Match report: Fulham 1 Ipswich Town 2 – Pitman scores winner as Blues make it four away wins in a row
Ipswich Town played with their heads and their hearts to secure a fantastic 2-1 win at Fulham tonight.
Freddie Sears gave the Blues the lead after just 16 seconds, Ross McCormack’s 30-yard free-kick levelled things up in the 14th minute, but Brett Pitman’s deft finish in the 57th minute proved to be the winner.
Team work, once again, made the dream work as Mick McCarthy’s men secured a fourth successive away victory – the last time that happened was in April 2004.
Fulham ended the match with five forwards on the field. They had failed to break down the supremely organised visitors with a passing approach and they couldn’t smash the door down with an aerial bombardment either.
Christophe Berra, in particular, was absolutely imperious at the back. McCarthy made several super tactical tweaks. Strikers Pitman (7), Sears (6) and Daryl Murphy (6) now have 19 goals between them this season. And Ipswich have now won five of their last seven games to close the gap on fifth-placed Burnley to just one point.
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Blues boss McCarthy named an unchanged starting XI for the fourth successive game. The fit-again duo of Kevin Bru and Tommy Oar joined Ryan Fraser on the bench, but David McGoldrick was absent (hamstring).
It took Town just 16 seconds to break the deadlock, despite the home side having had the kick-off.
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Fulham worked the ball backwards, eventually punted the ball upfield and suddenly, after Jonathan Douglas had twice helped the ball back the other way, Sears was racing clear. He outstripped the static Dan Burns for pace and then coolly found the bottom right corner for his sixth goal of the season.
The Blues kept that tempo going and, for a while, the Fulham rearguard was shaking. In the ninth minute, Burns gave the ball away cheaply to a collective groan inside Craven Cottage and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, after twisting and turning on the edge of the box, rattled the crossbar with a snap-shot.
Fulham had been pinned back from the very start, but they drew level in the 14th minute with a goal from nowhere. There seemed little obvious danger when Jonas Knudsen fouled McCormack fairly central a good 30 yards from goal.
McCormack dusted himself down and bent a low shot around the wall though, the ball skidding off the slick surface and zipping past Dean Gerken and into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Ipswich often deployed the same direct tactics seen at MK Dons last weekend, but on this occasion they also mixed-up their style too.
The much-maligned Knudsen long throw almost led to something in the 20th minute, Berra’s flick-on bouncing in the box before being scrambled clear. A minute later, Sears fired an angled, rising effort over the bar following Cole Skuse’s threaded pass.
Fulham had offered little going forwards, but they began to get some joy down the left side midway through the first period. One wicked Luke Garbutt cross required an important intervention by Berra in the six-yard box.
McCarthy, seeing the danger, asked his two wide men – Sears and Maitland-Niles – to swap wings. Not long after the switch, Maitland-Niles’ driving run inside from the left ending with a tame shot that didn’t trouble the ‘keeper.
McCarthy was forced into a half-time sub, Bru replacing Skuse after the latter had taken a blow to the face in the final stages of the opening period.
Having scored in the opening minute of the first half, Ipswich came close to scoring within the opening seconds of the second half too. Knudsen’s long throw once again caused havoc, Tommy Smith’s flick-on just evading the foot of a stretching Daryl Murphy inside the six-yard box.
Fulham had a brief spell on top but could not find a way through two organised banks of four. One rapid counter-attack ended when Berra got back just in the nick of time to block a shot.
Ipswich were soon back on top and Maitland-Niles put a side-footed shot from the edge of the box just over the bar following a neat one-two with Murphy.
Ipswich got their noses back in front in the 57th minute. The move started with Smith’s long ball forwards, Murphy held the ball up, he then found Sears with a pass out left and the latter dribbled into space before providing a low cross.
Pitman timed his run from back post to near post to perfection, meeting the ball on the run with a deft first-time shot that went in low off the left upright.
With Fulham’s passing approach having not worked, coach Stuart Gray decided he would go direct instead and replaced midfield duo Jamie O’Hara and Tom Cairney with strikers Matt Smith and Emerson Hyndman on for
It wasn’t long before the 6ft 6in Smith was involved as he twice got his head on the ball following corners. Smith and Berra continued to defend superbly though.
McCarthy responded with a tactical tweak of his own, replacing goalscorer Pitman with physically imposing Polish defender Piotr Malarczyk and switching to five at the back.
Fulham’s aerial bombardment continued, but Town stood firm and the lively Sears almost added a third with a curling effort.
The Blue army, numbering 2,500, left Craven Cottage very happy once again.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Lonergan; Richards, Stearman, Burn, Ream; Kacaniklic (Woodrow 76), Cairney (Smith 67), O’Hara (Hyndman 67), Garbutt; Dembele, McCormack (cpt).
Unused subs: Lewis, Hutchinson, Fredericks, Pringle.
IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2): Gerken; Chambers (cpt), Smith, Berra, Knudsen; Maitland-Niles (Parr 89), Douglas, Skuse (Bru 46), Sears; Pitman (Malarczyk 71), Murphy.
Unused subs: Bialkowski, Coke, Oar, Fraser.
Attendance: 15,245 (2,500 away)
Referee: Mr T Kettle.