Tale of two Town teams
HE may have just 14 fit senior players, but Joe Royle managed to put out two teams at Crewe.The first were a bumbling shower who scorned good chances, were embarrassed at the back by simple pace and movement, and linked by a mediocre midfield that couldn't find each other with radar, never mind a decent pass.
By Derek Davis
HE may have just 14 fit senior players, but Joe Royle managed to put out two teams at Crewe.
The first were a bumbling shower who scorned good chances, were embarrassed at the back by simple pace and movement, and linked by a mediocre midfield that couldn't find each other with radar, never mind a decent pass.
Far from strutting around looking like a top-of-the-table force, who have scored more goals in the Championship than anyone else, this lot looked a jittery jumble of misfits that never really believed in themselves.
“Premier League - you're having a laugh” mocked the Crewe fans after seeing the latest of their quality production line destroy the Blues with two excellent first-half goals from Dean Ashton.
The 1,200 travelling Town supporters could only watch aghast as the Championship campaign was being derailed by the Railwaymen.
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But they have seen the Blues come back from similar situations so often now that the talk was not of where the goals would come from, but who would get them. Fortunately, Royle sent out the 'other' Ipswich in the second half. While the only personnel change was Matt Richards for the hapless Drissa Diallo, there was clearly a persona adjustment too.
The second side were a cohesive, powerful and positive force that would not have looked out of place in the Premiership with their relentless attacking play.
Jim Magilton forced himself on the game, especially at set pieces, and Tommy Miller was box-to-box.
Richards at left back, with Fabian Wilnis going to right back, brought a new balance and drive to the side.
Ian Westlake linked better with his fellow Academy graduate and burst into life, causing young defender Paul Bignot, brother of Marcus, all kinds of new problems.
Because the refreshed midfield kept the ball, the defence had less to do, but when called on, were solid and efficient, and Wilnis in particular was spectacular.
Team 'A' had failed to handle Ashton, who it would appear is heading for either Spurs or Everton for around £2.5m. His two-goal burst inside three minutes had followed wasted chances by Ipswich.
Darren Bent scorned a great chance after being set free by Shefki Kuqi. The Finn was also guilty of a poor miss when a Miller ball over the top was misread by Chris McCready and Kuqi's persistence deserved better reward, but he sent it just wide.
Miller might have made up for all that when a Westlake header somehow got to him, but the midfielder's weak effort rolled towards the goal-line only to be hacked clear by Justin Cochrane.
Drissa Diallo was given the run-around by Ashton and David Vaughan, another player attracting Premiership scouts, and Crewe took full advantage. Although Steve Jones was clattered near the centre circle by Richard Naylor, he managed to slip the ball to Vaughan. He went on a 20-yard unchallenged run before laying the ball to Ashton whose powerful angled shot somehow squirmed through Kelvin Davis, who may feel he, and half a dozen before him, should have done better.
A couple of minutes later an unmarked Ashton showed his class when picked out by an angled Kenny Lunt pass and he finished well to shoot low across Davis.
The Town keeper denied Crewe a third when he made an excellent diving save to push away a well-struck Lunt free kick.
They make Rolls-Royce cars just outside Crewe but even their production line won't have churned out so much multi-million pound talent as Dario Gradi seems to do.
But he doesn't seem quite as good at finding defenders. Even with a two-goal cushion, the team with the worst defensive record in the league were never comfortable against free-scoring Town.
Their fragile back line looked ready to crumble every time Town launched forward, and Jim Magilton was not far away seconds after the break.
Davis even tried to get in on the act with a tremendous goal kick which deceived his opposite number Clayton Ince for a moment and he just managed to retrieve the ball, almost off his own goal line.
Ince stood up well to parry a powerful Westlake drive after being slipped in by Richards. Bent was still having trouble adjusting his sights and hit one high and wide from 25 yards and then missed a glorious chance. Westlake had surged onto a Kuqi pass, slipped the ball square for Bent, whose first shot was saved by Ince's leg, and the Trinidadian keeper somehow scrambled away the follow-up.
The breakthrough came nine minutes into the new phase with yet another Magilton corner being flicked on, dropping nicely for Naylor to take a touch before poking in from six yards.
Five minutes later and Bent finally found the mark with a hooked shot which stemmed from a long Wilnis throw, which was lobbed back in by Magilton and flicked on by Kuqi before the England Under-21 hitman notched his ninth of the season.
From then on Crewe were holding on. Vaughan showed his defensive abilities by clearing a deflected Westlake shot off the line.
Richards bobbled a shot wide, Miller sliced another, and went close to getting on the end of a good low Bent cross, while Magilton was not far away as Town looked for the winner.
Wilnis made an imperious tackle to deny Ashton his hat-trick, and possibly a Crewe winner, after more good work by Vaughan who had drifted to the right to get away from the Dutchman.
By the end, the first Ipswich team to show would have been glad for a point after going in two-down at the break, but the second side couldn't help feeling it was two points dropped rather than one gained.
The Blues will need this team to turn up for the hectic and vital festive period of five games in 12 days after the sell-out QPR match on Saturday.