The highs and lows of Ipswich Town’s draw with Utrecht
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
The sight of David McGoldrick earning and tucking away a last-gasp penalty equaliser was a welcome one at Portman Road on Saturday.
The decision looked a soft one in all fairness, Willem Janssen seemingly making clean contact with the ball as McGoldrick tumbled over him, but at least the former Southampton man forced referee Darren Deadman into a decision.
McGoldrick was cool as a cucumber from 12 yards, rolling the ball into Robbin Ruiter’s right-hand corner after the most nonchalant of run-ups, and Town fans will have been delighted to see signs that the McGoldrick of old is back, following 18 months of injury frustration.
OK, so it was only a friendly, not a blood and guts Championship encounter, and McGoldrick may not have been afforded the time and space against a Derby or Hull, but Utrecht were no mugs either, going ahead after 15 minutes, courtesy of Sebastien Haller.
McGoldrick’s contribution was the highlight in a Town performance that never really got going.
Town fans shouldn’t be too concerned though, after all, the match lacked the intensity of a second tier clash and we all know how the Blues fared last season in the Championship, with a small squad.
This class of 2015-16 has more ability and flair and can play much better than this. To be fair, at times, they did look dangerous going forward, especially when new signing Ainsley Maitland-Niles cut inside to tease the Dutch side’s rearguard.
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Maitland-Niles began on the right of midfield, with Ryan Fraser on the left and Teddy Bishop and Cole Skuse in the engine room.
Youngster Josh Emmanuel started at right back with Luke Chambers and Tommy Smith in the centre of defence and Jay Tabb at left-back. Daryl Murphy and Freddie Sears led the line up top.
In fact Maitland-Niles had the best effort of a largely forgettable first half from the hosts’ point-of-view, as the visitors enjoyed long periods of possession and displayed the sort of composure and skill on the ball that you would expect from a country that produced the likes of Johan Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp.
The Arsenal loanee produced a stinging drive from 25 yards that Ruiter did well to palm out to safety, and very rarely gave the ball away.
That came moments before the Dutch side took the lead with a goal that exploited Town’s sloppiness down the left-hand side.
Tabb and Fraser had already combined to lose possession on a couple of occasions and when dangerous winger Sean Klaiber found himself in acres of room after 15 minutes, the 21-year-old whipped in a splendid ball across Town’s six-yard box that on-loan Auxerre striker Haller finished with a driven half-volley from six yards out.
Skuse was seeing plenty of the ball in midfield and Sears looked dangerous running off the shoulder of the last defender, but Ipswich never really dissected the visitors, whose 3-5-2 formation afforded them plenty of possession.
Bishop tried a speculative effort from range that would have dipped over Ruiter had he not been alert to the situation, and earlier had surged into the penalty box, only to see his cut-back cleared by Chris Kum.
Fraser did show one or two glimpses in the first half, firing a deflected effort wide of the far post after Sears had seen his effort blocked by the ‘keeper following a weak Mark van der Maarel back pass.
Fraser was also the chief instigator in a move that saw confusion in the Dutch defence and ended with Maitland-Niles shooting across goal.
But, in the main, Utrecht were in control, playing keep-ball superbly, Klaiber, Haller and midfielder Yassin Ayoub looking especially tidy.
Haller almost got in for a second goal but fired over the bar after another teasing ball from Klaiber.
The half-time break saw just one substitution from Town boss Mick McCarthy, new-boy Jonas Knudsen replacing Tabb at left-back.
You won’t find a more honest professional than Tabb, the former Brentford man is never far from McCarthy’s thoughts, but the 31-year-old struggled against Klaiber.
It wasn’t all down to Tabb though and Fraser, playing ahead of him, left him exposed at times.
Town looked more solid after the introduction of Knudsen and the Dane was straight into the action, launching a fierce drive into the midriff of van der Maarel.
That got the home fans going, as did the new-boy’s ability to launch a long throw, the Portman Road crowd clapping like an Olympic audience would a high jumper – prior to his run-up – as Knudsen got ready to launch another missile.
Emmanuel, who bears more than a slight resemblance to Micah Richards, also got the crowd on their feet with a surging run down the right, only for his final ball to be over hit, before Kevin Bru, one of several substitutes midway through the second half, played a one-two with new signing, Giles Coke and, after seeing his first shot blocked, hit the second over the bar from six yards.
Town created one or two more half chances and wasted a free-kick in a half they edged, Town goalkeeper Bialkowski being called into action just once, the Pole pushing out Andreas Ludwig’s near post shot after Utrecht carved open the Town backline.
With seconds to go, it looked as though Ipswich would finish their pre-season with defeat but then McGoldrick picked the ball up, weaved inside two players and forced a sloppy challenge from Janssen.
His penalty kick almost apologetically rolled over the line, not that McGoldrick or the Ipswich fans will have been sorry.