Town's result against Cardiff City has left me wondering if I'm hallucinating.
For months I've been citing the wobbly defence as the core to all our problems, but on Saturday the solid defence of days gone by made a welcome return to Portman Road and achieved their second clean sheet in two games.
Though credit is due to so many players for our run of 4 wins, I don't feel enough has been made of the improvement shown in the back four. So that's what I wanted to discuss today.
Could it be that Ipswich Town are finally becoming the team we've hoped they would be all season? If so, it seems the turbulent Act 1 of the season could be about to give way to a fascinating Act 2.
Manager Paul Jewell paid tribute to Cresswell, Smith, Delaney and Edwards in the Green Un after the game:
“Whatever back four has played this year has made basic individual errors and cost us goals. Some months ago I guess we would have conceded during that dodgy spell in the first half, but we’re now playing with confidence and belief and desire.
“We’re defending and attacking as a team at the moment and look like a decent team.”
Tommy Smith is becoming a key player for me: several times during his BBC Suffolk commentary on Saturday afternoon, Steve Foley praised him for 'taking charge of the back four'.
Following Town's painful defeat at Leeds, I feared Sonko losing confidence would lead to a loss of organisation in defence: but Tommy has stepped up his game in recent weeks and I’ve felt very proud of him.
(Tommy Smith... WORLD CUP PLAYER - as you may have heard shouted in the North Stand!)
Meanwhile, Steve Foley also credited Damien Delaney with two vital blocks that prevented Cardiff from scoring. He too is showing a clear head and determination to play, despite suffering a barrage of criticism from fans this season. He’s done well to pull through that and though he probably would not have been in the first team if it weren't for Ibrahima Sonko's injury it's nice to see him stepping up to the challenge too.
Meanwhile, Carlos Edwards had a fine game and as such he was rewarded yesterday with an inclusion in the 'Team of the Week'. In the abscence of Sonko, he was given the captain’s armband on Saturday and, for me, appeared to represent everything that is good about our current side.
He was credited with a good block from a Miller shot during the first half, which looked set to go in and would have seen Cardiff equalise and probably a totally different game unfold.
Meanwhile, he was also heavily involved in the build up to Michael Chopra's goal: his excellent cross from the right found it's way straight to Chops, who was able to find the net from close range. Here Edwards is showing his versatility at the other end of the pitch and what a key player he is this season.
But it wasn’t just the back four that provided food for thought this week: as has been reflected many times on my Twitter timeline, 'it’s great to see #ITFC defending right through the team'.
For me the perfect example of this is Jay Emmanuel Thomas. I’ve long been a JET fan, I enjoy watching him play. But, it seems now that he’s finally showing willing to add to his talented attacking play by using that great physical presence to help us out at the back. In recent games he's been getting involved with tackles and blocking balls; things I’d never imagined seeing from him earlier in the season.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a very good reflection on the game if I didn’t mention ALB’s yellow card. Yes, he was lucky – very lucky. Had it been closer to the centre of the field, perhaps, it might have been considered more of a goal scoring opportunity. But Delaney WAS covering for him and I suspect that is why the referee made the decision he did.
If I were a Cardiff fan I imagine I would be absolutely livid with the decision. However, I maintain that it would have been extremely harsh to send a goalkeeper off at such an early stage in the game. Furthermore, I feel karma may have played it's part: following the terrible decision to award them a penalty late on against us when we travelled to Wales and came home with just 1 point when it should have been 3. Swings and roundabouts I say.
The truth is Cardiff ran large sections of the game, once again I point to a Steve Foley quote from the first 20 minutes: ‘Ipswich can’t get the ball into Cardiff’s half let alone find any meaningful possession’.
For me the Town players weathered that storm well and the defensive play was impressive: At one point Cardiff had 8 corners, something you wouldn’t expect for any away side, so for us to hold out against them is quite an achievement. I also remember a time where set pieces were a sure goal for our opponents, so it's nice to see we've learnt from that and are now defending against them in a much better way.
Isn’t that the whole point of football? Sometimes you run the show and score at every chance you get; but sometimes you have to dig deep to grind out a result, even when the run of play is going against you.
Let’s not forget: Cardiff came to us knowing a win would leave them 3rd in the Championship. They will also have been hoping a win against us would give them a boost ahead of their Carling Cup Final this weekend. This wasn’t a top side who came looking like they didn’t care about the result – as some have suggested West Ham approached their appearance at Portman Road. This was a side hungry for some positivity – but we sucked it all up for us.
What a great time it is to be an Ipswich Town fan.
In Jewell, the players and the wonderful Blue Army I trust.