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Wolverhampton Wanderers v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 21:01:37
The challenges of a 46-part epic that is a Championship season get no steeper than today’s ascent into the upper corner of a Molineaux, brimming and buoyed by the success that a half season of nearly 2.5 points per game brings. A few hundred Blues were funnelled into a small section behind the goal, overlooking the field of play flanked by a few hundred home fans making the most of the holidays and celebratory atmosphere sweeping through the Black country right now.

If the combination of oriental money, foreign and domestic collaboration and all that offers of gold and glory can bring has combined into the indomitable form of Wolves; then it is without doubt that behind him, the tanned and exotic figurehead of Nunes commands the potential might to sweep aside all of the old order that has risen and fallen around Town in the last decade and half of Championship existence.

Mick had both Skuse and Knudsen missing today from a team that was slandered as being as old-fashioned and spartan as anyone might find. Bart now had Kenlock shielding his left flank, Chambers and Webster the commanding plinth on which today’s side and defensive heroism was built. Added to Spence as the right sided buttress at the back. Connolly and Bru faced up to Wolves’ 2 in 4 as Ward and Celina occupied left and right roles marking their respective wingbacks. Garner the sharp end of an attack that had Waghorn as the shaft of our attack, tipping and hacking at their backline.
If the prospective clash seemed one laden with doom before the onset, the loss of two key players were not immediately obvious in the opening flurries. Wolves’ 3-4-3 was clear and well-constructed. An engine of Saiss and Neves, much talked about at least in part because of the “Champions League” (price) tag of the #8.

What transpired was a game where few real chances, would mean that both sides were well matched tactically or in terms of desire if little else. What could be seen from on high was that Wolves liked to play, and certainly can. This was no side built on physicality or gamesmanship alone. If they are the latest to ignore FFP and spend their way out of the league, they are the most deserving for some time. They are at least a “proper club” of size and stature more befitting the top flight than most in that category. It feels horrible to even think that, because so often they were once like us.

Town’s 4-2-3-1 did not surprise, but nor did it just sit off, or match up. Whether it was the big, the bad or the brazen of Wolves’ attack set upon us, we bent and flexed and weathered any huff and puff they could muster. At times Town were a lopsided 3 with Kenlock drawing up and down the flank, Celina overlapping him both forward and backward as the excellent Doherty and dangerous Caveleiro tried to twist their way into dangerous positions.

Often Town limited Wolves and usually the aforementioned inside-forward to frustrated lashes at goal on an angle too easy for Bart or too far off the mark to matter. When Town did retain the ball then a fluidity to the old gold meant sometimes whoever had position had one pass on and four opposing players closing them down.

In some instances, this might have meant the end for many men, as it had the conquistadors who found molten gold shoved down their throats so fatal. Town however made the most of this. Webster more than once stepped out of defence and between the duo of Neves and Saiss to close either the runner, or retrieve the loose ball.

One fine move saw him burst between them, and career through the midfield to play the ball and then left side of their defence. It was a display where we were reminded just what a good passer he is.

Wolves held a very high line and pressed the game into a tiny phalanx either side of the halfway line. This meant when Town got free they were felled, through cynicism and the scything tackles of markers happy to limit us to set pieces. Neves made them tick, and any sense if his quality being overhyped may fall in the sense that he always has time on and off the ball to test teams or work out the move that allows his strikers to do it.

Either side of a Ruddy slip on a backpass (showing he was still a canary in Wolf’s clothing) Waghorn and Celina bent efforts over the wall in what looked like Town’s best efforts to force a goal. In the case of the left-footer, it careered into the distant stand. Celina went for a Burton, and in recreating that winner, spun the ball perfectly again, unfortunately it was at the perfect height for Ruddy too this time.

It took 40 minutes of a finely balanced game for Wolves to finally crack us, Jota definitely fouled Kenlock on halfway, but in a game full of soft freekicks for both sides, the deputy who had done so well, didn’t do enough to get back up. The #18 who early in the game had gone down under no challenge and looked done for, pulled the ball across the area for his counterpart Caveleiro to whip it inside the post with aplomb. Wolves and Town had been excellent in playing the second ball all game, but they were just that little better this time, and made it count.

