IPSWICH TOWN 3 BLACKBURN ROVERS 2 14 JANUARY 2017
In a week when MI6’s former employee Christophe Steele dominated international headlines, after a right shower leaked his dossier on Donald, let’s dive undercover ourselves. What do football fans really think of each other’s teams, or indeed of their own?
Agent Harry (let’s call him) is from Bath, otherwise known on Twitter as @HarryFromBath. Living deep in the West Country purely as cover for his behind-the-lines scouting on Ipswich’s opposition Harry (let’s call him) dead drops excellent dossiers before most match days on the twtd. co.uk site. He had uncovered a few gems for Saturday, from Blackburn Rovers’ fan forums. ‘Ipswich are genuinely one of the most dreadful teams to watch in this division’ commented one. Who to be honest might have been a disgruntled visitor from Suffolk, given how poorly Ipswich have played for many of the last 25 games. Another comment was rueful and perceptive: ‘Right now Ipswich are basically us [Blackburn Rovers] but with a decent manager.’
And it was some pretty decent, and daring, or perhaps even desperate management that won this very important day. Ipswich’s Mick McCarthy was brave enough to continue with a 3-5-2 experiment that has been ongoing during the last few matches, and for which many fans have yearned for years. It just about worked. The reliable Bialkowski in goal, the captain Chambers in front of him then the outstanding Skuse in front of Chambers offered the backbone – physical and moral – that Ipswich have sought for months. All three were excellent and it was their reliability and strength which provided the platform from which, for the third game running, Tom Lawrence mounted a glittering challenge to be doing something more glamorous, than hauling Tractors out of dung heaps. Lawrence’s first goal on 38 minutes was a neatly stitched three man move. Though as it was from a free kick the only passes involved, from Skuse touched to Bru, to Lawrence, rolled no more than a yard before Lawrence struck the sweetest of daisy cutters, a fraction above the turf, low into the furthest right corner of the goal. Somehow it crept underneath the Blackburn wall’s crumbling foundations; and everything on Rovers’ message boards made instant sense.
Haven’t they got TV in Lancashire – or perhaps Rovers need their own Harry-from-Bath? Since Lawrence scored stunning long range goals in his previous two games, that free kick should hardly have come as a surprise. Given current Ipswich defending, neither did Blackburn’s equaliser a few minutes later. Ipswich and Scotland’s slightly off-form Christophe Berra dwelled too long on a scrappy wing ball, not far outside his own penalty area and on the Blackburn right. Under pressure that he had put himself under, his weak clearance was hit back to the lively ex-Ipswich loanee Feeney, who quickly played it into the box. Out it came via a lovely touch to Akpan who with a commendably cool head, given the pressure Rovers players are currently under, powerfully and accurately side-footed it home from 12 yards out. It was a very good finish and 1-1 at half time. Slightly out of recent character there were no boos from disgruntled home fans despite that giveaway equalising goal. Ipswich’s wing-backs had got themselves into threatening positions and their team’s passing was improved, occasionally slick. Had fans spotted an Ipswich revival in the making?
After 57 minutes they had because Ipswich went 2-1 up. A strongly struck dipping Lawrence corner towards the near post, was helped on by Skuse’s backward-facing flick: and Christophe Berra gratefully swept the ball into a gaping Blackburn goal on the far side post, from a few yards out. If that was good, what followed shortly was brilliant. Picking up a loose ball in the centre circle Tom Lawrence ran straight at the Blackburn defence. After two or three strides he had picked up considerable pace before, on his fifth touch, he hit the ball with such velocity from around thirty yards that it swerved in an instant into the top right hand corner of the Blackburn net. Replays suggested it may just have brushed a Blackburn defender, but if so it made little difference to the ball’s trajectory. It was another moment of footballing genius from the 23 year old and Lawrence’s fifth goal in three games. If Ipswich could find a forward partner just to tap them in, as had Berra, then it might even work for the rest of the season: though Freddie Sears unfortunately missed at least two chances from inside the box, which might have secured him that role.
Game over? Or course not. Despite looking every inch an ordinary side, Blackburn were able to put on Emnes for the skilful Bennett in the 61st minute and 12 minutes later pulled a goal back. Akpan, who had been lively throughout, was awarded a penalty area foul after a robust challenge by Webster from the side, but slightly behind. Graham showed the same cool with the penalty as Akpan had for Rovers’ first goal and suddenly it was close once more. With Ipswich under pressure in the 79th minute Chambers played himself into trouble with a soft header out to the edge of the Ipswich penalty area, following a Blackburn attack, then stood up brilliantly in front of Graham to block the consequent threat. After further Ipswich chances had been wasted, four minutes into injury time and deep in that same Ipswich penalty area, the young right wing back Emmanuel similarly stood up to Blackburn’s Williams running with him shoulder to shoulder, in pursuit of the ball. Down the Rover crashed and a few seconds later, up went the whistle to the referee’s lips. Was it to be a penalty repeat? No, he had decided to blow for full time. Blackburn’s stalwart, stoical 295 away fans didn’t register much surprise at that disappointment, or indeed at anything else the footballing gods could throw at them during a chilly Saturday in Suffolk. Ipswich fans meanwhile cheered their team off, a rejuvenated Luke Chambers pumped his fists joyfully at the end. My friend Dave neatly summed up the entertainment value: ‘chaotic … but fun’.
Mick McCarthy doesn’t warm to chaos. Some critics say (unfairly) that he doesn’t even like creativity. But if Lincoln can be beaten, a cup run secured and this team continue to improve then he might stick with 3-5-2 and even keep his job. Meanwhile the managerial options for Blackburn’s owners, the unpopular Venkys, have surely run out, after frequent and unsuccessful chops and changes.
How do I know? Well, let’s call him Harry…