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Watford 3 Ipswich Town 1 (19/04/2014) 20/04/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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1- There are many excellent things about having a seven year old daughter. If it’s something you’re considering I can heartily recommend it.  The BEST thing changes by the day, but the ability to vicariously relive your childhood and indulge in pastimes that a middle-aged man wouldn’t otherwise get away with will always be fairly high on the list.  Re-reading “The Northern Lights” doesn’t strictly fall into that category…  I was already a middle-aged man when I first read it and no pretext should be necessary.  But sharing it with a seven year-old, who is frankly no less able to get her head around parallel universe theory than I am gives it a whole new lustre, just as much fun the second time around.

This was a game from a parallel universe.  A parallel universe in which this season panned out as we thought it might, in which we really did rip the division up, too good for whatever the Championship could throw at us.  In which a team turning up and haring after us, closing us down up the pitch and denying us space and waiting for us to make a mistake wasn’t anything like enough.  A parallel universe in which, perversely, Beppe Sannino had replaced Gianfranco anyway.  Go figure.  I never claimed to be an expert in this stuff.

2- Which isn’t to say that we had it all our own way…  indeed we started the game much the slower, the visitors getting the pick of the scraps from a congested midfield early on.  Johnny Williams was at the heart of the threat, then and throughout the first half… the Palace loan-man, significant at Wembley last May, echoing his compatriot Craig Bellamy in both his sense of devil and mischief and in being a gobby little irritant.  He would leave the game early, a running scrap with Daniel Tözsér culminating in a bad second-half challenge from the Hungarian for which he was lucky to escape censure.  Williams had the first effort on target, a firm shot that Manuel got something behind to block as the defence were caught on their heels in an ominous opening period.  Five minutes later Tommie Hoban, who had had an edgy start, got away with a lunge on Frank Nouble in the area… there weren’t many appeals but it looked a foul.

Gradually the tide turned, we began to enjoy possession of our own.  The opening goal, when it came, was a thing of beauty and worthy of separating the teams at the interval… Hoban, out of position, swept in with a majestic, immaculate challenge to curtail an Ipswich break on the left and immediately set in motion an attack down our own left  flank.  Riera, who we had been warned was going to need a few games to play himself back to fitness, showcased the quality that once had Liverpool paying £8m for him by cutting inside  and stroking a shot diffidently inside the far post with his weaker right foot.  In the context of a tight game, devastating – and an echo of a similar goal against Leeds under Sean Dyche, where Mariappa and Kightly played the Hoban/Riera roles.

3- Ipswich, in short, were more or less what you’d expect from a Big Mick side.  Tough, tight, competitive, fairly tidy.  And unremarkable.  Paul, an Ipswich fan and school friend of my brother’s from Essex where such things – Ipswich fans – are an occupational hazard, was keeping a low profile with me in the Rookery.  If you’ve done this sort of thing before you’ll know that the hardest bit is not reacting convincingly to goals at either end, but coping with your emotions when things get a little… fractious on the pitch.  As the visitors hit us hard at the start of the second half, pulling level when Wordsworth poked in Nouble’s cross, things did boil over as a referee whose control of the game was on the slack side throughout, nearly lost control altogether.  Cue  partisan bellowing at referee and miscreants in blue decorated with tractorcentric baubles and much swearing from those around us…  and whilst, heaven knows, I’m not one to urge vocal restraint when it comes to suggesting that Ipswich are a shambolic excuse for a football club with a rather overblown sense of their own significance, full marks to the interloper for not blowing his cover.

