Town are making slow progress

CUE for celebration. Ipswich Town are off the bottom!Okay, so again it was only a 1-1 draw, and Roy Keane's men have now won just once in 16 league games.

Carl Marston

CUE for celebration. Ipswich Town are off the bottom!

Okay, so again it was only a 1-1 draw, and Roy Keane's men have now won just once in 16 league games. They were also clinging on for dear life at times against fellow strugglers Reading on Saturday.

But there is an air of optimism funnelling through the hallways of Portman Road these days. Town have begun to turn the corner.

Jon Stead's ninth minute volley prompted Town's 2,400-strong travelling support to start dreaming of back-to-back wins, following the previous weekend's 1-0 home success over Derby County.

The fact that hosts Reading had not won a home league match since January merely increased these hopes of a first away win of the campaign.

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Town's defence looked more solid, and the strike-force of Stead and Tamas Priskin were a genuine threat to the opposition.

Alas, a lucky equaliser from Simon Church, early in the second half, took the edge off the celebrations. And for the bulk of the second half, it was the Royals who resembled the more likely winners.

Town lived dangerously. On another day, Reading would have been awarded a penalty for Alan Quinn's rather rash challenge on substitute Shane Long, while goalscorer Church also rattled the bar from close-in.

That's why Keane, rather than a frustrated Brendan Rodgers, was the “happier” of the two managers at the end of the game, though “happy” is perhaps not the best way to describe Keane's post-match sentiments.

The Irishman was frustrated by the way that his team played, in terms of the quality of passing, but he is quietly encouraged by the progress being made - it's slow, but the trend is upward.

Fresh from scoring in both games against Reading last season, Stead broke the deadlock with a clinical, if slightly unusual finish, after nine minutes.

David Wright launched a long throw into the box. The ball was allowed to bounce first before home skipper Ivar Ingimarsson tried to head to safety. But his half-hearted effort merely looped into the path of Stead, who connected on the turn with a right-footed volley that soared into the top corner of the net.

The ball appeared to fly off Stead's shin, rather than his boot, but it was still a precise finish from the big man. It was his second goal of the season, and his second in three matches following his goal at Plymouth in the previous away fixture.

Certainly, the expected early onslaught from Reading, who had triumphed 3-1 at Coventry City the previous weekend, never materialised.

It was Town who took the initiative and skipper Jon Walters, playing wide on the left to accommodate Stead and Priskin, smashed a 20-yarder over the bar from Priskin's lay-off, just four minutes before Stead's opener.

One of the biggest cheers of the afternoon was reserved for Liam Rosenior's crunching tackle on winger Jobi McAnuff in the 12th minute. Town's travelling supporters loved it; Royals fans hated it - Rosenior, on loan from Reading, had said earlier in the week that he considered his Reading career to be over.

The Royals enjoyed a purple patch midway through the first half, when they seriously threatened an equaliser, not least when Brian Howard's 25-yard rocket clipped the top of the bar with Asmir Begovic well beaten.

Begovic came to his side's rescue in the 23rd minute. Lively striker Church charged down Wright's attempted clearance and was free on goal, only for Town's big keeper to rush to the left-edge of his penalty area and intervene with a well-timed tackle.

Town weathered this storm and they had chances to extend their lead before the interval. Although he didn't score, Priskin was a handful for Reading's back-line all afternoon - that is a good sign for the future.

The Hungarian international is not short of confidence, despite scoring just one league goal all season (a header in the 3-3 draw at Doncaster), as was reflected in his spectacular long-range shot that keeper Adam Federici was relieved to push to safety in the 35th minute.

The pattern of the game changed, following Church's 47th minute equaliser. It put Town on the back foot.

For once, Begovic failed to deal with a corner, and although the ball was cleared upfield, Grzegorz Rasiak was able to float a cross back into the danger zone. Gylfi Sigurdsson's shot was flying wide until the ball ricocheted off Church and was redirected into the net.

Both sides were committed to finding a winner. Priskin curled a shot wide, just two minutes after the equaliser, and he also met Rosenior's cross with a powerful header that flew straight into Federici's arms.

Keane even deserted his normal post, of just inside the dugout, to watch the majority of the last quarter of the game from his technical area.

He must have been worried when Long appeared to be chopped down by Quinn inside the box in the 77th minute. Referee Dean Whitestone waved play on, instead of awarding a penalty, and Church then doubled Reading's frustration by slamming his close-range shot onto the bar.

Town successfully defended four corners in quick succession, and then could have stolen victory in the dying minutes when Priskin, latching onto Walters' lay-off, screwed his shot wide from a good position.

It would have been harsh on Reading to have lost this game, but Town have suffered their share of last-gasp anguish already this season, not least when conceding the injury-time winner at Barnsley which preceded the last fortnight's break for internationals.

Town are in better shape than they were following that defeat at Oakwell, going into the next fortnight's inactivity.

They have not lost since that fateful day, on October 3. Keane's men are indeed making progress.