|Mullet added 18:55 - Dec 7|
Homelessness this time of year is no laughing matter, but with snowflakes on the horizon, it became a cause celebre amongst a growing fraction of the two thousand fans at St Andrew’s today. A venue familiar to Blues of the local and travelling variety, but a shelter for the nomadic Coventry who played hosts to us for a second time in six days.
It was no surprise to see Town much changed again. Norris in goal, Donacien and Garbutt the obvious full backs as it became clear by the inclusion of Wilson and Woolfenden that it was Chambers who was struggling for fitness.
Will Keane again the lone striker, with Judge on the left and Edwards on the right, a triangle of Dozzell, Downes and Nolan were the centrepiece on which the team balanced. It was another case of tactical inconsistency this season, rather than the tactical diarrhoea of the last one.
After an initial flurry towards us from Coventry, save for a solid slide in the box from Nolan the game settled down. Ipswich began relatively brightly, backed by a fine choir and appreciative away end. The empty one behind Coventry’s goalkeeper had THE BLUES writ large, signalling where we needed to aim for in case any of our recently shot shy side needed reminding.
The Sky Blues looked like a team who had everything about them to make them a worthy adversary in this league. It was testament to what they lacked which makes them look certain to remain one for quite some time. Positive on the front foot, but lacking much up top, it was a combination which encouraged Norris and the defenders in front of him to play as if they were midfielders.
Short passes and roll outs on the angle, became a nod to Lambert’s older methods, but it took several missteps before the attempt to treat the 18 yard line like the halfway one, for fans to vent their frustration. In the mean time Town built slowly and then hurled attacks forward, trying to find Edwards or Judge in behind their marker, or connect with the velcro touch of Keane as he came deep and hoped to turn hold up play into a more stable pattern of play or moments of a sexier disposition.
While the ground was barely a third full, the minority of travellers prevented it becoming a ghost town, a hearty rendition of Blue Action’s greatest hits soundtracked the two step approach of Ipswich’s pretend to cross, dither back inside and see what’s going on after years of decline.
A great move down the right starting from a short out to Donacien and benefiting from the input of Keane, Nolan and the crossing Edwards saw Judge with an open goal at the back post. Unfortunately the Irishman was nowhere near long enough to prove a hit, and finished his Gazza impression somewhere near the hoardings, the ball joined him but several yards away.
It deserved more, and so did Ipswich who had had spells of half sliced volleys that melded passing and interceptions into something resembling buildup, before upping their possession and decision making into a much better quality attacking unit. Whether we were 433 or 4231, was less clear than whether we were better than the team our cup side drew with just six days ago, but on they we roared as Town went looking for the lion’s share of the match.
Half an hour was all it took for Ipswich to stamp their superiority on the game. Some good moves had seen a hapless ballboy take a nasty fall on the steps in his eagerness to do his duty and retrieve the ball for our corner, he was massaged out of his embarrassment by eight thousand sympathetic pairs of hands. However, this time the set piece fell on the other side and did way more damage.
Judge and Dozzell exchanged pleasant short passes and on the third touch the inswinging delivery from the winger found its mark. A hanging leap leap from Keane left everyone else for dead as he put his header beyond them all and us into the lead. It was thoroughly deserved.
The two had combined for the goal in the previous meeting, and again showed good eyes and good movement when it mattered. Garbutt volleyed the ball into the ground and wide in our next attack, when again the striker and winger combined to feed him a chance he should have done better with.
It was on loan Villain O’Hare who broke Town hearts with an equaliser from nowhere at the death last week. From an innocuous free kick he out-leapt a charging Norris like a Brummy Maradonna. In flight and Sky blue at the same time, head met the ball that should have found hands, and over it landed much to our relief. The half all but over as well, the away side and fans could be the much happier contingent based on what had happened thus far.