Garner who by now had won little, but made himself known to both the defence and the ref with his usual tricks could only dream of such service. Whereas Connolly had looked the classiest of the Blue side of a midfield maelstrom, often finding that touch or turn of body to get a second pass or piece of play going, Ward had got into some excellent positions but not found the cross to equal their effort.

Too often Town had played the ball low along the ground, but without the requisite pace or power to scatter defenders and to get a touch needed to keep the game level. What we saw instead was a monumental collective effort going into half time, but it amounted to nothing in one crucial moment.

The second half saw no changes, but brief hope amongst those gathered below the stands that Town could still change the result. No fans knew McCarthy better than those in all 4 stands today, and it was perhaps telling that Wolves might fear a stalemate by any means necessary.

If the corners of the first half had been disappointing from a Town perspective, in the second half our best chances came when Ward sent them all the way through a box of zonal statues and attacking spinning tops. Garner almost vaulted one as he didn’t know what to do with it, and Bru took the initiative only to lob it again too easily for Ruddy.

It was a game where Wolves where either continuing the derisory ‘slump’ their fans had talked about of late, or were not used to a team not polite enough to stand back and admire their approach to the game. Both managers stood on the corner of their technical area. Mick, driving his team on and kicking every ball. In contrast Nunes orchestrated every appeal and judicious decision from his. Some Town felt after the game his side were dirty, but the ref was fair today, or if not, consistent in what he gave and what he missed.

Bishop and Enobakhare were both introduced at the same time. A youth product from the bench for each team, it was illustrative perhaps that Wolves took off their goalscorer and freshened their attack. Bru made way for Town as Mick looked for fresh movement and ideas in the middle of the park where so much play was happening.

In one move Celina cut back inside one or two oncoming defenders, only to move right across the halfway line when most games it’d be the 18 yard one. Such were the levels on which today’s contest was being played, in the context of a league leaving us behind in so many ways.

Town removed Waghorn after he lost his temper. A booking for a silly slap across the calves of Neves and then a demeanour that showed nothing had fallen right for a man so dangerous to most sides. McGoldrick came on to applause, but a sense that the physical approach that had so far kept the massive Boly unmoved at the back only served to make Coady sweep up a mess into Ruddy early in the half was the better bet to parity.

When Garner soon gave way to Sears with about ten minutes plus stoppages remaining, then Town’s gelatinous sticking approach to Wolves’ torrent of continental passing, playacting and possession football was reduced to trying to loosen a hit and run in the channels between their backline. Ward again staked a MOTM claim with another overlap deep down the right that allowed him to dummy Douglas, then beat him as landed and put in a reasonable cross. Alas, no one in the Town line up really had the head or heart to put the killer touch to any such move. It was frustratingly less effective than the one where Connolly tried to repeat his near post signature move from a corner, but was high and wide.

In counterpoint to this collection of near misses, Wolves spent the second half probing but not drawing blood again. The last few minutes of the game gave rise to better chances for them as their sub got the ball under his feet but not control without troubling Bart’s palms.

Resignation might be the talk of some Town fans, but there was a sense today that we were again a little bit more than just resigned to what was an obvious defeat. If the result was marginally better than recent trips to other second tier big boys such as Boro and Villa then the performance was miles ahead of those two, as were Wolves. With a dropping of points and even more places from the top six, it’s important that Town might be just off those sides at the top and not as far off a shot at the playoffs.

If the horrendous injuries that have kept so many out of the first team, are now affecting those established in it, then again, we can fear another drift toward those relegation places so many made our likely destination in the summer. How close we get to either won’t be final in the next month, but with many more modest and midtable teams to play it could be decided by the run we go on next. When that window opens, it’d be nice to think our season will not disintegrate because of little more than a stiff breeze.

Whatever the future holds for Mick McCarthy and Ipswich Town after this season, it’s clear Wolves and Nunes would have to monumentally screw it up now not to hear the Match of the Day boys bidding another Portuguese dugout prodigy a “welcome to the party, pal” come May.

Merry Christmas ya filthy animals.

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Middlesbrough v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 21:22:38
Moors, moors, moors. A scenic stomp up to Teeside to see a one-changed Town line up at Boro. Skipper Chambers moved Iorfa out of the eleven and Spence out in his place to right back. Gerken was nowhere to be seen on the bench and so the imposing figure of
Crowe warming up caught the eye.

