Sunday Snap: The end of a miserable era, Town’s Maradona tribute and a new bromance

A cutout of Diego Maradona was amongst the fans cardboard cutouts, for the game against Charlton Athletic.
Picture...

A cutout of Diego Maradona was amongst the fans cardboard cutouts, for the game against Charlton Athletic. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town lost 2-0 to Charlton yesterday. Andy Warren looks at the events surrounding the game.

Town manager Paul Lambert on the pitch after the game.
Picture: Steve Waller
www.stephenwaller.com

Town manager Paul Lambert on the pitch after the game. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Final fling

And so, the ‘Portman Road Behind-Closed-Doors’ era is now officially in the books.

This game marked the final time (hopefully) Ipswich will play in front of an empty home stadium, with the visit of Portsmouth on December 12 set to see 2,000 fans return.

It started brightly in good September weather with goals from midfield, newly-installed cardboard cut-outs, banners, vocal players and good performances, raising hopes of better times following last season’s disappointment.

Toto Nsiala looks dejected as he sits on the pitch injured, just before going off.
Picture: Steve Waller...

Toto Nsiala looks dejected as he sits on the pitch injured, just before going off. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

At that point the return of fans didn’t seem too far away, either.

But as time has gone on and the return of fans was pushed back, so many of those elements have fallen away. Any kind of perverse novelty value has worn off and matchdays have largely become what they’ve really been all along – completely and utterly soulless. Miserable in many ways.

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Town’s behind-closed-doors record at Portman Road reads P13 W8 D0 L5, with exits in all three cups along the way. I’m going to say the EFL Trophy exit came at Portman Road, given the fact a near full-strength side’s loss to Arsenal’s youngsters on home soil was far more damaging than a Town youth team going down at Crawley.

There are times when some of the Ipswich players have appeared to have enjoyed playing without supporters, where they could make mistakes and take risks without having the pressure of the paying public on their backs. But there have also been others where some have seemingly lacked motivation and intensity while having no supporters to feed off.

Brett McGavin places the ball ahead of taking a Town corner.
Picture: Steve Waller
www.stephenwaller.com

Brett McGavin places the ball ahead of taking a Town corner. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

We will never know how results could have differed had there been a crowd in attendance. But what is clear is that manager Paul Lambert and his players would have been left in no doubt what supporters thought of the losses to Hull and Charlton this week.

It will certainly be an interesting dynamic when 2,000 supporters are dispersed around a 30,000-seater stadium.

Let’s see how Ipswich handle that is this strangest of seasons continues.

Tributes to a legend

There was a minute’s applause prior to kick-off in tribute to the legendary Diego Maradona, who of course died earlier this week.

The clapping of hands was a directive from FIFA, sent to EFL clubs late on Friday night, and while it felt a little sparse given how few were inside the ground, the little genius surely had a real impact on so many of those inside the stadium and the thousands tuning in to watch on their laptops.

There was a cardboard cutout in the Cobbold Stand, too.

Both teams took part in a minutes applause for Diego Maradona on Saturday, following his passing earlier in the week.
...

Both teams took part in a minutes applause for Diego Maradona on Saturday, following his passing earlier in the week. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

The bigger tribute, in my mind at least, came during the warm-up when Opus’s ‘Live is Life’ was played over the PA system inside Portman Road.

That song was of course made famous as the backing track to Maradona’s legendary warm-up routine prior to a UEFA Cup semi-final between Napoli and Bayern Munich in 1989, showcasing the Argentine’s love of the game and his outrageous ball control.

He managed to do all of that with his shoelaces undone.

As much as I enjoy watching Ipswich’s warm-ups, where they pass the ball around their 4-3-3 system before the striker fires into an open goal, again and again, we could all use a bit more Maradona in our lives.

Bromance

On the subject of warm-ups, Aaron Drinan has been well worth watching during the last two.

The Irishman, back in the squad after injury, has been a substitute in both games meaning he joins the group of players who have to occupy themselves while the starting XI go through the rigours of shape work and passing drills.

Tuesday night’s game with Hull saw an unlikely duo take centre stage, with Aaron Drinan and Toto Nsiala spending a good 10 minutes playing a game where they kept the ball up between them but tried to force the other into a mistake. The rules weren’t exactly clear but it looked like they were having a lot of fun.

It got quite heated, too, particularly from Drinan’s side as he questioned every decision of those watching on and adjudicating. The fall-out continued even as they walked off the pitch.

Sadly we were denied a second look on Saturday due to Nsiala’s elevation into the starting XI.

An injured Toto Nsiala limps down the tunnel.
Picture: Steve Waller
www.stephenwaller.com

An injured Toto Nsiala limps down the tunnel. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Numbers game

This will always be a memorable day for Liam Gibbs as the 17-year-old made his Ipswich Town debut.

You have to feel for young players taking their first steps this season. In normal times they would have had plenty of friends and family packed into the ground for their big moment and would be able to savour the first time supporters cheer when their name is read out on the team-sheet.

There was none of that on this occasion, of course. Just a ripple of applause.

Albie Morgan (left of frame) wheels away after giving the visitors a first half lead.
Picture: Steve Waller...

Albie Morgan (left of frame) wheels away after giving the visitors a first half lead. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

But he’s a talented young man who is incredibly highly rated at Ipswich – so there’s plenty of opportunities ahead.

Gibbs was wearing the No.48 shirt, taking on the jersey so famously worn by Will Keane last season.

But the duo aren’t in possession of the highest number ever worn in a league game by an Ipswich player.

No, that honour goes to a man who was also on the Portman Road pitch on Saturday. A certain Jonny Williams. The Welshman wore No.50 during the 2014/15 season.

James Norwood sent the ball over the bar with this first half shot.
Picture: Steve Waller
www.stephenwaller.com

James Norwood sent the ball over the bar with this first half shot. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Nb: Squad number nerds – Simon Dawkins wore No.49 during the 2018/19 season.

Town manager Paul Lambert and his assistant Stuart Taylor pictured during the game against Charlton Athletic.
Picture:...

Town manager Paul Lambert and his assistant Stuart Taylor pictured during the game against Charlton Athletic. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Alan Judge with a second half shot that was gathered by Charlton Athletic keeper Ben Amos.
Picture: Steve Waller...

Alan Judge with a second half shot that was gathered by Charlton Athletic keeper Ben Amos. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller