Defensive frailties prove costly again

ONCE again defensive frailties came back to haunt Ipswich Town, writes Derek Davis.The exact same starting side which conceded three goals at Selhurst Park earlier in the season did it again – only this time there were no free-scoring heroics to snatch a win.

ONCE again defensive frailties came back to haunt Ipswich Town, writes Derek Davis.

The exact same starting side which conceded three goals at Selhurst Park earlier in the season did it again – only this time there were no free-scoring heroics to snatch a win.

But there should have been no need to. A goal up at half-time, fresh on the back of a win at West Ham, the Blues should have had the desire, confidence and ability to push on and secure victory.

Instead they put in a sloppy, complacent and wasteful display, especially in the second half.

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It was not as if they were not warned. Boss Joe Royle had seen the warning signs and read the riot act at half-time. It has the same effect as the Queen's Speech – everyone who listened nodded their heads and said 'absolutely' – then blithely carried on as they have done all year.

The scene had been set to bring more festive cheer to the terrific Blues crowd, themselves keen to atone for a flat performance against Norwich, and continue the good work done at Upton Park.

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Counago started at the expense of second top-scorer Darren Bent and Ian Westlake was back on the left side of midfield, with Alan Mahon recalled by Blackburn and Tommy Miller not looking entirely comfortable in that berth at West Ham.

With John McGreal suffering from the effects of flu Georges Santos reclaimed his place in central defence alongside Richard Naylor.

Knowing Johnny Mac's keenness for a tough scrap he will have been upset at missing this one and would have been as angry as the two central defenders were, rightly so, at the way the rest of the side let them down.

It is easy to point fingers at the back four and the keeper when three goals were put past you but defending starts at the front and seeps its way through the team.

The attacking formation Town play means there will always be holes, which is why the anchor role is so important.

When Town are on the front foot everything is rosy, as 46 league goals to make them the division's leading hot-shots shows, but when it goes wrong, as it has done 38 times, things look flimsy.

Town's 11th-minute opener came after Counago forced Shipperley to concede a corner from a Magilton free kick

The Town skipper hit the flag-kick deep and Wright met the ball on the volley with his right-foot shot from the angle of the six-yard box going inside the far post.

Wright's next volley just before half time was not nearly so successful as it ballooned over the bar.

By then Kuqi had wasted good opportunities by hitting high and wide, and Magilton had tested the keeper with a right-foot volley and Westlake had tried his luck from 25 yards.

Davis made a smart save from Johnson while Hughes and Shipperley volleyed over the bar after Town gave the ball away cheaply in central midfield.

Ipswich played some lovely football in the first half, with sharp passing and movement. Westlake looked to have benefited from his little rest while Magilton was imperious, getting on ball often, and he might have put one of three half-decent chances away.

Wright also looked lively, oozing quality and linking well with Fabian Wilnis and the front two in particular until he went lame.

But the danger was always coming from Johnson, who exploited the mistakes in deep central midfield to go at Santos and Naylor, who coped well for the most part but the Palace forward still managed efforts on goal and set others up.

It was inevitable that Johnson would hit the equaliser, which came on the hour.

The former Birmingham City striker got away from his midfield marker to meet a Julian Gray cross and stab the ball home in front of Santos.

Johnson played a huge part in Palace's second four minutes later when he pounced on a mistake by Richards, whose back-header was too short for Davis who was caught stranded as the Palace striker rounded him and put in a low angled shot.

Naylor was able to clear off the line but Gray was on hand to tap the ball in from short range.

Johnson made and finished their third when he burst through the middle, timed his pass wide for Gray whose shot was well saved by Davis but the ball fell for the Palace hero who drilled home form eight yards.

Palace continued to enjoy a flurry midway with Richards clearing off the line from a Kit Symons header and Santos twice blocking efforts from Routledge.

Reuser and Bent were asked to chase the game and were joined by Bowditch when Wright limped off and Town went three up front.

After starting the half brightly it was an awful, but somewhat inevitable, way to go behind.

An alert Richards gave Westlake a chance but he dragged his low shot wide across goal.

The youngster also saw a shot go into the side netting after a good turn and low drive as he latched on to a neat Wright through ball.

Wright tried a curling 25-yard shot from a Counago pass and the Spaniard then stung Thomas Myhre's hands with a blistering shot.

All very exciting but deceptive and costly.

This may be one of those bad days at the office but if Ipswich genuinely want promotion, especially automatically, then they can not afford to keeping having these David Brent moments.

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