It's the curse of the late goal!

THE curse of the late goal has cost Ipswich Town a mighty nine points this season.

Carl Marston

THE curse of the late goal has cost Ipswich Town a mighty nine points this season.

That's the difference between Town still lurking just above the relegation zone, and contesting a play-off place.

The last late tale of woe was on Tuesday night, when Chris Brunt bundled home a 93rd minute equaliser to earn West Brom a 1-1 draw, and so deny Roy Keane's men another couple of points.

Unfortunately, this has been more the norm than just an isolated case this season.

Doncaster, Sheffield United and Barnsley away; Watford and West Brom at home. The list is a long one.

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So why are Town conceding so many late goals, most them deep into injury-time. Is it due to a lack of match fitness?

I don't think so. Fitness coach Antonio Gomez and his team have worked hard to ensure that the fitness of players is not an issue.

Keane did admit, during his post-match press conference on Tuesday night, that some of his players were "tiring" and so struggling to hang on against the high-flying Baggies.

But Town did spend a lot of the evening chasing shadows, with West Brom bossing possession and pulling the strings, despite trailing to Grant Leadbitter's 67th minute penalty.

For the most part, the home side were starved of the ball, and often encamped in their own half of the pitch. Football is a far more exhausting game when you are chasing the ball, rather than caressing it about the park!

Instead, I think Town's Achilles heel is more a mental than a physical trait.

The mere fact that Keane's side have fallen victim to late goals, on a regular basis, has probably preyed on their mind.

It's happened before, surely it can't happen again? But when it does, that's when all the negativity creeps in.

As soon as a game enters injury-time, Town seem to sit back and invite trouble.

They seemed to have cured the problem, following the disappointment of the last gasp 2-1 defeat at Barnsley at the beginning of October, but the late goal syndrome has raised its ugly head again in the last two matches.

Last Saturday week's 95th minute equaliser by Coventry City's Richard Wood was immaterial, as it happened, because of Pablo Counago's 97th minute winner. But it was alarming that the Sky Blues, second best for so long, were able to snatch an equaliser so late in the day.

Ironically, West Brom's injury-time equaliser on Tuesday night was almost expected. Roberto Di Matteo's side had been peppering Town's goal all night, and not even Keane begrudged them their draw, despite the lateness of the equaliser.

You just had the feeling that brittle Town would finally succumb, even with the heroic efforts of Gareth McAuley and Damien Delaney at the heart of defence trying to keep the Midlanders at bay.

It's impossible to exaggerate the importance of the mental side of the game.

But there is another factor, and that has to do with what is happening at the other end of the pitch - Town do not possess the killer instinct to bury teams.

In fact, it's no coincidence that Town have only won two games by more than a one-goal margin in 30 league and cup matches this season, both at home against Blackpool (3-1) and QPR (3-0).

It's always more difficult trying to defend a one-goal margin, going into the later stages of a game, than it is with the cushion of a two-goal lead.

Despite being on the back foot for most of the night, Town could have been 2-0 up going into stoppage time against West Brom. Both Carlos Edwards and Tamas Priskin spurned good chances to net a second goal during the final few minutes of normal time.

Town's absence of a regular goalscorer, then, or a natural finisher, is also a factor in all of these injury-time disappointments.

The combination of a lack of mental toughness, which comes hand-in-hand with some wile and guile late on, together with the lack of a killer touch in front of goal, goes a long way to explaining all the late goals conceded this season.

Gone are the days when a game of football lasted 90 minutes. Often, the serious stuff does not begin until injury-time kicks in.

It certainly doesn't pay to leave an Ipswich Town game early.