Thriller turned into a chiller
SOMEONE must have forgotten to tell Ipswich that Hallowe'en was on Friday night.The Blues produced their own horror show of defending but added a spirited fight-back, which ended with a grave mistake.
SOMEONE must have forgotten to tell Ipswich that Hallowe'en was on Friday night.
The Blues produced their own horror show of defending but added a spirited fight-back, which ended with a grave mistake.
Town tricked supporters into thinking they were going to resurrect a point but in the end the only treat they got was a thriller of a game.
Trying to ignore the curse of the manager of the month award, while at the same time attempting to get the Blues to show some life straight from the kick-off, proved difficult for Joe Royle, as he watched his side slump to their first defeat in a month.
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It appears no-one can put their finger on why Ipswich start games so badly and are continually having to fight an uphill battle.
They got away with it at Crystal Palace and Preston, but this time they came unstuck against a skeletal Gillingham squad who showed that the able-bodied players they had available were full of the necessary spirit.
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Mind you, they were helped by some suicidal defending.
Ghosts of games gone by haunted Town as they wandered around like the undead for the first 13 minutes until Rod Wallace punished some headless defending, starting near the halfway line, when Chris Bart-Williams was found wanting.
Shaw then ambled through the defence to the dead-ball line and pulled a cross back for Wallace, but Davis tipped it onto the bar.
Unfortunately for him, his defenders reacted like zombies while Wallace gratefully nodded in the rebound.
When Ian Westlake equalised for Ipswich with his first-ever senior goal for the club, it began to look as if Town were about to stamp their authority on the match.
Shekfi Kuqi had shown great strength to go through two defenders like a ghost through a brick wall before pulling the ball back for Westlake to hammer home.
Town then enjoyed a good spell, with Jermaine Wright having a shot pushed wide and Richard Rose clearing a Chris Bart-Williams header off the line.
Gills keeper Jason Brown then produced a spellbinding reflex save to deny Jim Magilton.
But Town defended like a row of pumpkins, and Mali international Mamady Sidibe beat Kelvin Davis in a one-on-one on the stroke of half-time.
Usually a blood-curdling half-time talk by Royle is enough to raise the dead but this time Town failed to respond and they went further behind – and again below par defending was to blame.
Sidibe got the better of the usually dependable Richard Naylor and dragged the ball back from the dead ball line for Paul Shaw to score in off the post.
The Gills, who lost top-scorer Marlon King to a hamstring injury, had managed just six goals away from home this season before travelling to Portman Road minus two flu-stricken players. Then when Wallace's replacement, Tommy Johnson, could run no more the substitute himself had to be replaced.
It looked like a Town substitution would spark another of those amazing come-backs the Blues are becoming famed for.
Tommy Miller went on for the ineffectual Chris Bart-Williams, who chose not to see how his temporary team-mates would fare and instead trotted straight down the tunnel, ignoring the polite applause from patient Town supporters.
The Charlton midfielder missed a treat as Ipswich suddenly stepped up the pace.
Matt Richards got forward, first on the right flank then on the left, to support, while Wright steadied things in front of the back three and Miller caused problems ahead.
Westlake, who had been dogged in midfield, won a free kick on the hour, which skipper Magilton floated in perfectly for Counago to head in past the keeper.
Merry Miller then had Blues supporters walking on air as he side- footed in from 12 yards after a good one-two with Wilnis, in a move started by Magilton.
But the Dutchman made a hash of things three minutes into time added on when he failed to deal with a ball which he believed had already gone out. Instead, he played it into Nicky Southall's path and he provided Mark Saunders with the pass from which to hit the killer blow.
It was Gillingham's first win away from home since last August and ended Ipswich's unbeaten run of six games.
New life needs to be injected into the side, especially from the kick-off. This is still a good team, but Ipswich have been riding their luck a little lately and really they need to get a stranglehold on games much earlier on.
It may not be as entertaining, but that is perhaps the price that has to be paid if Ipswich are going to seriously challenge the early leaders.
They are digging their own grave with this sort of defending, wasted opportunities, and lacklustre opening gambits. They are surely going to be punished when they start taking on the big boys again.