In a game that saw temperatures plummet along with hope in a half empty stadium. What may have been 400 or so Town fans seemed like half of that, as the game kicked off but we never got going.

Former Town captain and current Boro one Grant Leadbitter, used his arms to stop lone striker Waghorn chasing down the kick off in strange NFL style. Boro built and broke but never really threatened. The 4-2-3-1 of Town was well suited to intercepting the long passing moves of a Boro side that didn’t look like it knew if it was a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3 or melting into matching us up in our own half.

Assombalonga was always front and centre, whilst Bamford skipped and threw his body down between defenders often as his partner, Braithwaite complimented this fluidity as he popped up on the left wing, or the space afforded to him between our backline and midfielders.

Celina’s first and best moment of the game allowed Waghorn to win an early corner but whereas our setpieces have been influential of late, they just looked close to being late. One in particular saw the Kosovan go short to Waghorn only for the lone man in double figures to softly give it away and let Boro escape forward yet again.

It was a badly scripted story of how well Boro would be dealt with, as all of their moves forward produced a good head or a calm one from Chambers, who along with Skuse read their intentions expertly. In fact, it was only their first attack where Skuse was caught ahead of his man and grabbed his shirt, that was the exception. Leadbitter was far more cynical. Collecting the man and a caution when Spence broke from their failed corner and was chopped down at knee height, to kill any hope of a counter attack.

Waghorn was essentially an island, drowning in a red sea of defensive pressure and presence. Boro fans berated my suggestion at half time that it was a game where there were potentially three different red cards, two of which came from the slipperiest skid of their formerly yellow streak down the middle of their team: Ayala.

Connolly nearly went out from a limb and was clattered to the ground during one corner. He came aground, only to motion to Chambers and the ref he was hit in the face with something by someone. It seemed a clearer strike than their front three had managed, but the referee got his head out of his arse and above water long enough to make the pair shake hands. After the Evertonian had thanked his aggressor, Ayala was encouraged. A stronger shout was the one-time canary going through the back of Waghorn on the halfway line. He got something of everything, but mostly the rub of the green to again see yellow rather than yellow again or worse.

Boro were not a dirty side, but from 20 minutes onwards Knudsen had one sleeve. Fluttering, like a flag on enemy soil as only his white cuff clung to his shoulder all half. He was nearly down to one leg, a simple clearance caught Braithwaite out. The Dane on Dane violence that ensued saw the Ipswich man’s standing leg taken out late and him left in a heap.

It was these moments of non-decisions that were Town’s main talking points at half time. We should have known when the first long ball forward landed on angry little Fabio’s arm. The linesman who could reach out and touch him, didn’t see him touch it.

When he lost track of Grant Ward and the Spurs man made his one sublime run of the game, only to be chopped down on the edge of the box one assumed a card was coming. Clean through and cleaned out, if it was for diving, then so be it. A dramatic T-shape from the man in the middle, a sarcastic V-shape or two from the away end in response.

Moments later Ward would this time turn provider. Fabio again lost him like he was Snow White and the ball whipped all the way through to Celina. Of all the men you’d want to have a touch, it’d be him. It wasn’t though. He controlled it like it was a presidential tweet, Huws got the loose ball and his slamming shot deflected for a Skuse scoop. Randolph was gleefully relieved I assume to see it away, with Waghorn snapping at slim pickings.

A Boro goal was always coming, but when Assombalonga leapt out of Chambers’ pocket and past Webster, Bart was up to the task to palm his effort away for a corner. But it would be a corner on which the game turned. A messy scramble and Spence laid prone on the floor. For once Braithwaite was on time to the ball with a decent and firm bullet beyond Bart.

It was a gut-shot from a largely gutless attack. Town had been great off the ball, but frustrating on it. Huws who had been outmuscled by men half his size, and ponderous in control did not return for the second half. Neither did the ref as the tannoy announced his 4th official would replace him. Presumably the equally effective paper bin in Monk’s office will be lodging an appeal through its union.

It was a game of two refs, and two goal-bound chances. Knudsen who had been good going forward, did just that only to meet the ball going past him. Boro spotted the gap and who else would pounce but Bamford. Slicker than his hair, he danced at Webster like he had Bart last time he scored against us. Questions had been asked of the ball-playing centre-back but he was left stumped and rooted as a quality second rifled past Bart. The game turned and so did stomachs.

