Stuart says: Six observations following Ipswich Town’s 4-1 defeat at Fulham
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Ipswich Town lost 4-1 at Fulham in a Championship match last night. STUART WATSON looks at some of the key talking points.
It had all been going so well…
Fulham burst out the blocks and dominated the opening 25 minutes, but, you have to say, didn’t really carve out any glorious chances.
Low crosses were well dealt with, blocks were made in the box when required, while increasingly the Cottagers were limited to long-range efforts.
Town weathered the storm, gradually began to get a foothold in the game, then broke the deadlock in the final minute of the first half.
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Martyn Waghorn produced one of his trademark whipped dead ball deliveries from the right and Joe Garner bravely stooped to head home ahead of goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli.
It sparked a joyous team celebration by the corner flag as Blues players slid across the rain-soaked surface.
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At that stage you began to wonder if Mick McCarthy’s men might pull off another away win in the mould of their 1-0 triumph at Derby back at the end of November.
The game turned on what McCarthy described as Jordan Spence’s ‘moment of madness’ in the 54th minute.
First things first, Town should have been awarded a foul seconds earlier.
Freddie Sears was barged off the ball by physical frontman Aboubakar Kamara but nothing was given by referee Keith Stroud (the man who failed to punish Glenn Loovens for his horror challenge on David McGoldrick).
That doesn’t excuse Spence arriving late on the scene to clatter through Kamara in an act of retribution. It was reckless and silly.
Kamara produced several dramatic rolls on the floor and, after a long discussion with his linesman, Stroud issued the red card.
McCarthy sacrificed Bersant Celina and introduced right-back Dominic Iorfa.
Town’s tough task of dealing with what is arguably the Championship’s best midfield had just been made a hell of a lot tougher.
Fulham are a slick outfit when they hit their stride and there was a lot to admire about the way they made their extra man count.
Even so, conceding four goals in seven disastrous minutes should not be deemed acceptable by the Blues.
McCarthy’s post-match comments indicated that what followed the red card was almost inevitable. The blame shouldn’t be laid fully at Spence’s door though.
In cricket terms, this was a middle-order collapse of epic proportions.
Direct-running Kamara and Neekens Kebano were the proverbial pace bowlers. The neat footwork of Tom Cairney was the equivalent of bamboozling spin. Teenage prodigy Ryan Sessegnon, to continue the analogy, got the ball to move in the air.
Flat-footed Town were glued to their crease.
Grant Ward became the latest Blues player to suffer the injury curse when he limped off with a sore groin in the first half.
He joins Adam Webster, Emyr Huws, Tom Adeyemi, Teddy Bishop, Andre Dozzell, Tristan Nydam, Flynn Downes and Dean Gerken in the treatment room.
It was a boost to have Cole Skuse back again after the midfielder missed the previous three games with a bruised ankle, but he didn’t look 100%.
Tommy Smith, who made just six starts in the entirety of 2017 after back surgery and various set-backs, was understandably a little ring-rusty.
The one big plus of the evening was to see Luke Hyam back on the field as a late substitute. It was the homegrown midfielder’s first senior outing since the final game of 2015/16.
Gap is growing
Deep down, I think we all knew that talk of Town beating the odds and maintaining a play-off push was hopeful.
The Blues are much-improved this season in terms of entertainment and team spirit, but they simply have far too many defensive deficiencies and key injuries are now beginning to bite.
McCarthy’s men have now claimed just four points from their last six games to slip to 12th in the Championship table. The gap to the top-six is now seven points.
It would take one hell of a run to get back in contention – a run which, sadly, it’s hard to envisage for an energy-expending team which has tended to fade in the second-half of campaigns.
A bit of excitement in the FA Cup would go a long way to ensuring this season doesn’t rapidly descend into more disappointment, disillusionment and apathy.
Just look at the joy Bristol City fans have got from their run to the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.
Town have the firepower for knockout football, but will McCarthy name his usual much-changed team for the competition when Championship rivals Sheffield United visit on Saturday?
The Blades enjoyed a storming start to the season, but have won just one of their last nine to slip to seventh. This is a winnable game.
McCarthy played his youth side in the Carabao Cup earlier in the season and a team whose average age of was just 19 (outfield) gave a great account of themselves in a 2-1 defeat at Premier League side Crystal Palace. Many of those youngsters are either injured or out on loan now though.
The options are limited. Kieffer Moore is cup-tied, new teenage Irish striker Aaron Drinan may not have received international clearance in time, while Jordan Spence is now suspended.
“I’ve got 14 fit players now,” rued the Blues boss. “I’m glad it’s not a league game.”
That suggests his team selection will be made with the Championship visit of Leeds the following weekend in mind.
Players like Adam McDonnell, Conor McKendry and Ben Folami are likely to be involved.