Town rip Wolves to shreds
THIS team, playing the way they did for the first hour, will win this league at a canter, writes Derek Davis.The victory over Wolves was far greater than the scoreline suggests and pushed Town to second place in the league.
THIS team, playing the way they did for the first hour, will win this league at a canter, writes Derek Davis.
The victory over Wolves was far greater than the scoreline suggests and pushed Town to second place in the league.
Such dizzy heights for a side that, until yesterday, had not looked particularly convincing.
Yet they have amassed 13 points, are unbeaten at home for six games, not counting the three friendly wins, and have banged in 13 league goals.
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Darren Bent was at his absolute brightest, and Shefki Kuqi, missed-sitter apart, were excellent as a front two, allowing the Blues midfield to totally express itself.
Wolves simply could not live with them and could easily have been four down before they clawed one back.
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The importance of Jim Magilton was obvious as he cajoled his midfield into their best performance in months, while at the same time caressing the ball like a lover reunited after a long absence.
It was from his superbly-executed diagonal cross that Bent climaxed a good, focused, display with a 28th-minute goal.
It was Bent's third goal in six league outings for Town, a mark of how high his confidence and finishing are now.
But his performance was more than just about his goal, which had a touch of fortune about it as he didn't get a clean header in and it glanced off a defender.
The 20-year-old striker, coveted by Charlton, exemplified his desire to do well for the Blues by winning a tackle in the centre circle and delivering a ball to Kuqi, who in turn found Magilton, whose glorious dipping shot landed on the rook of the net.
The England Under-21 striker also headed into the side netting after Jason De Vos had headed down a Horlock corner.
Magilton was in good company with Kevin Horlock, playing 60-yard passes with the deadliest of accuracy.
Twice he released the lively Bent but neither time did his pull back find a blue-shirted target.
Tommy Miller looked far more deadly that his namesake, Kenny, who is in the full Scotland squad, and once again converted from the penalty spot.
The goal owed much to Kuqi's persistence. Chasing a seemingly lost cause, he drew a foul from Joleon Lescott as he was sandwiched between the defender and Lee Naylor.
Miller sent keeper Paul Jones the wrong way to maintain his 100% penalty scoring record and take his tally for the season to four goals in seven matches. He even hit the underside of the crossbar with a wicked shot from a Kuqi pass and Ian Westlake was not far away with a follow-up shot.
The first half was as close to total football as you will find and Wolves were all over the place.
Half time at Portman Road can often be a worrying thing, as you never know quite which Blues side will come out for the second period. But they started in the same vein and once again pulled Dave Jones' average-looking side apart.
Then came Kuqi at his glorious worst and best.
Westlake won a ball from Ince in midfield and played in a slide-rule pass for Bent, who delivered a low cross into Kuqi's path. But somehow the Finland striker managed to hit his right-footed shot from three yards slap against a post. In hindsight, easy from up in the stand, he might have been better guiding it in with his left foot.
The free transfer from Sheffield Wednesday swallowed his disappointment, got huge encouragement from the crowd and got stuck in again.
Moments later he won the penalty, and he never stopped working his socks off.
He had early seen a good header from a Wilnis cross tipped over the bar and a couple of other times were close to reaching crosses as he slid in on goal. Kuqi even tried a cheeky 40-yard first time shot when he saw the keeper off the line. It went wide but that is the sort of goal he is just as likely to score as miss.
For Town to keep up the sort of level shown in the first half was always going to be difficult and Wolves were bound to have at least one good spell. It came 10 minutes after the break and not for the first time a set piece was Town's undoing.
A Nigerian called George caused the damage – not Finidi but Seyi George Olofinjana, who had already escaped his marker once at a corner but put a header over the bar.
This time he took advantage of Horlock not getting back in time from conceding a free-kick and trying to prevent a quick one being taken.
The £1.7m signing from Brann Bergen stole into the area and was unmarked to head in Lee Naylor's freekick.
Town then had to hold on a bit but whereas not so long ago they may have crumbled – remember February 2003 when the Blues were two-up against Wolves and lost 4-2? – this time they have more about them and the attitude to defending throughout the team has improved.
The Blues were unchanged for the first time this season, keeping the 4-4-2 system which won at Rotherham two days earlier, and if they can keep that sort of consistency and level of performance, they will be a genuine promotion threat.
Unfortunately the occasional lapse and the thinness of the squad could count against them in the long run.
It is almost a shame that there are now almost two weeks before the next game, at home against Millwall, who play in Europe on the previous Thursday (Town know better than anyone what sort of effect that could have on the Lions).
But for entertainment, attractive sfootball and goals Town showed yesterday that they are a match for any team in this division.