Dozy Town wake up to win

IPSWICH Town were too bad to be true for 45 minutes at Highfield Road on Saturday when they fell two goals behind and looked totally out of sorts.

IPSWICH Town were too bad to be true for 45 minutes at Highfield Road on Saturday when they fell two goals behind and looked totally out of sorts, writes Tony Garnett.

One can imagine the jubilation at Carrow Road when the half-time score was announced.

Then the combination of a tactical switch and a half-time verbal lashing from manager Joe Royle transformed Town into the impressive unit that has not lost an away match since the visit to Bradford at the start of February.

Two goals each from Marcus Bent and Pablo Counago sunk the Sky Blues and silenced their fans' none too tuneful renderings of the Eton Boating Song.

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Completing the double was comfortable enough in the end, but Ipswich were on the ropes when Jay Bothroyd broke through just after the interval. Had he scored a third, the Ipswich spirit might have been broken, but Andy Marshall brought off a timely diving save.

By playing Bothroyd and David Pipe wide with only Matt Jansen through the middle, the Ipswich plan of fielding three central defenders became suspect.

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Furthermore, the Town midfield men were tightly marked so Bent and Counago were chasing long balls from the back which were hard to control on a bumpy pitch on a breezy day.

It was no great surprise when Coventry went ahead in the 23rd minute. Craig Pead, a terrier-like type who challenged for every ball, found Bothroyd, whose cross set up Pipe to fire against the bar. Jansen, clearly recovering his sharpness after his motor-cycle accident, was first to react.

Richard Shaw scrambled the ball off the line to deny Tommy Miller and Bent fired high over the bar, but Ipswich were giving the ball away with frustrating regularity.

The second Coventry goal in the 44th minute was no more than they deserved. Pead's cross was knocked out by Thomas Gaardsoe. Dean Gordon, a veteran of Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough, cracked home a left-foot drive from near the edge of the box.

Ipswich went in at half-time with Richard Naylor limping with a twisted knee. That forced Royle's hand as he had been considering introducing Martijn Reuser in place of the far less experienced Matt Richards.

In the event Reuser in place of Naylor meant Chris Makin alongside the Dane Gaardsoe down the middle and Richards at left-back, where he performed exceptionally well.

Now Town looked far better balanced. They were able to make their technical superiority count, with the midfield assuming control.

Miller was rampaging all over the place, Jim Magilton sprayed some telling passes and the fight-back was soon under way.

In the 51st minute Counago was fouled outside the box. Reuser's shot struck Bent on the back and the ball looped high over the head of goalkeeper Gary Montgomery, who was left helpless. It was a lucky goal - there was no disputing that fact - which dampened the resolve of the Coventry players.

Player-manager Gary McAllister, who looked a class act, said: “Our reaction to losing that goal was quite sad.”

Four minutes later Ipswich carved the home side open with a route one goal. A long clearance from Marshall was flicked in by the powerful Bent. Counago was able to dribble between two floundering defenders to fire past Montgomery. It was all so simple and the Town fans, who had been cowed into near silence, were soon back on song.

Ipswich sealed the match with two goals in a three minute burst. After 65 minutes Reuser aimed his corner kick straight to Miller who was unmarked outside the penalty area. Miller's shot might well have been goalbound, but Counago made absolutely sure by sticking out a boot and deflecting the ball past Montgomery from close range.

Whether it was a planned set piece or clever improvisation from Reuser hardly matters. The important thing was that it put Ipswich ahead and on their way to their eighth away league win of the season.

In the 68th minute, Magilton split the Coventry defence, now a bit of a shambles, for Bent to fire home the fourth. When Bent is playing well there are few more dangerous strikers in the Nationwide League.

Now the contest was as good as over because Coventry seemed to have lost their appetite as they nosedived towards their 10th home league defeat of the season. They have picked up just one point in seven matches at Highfield Road since the start of February.

Town dominated and should have scored a fifth when substitute Jermaine Wright carved the home defence open. Bent beat the offside flag and was through on his own. With a hat-trick there for the taking, and the prize of a match ball to add to his collection, he fired wide.

Coventry, who have gone through a massive cost-cutting exercise since losing their Premiership status, will need to rebuild using home-produced talent. They face an uphill battle next season.

Ipswich and Norwich are still clinging to play-off hopes. Town's televised match against Portsmouth at Portman Road should be a real cliff-hanger. Every match is now a “must-win” encounter for Royle's men.

With Coventry trailing 4-2 they introduced their youngest-ever League player, striker Ben Mackey, who was 16 years and 167 days. Young Mackey might have scored a consolation goal in injury time when he pulled his shot across the face of goal.

Jason Dozzell was only 16 years and 56 days when he made his Ipswich debut as substitute against Coventry City at Portman Road in February 1984. Dozzell went one better than Mackey. He scored.

It was a case of all's well that ends well for Ipswich. Accepting that Reuser is proving to be a super-sub, there must be a strong case for including him in the starting line-up, despite his perceived defensive failings.

When picking a representative cricket team selectors should ask the question of any player, can he be a match winner? So far as football is concerned, Reuser certainly has the talent to unlock stubborn defences at Nationwide League level.

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