Match report & gallery: Derby County 0 Ipswich Town 1 – Sub Varney nets winner
Substitute Luke Varney scored the only goal of the game as Ipswich Town won at Derby County after weathering a first half storm.
The Blues were battered for most of the opening period before Mick McCarthy changed personnel and tactics at the break – bringing on Varney and Tom Lawrence for Kevin Bru and Conor Grant, while also matching up the hosts’ 4-4-2 system.
Varney’s 53rd minute goal, a 20-yard shot which keeper Scott Carson pushed into his own net, came massively against the run of play and completely deflated the home team and crowd.
Town have been on the wrong end of plenty of refereeing controversy already this season though and deserved some good fortune. They then produced some superb body on the line defending to see out the win and extend an almost decade-long unbeaten run at the iPro Stadium.
Derby came into this game having scored just once in their opening six league games under Nigel Pearson’s new management. All the talk in the build-up was about trying to frustrate a crowd who were yet to witness a Championship victory or goal in 2016/17.
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Yet Blues boss McCarthy opted to plump with his pragmatic midfield trio of Cole Skuse, Jonathan Douglas and Kevin Bru. His two changes were enforced – Adam Webster and Conor Grant replacing the injured Tommy Smith (back) and Freddie Sears.
You could see from the off that Brett Pitman, just like at Reading last Friday, was going to be isolated in a defence-minded 4-5-1 system.
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The Rams were able to get on the front foot early and the one-way traffic only built in intensity as the half progressed.
A James Wilson shot was blocked by a last-ditch Webster lunge inside five minutes. Not long afterwards, Luke Chambers produced an even better desperate block right on the goalline after Bartosz Bialkowski had done well to keep out Matej Vydra’s shot through the crowd.
Derby right-back Cyrus Christie was getting forward on the overlap and delivering dangerous crosses time-and-time again, while Vydra – an £8m signing from Watford ahead of deadline day – was proving a tricky customer up front.
Ipswich’s first attack didn’t arrive until the 20th minute when Grant Ward dragged a shot well wide. Up until then they had barely been able to keep the ball for more than a couple of passes.
Bru, who looked increasingly lost in a No.10 role, chose to pass left rather than drive into space when a golden counter-attacking opportunity opened up.
Jacob Butterfield, operating as a narrow right-midfielder, began to really pull the strings for the hosts. After his fine switch, Craig Bryson’s shot through the crowd was held at the second attempt by Bialkowski.
Much like in the first half at the Madejski Stadium last Friday, the home team continued to put a barrage of dangerous deliveries into the box. Ipswich defended well at times, while on other occasions they massively rode their luck.
After Bru lost possession dribbling out from the back, Bryson’s crisp, low, long-range effort fizzed just wide. Moments later, an Ikechi Anya drive was blocked in the box.
A superb Marcus Olsson crunching tackle set-up another Rams attack and, after Anya danced along the by-line, Webster somehow scrambled the ball behind.
Cole Skuse and Christophe Berra were both booked for fouls of frustration, then Bialkowski beat away Wilson’s bouncing effort from long-range and Ipswich somehow made it to the break level.
Bru and Grant, the latter wasted wide left, were replaced by Varney and Tom Lawrence at the interval as McCarthy matched up the hosts’ 4-4-2 system.
Derby started the second half as they finished the first with Bryson’s driving run ending with a shot flying just wide of the near post.
Then, out of nowhere, Ipswich took the lead in the 53rd minute. Varney seized upon a loose ball that had spun free from a challenge out on the right, turned and hit a shot from 20 yards out. Keeper Carson looked to have it well covered but contrived to push the effort into his own net.
The mood inside the iPro Stadium suddenly turned. Rams fans had been roaring their side on. Understandably, given how their season has gone so far, frustration quickly set in. There were collective groans when a Christie cross was well over-hit.
Pearson responded by bringing on former Town striker Darren Bent not long after the hour mark, but the home team’s confidence had clearly taken a body-blow.
Ipswich were the next team to create an opening when Lawrence’s fine outside of the boot cross was directed just over the bar by Ward’s glancing shoulder inside the six-yard box.
Town began to defend deeper and deeper as the half wore on and that gave Derby some encouragement. Hughes curled a decent effort just wide from the edge of the box, then Butterfield’s deflected effort cannoned into team-mate Vydra and behind for a goal-kick.
Increasingly, the Blues parked 10-men behind the ball within 20 yards of their own goal. Derby could not find a way through, with McCarthy’s men putting their bodies on the line to make blocks when necessary.
The Rams had to wait until the 85th minute for a real goalscoring chance inside the penalty box and when a loose ball fell to Bent’s feet he spooned his left-footed effort well over the bar.
Town then had a golden chance to seal all three points when they counter-attacked with men to spare, but Varney shot straight at Carson instead of passing to an unmarked Ward to his right.
Derby brought on striker Nick Blackman for defender Olsson in one last throw of the dice and there was a heart-in-mouth moment at the death when Blackman slid in to meet Hughes’ pull-back. Bialkowski smothered the ball on the line though and the full-time whistle blew seconds later.
DERBY COUNTY (4-4-2): Carson; Christie, Keogh (cpt), Pearce, Olsson (Blackman 88); Butterfield, Bryson, Hughes, Anya; Vydra, Wilson (Bent 64).
Unused subs: Mitchell, Shackell, Baird, Johnson, Ince.
IPSWICH TOWN (4-3-3): Bialkowski; Chambers (cpt), Webster, Berra, Knudsen; Skuse (Bishop 72), Douglas, Bru (Lawrence 46); Ward, Pitman, Grant (Varney 46).
Unused subs: Gerken, Emmanuel, Kenlock, Best.
Booked: Skuse (35), Berra (40), Varney (48)
Referee: Stuart Atwell