Poor defending costs Town

THE Premiership will hardly be quaking in its boots at the thought of Norwich and West Brom joining them next season and it will relish the idea of Ipswich taking the step up, writes Derek Davis.

THE Premiership will hardly be quaking in its boots at the thought of Norwich and West Brom joining them next season and it will relish the idea of Ipswich taking the step up, writes Derek Davis.

Not only because Portman Road is good enough to grace the top-flight, with a pitch better than some of those clubs who aspire to the Champions' League, but mainly because they know if eight Division One teams can come to Suffolk and win, then twice as many Premiership sides would probably be able to do so next season.

Of course should Ipswich hold their nerve and make it through the next five games then there would be wholesale changes – especially in defence, their undoubted Achilles heel.

Once again sloppy defending cost Town dear, with poor marking and too often giving the ball to a red shirt the main problems. They seemed to rely on the adage 'we can always score goals' and it didn't work.

Oh, Ipswich had their chances. John McGreal had a header from a Jim Magilton corner cleared off the line by the superb England Under-21 defender Michael Dawson, a miss they would rue a minute later when Forest scored.

Richard Naylor hit the woodwork with a header from a Fabian Wilnis cross when they were 2-1 down.

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And Paul Gerrard got neck ache looking at all the shots going over the bar – Darren Bent and Martijn Reuser were particularly guilty of wayward shooting.

The former Town loanee keeper survived a couple of scrambles when Town could not force the ball in, and he was well positioned to ideal with Jermaine Wright's long-range efforts.

There was also a suspicion of hand-ball when a Reuser free kick deflected away but that was perhaps straw-clutching.

But ultimately the forwards could not bail the defence out against a more than decent Forest side who raised their game to new levels.

They needed the win to ensure survival and they fought to get it and became the latest of a long line of clubs to enjoy their trip to Portman Road.

Ipswich need to sort things out at home. Only Gillingham and relegated Bradford and Wimbledon have lost more often in front of their home supporters than Ipswich in Division One.

Why should that be?

Perhaps the pitch is too good. Joe Kinnear admitted one look at the lush surface prompted his side to think they could play good enough football on it to take the game to Ipswich.

The other factor could be fear, afraid that any mistake will not only be punished harshly by their opponents – as it was when Forest made the most of slack defending to take two of their very few chances – but will also be jumped on by fickle fans.

Blues legend Kevin Beattie was appalled at the way some fans got on to the players' backs so quickly – something he insists is not helpful and did not happen in his day.

Or perhaps it was the players' themselves – too confident of winning and thinking of Friday's trip to Sheffield?

Unlikely, Forest are in a false position and Joe Kinnear's side have perked up considerably under his stewardship, especially now they have David Johnson back in attack and Michael Dawson in defence after a long injury.

The ability of Republic of Ireland midfielder Andy Reid is well known, and while £10m may be wishful thinking on Kinnear's part, there is no doubt the likes of Charlton and Spurs are keen to sign him. Reid did not spend much time hovering wide on the left and so Fabian Wilnis at wing back could not get a handle on him. He ran straight at the heart of the Town defence, or picked his passes through the statuesque back line.

Either way they could not cope. Marlon King demonstrated plenty of movement and the irrepressible David Johnson showed he may only be operating at 80% sharpness but still has a feel for goal.

His first after just 12 minutes came from a long ball over the top from Reid, which looked to be going out. King was rewarded for his tenacity by keeping it in, Kelvin Davis had gone to cover the danger but found himself exposed as the former Gillingham striker pulled the ball back from the dead ball line.

While three Town players had made some sort of attempt to get back the cover was inadequate, and none were on the unmarked Johnson as he stabbed the ball in from eight yards, between Wilnis and Matt Elliott.

Johnson's second goal was not a lot better in terms of weak defending as Town were caught on the counter-attack.

Scotland international Eoin Jess was able to cross from wide on the Forest right and Johnson timed his run and leap to perfection to get above Drissa Diallo to head in.

In between, Dean Bowditch had scored an exquisite equaliser.

The 17-year-old had the Town faithful off their seats long before with his inventive running, crafty touches and all-round clever play coupled with pace and enthusiasm.

The goal was Ipswich at their attacking best. Matt Richards pushed forward to deliver a diagonal pass from near the centre circle.

Darren Bent showed terrific awareness to step over the ball and Bowditch took a touch before curling in his left foot shot from the edge of the 'D' and it got a slight deflection from Alan Rogers before beating Paul Gerrard.

Ipswich also showed lots of other good touches in midfield and in attack against a side that many people will have among their favourites to go up next season if Kinnear can keep the nucleus and add a couple more.

The acquisition of experienced and useful defenders Alan Rogers and Andy Impey, albeit converted from a winger, have been important.

Then there was Gerrard, who could so easily have enjoyed a long love affair at Portman Road, but it was not to be and his time-wasting tactics lost him a few friends on Saturday.

In the heart of the defence Dawson and young Wes Morgan showed understanding and fortitude and, like Ipswich, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had they kept a settled central partnership for the majority of the season.

They will be a force in Division One next year and Ipswich will hope they won't have to meet them.

Despite the disappointing weekend Town are still fourth, they are good enough to win their next five games and go up but after that …well, let's not worry about that just yet.

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