IPSWICH TOWN 0 – 1 SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY
Portman Road, 29 April 2017
Bright blue skies, vivid green grass, an inch perfect playing surface and a spring in the step of both sets of fans. Yes, I could be writing a match report for the first game of next season. But no, this is actually a postcard from Portman Road recording the last home game of this season. Might Ipswich dazzle once more as against Newcastle ten days previously? Or could Wednesday seize not just the initiative in these 90 minutes, but a play-off place for the second successive season?
To set up a thriller the game needed an early Ipswich goal. What it very nearly got, in the first 90 seconds, was an away opener. A dangerous cross was looped from the right onto the far edge of the Ipswich six yard box before the ever-improving Spence, a fraction ahead of a Wednesday attacker, instinctively cleared for a corner. Within five minutes Ipswich had a chance of their own, with speed from Sears on the right wing setting up a shot from Lawrence: straight at the goalkeeper. Further sustained, intricate passing down the left wing between McGoldrick, Sears and Lawrence resulted a few minutes later with a free kick on the far right edge of the Sheffield penalty area. As with most dead ball opportunities, Ipswich wasted it.
Lawrence, runner up as Ipswich player of the year was the offender, with a powerful but guileless blast at rib height, directly into the defensive wall. It was not until the 25th minute that either side threated again and this time is was McGoldrick, with a curling shot from a similar position to Lawrence’s brutal free kick. The agile Westwood in the Wednesday goal palmed it away with force, but in truth with ease.
Apart from a vital and improvised Chambers’ intervention a few minutes later to deflect the ball away from Pudil, following a long punt from Westwood, neither side mustered a further serious goal threat in the half. The game was not exactly ugly, thanks to both sides mixing concise short passing movements with longer balls at various diagonals down each wing. Yet like so much Championship football neither was it genuinely entertaining. Why? In some ways it isn’t rocket science.
There was a paucity of shots, headers or anything else directing the actual ball, towards one of the two brightly painted and quite large actual goals, conveniently situated at either end of the pitch. That’s also slightly facetious for in truth, both sides worked tirelessly in midfield to create space for an array of talented attackers. Ipswich had even started with a 4-3-3 formation. Yet this Sheffield Wednesday side, play-off losers last season, are well structured and richly resourced. Ipswich barely threatened.
Luckily the first half off-field added value was high, thanks to Wednesday’s excellent support and the miracles of modern technology. Sheffield had come into the match knowing that if they won, or Leeds could contrive to lose at home to Norwich, a play-off place was certain. So imagine the joy in owlish hearts as 2000 phones buzzed and Norwich went 1-0 up. ‘Leeeeeeeeeeds’ went the massed choir’s opening line, to the tune of Joy Division’s greatest hit: ‘Leeds are falling apart, again’. And each time Norwich scored, the louder that refrain became. By 0-3 to the budgerigars that side of Portman Road was like a drunken student house party. It was the early 1980s all over again though sadly, without Muhren or Thijssen.
The second half was a different matter, though not in a way that the home fans wanted. Wednesday smoothly stepped up a gear and within three minutes had thwacked the inside of the Ipswich left post, following a fierce Wallace shot from an oblique angle. Town were lucky that the ball didn’t bounce off the perhaps unsighted Bialkowski and into the net. Instead it careered back across the gaping goal, from the direction it had first come. The Polish goalkeeper, supporter’s player of the year and one of the few Ipswich stars, in what has been a dull and fractious season, then saved from Fletcher’s longer range effort a few minutes later. Yet he could do nothing in the 77th minute to prevent what would turn out to be the game’s only goal.
Once again from the left Bannan and Pudil combined to create an excellent low cross; and Lee, arriving perfectly onto the edge of the six yard box, skilfully and forcefully turned the ball into the goal. It was no more than Sheffield deserved and despite various Ipswich substitutions their only second half opportunity of any note was in the 73rd minute. A long cross from Sears was headed down and wide by Samuel, at the Sheffield Wednesday far post. Was it a chance or a half chance? What’s the difference? Does anybody care?
Who’s renewed their season ticket and who hasn’t? Is it the owner, the manager or the players who are to blame for Ipswich’s lack of joy, in this division? In the absence of shots (just two on target) and corners (one all game) the home crowd mostly chatted between themselves for the last phase of the match. Then every so often groups punctuated the gossip with musical comparisons of Big Mick’s football to human refuse; or various ditties all pointing out that Marcus Evans was ripping them off, and should consider moving on to invest in another exciting retail sports entertainment opportunity.
Wednesday meanwhile had cunningly chosen their black and orange away strip almost exactly to match the all-weather outfits of Ipswich’s stewards. In the last ten minutes, those stewards filed round the edge of the pitch. Their sole purpose was to prevent Suffolk’s well-known anarchist crews from running on and, through the medium of the Morris dance perhaps, showing their players how to really psyche out an opposition. Just imagine: the All Blacks’ haka with bells, sticks and handkerchiefs.
Anyway the Tango security cordon worked a treat, no Ipswich fans could be bothered to breach it and by the final whistle the black and orange clothing coincidence honestly made it look like Sheffield Wednesday had about 60 players on the pitch. Perhaps Ipswich could try that next season? Unfortunately the club’s managing director Ian Milne has signalled a big clear-out during the summer, so most of those stewards are already on the transfer list. But hey, let’s look on the bright side. The Owls may have flown the nest but next season for sure, those Canaries are back in Town…
Match review by Grant Bage