Monday, 29 February 2016

Short lived celebrations in Huddersfield as Town 'stop the rot'

On Saturday, I headed to Huddersfield fully expecting to see Ipswich lose. It's an occupational hazard when you are a Town fan.

Town had lost four of their last five games (five from six if you include the cup exit at Portsmouth), a poor run of form that has seen a large number of fans and even boss Mick McCarthy fearing 'our play off hopes are slipping away'. Add to that the memory of a disappointing defeat last season at the John Smith's stadium that saw our hopes for promotion very nearly crushed and you can see why a defeat felt inevitable to me.

So, to be honest, I felt a little numb heading to catch the train back to Leeds after the game: I hadn't been at all prepared for the joy of seeing my fourth away win of the season and, of course, the famous Luke Chambers' fist pump.

I think I was in shock. Sadly this wasn't because we'd performed like a promotion chasing side, scoring with ease and playing our opponents off the field. The shock was simply because the previous visit to Huddersfield had been such a terrible experience and, in recent weeks, us Town fans have become rather accustomed to expecting the worst.

You might think then that our loyal supporters would be over the moon with the three points, particularly as the match had been billed by so many as 'must win' (even at this early point in the season). Alas, that doesn't seem to be the case.

I felt a little deflated when I found that even before I had returned home a number of social media users seemed to be belittling the performance already, angry that we hadn't produced a Barcelona-esque performance in this vital Championship tie.

I exaggerate, of course, but it was disappointing and the low mood seems to have continued among a few during the following days as well.  I mean, come on, are we not allowed at least a 24 hour period to bask in the enjoyment of a victory before we are forced back to earth with the reality of the precarious position we find ourselves in?

I ask myself, why are some of our fans feeling this way? Why would you not just be happy with three points away from home to 'stop the rot' of the recent bad form?

Well, they can't really be blamed, it wasn't the greatest game of football I've ever seen. The match report stats speak for themselves:

Shots on goal: Huddersfield - 22, Ipswich - 6
Shots on target: Huddersfield - 5, Ipswich - 1
Possession: Huddersfield - 67%, Ipswich - 33%

Viewed in that format, the lack of shots on goal is really worrying and adds to a trend that we have seen in recent matches: against Hull we had not one shot on target (although Daryl Murphy did hit the inside of the post).

We seemed to struggle going forward, that much is clear from the numbers, and, in the first half at least, I personally felt the defence allowed Huddersfield to come too far forward before making any challenges.

A nervy one goal lead was all we really deserved and for the duration of the second half you could sense that the away end were expecting an equaliser at any moment.

But that equaliser didn't come. We defended confidently and, despite the lack of activity going forward, I did feel we looked the stronger side. It seems to have been easy for some to overlook these points, as well as the fact there were some very good individual performances:

Murphy's assist for the goal was fantastic, beautifully taken and controlled with a pinpoint pass to Pringle for the winner. It was testament to how much of an influcence he was on the game and it was the first time I have seen him play that well so far this season (with the exception of Rotherham and Charlton, where he was phenomenal). Hopefully this is something that he can now keep up, too often I've seen comments that he has been invisible in our matches and he clearly hasn't hit the form we so adored last year.

Bialkowski once again turned in a performance that looks set to see him named as Town's 'Player of the month' for February. Bart kept us in the game, something that has become a habit since his return to the side, with some heart-stopping saves. Early in the first half, he faced strongly into a one-on-one situation with Nakhi Wells and stopped the shot with his legs, what a very different game it might have been without his input.

Though I'm happy to see such great performances from our big Pole in the goal, I'm concerned by how often we seem to be saying 'the keeper saved our skin today', with Gerken in previous games as much as with Bart this month. What has happened to the solid defence that we had last season?

On Saturday, Berra was okay for the most part but made some terrible errors when clearing the ball and I felt Knudsen stepped in to save him a few times. Smith made no obvious errors during the game but he was perhaps a little too quiet for my liking, while a Chambers error just in front of the goal late in the second half had my hands covering my eyes.

However, Knudsen had the best game I have seen him play in a Town shirt so far. Strong on the left and stepping in with confidence when needed to clear the ball, he still has a tendency to 'hoof' the ball far and high up the wing, whether there is a player there to collect it or not. But he was hard working and reliable, the pure passion on his face as the referee blew his whistle in the 95th minute was clear to see, something that has certainly endeared me to him. I know you can't win games on passion alone, but I do believe you should be grateful when you can see that it is so very clearly there.

Such passion, of course, could also be seen among over 900 fans in the away end. The final ten minutes were a familiar slog of nerves, with half an eye on the clock counting down behind us.

As we neared the final whistle, a repeated round of 'Singing the Blues' roused the crowd to see the boys safely past that final whistle with three points in the bag. It was one of those moments that make me proud to be an Ipswich fan and will be firmly placed in my bank of away day memories.

Pure relief followed at the final whistle and a somewhat subdued fist pump due to the way in which we had managed victory. A friend said to me as we were leaving the stadium that he thought we had earned that win... 'but my god it was boring'. A perfect summary in my opinion: It wasn't pretty, but we achieved what we set out to do, probably more so, and you can't ask for more than that.

My friend's thoughts were echoed by a Huddersfield fan who I spoke to after that game. Understandably, he was disappointed that they had come away empty handed, but not a bad word was said about McCarthy's side. He told me he felt we had played intellegent football: 'you knew our weaknesses and you played to those'.According to him, the stronger side won in the end: it was a kinder report than I've heard from several Town fans since the end of the game and I'll happily take it.

No, we didn't play the prettiest of football.

Yes, we should be putting bottom half teams like Huddersfield in their place if we want to have a serious go at this promotion race.

But it was, after all, a win and three points. Three points that keep us well within the race for the play offs (particularly with Birmingham, Derby and Preston all losing).

All we can do is take one game at a time and that, my friends, means we achieved our goal for this weekend. Can we just be happy about that until the next one please?

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