Stuart Watson says: Eight observations following Ipswich Town’s 2-0 win at Sunderland
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Ipswich Town won 2-0 at struggling Sunderland in the Championship today. STUART WATSON gives his snap observations.
Black Cats blinked first
Mick McCarthy has often talked about how his side ‘blinked first’ in fine margins defeats. Today, it was Sunderland who did just that.
Chris Coleman’s side started brightly with their deadline day signings to the fore. Liverpool loanee Ovie Ejaria was here, there and everywhere in midfield, while Middlesbrough loanee Ashley Fletcher was a proving a real handful up top.
Had they scored when on top it could have been a different story. A 28,000-strong crowd would have exploded into life. They didn’t though, Town defended well and subsequently broke the deadlock in the 35th minute when Joe Garner rifled home inside the box.
You could see the confidence drain from the relegation-battling hosts – a team who have won just twice on their own patch since the start of 2017. Adam Matthews turning Grant Ward’s cross into his own net seconds before half-time was a body-blow from which they never recovered.
Town professionally saw the game out after the break. Sunderland had a lot of the ball but never really threatened.
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Bryan Oviedo over-hitting a corner over everyone’s heads for a second time proved the cue for disgruntled natives to head to the exits in their swathes with 15 minutes still to play. They are very much staring down the barrel of back-to-back relegations.
This was the Blues’ first-ever win at the Stadium of Light.
Smells like team spirit
Ipswich have their technical limitations, we know that, but the celebrations which followed both goals today were yet another reminder that their team spirit is second to none.
The way the players all raced to congratulate Freddie Sears in the hope he’d got the last touch for Town’s second goal shows you just how much they are rooting for a man who has found game-time and goals at a premium.
Garner’s celebrations were slightly more bizarre. He sprinted 50 yards towards the bench, straight past all the bemused staff and chugged from a bottle of water as if he’d spent a month in the desert.
Nevertheless, his team-mates chased him all the way and carried out their own group huddle.
Mick gets it spot on
When the teams were announced at 2pm, the Blues line-up was met by a huge amount of criticism on social media. Starting an out-of-form Sears ahead of Bersant Celina was seen as negative by many. Especially as David McGoldrick, another creative spark, was missing through injury.
There was logic to the selection though. McCarthy had seen how Birmingham had out-fought and out-run an inexperienced Sunderland team the week before. He wanted fresh legs and grafters in his team to win the war and quieten a big home crowd.
It also gave him a much-needed Plan B on the bench, something which hadn’t been the case in the 1-0 home defeat to Wolves.
Everything panned out just as he’d hoped. The pace and industry of Ward and Sears on the flanks proved very effective.
In the end he didn’t need to turn to Celina or deadline day signing Mustapha Carayol. Celina, who had started 15 of the previous 17 games, will hopefully be better for the rest.
Grant was great
This was possibly Grant Ward’s best performance in an Ipswich Town shirt – a bold claim seeing as he scored a hat-trick on his debut back in August 2016.
The former Tottenham man, who has only just returned from a minor groin tear, was always an outlet on the right. He certainly brings a natural width Town lack when McGoldrick plays there.
You could tell he was in the mood when a few step-overs were produced early on. It was great to see him using his pace to run at his markers. His cross on the run which led to the killer second was superb.
The 23-year-old is beginning to really blossom.
Joe Garner became an instant cult favourite among Town fans at the start of the season, but was far less effective during Town’s poor run of form over the turn of the year. The no-nonsense front man was back at his bullish best today.
The way he took the ball on his chest, then thigh, before backing into his marker and swivelling to rifle a low shot into the bottom corner was a superb piece of good old-fashioned No.9 play.
He led the line tirelessly and aggressively throughout, occupied defenders, made the ball stick, showed neat touches and won fouls that gave his team-mates much-needed breathers.
Freddie good, but not great
All credit to Freddie Sears for playing an important role in this win.
He could have sulked after a lack of game-time and being asked to feature for the Under-23s at the start of the week. Instead, he is always ready to go when called upon.
As ever, he was highly industrious. He chased lost causes, hooked crosses into the box and was defensively diligent.
The caveat is that his end product was badly lacking. Twice he scampered into space on the counter-attack and twice he badly misplaced the final pass.
Even so, he’ll be feeling a lot better about himself this evening.
Waghorn’s drought goes on
For all the talk about Sears’ goal drought, Martyn Waghorn has now gone 11 games without scoring.
He was desperately unlucky not to find the net today though. He curled a sumptuous free-kick against the angle of bar and post when the score was 0-0, then poked narrowly wide in the second half after being sent racing clear one-on-one by Garner.
Just as importantly, his whipped set-piece deliveries were back on point.
Nothing’s changed. Town remain 12th in the table and eight points of the play-offs.
What this win does do though is provide a nice platform for next Saturday’s visit of rock-bottom Burton. Without getting too carried away (and consistency has been an issue), back-to-back victories would set things up nicely for the East Anglain derby at Norwich.
If this season is not going to drift away into nothingness then some positive momentum is required and fast. This result needs backing up.