Town show the green shoots of recovery
A SINGLE swallow does not a summer make.But victory over Bradford does put a spring back into the collective Ipswich Town step and could end the winter blues, writes Derek Davis.
A SINGLE swallow does not a summer make.
But victory over Bradford does put a spring back into the collective Ipswich Town step and could end the winter blues, writes Derek Davis.
After the hard frost which had seen Town collect just nine points from a possible 24, the green shoots of recovery may start to replace the seeds of doubt.
Green-fingered Joe Royle replanted Drissa Diallo to right-back as evergreen John McGreal returned to fitness, allowing Jermaine Wright to patrol the central midfield. And after nuturing Darren Bent and Ian Westlake through lean times, Royle gave them the chance to blossom again, which both did in spectacular fashion.
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Hardy perennial Shefki Kuqi showed the best and worst of his finishing, flowering in the first half with a spectacular volley but wilting badly in the dying minutes with a terrible miss compounded by an attack of cramp.
Of course it was just weedy Bradford City, second from bottom and with just one win in a dozen away trips, but they still had to be beaten.
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Town started anxiously, concerned possibly at the reaction of an unforgiving crowd who a week earlier had booed them from the park.
Of course those quick to malign skipper Jim Magilton for a couple of misplaced chances never helped even though a free-kick from the Irishman found Richard Naylor who was not far away with his header.
It was also quickly apparent that Bent, making his first league start since Boxing Day, had benefited from the rest and recovered fully from injury and was tormenting the sluggish City defence with his clever and pacy running.
The England Under-21 international had already played in to Kuqi, whose venomous left-footed drive was well saved by on-loan keeper Nico Vaesen before he set the Finn up to open the scoring.
This time it was route one with Kelvin Davis clearing up-field, Bent flicking on to Kuqi who controlled waist high by hitting a truly wonderful right-foot volley from 20 yards.
It was the Kosovon's fifth goal in seven games for Town and after going through a barren spell, Kuqi is looking more and more like a genuine all-round centre forward,
His 100% commitment, unselfish running and passing are being complemented by a more controlled approach to his finishing.
Mind you, the miss was something to behold. Kuqi pounced on a mistake by Vaesen but then slipped as he shot towards a gaping goal and the ball went into the side-netting. To add to his agony cramp seized hold of his left leg.
It might have been different if the scores had been level with five minutes to go but by then Kuqi had established himself a hero.
After opening the scoring he had a header from a Magilton corner cleared off the line and forced another good save out of Vaesen.
He had played a part in Town's second goal scored straight from the restart after Bradford had levelled.
The ball had been played back to Naylor who pumped it forward and Kuqi flicked out wide to Bent. City complained the slightly-built striker had pushed centre-half Mark Bower before going past him and pulling the ball back for the lively Westlake to side-foot in first time from eight yards.
The Bantams had three players booked for dissent such was their dismay with the linesman.
They were probably doubly frustrated, as they had equalised seconds earlier after weak Town defending.
Naylor and Wright got in each other's way trying to clear a poor Ronnie Wallwork cross, Matt Richards hesitated and allowed the former Manchester United player a crack at getting the ball over and this time it reached the predatory Dean Windass who nodded in at the far post from close range.
City could have no complaints about Town's third and another cracking finish this time by Bent.
Magilton played a quick ball down to Bent who teased the uncertain Bower before curling a lovely left-foot shot around Vaesen and in off the post from 20 yards – pure class.
City, the divison's lowest goal scorers, had even more to complain about when the same assistant who had upset them on the stroke of half-time ruled out a Danny Cadamarteri goal for offside.
But on the whole they were soundly beaten as Ipswich looked better in every department. A couple of moments highlighted the gulf in class.
Not just the quality of the goals but when Bent took on Heckingbottom and eased past him with pure speed before pulling the ball back.
At the other end City striker Andy Gray was outpaced by McGreal as the pair chased a loose ball with the defender winning the race – moments later the Scot was substituted.
It is these games, especially at home, that Town need to win to stay in the promotion pack.
With Burnley away, then Preston at home, before the cup-tie atmosphere of a game at Norwich, and then winnable matches against Millwall, Stoke, Walsall and Wimbledon, Ipswich have a great opportunity to be firmly in control of their destiny.
They just need to finish February in style and go into March like the proverbial lion and end it with other teams going like lambs to the slaughter.