we started with a 4-5-1 against Millwall including Buyens, his absence was countered by bringing in Harriott to partner Vetokele up front in a 4-4-2, with Jackson and Coquelin in central midfield and Cousins and Gudmundsson either side of them. The plan seemed to be to exploit Harriott’s pace to get in behind them. Like so much through the game, for both sides, it nearly worked.
I remember the game at The Valley against Ipswich last season, when they flew out of the traps, scored early, and effectively had the game won before we started. Almost a repeat this time around as a corner in the first minute found two Ipswich players effectively unmarked, only for them to get in each other’s way, resulting in a tame header wide. But in a decidedly open start we responded with a move ending with Gudmundsson being played in well but stretching to get the shot away and the ball flying over the bar. Their front two were causing problems in the early stages, winning more than their fair share of aerial challenges (that McCarthy influence as they made sure with shoves and pulls if they weren’t going to win the ball against Bikey-Amougou and Ben Haim there would be enough interference to ensure no decisive clearance), while Solly had his hands full with the experienced Hunt, a task he was to prove well up to. Equally the ploy of using Harriott was causing them problems, especially when Vetokele was able to find him with some deft touches into space to exploit his pace.
I don’t take notes and listing each move and shot is beyond me. Suffice to say both teams through the first half continued to exchange almost decisive blows. A fierce shot from Solly was parried, as were efforts from Harriott and Gudmundsson, while a superb run from Coquelin into the box was well spotted only for their keeper to smother the effort from close range. At the other end Pope was required to make saves of a higher standard than those against Millwall to keep them out, while a couple of free kicks whipped in by Hunt only needed someone to get on the end of them.
At the break, for all the effort it was scoreless and the game was still there for either side to win. They had the edge when it came to set pieces, while a couple of tall and effective forwards meant they were happy enough to play it longer. We had crafted decent openings and had enough attempts on goal and as against Millwall seemed to have the weapons to possibly win the game, with Cousins and Gudmundsson getting joy down the flanks, Vetokele always a threat, and Harriott having the pace to trouble them. But as against Millwall we hadn’t scored.
The early stages of the first half were rather scrapier than before, with both sides giving away possession rather too cheaply. But after a while we settled into the same sort of pattern. Chances came and went at both ends, more frustratingly for us than them. A ball played across their box was fed on to Gudmundsson in space on the right. He chose not to shoot first time and cut inside onto his left foot, only for a defender to get a block in, and finally when one seemed to fall to Vetokele he was unable to get his shot away. They had a fierce drive from a full-back that flashed wide, plus a free-kick which proved dangerous as the ref failed to spot a blatant shove on Jackson who was all set to clear. I remember remarking with about 20 minutes left that it increasingly looked as though both teams could play until midnight, even allowing for the horribly early start, and not score.
The time for changes approached and as they rejigged we brought on Wilson for Jackson, with Cousins switching inside and Gudmundsson moving from the right to the left side. And with about five minutes left Tucudean came on for Harriott to provide a different sort of threat, although in truth it worked against us as we seemed unable to change the approach to different personnel and abilities. As the clock ticked down it did start to look as though if anyone was going to pinch it the odds were shifting to Ipswich.
Into five minutes of stoppage time and – after the curious decision to bring on Bulot (for Gudmundsson) for a full couple of minutes - the chance for them that we had feared arose, with their guy seemingly in on goal to shoot only for Bikey-Amougou to get in what at the time seemed to be a point-saving challenge. Then Bikey climbed to nod the ball into touch only to collide with their guy, who seemed to take a bad knock in the face. But instead of him being taken off, their trainer produced a spare shirt from his back pocket and after the break he was waved back on, we lost the ball, he ran onto it inside the box and shot into the net. A bit more crimson, or no spare shirt, and he wouldn’t have been on the pitch. There was barely time to restart and it was all over.
There’s no point dwelling on it. We deserved a point, could easily have taken all three, but lost, for an obvious reason. Today Gudmundsson, Harriott, Cousins, Vetokele, even Solly, failed to ensure that they found the back of the net. Nothing to be done about it other than to work against not scoring becoming a mental block. If we create as many chances in each game we play we will win more than we lose.
Pope – 8/10. A few very good saves, no chance with the goal.
Solly – 8/10. Excellent game, saw off Hunt, got forward to good effect, all very good.
Fox – 7/10. Also pretty decent, more of a presence going forward sometimes.
Bikey-Amougou – 7/10. Gets an extra mark for the challenge that seemed at the time to have preserved our point; otherwise against a troublesome front two wasn’t entirely comfortable.
Ben Haim – 6/10. They did have more chances than we’re used to seeing against us, perhaps not as assured as we’ve come to expect.
Gudmundsson – 6/10. Excellent work except for converting the chances that came his way, of which there were a few.
Jackson – 6/10. Generally effective without standing out, really neither side controlled midfield.
Coquelin – 7/10. Decent game, almost made the breakthrough with an excellent run into the box only for the effort to be smothered.
Cousins – 7/10. Also decent, provided an outlet, worked hard as ever.
Vetokele – 7/10. Some excellent touches to play in Harriott, but for once when the good chance came his way in the second half failed to get the shot away.
Harriott – 7/10. Thought he had his best game as a second forward that I’ve seen. Couple of decent shots, caused them problems. But as with everyone else not the goal we craved.
Subs: Wilson (6/10 – not much time to impact on the game and if anything we tailed off towards the finish); Tucudean (6/10 – no impact when he came on and that contributed to our uninspiring finish); Bulot (no mark, just why bring on a player you hope will do something going forward with just a couple of minutes left?).