IPSWICH TOWN 2 READING 2 Saturday 3 FEBRUARY 2017
Four days is a long time in football. On Tuesday 31 January Derby County humiliated Ipswich Town at Portman Road, beating them by three goals to nil. In truth it could have been more. Meanwhile Reading had snatched another impressive away win, scoring late in the game to beat Birmingham 1-0 and secure third spot in the Championship. So on paper the Royals should have swaggered into Portman Road on Saturday afternoon, sneered down their noses at the Suffolk peasantry and disdainfully pocketed the points, without raising an unseemly sweat.
Like all authentic dramas, the reality of this story was far less predictable. Ipswich tore into Reading from the first minute, playing not only as though their lives relied on it, but with a confidence and positivity that, given this season’s plotline, should have been Reading’s and not theirs. What prompted such a turnaround?
Mick McCarthy made five changes to his team: Taylor and Huws were handed debuts and McGoldrick, Emmanuel and Diagouraga were brought back in. It worked with a vengeance. Emmanuel made a powerful run as early as the 4th minute, shooting from very close range at a tight angle. Taylor was outstanding and came close to a debut goal with a powerful header in added time of the first half. He constantly pushed Ipswich’s refashioned back three to a higher line, several yards further up the pitch, and verbally organised those around him. The effect on the rest of the team was transformative. Those extra few yards enabled a similarly refashioned central midfield three to be more offensive in intent. When Grant Ward replaced Cole Skuse in the 17th minute, following an unfortunate injury, that attacking trend was further reinforced. Indeed Ipswich’s first goal in the 43rd minute arrived as the direct result of mobile, direct midfield aggression. Following Reading pressure and a corner, Huws challenged for and won the ball on the edge of his own penalty area. Surging forward at considerable pace he carried the ball for around 30 yards before finding Lawrence in space. Mesmerised by Lawrence’s pace, sway and perhaps partly by his growing reputation as well, three Reading defenders hesitated a few seconds before deciding who should challenge him. By then it was too late. At speed, he struck the ball from inside the penalty area with minimal back lift and great force. It rocketed into the roof of the net and despite the relative close range, the goalkeeper stood no chance.
The half time lead could easily have been greater and when the whistle blew, Ipswich’s players were cheered off the pitch; a rare treat for them in what has been a dark season.
The second half continued in the same vein. In the first few minutes McGoldrick had two shots into both right and left side netting, and set up Lawrence to graze the post. Then and rather unluckily,
Ipswich’s attacking ambitions indirectly led to Reading’s 52nd minute equaliser. Luke Chambers is a model professional, who played Saturday’s game as though liberated from Tuesday’s demons. Yet following Ipswich pressure in the Reading half, Chambers was temporarily crocked on the half way line. Reading took advantage to move the ball swiftly up the left wing; their speed of thought and response was impressive throughout. Within 30 seconds of being under pressure at the other end, the half time debutant and January loan Mutch was keeping a commendably cool head to side foot the ball past Bialkowski.
The goal was well taken, scored against the run of play and with a different Ipswich line-up might have shattered the home team’s self-confidence. The fact that it didn’t was down largely to the home crowd – who had given strong, noisy support from the start – and the galvanising effect of McCarthy’s experienced new players. Diagouraga and Huws together willed for something different and they got it. Together with their team mates they merely carried on as though nothing had happened and it was no surprise when, in the 61st minute, McGoldrick confidently controlled the ball, whilst running at speed on the half way line; then played the pass of the game for about 30 yards, taking out several opposition players and finding Lawrence. The Welshman hit the ball with his trademark force, this time with his left foot, low into the Reading net.
It was the third excellent goal of the game, but it was not to be the last. With commendable tenacity Reading refused to give up. Despite having been outplayed throughout, the second Ipswich goal prompted the Royals into a period of high pressure themselves. In the 69th minute McLeary sent in a superb cross from the right and with Kelly running forward into a perfect position to finish the move, he was miraculously thwarted with a firm outstretched flick off Taylor’s wise defensive head. But there was nothing that anybody in the Ipswich team could have done about Reading’s second equaliser, in the 78th minute. Taking no longer than McGoldrick or Lawrence had to create their moments of magic, the Reading number eleven Obita volleyed home an outstanding long range effort with the outside of his left foot. A corner had been cleared, to nearly 30 yards from the goal line, by an Ipswich defender. The danger ‘should’ have been minimal but for the second time in the game, despite having made a couple of decent saves, Bialkowski was beaten and could do nothing about it.
Although the scoring had stopped the chances didn’t. As in the rest of the game spells of Reading pressure were punctuated by clearer Ipswich chances, with long throws from Knudsen and a deft cross by McGoldrick creating acute dangers in the Reading penalty area during the game’s closing ten minutes.
It was a shame that only 15,000 fans from Ipswich and 500 from Reading had turned up to watch what turned out to be an enthralling game; but as one the spectators stood to clap their teams off in the 94th minute. For Reading it was a hard earned and slightly fortunate point, perhaps typifying a season in which they have exceeded reasonable expectations and are challenging for promotion. For Ipswich the point was welcome but the display far more so. Quite literally it threw a life line to players, manager and fans, who had been drowning in a sea of despond. Whether it proves to be a flash in the pan or a true turning point, only time will tell. But Portman Road, dull? Not this time it wasn’t…