Mick’s plans may have been best laid, but there was no rest for whoever was now the 4th official. Up his illuminated board went twice. Ward and Celina off and Bishop and Sears on to join Garner. To hear Celina and Sears bid farewell and welcomed alike with encouraging shouts such as “piss off you’re ****” from one critic rather set the tone amidst the silence.

It was frustration and petulance matched earlier by the loanee’s booking when he held back his man on halfway. When Town had been on the receiving end of similar the ref missed it, as his predecessor had Knudsen grabbing shirt in the box previously with no regard to disguise it. Swings and roundabouts but no joy.

The game descended back into its coma and so did the ground. Cold and dead, there was a sense that every time Ipswich would break, our hosts wouldn’t. As the lack of midfield from an off-colour Connolly and wide options of Waghorn (who before that had dropped deep) and Sears could not break down the extra man needed to corral them at every turn to goal.

Gestede followed after Johnson as Boro only needed a focal point to lump and laserly ping balls at. If the legs had deserted both Leadbitter and the now departed Downing, the experience and quality hadn’t.
The former England winger now glides around the pitch just off the sitting midfielders. His technique was astounding all game. He met volleys, picked passes and placed shots with the switch of stance you can’t teach at that age. With two goals, they didn’t need to carry that sort of weapon and switched to more rapid fire, carpet bombing.

Braithwaite and Assombalonga had the guts of Knudsen and Chambers to thank for deflecting chances away from goal or into Bart’s hands. In fact, it was frustration that again saw the Dane dive in late on Spence and stud the full back to the floor to collect the overdue card.

It’s hard to recount any danger Randolph was really under. Waghorn left Leadbitter with a sore head as his shot looped off him and into the keepers’ arms. Christie appeared to pull up after a foot race with Sears only to carry on after rubbing something out of his calf. He would later hilariously miskick in the area under pressure. Only for Ayala to save his blushes and a sure chance of a consolation.
Garner was pushed and pulled but went down too easily. When again the ref didn’t see the reason for a Town player to be on the floor and Ayala to be on the scene, it was the histrionics of the recruit from Rangers that was his undoing.

With a performance that to a man was too often underwhelming, it’s hard not to see a reflection of the recent away trip to follower recent-Premier League Villa. Where the Villains had enough quality to muscle and pump their balls over us into submission, Boro just needed to do enough to pass us in the table and out of the game. So, they did.

If Monk is the younger successor to Mick, then just give him £40m and he’s your man. 4-4-2 and just enough to outperform us you can see why they want him gone on Riverside for only just doing it today. For all their depth of quality Boro play like they are often standing still when they should be trampling teams.

Town meanwhile look like a team on the end of a long run of games. Physically and mentally tired, all too often if we found the right position it was our decision making which let us down. With Huws so poor, Waghorn so alone and Garner joining Celina and Connolly in being so ineffective, you know these are not bad players but just bad patches. Maybe Bishop did enough today to show Mick he could stop the bleeding and grab a start soon enough?

If the game was as tepid and allegorical as the ten years of pennies from Evans, then so was the message it sends. We’re not a bad side, but we’re not often good enough to run into the bigger boys and come out on top. Time’s tide will smother us eventually though.
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Aston Villa v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 20:42:48
Four scored saw four changes for Town as they went to Villa park on the back of Wednesday’s hit and run. Knudsen returned at one full back berth as Iorfa took the other. Chambers and Webster stood in front of Bart as expected. Connolly and Skuse sat in midfield with Sears on the left, Ward on the right and Waghorn shifting between Garner and Villa’s back line.

It was a smaller away contingent than last year, but the plus 30k crowd had little to say on a very matter of fact Championship affair. Skuse made an early interception from the kick off only to stumble and make another one at his own expense. The resultant corner sparked off an early passage of pressure from a home side who had just a little bit more about them in so many areas.

Former Canary Snodgrass drew disproportional ire from a handful of blues as well as drawing in Knudsen and Webster as he did his best impression of a Tesco finest Darren Currie. Everything went on the drop of his left shoulder in from the touchline at predictable walking pace, including some excellent set pieces.

