Pressure builds to end away-day famine

FOR the third home game in a row Town showed they can mix it with the big boys yet, worryingly, they have slipped out of the top six and are in danger of letting all the good they have done drift away.

Derek Davis

FOR the third home game in a row Town showed they can mix it with the big boys yet, worryingly, they have slipped out of the top six and are in danger of letting all the good they have done drift away.

This draw with fourth-placed Stoke is, on the surface, a good point but one league win in five, even if that was against table-topping West Brom, is not promotion form.

If Town's away form was not so dire it probably would not be a concern, especially given how well the Blues once again acquitted themselves against a good side.

But five points from a possible 15, and a trip to Blackpool this weekend, means the pressure is beginning to mount on getting a win on the road.

The division is so tight that a couple more slips could see them overhauled by half-a-dozen sides. Conversely, if they can guarantee taking the performances of the past three matches to Bloomfield Road, it would be happy days and perhaps a change of fortune is due.

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Just as they did against a very good West Brom side, below par admittedly when they visited Portman Road, and an even better Portsmouth side, who they lost to, Ipswich showed plenty of good points against a Stoke side that are not only big but showed in patches that they can play a bit too.

Not that the Potters had much opportunity to do so for the first 25 minutes when Ipswich threatened to run rampant.

The irrepressible Danny Haynes, who turns 20 on Saturday, put in a mature display, running at City with exhilarating abandon and showed the cutting edge needed to give Town the deserved lead.

Alan Lee turned away from a busy box to feed Haynes on the edge of the area. The striker skipped past defender Carl Dickinson before driving a low shot across and past Steve Simonsen to go in off a post.

Haynes also forced Simonsen to tip over a cross-cum-shot and was denied by the keeper, who got behind a powerful effort, and, in the second half, had a 30-yard free-kick deflected over the bar.

Dickinson cleared off the line after Jon Walters took advantage of a mistake by substitute Gabbi Zakuani and Lee glanced a header wide.

Town looked so good at that stage that they looked more than capable of ending City's 11-game unbeaten run but those scorned chances proved vital.

The Blues defence dealt with the aerial bombardment from set plays with staunch resistance and the midfield pretty much bottled things up well enough.

But Town were undone when slippery wide man Danny Pugh got away from Haynes and played the ball to Fuller, who ghosted past Jason De Vos, taking the ball deftly with his left foot and finishing in one classy piece of skill.

Space and chances were at a premium in the second half and Town, as is their adventurous way at home, pressed for the winner.

It was from one of their corners that Stoke almost snatched the game from Town's grasp.

A Tommy Miller shot was cleared to Fuller, who broke free and held off the challenges of David Wright and Sito.

The Jamaican went to go round Neil Alexander but the keeper made brilliant save on the ground to push the ball out of his feet.

Alexander was involved in a contentious moment when he dropped a Liam Lawrence cross and, in trying to gather the loose ball, wiped out Jon Parkin, who claimed a penalty.

Referee Keith Stroud was not interested, nor was he bothered when Pablo Counago was dragged down in the area and a claim for a handball.

He did feel the need to book Haynes for his reaction after he jumped up and into the face of Pugh after being accused of diving but it was something of nothing.

Lee had the chance to snatch the points but was denied by the alert Zakuani a couple of yards out. Without a goal from open play since the beginning of November, Lee was frustratingly off target again and, after playing his part in Town's good early start, he was looking ponderous and does not appear to be fully fit following his Achilles problem.

Walters, celebrating signing a new four-year deal, did not look as effective as he can be and, while he does a good job on the left side, especially covering back to help out Wright, the former Chester striker is not getting in on goal as much as he would like.

Not a problem when Haynes is in full flow but chances through the middle are few, with neither Miller nor Owen Garvan really driving forward.

Wright was trying his luck again from long range and we know how that can work out sometimes but you can understand why Jim Magilton is making enquiries about a striker, as well as a midfielder and defender, with a back-up keeper also on the shopping list.

There is no doubt Town can give the top sides a game but those one or two additions could make them genuine and consistent contenders and not just promotion pretenders.