|Mullet added 20:23 - Jan 5|
Merely six feet away from the pitch and today the abyss was smiling back. 1200 Town fans made an L shape around the Wham arena, the open terrace and half the closed stand a section of blue and white. Snaking through side streets, open ground and balsa wood toilet blocks, this was a glimpse of what is yet to come.
A spearmint Pole in goal prayed before us then gave us a little jiggle of acknowledgement, the first of a refresh to the side. Ahead of him Spence, Nsiala, Pennington and new boy Elder. The only man new enough not to have a cloud, or the wrong kind of question marks hanging over his head in the back five.
Dozzell sat deep like an Orwell Pirlo, at times everything flowed through him, but there was also a tactical bridge that spanned and denied him traffic. The business of Downes and Nolan as a different triangulation of midfield middling today. Edwards on the right, Sears on the left and homecoming Jackson crowned the Ipswich line.
The game started with mild bemusement behind the goal. Single tier stands, less than 5k in the ground and a familiar feeling in unfamiliar environs. Accrington started well and earned territory and confidence with simple, unrefined play.
Scrambling from either side, but mostly in our half saw Pennington and Nsiala doing simple things, our full backs winning plenty when under little pressure but Town failing to fund much of an outlet. The flat 4-4-2 of Stanley meant our stretching shape and cross field Hollywood balls had a dead-cat bounce off home side shins and bodies able to intercept obvious diagonal cuts inside or arching moves into the channel.
Elder looked the better of the wide options going forward. He has both the physicality and the control to at least solidify a side who have all the inner strength of jelly in a washing machine. Every spin past a Lancastrian tackle, or promise to shift play out of the back and only a little bit forward manner we are so accustomed to was met by another midfielder happy to clatter and scythe down anyone standing still enough to be caught.
Bart made two saves of note in the first half. One he spilled at his near post and then smothered. The other was routine only 12 months ago but met with support that was overcompensating if not well meaning.
The real talking points were that Town took 37 minutes to have a shot off target. Nolan whipping the ball high and over the chunky custodian Ripley. It was a demonstrative ending to what happens when you are good enough to keep moving the ball just outside of the oppositions’ circle of interference, but not good enough to beat all but two sides this season.
The other was that Flynn Downes needs to be given the moniker “calm” as a reminder. Removing the threat of a cross field delivery, he was one of several to receive a touch of dubious heft. Hitting the floor indicating where studs had caressed his thigh, the referee failed to remove the offender and offended. A touch on his cheek and young Flynn flung palms into breast, knowing he had not done enough the referee spoke to Finley not for the first time, then booked Downes where a red is what the rule book calls for.
It was 45 minutes where Nsiala looked the better of our two centre backs and Jackson had all the support and touch to show he was never getting the better of theirs. Edwards at one point was free on the touchline, but Spence understandably mistook for a ballboy, such was his intent to shy away rather than signal for the ball.
If this is what the future holds, then I’d we could at least pass to someone not marked by three players and forced to knock it straight back until the ball is shepherded out for yet another pointless set piece or throw in.
When the second half came, so did Bishop. An obvious change for Downes who was being targeted and biting like a shark at anyone in distance. The referee was happy to not have to make a decision, so when Downes racked up an innumerable amount of innocuous fouls before the break, it was a clear and obvious change.
And what a difference it made. Young (is he still young?) Bishop danced and plied his trade across and around all comers. He and Dozzell worked off each other and sometimes brought in Nolan to make the midfield less estranged from either flank or forays forward.
Accrington had nodded just past the same post Bishop’s first shot fizzed past just before the break. Their chance probably closer, but ours more eye catching. The defenders stepped up to try and condense the area the ball was contested in, as Town looked more equipped to exploit the up and under running clear tactic thanks to Jackson. It was Accrington who were happier to use it though.
Surprisingly, their best chance to beat us on the break was a low run across the face of Nsiala on the halfway line. Bringing his man down with precision cynicism the Congolese had not just come in from the cold, but into his own in terms of rugged and habitat-appropriate defending.
Town may have looked better, but we had become sick of seeing the same routine moves break down thanks to a lack of catch and release in short passes down the line, or a lack of static attackers getting into the box to meet the crosses or challenge the defenders dealing with them. Elder, Sears and Nolan all had moments of getting past their man, but all had moments of indecision.
When Town had a shot on target Ripley parried easily. When they did it again, he denied us with his gut and it wriggled away from goal and out from a corner. The result of which was a near post header and Nolan using his standing leg to trick himself and the defender, before hammering the squirming ball into a low and credible shot across goal.
These are the scraps upon which a goal and results starved side now fed.
When new-boy Keane replaced Stanley old-boy Jackson there was a slight keening of interest amongst the travelling throng. He is all a few swishes of ponytail and some neat ideas, packaging the neat and tidy footwork of a player who actually looked to stay in the centre circle when Town were defending and be in the centre of everything when Town were attacking.
When Sears burst through Accrington’s middle like something from older, kinder, better days he took not one, but two bites at scoring. A low shot from central sent him wide. Blaring a low one at an impossible angle he had both Keane and the latterly introduced Ellis Harrison waiting on the six yard line.
Town had gone 4-4-2 to try and get a goal back, because along with missing the target we had repeated the trick of conceding from a set piece with little need or reason. Spence gave away a fairly routine free kick. But it swung past the goal and Bart to the left hand side. Neither centre back dealt with it, and Kee unlocked the tie with a close finish. Those 200 or so that had been bouncing to the drum opposite us set the tone. Rapturous celebrations, red streaked to the far corner. Town shuffled back into positions all too readily and familiar when you don’t do the same defending dead balls. Ironically, a more fitting description or feeling around Ipswich you could not find this season.
There was no anger in the away end either side of Town trying to snatch damage limitation from defeat, from adding another agonising 90 minutes to a season overstocked and over-faced with them already.
When the final whistle came so did the first signs of protest and dismay. Players trudged off after dallying ass far from their fans as possible. But inevitably the dressing room was at the corner where they had to parade across the faces glowering or turning away from them behind the goal.
“Passion” was questioned not quality. As we walked behind the stands, protests from a dozen or so evaporated into the open sky towards Marcus Evans. He remains as ephemeral and formless as the few voices ringing with pointed questions and demands he “get out of our club”. With the human shields and structures long gone this and previous summers before, there is little place left to hide for Evans other than the boardroom, beach-side resorts or any of the other dozen boltholes down which he and his money might sink as long as he is owner here.
Lambert may well rage and howl as we did tonight. He may well question the attitude and application of some, all, or individuals as we might. He might look around and wonder what is to become of ITFC by May, by next season or beyond. He may well do as some no doubt will and make a fist of it, until walking away or feeling unwanted is inevitable.
A tree can be teeming with life for years before you know it is definitely dead. A chainsaw, a match or the slow force of time may all final see it disappear from the landscape entirely. That can only happen when there is no longer enough to sustain it.