COMMENT & GALLERY: Fitting way for Ipswich Town to end a season of solid progress. Now the Blues need to kick on again
Ipswich Town finished a solid season of progress on a high, beating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at Portman Road. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.
Ipswich Town finished a solid season of progress on a high, beating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at Portman Road.
Centre-back Tommy Smith scored his sixth goal of the season to give the Blues a 37th minute lead after a slow start by the hosts.
Keiran Lee swept home an equaliser early in the second half (55) as more than 2,000 travelling fans enjoyed their afternoon, but Town showed the spirit which has typified their season as Paul Green headed home a winner (67).
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Ninth place with a points tally of 68 points represents the club’s best finish in six years. Indeed, it has only been surpassed once in the last nine – and even then Jim Magilton’s side of 2007/08 were only one place and one point better off.
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This hard-fought win was the perfect snap-shot of Ipswich Town’s campaign.
Rarely easy on the eye, this spirited, low-budget outfit have always proved competitive and often found a way to grind out results.
The Blues started poorly as they struggled to adapt to a new-look wing-back system and 16th-place Sheffield Wednesday looked like the higher ranked side.
Indeed, the injury-hit Owls produced 14 shots on goal over the course of the game compared to the Town’s four.
Yet Mick McCarthy’s side clung on in there when they had to and came up with two goals to secure the win.
The deadlock was broken in the 37th minute, Town doing well off of second balls rather than scything through the opposition with pace and trickery.
Jonny Williams’ cross was half-cleared, Smith laid the ball off on the edge of the box, Paul Green threaded the ball through a crowded box and, after Daryl Murphy’s shot was well-saved, Smith tapped home.
It took the centre-backs’s goal tally to the season to six. The fact that defenders have contributed 16 goals between them this season tells you a lot about Town’s approach.
It took two superb saves from Dean Gerken in first-half stoppage-time to keep the Blues in front, the keeper diving full length to his right to fingertip Caolan Lavery’s curling shot around the post and then reacting smartly to keep out Michail Antonio’s close-range volley following the resultant corner.
Kieran Lee swept home an equaliser 10 minutes after the restart, the ball falling kindly to him in the box after Lavery’s complete mis-hit.
Town responded though as two second half subs played their part in the winner. Paul Taylor won the free-kick down the right, Stephen Hunt whipped in the dead ball and Paul Green headed home.
No team has scored more headed goals than Town this season. Again, another stats that paints a picture.
No-one can question the work-ethic, professionalism, organisation and character of this tight-knit group.
And recognising that Mick McCarthy and assistant Terry Connor (don’t underestimate his role) have squeezed every last drop out of what they’ve got, the Portman Road faithful stayed behind en masse to warmly applaud at the end.
It was in stark contrast to a year previous when players had darted sheepishly to the centre circle, quickly acknowledged all four sides of a rapidly emptying stadium and then darted back down the tunnel.
That there has been major progress is in doubt.
It’s been argued in some quarters that things have somehow stagnated under McCarthy. He claimed an average of 1.60 points per game in steering the club away from the relegation zone, but has ended up with 1.48 per game in his first full season in charge. This style of football, they say, has major limitations.
It’s far too simplistic an argument. The optimists will rightly point to the fact that Town have gone from finishing 14th to finishing ninth, claiming 60 points compared to 68. That, however, is only half the story.
This is the most stable platform the club has had to build on in years.
For the first time in a long time, there are no key players set to walk away at the end of their deals. For the first time in a long time, there has been no heavy reliance on loan players.
Player wages have been slashed, team spirit has soared and the core of a hard-to-beat, consistent team is in place.
McCarthy has won this league twice before and knows exactly what his side’s limitations are.
Three or four quality additions during a summer of wheeling a dealing could very well bridge that gap in class to the play-off places.
Mick McCarthy, Ipswich Town manager
“It was an open game. Both teams have got nothing on it apart from three points and a bit of pride.
“I imagine Sheffield Wednesday fans went away and thought their team put up a good show, but we went away with the points. That’s what matters in the end, but they played well.”
Stuart Gray, Sheffield Wednesday manager
“I am a little bit disappointed with how we have ended the season. With 21 goal attempts, we should be doing more.
“We probably deserved something from the game, whether a win or a draw.
“But credit to the players for how we have ended the season. We started with something like one win from 18 games. We have fizzled out a little at the end where we have probably been overstretched.”
22 Dean Gerken
Two super stops just before break 8
4 Luke Chambers (cpt)
Made life awkward for strikers 7
6 Christophe Berra
Much better in a back four 7
5 Tommy Smith
Six goals for the season 7
3 Aaron Cresswell
Not lived up to Premier tag of late 5
24 Frazer Richardson
Steady down the right 7
16 Paul Green
Midfielder was everywhere 8
14 Anthony Wordsworth
Kept things simple 6
35 Frank Nouble
Ran down dead ends 5
25 Jonny Williams
Drew fouls, but limited impact 6
9 Daryl Murphy
Another super lone striker display 7
1 Scott Loach (not used)
15 Tyrone Mings (not used)
18 Jay Tabb (not used)
12 Stephen Hunt 7 (Williams 63)
23 Alex Henshall (not used)
26 Paul Taylor 7 (Smith 63)
34 Jack Marriott (Nouble 86)
26 Damian Martinez
Could do little about goals 6
41 Sam Hutchinson
Adapted well to right-back role 7
8 Oguchi Onyewu
Better going forwards 6
36 Glenn Loovens (cpt)
Some good challenges 7
19 Joe Mattock
7 Michail Antonio
Lacked end produced 6
20 Kieran Lee
Right place for goal 7
14 Giles Coke
Fairly anonymous 5
18 Chris Maguire
Wednesday’s biggest threat 8
25 Caolan Lavery
Took up good positions 7
34 Atdhe Nuhiu
Big man well-shackled 6
1 Chris Kirkland (not used)
32 Miguel Llera (not used)
16 Rhys McCabe (not used)
10 Jacques Maghoma (Coke 80)
17 Jeremy Helan 6 (Mattock 75)
39 Jack Stobbs (not used)
42 Leon Best 5 (Nuhiu 61)
Irishman – who will be released by parent club Leeds this summer – did his chances of getting a permanent deal at Ipswich no harm with an impressive box-to-box display. Produced super pass in lead-up to opener, scored second and played with real energy.