Match report: Ipswich Town 0 Hull City 1 – Town down to 10th after defeat to Championship table-toppers

Mohamed Diame celebrates his goal for Hull during the Ipswich Town v Hull City (Championship) match

Mohamed Diame celebrates his goal for Hull during the Ipswich Town v Hull City (Championship) match at Portman Road, Ipswich, on 23 February 2016. Picture: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town have dropped to 10th in the Championship table after suffering a flat 1-0 home defeat to table-toppers Hull City this evening.

Steve Bruce’s visitors rarely had to get out of second gear to secure victory, Mohamed Diame’s cool 48th minute finish providing the difference as Town’s incredible 16-game winning run on Tuesday nights at Portman Road came to a shuddering halt.

Town had arguably edged a first half short on quality, but the Tigers burst out of the blocks after the break, got the breakthrough and then comfortably saw the game out against Mick McCarthy’s one-dimensional hosts.

A bad evening was compounded by the fact that promotion rivals Burnley, Middlesbrough, Brighton, Birmingham and Preston all won, the latter leapfrogging Ipswich in the second-tier standings. The Blues have now lost five of their last six games in all competitions.

Town boss McCarthy made three changes to his team following the 2-1 defeat at Bristol City 10 days’ previous. Luke Hyam, available again following a two-game injury absence, and Jonathan Douglas, available again having served a three-match ban, both returned to the centre of midfield, while striker Brett Pitman – who has scored three goals as a substitute in 2016 – was promoted to the starting line-up. They replaced Kevin Foley, Kevin Bru and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

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Hull manager Steve Bruce had made 10 changes to his regular league line-up for the goalless draw at Arsenal in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday. The only two players who retained their place in the team from that game at The Emirates Stadium were centre-back Curtis Davies and midfielder David Meyler.

The start of this game went into the large file marked ‘forgettable opening 20 minutes at Portman Road’ as the Blues failed to burst out of the blocks in front of their home fans. Indeed, Town did little to ease any tension or nerves in the stadium as, in the 10th minute, they rode their luck.

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Tommy Smith controlled a backwards pass poorly and, after the ball got stuck under his feet, he was forced to drag back the on-rushing Abel Hernandez on the edge of the box. It was a real heart-in-mouth moment, but, surprisingly, referee Brendan Malone only awarded a free-kick and didn’t produce a card.

Ex-Norwich midfielder Robert Snodgrass produced a sumptuous curling attempt from the resultant dead ball on the angle of the area, but Town keeper Bartosz Bialkowski flung himself to his left to claw the ball out of the top corner. It was another top-class save from a goalkeeper who has been in outstanding form of late, as reflected by the fact that the fit-again Dean Gerken had to make do with a place on the bench.

Ipswich hadn’t exactly been outplayed though and gradually they began to get a foothold in what had been a fairly even affair. One encouraging spell of possession ended with Jonas Knudsen’s by-line cross being blocked, while in the 26th minute the hosts had shouts for a penalty waved away when defender Andy Robertson appeared to shove Pitman in the back as he contested an aerial ball in the box.

Hull continued to pose a threat on the counter-attack though and Robertson’s low cross had flashed across the face of goal in between those two aforementioned Town attacks.

A crunching Luke Hyam tackle on Robertson went unpunished, while Pitman got away with raising his hand to the Scottish full-backs face moments later. Inexperienced official Malone, who hasn’t been in charge of too many second-tier matches, looked in danger of losing control of proceedings.

It was certainly Ipswich who finished the half the stronger, with Fulham loanee Pringle, who was making his home debut, impressing on the left of midfield. Not only was the 26-year-old industrious, but he showed skill and vision too.

First, in the 37th minute, he won a free-kick and then provided a delivery from which Daryl Murphy hit the post with a snap-shot on the turn, the ball spinning agonisingly across the face of goal. Then, in the 42nd minute, another fine Pringle free-kick delivery from the left caused more problems in the box, but the ball would not quite fall kindly for Luke Chambers in front of goal. Town’s players duly left the field to warm applause when the half-time whistle blew.

Hull had looked like they were more than capable of stepping up a gear though and they promptly did so after the restart.

Christophe Berra was forced into a last-ditch block on Hernandez seconds into the second period to set the tone. The Tigers then broke the deadlock in the 48th minute. Advanced left-back Robertson was able to drift inside far too easily, his well-weighted pass picked out Diame in the box and the Senegal international coolly dinked a shot over the advancing Bialkowski.

The away side pushed for a killer second and it required a desperate block by Luke Chambers to deny David Meyler as he pulled the trigger near the penalty spot. Moments later, Jake Livermore burst clear and forced Bialkowski into a smart near post shot, his follow-up effort clipping the outside of the woodwork.

Town had looked increasingly shaky at the back, but they did weather the storm and Hull took their foot off the gas slightly.

In the 65th minute, Hyam, who had been his usual tenacious self following a two-game absence with a calf injury, was replaced by Kevin Bru and worryingly headed straight for the tunnel. Hull made a change of their own in the 68th minute, replacing 16-goal star striker Hernandez with Arsenal loanee Chuba Akpom.

There may have been 20 minutes still to play, and there may have only been one goal in it, but there was a horrible feeling of inevitability about the result given the lack of creative spark in the home team and a distinct shortage of genuine game-changers on the bench.

It wasn’t until the 77th minute that the Blues finally woke up a little with one encouraging passage of play that ended with Douglas taking a questionable tumble as he looked to burst beyond two defenders on the edge of the area. It did, at least, get the crowd going a bit.

Pitman’s low, 30-yard free-kick skipped past the post as the game entered the final 10 minutes. Substitute Luke Varney then went down dramatically clutching his face in the 86th minute, after Michael Dawson had raised his boot high to clear in the box, but penalty appeals were half-hearted at best.

Town were hardly knocking the door down, but they went close to snatching what would have been a fortuitous draw in the final minute when Freddie Sears’ corner evaded everyone in the box, inadvertently hit Tommy Smith on the head and flew just over the bar.

IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2): Bialkowski; Chambers (cpt), Smith, Berra, Knudsen; Sears, Douglas, Hyam (Bru 65), Pringle (Varney 79); Pitman, Murphy.

Unused subs: Gerken, Digby, Foley, Tabb, Toure.

Booked: Smith (88)

HULL CITY (4-4-1-1): McGregor; Odubajo, Dawson (cpt), Davies, Robertson; Snodgrass, Meyler (Huddlestone 87), Livermore, Clucas; Diamé (Powell 84); Hernández (Akpom 68).

Unused subs: Jakupovi?, Maguire, Maloney, Elmohamady.

Attendance: 17,630 (393 away)

Referee: Brendan Malone

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