Monday, 25 April 2016

Town's trip to Middlesbrough earns another surprise point

Ipswich Town's travels during April have brought with them an element of unexpected success. Having earned a point away to play off hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday, Town were to repeat that achievement during their visit to the Riverside this weekend.

A long time ago, I made the decision not to attend the game myself. If I'm being honest, I expected defeat to be a sure thing as we faced a Middlesbrough side who have looked very strong this season.

However, fellow Town fan Maciej Chmielewski did make the trip, as he does the vast majority of Town's away games, particularly those based up here in the north. Maciej has kindly sent over a report of his view of the game:

"Saturday looked set to be the continuation of our recent malaise and the doom and gloom got even bigger when the starting line-up was released:  I was asking myself: 'What am I doing here? I might be better off going back home'.

I worried for young defender Paul Digby [who was making his first start for Ipswich], because he would be a very inexperienced centre back playing against the strong attack of Middlesbrough. I worried about the two defensive minded midfielders of Cole Skuse and Luke Hyam, because it would mean our attacking options would be limited. I was wondering: 'What's the point of that? We have nothing to lose, why not be brave and try to be adventurous?' 

The first five minutes were promising as we were virtually all in their half, we even had a shot on target from David McGoldrick, albeit one that was easy to save. But it was only for the first few minutes of play, after that we were on the back foot for the entire first half. A combination of Bart Bialkowski's fine saves, Boro wasting their chances, and pure luck meant the first half ended goalless.
We had literally nothing to offer up front, it was like awaiting execution and there is not much to report from the first 45 minutes. Bialkowski parried away Stewart Downing's shot and also won a one-on-one situation with former Town youngster Jordan Rhodes, the latter having lots of time to choose his shooting option but failing to take one. Digby blocked Emilio Nsue's shot, Albert Adomah wasted a glorious chance, the diving idiot Rhodes fell down as if he'd been shot and pathetically waved to the ref afterwards. Their first goal was only a matter of time. 

Adomah caused us lots of problems on his side, keeping Jonas Knudsen really busy dealing with that, I dare say that if Adomah had been facing Luke Chambers it would have been far more fruitful for them. As for Chambers, once again he was poor: his ball distribution was pathetic, even simple passes to Liam Feeney were beyond his abilities. 

Meanwhile Digby was fine, but looked shy and too scared to make a mistake. 

There was absolutely nothing in the centre of our midfield. We were flattered not to have been losing at half time. Very, very slow and sluggish. There was one surprising decision from Mick, he played Hyam in an advanced role that was to be close to their box, with Bru playing behind him. Perhaps this was Mick's 'end-of-season experiment', however it didn't turn out to be anything special. 

I guess Mick must have either reprimanded or encouraged players in the dressing room, as we looked significantly better from the beginning of the second half. Not only were the first few minutes promising, but this time that was the case for almost the whole of the remainder of the match.

We had been on the back foot in the first half, but after the break we restricted them and limited their chances on goal. Yes, Middlesbrough had more possession but they somehow lacked any ideas for breaking us down. Bialkowski was finally beaten by Rhodes, but the ball bounced off the post, while David Nugent also wasted a header a couple of minutes from time. That was all they had to offer.

Ipswich were far more encouraging, there were a few attempts to create quick counter attacks from Feeney on the right wing and Freddie Sears on the left. Given how slow we generally are in the midfield, these moves were impressively quick. We may have failed to test Boro keeper Konstantopoulos properly, but we kept their defence on their toes.

I think there were two things preventing us from grabbing the win: First, the lack of killer passes, particularly from Sears. We were fine until we approached their box, but from that point we lacked a final idea and there were a couple of moments where a killer cross from Sears would have made all the difference. His wastefulness was annoying, but on the other hand his proper role is receiving balls, not delivering them. 

Secondly, there was the lack of support from central midfield. Grant Leadbitter, who himself didn't have an exceptional afternoon for Middlesbrough, would still have made a big difference in our midfield. We miss the ilk of a player like him and I don't know why he was booed by a few Town fans today. 

For us, McGoldrick was the best player: dear, oh dear, how badly did we miss him this season? He has a very strong tendency to keep the ball on the deck and dribble with it, he also had a fine moment when he went past three defenders but was left with no space to either shoot or pass the ball.

It really was a fine effort from him and, for me, he was our man of the match, alongside Bialkowski. When he operates with the ball, you always have a hope that he can produce something out of the blue. As well as this, Tommy Smith, who had a horrid time at Riverside last season when we lost 1-4, was very assured. He is a different player to the one who was embarrassed by Bamford 13 months ago. 
Meanwhile, Teddy Bishop's late introduction turned out to be positive as his effort was decent, he was hungry for every ball and showed good off-the-ball movement. 

The final result may not be a fair reflection of the game: 1-0 to Middlesbrough would have been more true given their first half domination but we certainly deserved something for the second half display. There are umpteen Town fans who are obsessed about the style in which we gain the points so they should know that hoof-ball wasn't our domain this weekend. A bit of hoof-ball, a bit of football on the deck, a bit of everything. 

Also loads of Town supporters have been very critical of the team and Mick lately, but we can't be critical after Saturday. I'm not happy myself with some issues particularly Evans' transfer policy and some of Mick's team decisions, but the team deserves praise for the courage they have shown in the second half. Of course, not everything was perfect, but certainly better than some recent performances. 

I admit to being a bit greedy in the second half when I saw how much we had improved. A smash-and-grab win would somewhat have been a little payback for Bosko Jankovic, but it ended how it ended. A point that had looked unlikely prior to the game and during the first half. 

With a fully fit McGoldrick and Bishop next season and a little bit of financial help from Evans (we need a ball operator in central midfield and a couple of wingers) we may successfully challenge for promotion."

Thank you ever so much to Maciej for the insightful report and to Jackie who once again provided the match-day photos. I am sadly missing our final home game of the season next Saturday, so if you'd like to let us know how the day goes please do get in touch via Twitter @tractorgirlamy8

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