Superb Town clinch victory
THE ovation said it all. It is unlikely a single Ipswich fan left before the final whistle and every one of the 26,000 stood and applauded what was without doubt the best team performance of the season – some might even argue for the past three years, writes Derek Davis.
THE ovation said it all.
It is unlikely a single Ipswich fan left before the final whistle and every one of the 26,000 stood and applauded what was without doubt the best team performance of the season – some might even argue for the past three years, writes Derek Davis.
The players responded in kind at the end for what was a terrific show of support, from all four stands, throughout the game.
Every man Jack of the Town team deserved the reception for the way they fought, thought and sought victory and a rare clean sheet.
In the end, Tommy Miller's penalty on the stroke of half-time separated the sides in terms of goals but the win stemmed from a tactical piece of genius, coupled with Ian Westlake's ability to rise to the challenge.
It was Westlake who won the ball to provide the pass, which led to the penalty when Thomas Myhre clattered Darren Bent, whose pace outdid the Sunderland keeper.
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Miller, who has scored from every penalty he has ever taken at Town and Hartlepool, hit his right-footed drive so powerfully and accurately that even though Myhre dived the correct way it still beat him on the left side of his goal.
Westlake's contribution was evident well before then as he was played in the middle of the park with Jermaine Wright, Jim Magilton and Tommy Miller contributing to a fluid midfield which nullified the threat from Jason McAteer and Carl Robinson.
While not a game full of goal-mouth action, it was intriguing and absorbing with a few heart-fluttering moments.
The first half was akin to Grand-masters playing chess without anyone looking for mate early on but trying to knock off the queen.
If a goal was the queen then scoring the penalty on the stroke of half-time weakened the Black Cats so considerably while lifting Town psychologically.
Miller had already fired over the bar, Kuqi hit a volley from 25 yards that veered wide, while Matt Elliott twice went wide from Magilton passes.
Bent shot over from 18 yards after a superb build-up and the England Under-21 striker carried his superb form into the second half but could not find his 15th goal of the season.
Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy felt his side were the better side in the first half. That was debatable, although Fabian Wilnis and John McGreal had to recover situations after their own slip-ups while Robinson headed over and Darren Byfield and Kevin Kyle were a handful.
Kelvin Davis deserved his eighth clean sheet of the season, although he survived a scare when he fumbled a cross but was able to recover and push the ball to safety.
He was also agile and alert to cut out a Kyle pull-back and safely took a Thornton free kick that curled over the wall. Otherwise, everything else was bread and butter to this highly-capable keeper with safe hands and excellent distribution.
He was helped immensely by McGreal and Elliott, who read the game brilliantly and served up old-fashioned, no frills defending.
His opposite number had to be on his toes although the work by experienced, and settled central duo Phil Babb and Gary Breen meant he was well protected in the main.
Myhre didn't even have to save when Bent cracked in three shots in a row, all on target but all blocked by his defence. Magilton also found a Sunderland player in the way of his shot on the turn. Kuqi worked hard and might have had a penalty when he was pushed over by Julio Arca. He deserved his standing ovation when he made way for Georges Santos, who went into central midfield, just to make sure.
By then the clean sheet was in sight and everyone was determined not to let it slip, as has happened so often.
When Ipswich were awarded a free kick 30 yards out, every Town player except Bent was behind the taker, Magilton.
Marcus Stewart was given a rousing reception when he went on, and it was well deserved for his time at Portman Road, but the day was about the present and a squad of players who appeared to have clicked at the right time.
Yes, the quality was very much in evidence, with some marvellous passing movements, against a class side who have a clutch of Premiership-proven stars.
Yet they could not get to grips with the Town midfield, the engine room with Westlake working like a collection of pistons, the dynamic passing of Wright, who cut through a tangle of red shirts to pick out Blue, and was ready for the return pass. Magilton, the brake, who kept things under control determined not to lose the ball under pressure and refusing to allow Sunderland much to work with.
Miller was the accelerator, powering the revs with his runs, shots and angled passing. All in all a wonderful team performance, culminating in Town's fifth win in six games to set up a fabulous finale to the season. And then there was the crowd. "A ten-out-of-ten performance" Joe Royle said of them.
For once, the crowd will also say it of the team.