Whatever Lambert said at half time, it was clear that without Chambers and Skuse, Ipswich lacked voices on the pitch. You could hear the odd shout from players mingling between a lull in songs and crescendo of tension, as the ball heltered and skeltered around the pitch.
The flattening of Ipswich’s thirds allowed space and time for the opposition to test Norris in a way they hadn’t in the first period. A solid hand from a stinging shot had seen Town flat-footed and scrambling the ball away. As the miscommunication or misplaced passes put the backline into squiggling almost suicidal notes on how not to defend, Coventry didn’t take long to skip inside from the right and beat Norris low and hard with an arrow into the corner of the net.
The hardy home fans were rightly pleased, as it showed why our inability to land mortars in behind them might cost us. Too often crosses, clearances and switches of play landed too short or too long beyond the intended runner. When you have the lead it’s not a problem, but with such a lack of accurate firepower, the familiar inability to hold a lead makes the assumptions about this league being a walk in the park all the sillier.
It was clear the referee was a cut above the usual standard his peers offered in this division, and he loved to wave play on. He hadn’t really lost control despite his hands off approach until he couldn’t raise his arms as the ball went out for a Town throw. Donacien was faced with an aggressor he soon floored. A flare up that lacked fire, saw everyone within a 200 yard dash involved, including substitutes and bench deserting witnesses keen to join the melee. Far too long passed before two bibbed Coventry players received a yellow card, and those actually in the fray and the game melted away into anonymity.
Norris, Wilson and Woolfenden loved to charge from deep and clear out the ball rather than their man. All three made mistakes in measuring their objectives or their touch far too often. Town seemed a long way from that first half dominance, let alone the early season form which saw us counter attack and outwork teams into narrow submission.
Our unwillingness to gamble beyond the defence meant that when the chips were down for Ipswich, the Sky Blues could sweep in like truculent gulls and clean up. O’Hare found himself clean through and then the bar, as the percussive ring of the ball eluding everyone and the lead with it was an unnecessary scare that a side hoping to climb to the top of the table didn’t need. Town had regressed into being less surefooted and with it, Coventry capitalised.
Removing both wingers, Skuse and Jackson were Lamberts double sub. Moving to a diamond, seemed to be his solution to a game where Ipswich could no longer see the same way through to victory. With capable attacking full backs on both sides, it was perhaps this that allowed us to be caught on the flanks. However, when Dozzell, Downes and Nolan all found Jackson in the channels with cute drops over the heads of the centre backs or beyond the tracking of the full backs we had our best chances to score.
One move saw Jackson shimmy rather than touch the ball, it bounced perfectly, but he took it too far, his cut back went beyond those queued in the box and the defenders headed away for another counter.
Likewise Dozzell was unlucky to lose his feet as Keane danced the play back from the line, and put it straight to him. The young midfielder lay flailing as only a thin high line of defenders and chasing pack managed to shield Town from giving the game away.
It would be Keane though who would emulate the same bad luck, and combine it with Judge’s miss in the first half. Gleefully through thanks to a forward thinking Skuse, and unmarked at the back post. He slipped when the ball to him was inch perfect and a second for him and us looked certain. The jeers that likened him to a “s**t Andy Carroll” showed a similar lack of understanding or judgement.
The game had a generous six minutes of extra time thanks to a nasty clash of heads involving Downes and his marker in no mans land. When the additional minutes came, hope of Town reversing the late heartbreak of the previous week, looked fleeting and unlikely. Jackson in one of his scampering hunts for the overhit through ball, sent Dabo flying like a snake rather than the striker had taken a bite at his heel. It was a petulant booking as symbolic of Town’s lack of grip on the fixture, as the second half had been contrasting to the first.
We could have lost it when an opening in the defence, seemed to spread to the goal, but their sub sliced wide when he should have drew blood and killed us off. All in all however, the repetition of a “game of two halves” were a cliched but accurate analysis of a draw hard fought and lead easily lost in a manner all too familiar this winter.