The ‘other results’ Gods were smiling down upon this club of ours as the rivals sniffing around the summit of the good ship Championship huffed a collective sigh of frustration and left us with the opportunity to clamber back to the top of the pile. This was an absurdly pleasant gesture: one that we almost threw back into their faces. But, after much head scratching and bemusement, we decided instead to accept the remnants of the generous gesture.
On the cusp of a change of seasons, the lightweight nature of our frail bodies here at ITTO left us susceptible to germs; so much so that big coats, gloves and even a flask for half-time were the order of the day to accompany us on our Sunday sojourn to the City Ground. Sadly, our lethargy manifested itself in the first-half performance of the boys in red.
Pre-game, everyone nodded in sage agreement at the news that Matt Fryatt would make a welcome return to first team action to partner Britt Assombalonga in an effort to arrest the three game barren spell in front of goal. Britt had looked desperately lonely as he ploughed a lone furrow up front in recent games and seemed in dire need of a friend, someone who’d stay around a little longer with him; offer him more than a brief cuddle before retiring back to their own place; someone to offer more than the fleeting cameos than those offered by Michail Antonio. Given that Britt would have a playmate, we would now naturally stroll back to the top of the pile…with bells on.
But of course, if only football were as simple as putting the right pieces of the jigsaw into the right places. Even though we had assiduously identified all our corner and straight edged pieces of this puzzle, we hadn’t accounted for Daryl Murphy confidently striding through our defence and smartly converting the opener for Ipswich Town.
If truth be told, we were still trying to fathom out how to handle the three pronged attack of Murphy, Connor Sammon and David McGoldrick and to concede just the one goal prior to half-time was something of a blessing. Lethargy was rife throughout the team as passes went astray and Henri Lansbury seemed to be fully engaged in kicking anything that moved (anything except a football) and acquiring a booking. In the immortal words of Troy Bolton, he needed to get his head in the game and stop admiring David McGoldrick’s retro all black football boots.
Nonetheless, cobwebs were dusted off. We got our collective baggage together and started the second half with all four corners of the jigsaw in place. Lansbury stepped up to seemingly place another corner on to the head of one of the innumerable tall, beardy and heavily inked Ipswich defenders. His deliver thus far had been more wayward and erratic than that of a hoodie wearing paperboy who’s late for school on a bitterly cold morning. But he had at least calmed down now and was more focused on kicking a ball after receiving his customary yellow card. Somehow, the ball evaded the swarm of Big Friendly Giants comprising the Ipswich six-yard area and was bundled in by everyone’s favourite German, Robert Tesche.
This was better. The threat from McGoldrick’s all black boots had rescinded somewhat, up until some half-hearted faffing allowed Murphy to leap like a Sammon (sorry) and place a laser guided missile of a header into the corner, after shaking off the attention of Eric Lichaj. Our defending was slacker than a Richard Linklater movie starring Ethan Hawke.
There can be no denying that we sorely miss Andy Reid. At times, our forwards hurtle goal wards from our deep lying midfield, leaving little option other than a controlled, long (ish) ball in the general direction of the inside left or right position, in the hope that Antonio, Chris Burke or even Jack Hunt will take the ball down and fashion a chance. Fryatt tried hard to occasionally run back towards Tesche or Lansbury to collect the ball but oh, for some of those delicate Reidy triangles or cheeky little flicks in order to change the angle of attack, which invariably allows us to gain possession further up the field.
But it really was getting better, getting better all the time. Antonio tested Dean Gerken’s reflexes with an awkwardly scuffed shot. Minutes later, he found himself being held in the box but his theatrical fall was unconvincing. He also rounded Gerken only to be denied by one of those goal-denying slides from the leg of a tall, bearded, heavily inked defender. This was all so very frustrating.
Lars Veldwijk came on and rumbled around menacingly, as if he might spring into life at any moment. It might happen some day soon. Lichaj gave way to Dan Harding: a move met with a rumble of discontent, which was a little harsh given his admirable performance at White Hart Lane and the fact that with so much space appearing down the right side of the Ipswich defence, he could whip the ball in quickly without having to turn back onto his right foot, unlike Lichaj’s right-footedness which dictates that he must clumsily carry out such a manoeuvre.
Another corner deep into injury time seemed like the last chance to retrieve a point from the game and keep the undefeated gold star for a little longer. Alas, Lansbury, now back to his old self, was surely not going to get lucky again and evade one of the innumerable tall, beardy and heavily inked men standing betwixt men in red and the Ipswich goal. Not this late. Not after Marcus Tudgay’s late winner three years ago in November to hand us a 3-2 victory against this very opposition. Bizarrely, the ball found its way to the lurking Antonio at the far post who guided the ball into the Trent End goal.
It is truly odd that we’re in second place after four consecutive draws.
It is truly odd that we remain undefeated, bearing in mind that it feels like we have failed to produce a quality performance for more than half an hour thus far.
It is truly odd that we feel a tinge of disappointment after such a pleasing and promising start.
It is uncanny that this is such a tight league, one in which consistency might well be the difference.
Luckily for us, we’ve got a whole load of that stuff right here and as long as we don’t lose it or throw it out with the trash, we should be pleased with our efforts as we enter into the wilderness of the International break.