The sheer size and ability of Villa as a team rather than a club told early on and all-day long. Physicality and poise in every department saw Hutton winning lots in the air at either end but hassled and hurried by Sears’ defensive runs on him and goal. One overlap to Knudsen produced a great cross which Ward did well to find, but really should have found the net with a better shot.

Makeshift centre back Jedinak alongside Chester had an easy time as everything Garner did, drew disdain and a free kick their way, from a ref with only eye and one arm all too often. By comparison Town lacked even more in the balls department.

On 15 another good move from Town saw another good corner from Waghorn. The pacey inswinger spun out of Johnstone’s flap and dropped for Garner to crash home on the rebound. Jubilation turned to humiliation as no one stopped, no one flagged, no one saw anything wrong except one man.

At the other end Ipswich struggled to keep up. Iorfa did well to shackle Adomah on the left who like Snodgrass cut in every time he could, but he had two feet and enough guile to get past his man now and again. The other person struggling to keep up was a linesman who missed 3 clear offsides because he was so far behind, he was presumably looking for Dwight Yorke to run clear.

When you have a defence so good at winning the first ball, then giving away the second it was only a matter of time before one of the six people watching either our back or goal line, made a mistake which told. Bart and the boys had claimed everything thrown at them from long ball, corners and miscues which had amounted to a handful of decent but not deadly chances from defence to attack in the form of Jedinak and Davis.

Town meanwhile had managed to make good runs on the bounce and bustle of Garner but neither Ward or Sears really got a clear sniff at goal thanks to hoovering up after them from Hutton and Taylor. When Jedinak finally relented having landed funnily a while, he was replaced by what looked like two men in one shirt. Christopher and/or Samba shuffled on to the pitch and cast a long shadow over either front man. All without the need to step too far.

Town’s 4-2-3-1 worked hard, but not necessarily well as the home side moved quickly with power and composure on and off the ball.
Connolly snapped at everything in the air and allowed Skuse to press much higher again. The senior member of the defensive duo often stalled play in both directions with a foot under the ball for lofted ambitious dinks that never quite set anyone away in either colour shirt.

The Evertonian on loan was even more impressive after a nasty header-cum-headbutt from Davis who missed the ball and laid out the much smaller man on the deck. What looked at first like a clean knockout saw Chambers rush in paternally and rouse the youngster. He would carry on and so would the game in familiar fashion. Glen Whelan who had spent most of his time in midfield acting as a third centre back every time Villa collected a clearance. The backline flexed into a curved five and one of the three defenders launched something forward which punched at a staggering Town.

When Chambers attempted similar, Ward and company ran forward, but the ball did not, landing behind them and spinning backwards it was Whelan who looked to pick out Adomah. The deadly wideman didn’t need his head start as the linesman wondered what all the fuss was about long after he had dropped Bart a dummy and beaten the prone Pole.

In a game of next goal wins that began at 3pm, Town had just had 1 if not 3 points snatched away twice in a week, with nearly an hour of the game left to go. 5pm could not come soon enough.

The second half saw little change, initially the ability to stand up and count on your frame or footwork only belonged to a host team who impressive in doing the basics. That was something which had deserted the Blues the moment Adomah fired home long ago.

Former Town man Hourihane rarely caught the eye like he did at Barnsley, but his purring play ticked over as he stabbed passes in and around dangerous areas. In response Skuse and Connolly ate up a lot of ground and left scraps for the centrebacks but too often Webster was either casual or Iorfa kamikaze. The right back charged forward time and again and sometimes he did it with the ball too. His first foray in the second half saw him turn inside and hit a low shot/cross which cause all kinds of problems. Mainly for us, as the settled clearance left us chasing back.

It was a warning.

One Town should have heeded and Iorfa headed as the killer ball left him slipping and eating grass as who else but Adomah ate it up. Racing clear he finished easily and infuriatingly. Villa didn’t so much have a foot on our neck, but a knee on our belly as we flopped and fitted at a level just beneath theirs all over the park.

Flicks from threatening crosses were both our best attacks and their best defence of an early attempt at a comeback. By now, there was little left in a game where Town’s major highlights were the substitutes. Not because they did a lot, but because they represent so much.

Huws and Celina replaced Sears and Ward. The Welshman who had returned with an assist in midweek sat centrally as Waghorn who had been ineffective in open play revolved around either full back where his muscular output looked slightly more effective.

