MATCH COMMENT: Hornets’ sting deflates Ipswich Town, but Mick McCarthy’s men can rise again on Easter weekend

Pivotal moment: Luke Hyam's second half header which struck the crossbar at Watford

Pivotal moment: Luke Hyam's second half header which struck the crossbar at Watford - Credit: Archant

Watford v Ipswich: Ipswich Town missed a golden opportunity to move into the Championship play-off places on Saturday. STUART WATSON looks back on the 3-1 defeat at Watford.

OVERVIEW

Ipswich Town missed a golden opportunity to move into the Championship play-off places on Saturday.

A favourable set of Good Friday results opened the door to the top six for Mick McCarthy’s men, but they were unable to walk through thanks to a 3-1 loss at Watford.

It was a fine margins defeat, the game decided in a breathless three-minute spell just after the hour mark. Town – who had cancelled out Albert Riera’s first-half opener through Anthony Wordsworth’s volley soon after the restart – were denied a second by a fabulous point-blank save from keeper Manuel Almunia. Moments later it was effectively game over after the Hornets took advantage of some slack defending to score two quickfire goals through Gabriele Angella and Lewis McGugan.


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The Blues’ miserable record against the Hertfordshire side now reads just one win in 19, but there is no time to dwell on that. Ipswich have followed up their previous five defeats with victories and they will need to do so again today if they are to stay in the race.

This afternoon they host top-six rivals Bournemouth at Portman Road, the south coast side one of seven teams who will feel they still have a chance of securing sixth spot with less than a fortnight of the campaign to go.

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COMMENT

Oh, the ecstasy and the agony of football.

Even the most pessimistic of Ipswich Town fans were daring to dream as the Good Friday results came in.

Reading had lost, Bournemouth had lost, Brighton had drew. The door to the top six was open. The Blues suddenly controlled their own destiny. Four wins from four and a play-off place would be guaranteed. This could actually happen.

The pre-match party atmosphere within a packed away end at Vicarage Road certainly reflected the mood. It was inflatables pandemonium as blow-up dolls, marine animals, bananas and even a couple of paddling pools bounced around the 2,500 or so who had made one of the shorter trips of the season.

It was an act of defiance after mean-spirited stewards at Huddersfield had quickly confiscated and burst a couple of beach balls recently. How fitting that supporters should rebel, given that their low-budget but spirited Town side has so defiantly clung on the coat-tails of the top six all season.

In the 50th minute at Vicarage Road, players and supporters came together in a moment of unbridled joy after Anthony Wordsworth reacted smartly to convert a side-footed volley at the near post.

The equaliser came right in front of the away end, with the players mobbed as several fans jumped the advertising hoardings.

At that stage you could only see one winner. Having gone behind slightly against the run of play in the 21st minute, left wing-back Albert Riera afforded too much space to drift inside and curl home a shot from the edge of the box, Town were seemingly on course to add to their tally of 18 points gained from losing positions.

Then, just like those beach balls, the mood was very quickly deflated.

The game-changing moment arrived in the 62nd minute as keeper Manuel Almunia produced a fantastic reaction save, pushing Luke Hyam’s thumping close-range header up onto the underside of the bar.

Within three minutes Watford had twice punished two pieces of slack defending to effectively kill off the game.

First, centre-back Angella was afforded the freedom of the box to head home from a long, straight, free-kick delivery. Not a single Town player had judged the flight of the ball.

Then, Daniel Tozser burst between Cole Skuse and Aaron Cresswell in the box – both players jumping out the way in fear of conceding a spot-kick – his cut-back deflecting kindly into the path of McGugan to lash into the bottom corner.

A missed opportunity, yes. A disaster, no. With just three games to go, Ipswich Town are a single point outside of the play-off places. And we’d have all taken that before a ball was kicked.

Just try taking away the beach balls. And just try telling Mick’s men that they are not good enough to finish in the top six.

QUOTES

Mick McCarthy, Ipswich Town manager

“It was a game-changing event wasn’t it? (Almunia’s save). I think that saved the game for them, then our poor marking from a free-kick costs us. It’s a great delivery, good movement, but he should have been stopped from getting on the end of it.

“I thought our boys were fabulous in the first half. I think they scored with their first attempt. That was poor from us as well. They’ll think it’s a great goal, but it was awful that we allowed him on the inside to shoot. That’s not like us.

“We started the second half really well and I think we’ve let them off the hook. I think we’ve let all the other sides off the hook as well by conceding the goals that we did. Three minutes after hitting the crossbar we are 3-1 down.

“You have to look after your own result. That’s my mantra. Everybody else can do what they want, but if we win there’s nothing anybody else can do about it.

“If you ask me how it’s going to pan out, I haven’t got a clue. I can’t do anything about this game now. I thought our performance today, up until the second goal we conceded, was outstanding.”

Beppe Sannino, Watford manager

“I won’t speak about play-offs but I’m delighted. We played a good game against a very good team and this gives more value to our victory.

“What was important was to win the game. Not concede a goal in the last 10/20 minutes was good.

“But what I would like to praise is the way we carried on during the game. We were able to bring the ball in their half and to play comfortably away from our box.”

RATINGS

WATFORD (3-5-2)

1 Manuel Almunia

Game-changing save 8

31 Tommie Hoban

Nothing got by him 8

6 Joel Ekstrand

Some well-timed tackles 7

4 Gabriele Angella

Took his goal well 7

19 Davide Faraoni

Dealt with Nouble well 6

22 Almen Abdi

Kept things simple 6

10 Lewis McGugan

Great movement, super finish 8

28 Daniel Tozser

Two assists 7

15 Albert Riera

Caused big problems down left 8

13 Mathias Ranegie

Limited impact up top 6

9 Troy Deeney

Handful with strength/movement 7

Substitutes

30 Jonathan Bond (not used)

5 Essaid Belkalem (not used)

12 Lloyd Doyley (not used)

18 Daniel Pudil (Riera 83)

8 Alexander Merkel (not used)

7 Christian Battocchio (Abdi 80)

16 Sean Murray (McGugan 85)

IPSWICH TOWN (4-3-1-2)

22 Dean Gerken

Should have been protected better 6

4 Luke Chambers

Left exposed down right 6

6 Christophe Berra

Mixed afternoon 6

5 Tommy Smith

Got his blocks in 6

3 Aaron Cresswell

Tried to make things happen 7

8 Cole Skuse

Unadventurous in midfield three 5

14 Anthony Wordsworth

Provides goal threat to midfield 7

19 Luke Hyam

Industrious, too many aimless balls 5

25 Jonny Williams

Lumps kicked out of him again 8

9 Daryl Murphy

Put in a real shift 7

35 Frank Nouble

Livened up after break 6

Substitutes

38 Michael Crowe (not used)

24 Frazer Richardson (not used)

15 Tyrone Mings (not used)

16 Paul Green (Wordsworth 80)

12 Stephen Hunt (Hyam 85)

26 Paul Taylor (Williams 85)

34 Jack Marriott (not used)

STATS

WATFORD

Bookings: Angella (60), McGugan (70), Toszer (83)

Sendings off: None

Shots on target 4

Shots off target 2

Hit woodwork 0

Corners 4

Fouls 13

IPSWICH

Bookings: None

Sendings off: None

Shots on target 3

Shots off target 5

Hit woodwork 1

Corners 3

Fouls 7

TOWN MAN-OF-THE-MATCH

Jonny Williams

The livewire forward needs to start getting a bit more protection from referees. Once again had lumps kicked out of him by frustrated opponents who couldn’t find a legal means of dispossession. A joy to watch, but you fear that he’s going to suffer a serious injury soon.

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