You know the score. 1-1 in a game of two halves for which Ross made a couple of changes to the starting eleven, then to the personnel and formation. While the second half wasn't a classic and produced far fewer chances and efforts than we should be, it was infinitely better than the first and a draw was our reward for the change in tactics and personnel, and the subsequent improvement in performance. Once again, it was Gooch with the second half equaliser, this time against a freshly relegated side who are expected to amongst the side challenging for promotion.
As it was Ipswich, which is a long, long way from home, it was a daft o’clock start and a fairly uneventful trip down, despite forecasts of high winds in Suffolk around 3pm. Wind and our game might be a bit of fun, don’t you think? Anyhow, there were five and half hours in which we could moan about three at the back and argue about our preferred starting eleven. Which we did, until we got tired and started talking about what we’d been doing since we last rumbled down the road on the Durham bus. Moaned about football, it seems.
For some reason, several of the pubs we’ve previously used had decided to become Home Fans Only, so we found one that didn’t mind us, and which seemed to be visited by a constant stream of friendly polis who, in turn, seemed a bit surprised that we were no bother. Happy days.
And so, to Portman Road, past Bobby Robson’s statue, and into the away section. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere and noise – I don’t know why, but I’d expected something a bit more subdued. We don’t give up, do we?
McLaughlin Willis Flanagan
Gooch McGeouch Dobson O’Nien Hume
I’ve set the team out in that formation, as that’s what I think the manager intended, but despite the introduction of O’Nien and McGeady in place of Embleton and Grigg it continued in the same vein as last week at the back. With us kicking away to the right as we looked on, the Lads there never looked comfortable and Ipswich constantly pressed us, exploiting gaps that appeared in the same places. With the home side moving forward at pace, our central midfield were called on to calm things down once we’d kept them out of our box, but McGeouch and Dobson found it difficult to pick out McNulty right up front, or McGeady who was drifting across behind him.
The 14th minute was a bad one last week, and so it proved again, and this time it was Garbutt who came in from the left and hit it through McLaughlin from a very narrow angle and into the far corner. I don’t think Big Jon will be very pleased with that one. We in the stand certainly weren’t.
The rest of the half is probably best forgotten from our point of view, with McLaughlin pulling of a couple of smart saves and taking some crosses as the home side were very much on top and we struggled to put together anything that caused problems away to our right. Ipswich shouted for a penalty a couple of times, but the ref at least remained strong in denying them, and there were a few blocked shots as we dug in to keep the score at 0-1. After a few minutes of added time, which, incredibly, were there because of the home side wasting time, the whistle went and we had time to take a deep breath and hope for changes in the second half.
Thankfully, we got them. Maguire was on for Hume, O’Nien was at right back, and McLaughlin 2 at left back. While it didn’t turn us into Brazil, or even Iceland, the Lads were very obviously much more comfortable with a foursome at the back. McGeady was lifted by the presence of Maguire, and the two combined well several times before McGeady slung in a cross from the left that was a couple of feet off McNulty’s toe end. Close, and we could sense a head of steam building as we started to pass it about and find our men. Maguire was giving us something, a bit of a spark and attitude, that had been absent in the first half and the home side found him difficult to cope with. After twenty minutes of this, McNulty got his reward for a lot of hard work by chasing the ball right to the by-line and nicking it off an opponent, then having the presence of mind to pick out Gooch at the back of the box, and he planted the ball firmly into the net. Boom. Game on! C’mon Lads, that’s what you get for being persistent, let’s have some more.
Seven minutes later, Grigg replaced McGeady, who was probably tiring, as we pushed forward even more, and we went with two right up top. Dobson was booked for a challenge about as late as a number 6 bus, they won a couple of corners which we dealt with well enough, and the last ten got a bit frantic as both sides went for it. Willis was replaced by Ozturk, who surely must be in contention for a start, on 81 and did his part in keeping the home side at bay, although McLaughlin 1 had to be off his line sharpish to get to a through ball, and we got it down the other end for McNulty to chase but their keeper got their first. Four added minutes were announced and were played out as the previous ten, and then it was all over. We deserved the draw for our improvement in the second half – it wasn’t brilliant, but it was much better, although being better than the first half was hardly difficult.
Possession overall was about even, with the bulk of ours coming in the second half, but they forced eight corners to our one, which emphasises what we’re lacking. Shots on and off target were probably well in Ipswich’s favour, but let’s be positive – it’s a point against a side that are expected to do well. But so are we…
Man of the Match? Maguire by a mile, as he brought positivity that both took pressure off the defence and made things happen up front. He surely has to start, and just as surely we have to play four at the back as the alternative simply isn’t working for us and I (we) would much rather see a formation that gets wins than persist with one that will obviously take time to master. Will we use the Accrington cup tie to practise it some more, or stay with the formation that we finished with in Suffolk? We’ll find out on Tuesday.