4- If something remarkable does transpire over the next fortnight – and we’ll get to that – then the pivotal period, the Tranmere moments, surely came just after the hour mark.  Luke Hyam met a left-wing cross with a thumping header for the visitors… from the far end it looked off the bar and in, for a second or so we were mentally adjusting to being behind.  Except… it didn’t go in, a brilliant Almunia push onto the bar indiscernible from our vantage point but critical.  Within a minute Troy Deeney drew a foul in Ipswich’s half… closer to the halfway line than the penalty box and central it should have been no threat to the visitors but they fell asleep, Töszér’s evil swinging delivery found Angella’s untracked bandaged forehead and we had the lead.  A good finish, but criminal defending. Two minutes later an extraordinary crossfield ball by the Hungarian found Faraoni wide on the right.  The Italian killed the ball with his astonishing first touch, waited long enough for the Kaiser to follow his pass across the pitch and then released him to drive home our advantage;  Ipswich, rocking, were not mentally ready to have him prising open the gap between two defenders in the box neither of whom were brave enough to take responsibility. He cut back from the byline, McGugan finished expertly.  Game over.

Most impressive, more impressive than the goals, was what happened next. Ipswich were shot, done, and in no physical or mental state to reprise their energetic chasing down of the first half but we’ve made late leads look more precarious than this in the past  with fist-chewingly awful consequences and against far less capable sides.  The visitors had some inconsequential possession, Hunt had a decent effort from long range, but every time possession turned over the yellow shirts flooded forward…   Angella, Deeney, Battocchio, Murray and Tözsér – from a violently struck free kick that he and McGugan lined up to opposite corners – all came close.  No nerves here, we ended the game well on top.

5- It should be evident to all onlookers that that sixth place is going to go to a side that has not covered itself in glory for the duration of the campaign.  On any number of occasions over the past weeks and months we’ve all mentally switched the season off and chucked the dust covers over it… Bolton?  Doncaster?  Blackburn?  Burnley?  Millwall?  And yet… nobody else is making a convincing job of it either, and despite our best efforts we’re still in there.  Not favourites, not in our control by a long chalk… and that mythical game in hand is only potentially worth three points.  We’d still have to win at Charlton, and at QPR and Derby too,  a big ask under any circumstances.  Except… well, if you’re going to go to QPR and Derby then a period in which each might be focused on the next bit, the play-offs, might not be a bad time to make those trips.

And, whisper it, we’re playing rather well all of a sudden.  No weak performances out there today, just different flavours and degrees of impressive…  Hoban, ultimately, imperious.  Ekstrand, bar one early misplaced pass, as commanding as he’s been for weeks – and visibly comfortable in that central role.  Tözsér, majestic.  Faraoni, an outlet, much needed given the absences of both Anya and Forestieri.  Riera, a class apart.  Deeney, unplayable, goal or no goal.  Ranégie… again, a slow start after a few games out but ultimately awkward, a presence, a threat.  Almunia.  Angella.  McGugan.  Abdi.  Murray.   Battocchio.  Pudil.  Not a frown or a black mark amongst them.  It’s still a long shot, but winning our last four games is less of an ask than winning our last five was.  We overcame and ultimately reduced a half-decent side to rubble today.  There are only so many times it’s reasonable to politely offer around that last vol-au-vent, in this universe or any other.

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Comments»

1. Roger Smith - 20/04/2014

Spot on, as usual. How many times have we heard, after beating a lowly side, “a better team would have punished us”. Well Ipswich were a better side, and we punished them.

2. NickB - 20/04/2014

Elegant and perceptive report; particularly liked the vol au vent metaphor: have you and ig got a secret cache of these hidden away somewhere?
Thought it was a very enjoyable game, helped by both sides needing all three points, although in hindsight, a point wouldn’t hav been the worst result for Ipswich. Lots of positives on our side and thought Williams was outstanding for them.

Matt Rowson - 20/04/2014

Yes, and we’re not telling where…

3. Simoninoz - 21/04/2014

Given the small slice of potential this performance gives us I feel strangely ambivalent. Perhaps it is because in the last six days I have seen Sydney FC (my Southern Hemisphere team) knocked out of the play-offs here and also attended ”An Evening with John Cleese” – the man who famously said “It’s not the despair, it’s the hope that hurts.”

4. Sean - 21/04/2014

Great review as always. Whilst going to QPR and Derby will be tough, if we want to go up via the play-off’s we’ll have to beat one or both of them again so really might as well put a marker down…

Charlton could also conceivably be safe by the penultimate game of the season too – although I might be getting a little too far ahead of myself there!


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