The young Kosovan meanwhile showed what a polarising figure he can be. You either get a killer decision or a promising position out of him. His first contribution was to take the ball back inside and towards goal to start of a quick break, unfortunately for Villa. Minutes later he opted to chip a beautiful cross onto the head of Huws. The midfielder was alas, too deep on the edge of the box to do little more than cushion it out for a goal kick.

Once this struggling of getting to grips with the Midlanders other than to concede possession, cards in the case of Connolly and then Huws who won the ball, possibly the man and howls of disgust. All after being kicked in the aftermath by at least one handbag swinging Villain. It was a frustrating relief to see him get a caution instead of the red one home player deserved but looked destined for him.

With twenty minutes, Town’s chances and hopes plummeted with the temperature. Farce became the theme of the final act. Having made a howler, Iorfa screamed forward in another display of impressive athleticism. Unfortunately, he burst past and blew everyone away in a moment of the wrong kind of football a day too late for Thanksgiving. Collapsing behind the goal, the ball out of play and his hamstring looking out of alignment if not his leg, he lay in agony and ignominy as the home fans jeered and rejoiced in his misfortune.

On came Teddy Bishop, from the depths of the bench and not the physio room. His little legs were pumping on the touchline and so were Blue hearts as the ginger sensation sent a tingle through nearly numb limbs around the away end. Connolly had already moved to RB in the inordinate amount of time Town were reduced to ten men and awaiting the no.7 to make his bow.

With Town heads already dropped and not having a prayer, the opening double tackle that broke down a Brummie break just inside their half saw the homegrown Bishop roared on approvingly. He made a single slide a few minutes later that was enough to show the desire was still there, but perhaps not the dynamic runs or raking passes of yore just yet.

Webster was Town’s main outlet for that sort of thing and every lofted attempt to find Celina or Knudsen in behind Hutton and then the late addition of El Mohamady fell short or dropped long. It was hard to think of real save Johnstone had to make. The early protection that spared that spared his blushes were not the main cause of Town fans seeing red.

Whoever had corporate box 11 behind us, said or did something that saw a few dozen Suffolk boys lose their composure and focus on the game far more than the ones out on the pitch. Stewards radioed and remonstrated in mild urgency as beshirted stirrers of the proverbial were asked to sit down, when bravely facing fury from those they had a few inches of Perspex to hide behind. Those in more casual attire risked having their collars felt as tempers flared. It was the most drama we’d see all day.

Town fell a place and into pieces long before the final whistle came. The usually high calibre of Bart, Skuse, Garner and the spine of the side drooped worse than Celina’s embarrassing swan dive when faced with the prospect of beating his man for a second time late on.

Desperation and inadequacy ran through Ipswich far deeper than the double-scorer Adomah had all day.

Overall, there was every reason to feel aggrieved with bad decisions, but our own side made enough to bury those rather than any incisive openings. It was days like today that show why we’ll always be part of the chasing pack, and ultimately easy prey for bigger more equipped animals in the second-tier jungle this season.

With McGoldrick missing with reason, the attack worked but didn’t come off in a game where movement alone was not enough. The re-emergence of Huws and Bishop gives hope. The standout of the day was again the lad we don’t own who started where they finished in midfield. There’s a bit more depth and potential to swim towards the current contenders. But likewise, with the injured and error prone nature of either right back the softest spot of a defence still not all there, Town could still sink back into midtable and muddle through until we hit some kind of end.
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Burton Albion v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 19:59:37
Town’s form ahead of the trip to the Pirelli had been dropping like a guillotine. With revolution and malcontent in the air, but little seemingly on the block; McCarthy again changed his side. Bart once more had Spence, Chambers, Webster and Knudsen as a very clear back four. Skuse partnered Nydam in the centre and then all four strikers were thrown ahead of them. Garner the only centre-point in the centre circle. Waghorn started on the right and Sears on the left with McGoldrick moving between them.

Burton fans talked of their yellow brick wall last season, and looked to it infrequently this time again to cement their survival. In a game where the Blues fans made up a large proportion of the 4 thousand odd crowd in a ground and club so far out of place, but not undeserved of their Championship status, it was a glimpse of what we could have more often if the run continues.

