Bonding exercise in unlucky defeat

IT is strange how defeat can sometimes forge a bond between players and fans that even winning can't achieve.And, so it was, following a whirlwind 90 minutes at Vicarage Road when beaten but unbowed Ipswich players and more than 4,500 Blues supporters were united as one.

By Derek Davis

IT is strange how defeat can sometimes forge a bond between players and fans that even winning can't achieve.

And, so it was, following a whirlwind 90 minutes at Vicarage Road when beaten but unbowed Ipswich players and more than 4,500 Blues supporters were united as one.

As the fans saluted their heroes, the players, to a man, threw their shirts into the sea of blue and white as a spontaneous show of gratitude for their backing.

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It didn't need to be said that mutual respect had been hard- earned through a game when both parties gave their all but fate, along with referee Steve Bennett and his officials, conspired against them.

The Ipswich fans could not have done more in their backing, which started when the goalkeepers warmed up and was still in evidence when they reappeared for their warm-down 15 minutes after saying their farewells.

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They had been given plenty to cheer about and even had a goal to celebrate before despair took hold as a linesman's yellow flag pointed across the pitch, with dancing duo Danny Haynes and Jaime Peters completely oblivious.

Then, again, why should they have thought it was anything but a goal after Dan Harding had rattled the crossbar with a stunning 35-yard left-footed drive and Haynes had beaten Dan Shittu in a foot race to reach the ball coming back before nodding in.

Quite often this season Ipswich have shown an appetite for self-destruction, with stupid sendings off and clown-like defending, but their downfall at Watford was less of their own doing and more about cataclysmic decisions going against them.

The offside decision looked harsh, especially in this day and age where players are not active until an assistant deems they are.

And Bennett's decision to show George O'Callaghan a straight red card after he and Shittu had tangled while going for a loose ball was hurtful to the extreme.

The dismissal came on the stroke of half-time after 45 minutes when Ipswich had been the better team, inspired in no small part by the signing from Cork City.

O'Callaghan had been at the heart of everything Town did from winning tackles deep in his own third to laying balls off for Peters and Gary Roberts to force Watford on the back foot, culminating in an opening for Haynes who, disappointingly, hit the side-netting.

The Irishman was also involved in the build-up which led to Sylvain Legwinski rattling the crossbar with a stunning 20-yard effort.

But rather than wallow in O'Callaghan's absence in the second half, the Blues players found a little extra and, in truth, there were very few times when they looked a man short, such was the work-rate and desire.

While Town missed O'Callaghan, and with him they may well have gone on and won, paradoxically they barely missed a beat.

Legwinski was skipper for the day in the absence of Jason De Vos, who had hoped to return, Fabian Wilnis, out with a hamstring strain, and Richard Naylor, who is still suffering from a painful toe.

The Frenchman allowed little to come through the middle and kept his opposite number Gavin Mahon on the back foot.

His presence allowed Chris Casement to flourish at centre-back alongside Alex Bruce, who relished the responsibility, helped by the ice-cool David Wright.

Yes, Watford did pressurise, with Tommy Smith in particular active down the right flank and it needed a superhuman effort by Matt Richards to deny Darius Henderson with a headed goal-line clearance, even though the Watford players claimed the ball had already crossed the line.

It was Smith who eventually found a way through and he pulled the ball across the 18-yard box, Henderson stepped over and Damien Francis was in space to side-foot in from 10 yards with just a couple of minutes to go.

It was very hard on Ipswich, who deserved to at least be in the pot for lunchtime's quarter-final draw.

They will take no solace from Aidy Boothroyd's consoling words and it was little wonder than Jim Magilton, while accepting his oppo's handshake, didn't want to hear that Town were the better team, unlucky and all that.

Town will only take solace from this defeat if it acts as a catalyst for the remainder of the league season.

The players need to put in that sort of effort for every game; they need to show the same sort of desire tomorrow against Wolves and again at Southampton on Saturday.

With De Vos and leading scorer Alan Lee back, along with Jon Walters, Town will be even more formidable but the likes of Haynes and Casement showed that, if called upon, they can handle it and that can only bode well for the future.

So, while there can be no consolation in going out of the cup, something can be salvaged from the defeat, not least that Town showed the fans they deserve to wear the shirts, which are now owned by a very lucky dozen of them.

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