GALLERY & REPORT: Ipswich Town 4 Birmingham City 2 – Freddie Sears scores twice as Town keep pace with their rivals
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
Ipswich v Birmingham: The importance of Ipswich Town’s entertaining 4-2 win over Birmingham City at Portman Road tonight cannot be overstated.
Freddie Sears made good on his pre-match promise of goals, twice racing clear to finish with aplomb, with Tyrone Mings heading home the opener and Kevin Bru netting in stoppage-time.
Birmingham proved tricky opponents though and twice they halved the deficit in the second half, at 2-0 and 3-1, through goals from midfielder David Davis to keep Mick McCarthy’s men on their toes right until the end.
Seven of the Championship’s top eight all won tonight, the other – Bournemouth – not in action until tomorrow night. In addition to keeping pace with their promotion rivals, Town’s third win in four matches was a timely confidence boost ahead of Sunday’s trip to Carrow Road for an East Anglian derby against rivals Norwich City.
Blues boss Mick McCarthy made two changes to his starting XI following the laboured 1-0 home defeat to Reading three days earlier. Wide players Teddy Bishop and Jay Tabb dropped to the bench and were replaced by Paul Anderson and Jonathan Parr respectively, while recent recruit Dylan Connolly was back among the subs at the expense of the mysteriously out-of-favour Cameron Stewart.
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Birmingham manager Gary Rowett made four changes to his starting XI following their 4-3 loss at Brighton. Holding midfielder David Davis, wingers David Cotterill and Lee Novak, as well as striker Wes Thomas came in for Rob Kiernan, Andrew Shinnie, Lloyd Dyer and Demarai Gray.
Following a cagey opening 10 minutes to the game, Ipswich – who increasingly looked to play long balls – created a series of half chances.
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Anderson’s cross from the left was well-defended by David Cotterill as Luke Chambers lurked, Daryl Murphy snatched at a shot on the angle, then Freddie Sears’ low ball flashed across six-yard box.
Murphy curled a difficult long-range chance just over, then the Irishman produced a fine chest pass into the path of Sears, the latter sprinting clear and seeing his shot deflected wide by the boot of Jonathan Spector.
Birmingham had offered little up until this point, but they gave a sign of what was to come when a rapid counter-attack required Cole Skuse to race back and cover for his team-mates with a brave header back to his keeper. The midfielder took a knock in the process and eventually had to be replaced by Tabb.
Moments later, the Blues broke the deadlock. Mings is usually the man who stays back to defend at corners, with fellow members of the back four – Luke Chambers, Christophe Berra and Tommy Smith – the men who push forwards. This time, McCarthy hollered at the 6ft 4in left-back to get himself in the box and ordered Jonathan Parr to stand on the halfway line.
Mings pointed at himself and as if to say ‘who me?’ Unshackled, he sprinted forwards and duly met Anderson’s fine delivery with a powerful header for his first goal in professional football. There was no time to think of a celebration as his jubilant team-mates dragged him to the floor.
Then came a moment of dramatic end-to-end football in which both teams could, and probably should, have scored. First, visiting striker Clayton Donaldson racing clear and saw his well-hit shot pushed away by Bartosz Bialkowski.
Town countered immediately, Murphy latching on to as long ball and powering his way into the box. Anderson had done superbly to keep pace and was completely unmarked in the six-yard box crying out for a square pass and a certain tap-in. Instead, Murphy smashed an ambitious angled effort into the near side-netting.
Birmingham’s front two of Donaldson and Wes Thomas continued to prove a handful, but Town continued to create openings, Berra nodding a fine delivery from the excellent Anderson wide of the post.
Town grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck straight after the restart and came close to adding a second goal when Murphy leaped highest to head Tabb’s cross, following a half-cleared corner, on to the angle of bar and post.
Less than a minute later the home side had scored again. One long, straight punt over the top by Luke Chambers enabled Sears to beat the offside trap and, after keeper Darren Randolph started to race off his line only to stop and back-pedal, the rapid Blues striker held his nerve and finished with aplomb.
Ipswich looked to be in control, but Birmingham scored a fine goal in the 57th minute to halve the deficit. Right-back Paul Caddis worked half a yard of room down the right and whipped in a deep cross that took out the Ipswich defence and enabled Davis to ghost in and convert with a deft glancing header.
Before the away team could get any sort of foothold back in the game though they had fallen victim, once again, to Sears’ lightening pace and coolness in front of goal. Left-back Jonathan Grounds made a hash of a header, Sears seized on the loose ball and left Spector for dead before sliding a fine finish under Randolph.
Birmingham refused to lie down though and once again hit back in the 79th minute from yet another deep right wing cross. Stephen Gleeson’s high ball was won brilliantly in the air by Lee Novak under pressure by Mings, his backwards header fired through a crowded area and beyond a slow to react Bialkowski.
It made for an absorbing finish, Birmingham pushing for a leveller and Ipswich looking to take advantage of the additional space and kill the match off.
Sub Demarai Gray scampered forwards and fired a shot across the face of goal for the visitors, while at the other end, after Murphy’s initial shot was beaten away, Sears’ follow-up effort was unconventionally cleared off the line by a sliding Spector.
Birmingham launched long balls towards their towering front men – Nikola Zigic introduced off the bench – but Town stood firm and sealed all three points in stoppage-time. Keeper Randolph rolled the ball out to Paul Robinson, he dallied and Bru robbed him of possession, passed to Murphy and, after the latter’s shot was saved, Bru was there to slide in the rebound.
IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2): Bialkowski; Chambers (cpt), Smith, Berra, Mings; Anderson (Chaplow 71), Skuse (Tabb 24), Bru, Parr; Murphy, Sears (Clarke 89).
Unused subs: Gerken, Connolly, Bishop, Varney.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Randolph; Caddis, Spector, Robinson (cpt), Grounds; Novak, Gleeson, Davis, Cotterill (Gray 65); Thomas (Zigic 83), Donaldson (Dyer 78).
Unused subs: Doyle, Kiernan, Reilly, Shinnie.
Booked: Davis (64).
Attendance: 17,161 (415 away).
Referee: Lee Probert.