Report: Ipswich Town 0 Stevenage 1 – Blues crash out of EFL Cup to lower league opposition again

Ben Kennedy (partly hidden) puts Stevenage 1-0 ahead. Picture: Steve Waller

Ben Kennedy (partly hidden) puts Stevenage 1-0 ahead. Picture: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town exited the League Cup to lower league opposition for the fifth time in six seasons tonight courtesy of a 1-0 home defeat to League Two side Stevenage.

Ben Kennedy gobbled up a close-range rebound in the 53rd minute, after Dean Gerken was wrong-footed by deflected effort, as a strong-looking Blues line-up was sent packing by a team which finished 18th in the fourth tier last season.

Tickets may have been priced at £12 for adults and £3 for kids, but the attendance of 6,585 was the lowest seen at Portman Road for a League Cup tie since 1996.

Mick McCarthy has now overseen just two cup wins out of 13 attempts during his time in charge – and one of them came after extra-time.

The Blues boss has barely hidden his disdain of cup competitions during his time at Town and, in the past, has often made 10 or 11 changes to his league line-ups for knock-out football. It’s been a serious bone of contention among Blues fans but last season’s FA Cup third round replay defeat at Portsmouth – in which a team of fringe players and kids played like strangers – appears to have changed McCarthy’s mindset slightly.

Tonight, he made just seven changes to the team which beat Barnsley 4-2 on the opening weekend of the Championship season – full-backs Luke Chambers and Jonas Knudsen, midfielder Kevin Bru and striker Freddie Sears the quartet to stay in the team. Of the players to come into the starting line-up, it was only Paul Digby and Andre Dozzell that didn’t have a great deal of Championship experience.

The back four was the same as the one which kept a clean sheet at Middlesbrough back in April. The bench looked strong too. England Under-17 international striker Ben Morris was joined by first-teamers Christophe Berra, Teddy Bishop. Cole Skuse, David McGoldrick.

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Stevenage boss Darren Sarll said his players needed ‘a slap on the wrist’ following their opening day 2-1 home defeat to Crewe. However, the 33-year-old made just three changes to his team.

Town, clearly trying to be a little less direct this season, enjoyed the lion’s share of possession throughout the first half. There was neat triangle interchanges at times, but whenever they reached the final third the passing suddenly became less incisive.

Kevin Bru’s contribution was very much a mixed bag. The Paris-born midfielder was trying to play a quarter-back role but his default pass, the glamourous Hollywood switch, often went out of play. At least he always tried to play forwards though and, on occasion, his attempts at the spectacular – including one fine outside of the boot ball over the top – did come off.

His central midfield partner, Jonathan Douglas, saw a lot less of the ball. The Irishman was on the end of the Blues’ best chance of the opening period though when he put a difficult stooping header wide after good work by Bru and Dozzell sent Freddie Sears scampering away down the right.

Lone striker Sears was constantly running the channels, but the forward looks desperately short of confidence and so often picked the wrong pass or cross when he got the ball in dangerous positions. The moment that epitomised that most was when Sears fired an ambitious angled effort over the bar when Dozzell was racing into the box.

Everton loanee Conor Grant was the man who really caught the eye, the 21-year-old linking-up well with Jonas Knudsen down the left. With his clever movement, super set-pieces and ‘cultured left foot’, you can see why the Toffees see him as a future first-teamer,

Stevenage, meanwhile, gave the hosts something to think about at times. Luke Wilkinson sent a looping header just over, twice Ben Kennedy scuffed shots inside the area, while Dean Gerken had to parry a fiercely hit Tom Conlon free-kick.

David McGoldrick replaced Dozzell at the break and it was his driving run and pass which led to Bru’s side-footed attempt from outside the box being held by keeper Jamie Jones. It was the Blues’ first attempt on target.

Stevenage threatened next when, after Tommy Smith’s foul, Conlon’s cheeky free-kick attempt at catching Gerken out at the near post led to a corner. From the resultant delivery, Wilkinson’s towering header was blocked on the line by Luke Chambers.

Less than a minute later, Boro broke the deadlock thanks to fine work by Charlie Lee. The midfielder raced back and executed the perfect hooked slide tackle on Grant Ward, just as the Blues man was dribbling the ball out from the back, before turning and firing in a shot from distance. Crucially, the ball took a deflection on the way to goal and, while the wrong-footed Gerken did well to make the save, Kennedy was there to gobble up the close-range rebound.

There was a worrying spell when McGoldrick appeared to be limping, but he soon signalled to the bench he was okay and Bishop, who had been readied to replace him, went on for Bru instead. McGoldrick soon began pulling the strings for the hosts as they looked to respond. First he curled a 25-yard effort just over then he thumped a 30-yard effort which Jones pushed around the post.

Town didn’t manage to build on that brief encouraging period though and increasingly their attacking attempts became limited to desperate long-range attempts. Stevenage players started going down with cramp with 10 minutes to go to help disrupt the flow and run down the clock.

IPSWICH TOWN (4-2-3-1): Gerken; Chambers (cpt), Digby, Smith, Knudsen; Douglas, Bru (Bishop 69); Ward, Dozzell (McGoldrick 46), Grant; Sears.

Unused subs: Bialkowski, Berra, Kenlock, Skuse, Morris.

Booked: Smith (51)

STEVENAGE (4-4-1-1): Jones; Henry (cpt), Wilkinson, Wells (Fox 60), Franks; Conlon (Tonge 87), Gorman, Lee, McAnuff; Kennedy; Liburd (Godden 72).

Unused subs: Day, Pett, Hyde, Donnellan.

Booked: Lee (77), Henry (81)

Attendance: 6,585 (245 away)

Referee: Charles Breakspear

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