It was a game of anti-football, Burton didn’t want us to play and we seemed to repeat back every stuttering header and two touch and chip movement in stilted politeness. It took Ipswich twenty minutes or so to make anything resembling a chance, and between that time they just made every fan in the away L behind Bart’s goal tetchy, frustrated and fearful.

McGoldrick was largely a passenger until he drove forward to bury a soft shot into Ripley’s hands. With that his other notable contribution was making use of two very good runs. Waghorn drew half the yellow defence with a diagonal bolt, Sears went on an umpteenth straight-line dash. The former Hammer received an expert pass, worked into a great position then failed to land a blow with a puffy cross to no one.

The width Burton were afforded game largely in the fact that Town had plenty of options off the ball never the right one. Sordell slid through the back of Webster after only a few minutes, but every other time he did it with the ball. Knudsen and Nydam did a good job of shielding out the former Trotter and Akins. However, there were two occasions were the Dane gave away a throw just by standing up. Mistiming his challenge, when he picked himself up the ball pinged off his shin or standing foot. Such was the manner in of Ipswich’s ineptitude at times.

Seeing Spence outpaced by the aging Warnock late in the half was easily as depressing and alarming. It was a half where Chambers verbally rebuked a linesman not up with play as much as anyone else around him. Burton made use of a strong breeze towards the right corner, Bart’s kicking time and again dropped shallow with backspin off a yellow head, or blue body away from us and into danger.

If any of Dyer, Akins or Sordell could shoot Town would deservedly have been behind. Bart injured his shoulder when spilling a fairly routine shot. He did well to atone at the onrushing feet and smother the ball. He spent the rest of the half windmilling his left arm.

The blowing and swirling elements of both the weather and the play made for terrible viewing. As corners were overhit as much as crosses from a home side who look capable of everything but finding the goal. Town seemed to switch formation without really matching them in any significant way. Sears and Waghorn changed flanks, McGoldrick then took up the left side when they finished the half on the right, everyone else remained the same. Especially when Dids did not, matching up Burton’s ability to find the side netting. Unfortunately.

Something had to change, but not Mick or the team. The sun came out and so did both sides. The neutrals had little more to feast their eyes on as Town’s central midfield consisted of Skuse winning the ball and then getting it back again to repeat the trick. Lund and Murphy for Burton both had attempts on, across and near the goal.

It was the efforts of those that warned Town first, then caused the opening goal for a team who hadn’t scored in a handful of games. Who else but us could serve one up to them? A smart shot palmed wide excellently by Bart. The resultant corner another example of what happens when you don’t pick up runners or those riding their markers. A tidy header and easy lead. Turner clawed himself onto the scoresheet like he had Garner all day with far greater importance.

The fact that all Town could manage from a corner previously was a soft scramble, and Chambers obstructing someone to earn a needless booking was a stark contrast. From here the boos and protests that had been brewing well before the game started to eke out like a wet fart of dissent. The air was rank once the home fans gushing went flat.

Change did come, but from left-field in more ways than just the dug outs being there in relation to us. Bru emerged from the depths to replace Nydam to a chorus of boos and disbelief. Tucking in on the left next to Skuse, his first contribution was a neat loop to Knudsen who showed a consistent touch and lack of control.

It wasn’t long before Town significantly found their feet and form. Garner who had proved himself predictably irritating in the middle took the ball on the right and danced with his defensive equivalent. Interplay between ball and man, saw efforts come and come back to the frontman. Spinning clear off the invention of McGoldrick, and into the path of Waghorn the goals per game king crowned the move with a thunderous drive.
The bullet went through many bodies and tangled limbs and looked destined to be ricocheted out, but it wasn’t. Sunk between the mouth of the goal and home fans’ ribcages as the away terrace bounced off one another’s in relief.

The right side could have delivered the killer blow as Waghorn again found himself in the box. A deathly hush as the scorer tried to assist Sears. He clipped a tight-angled effort across Ripley and the goal. Sears was half an inch away from glory as a corner was given presumably because Ripley got a touch and not out of pity for either player failing to.

Soon after that Sears ran his last line as Ward wrote his first on the dram yet to unfold.
The second sub to be greeted with derision and disbelief didn’t really deserve it. A neat and tidy wide option, he made the Brewers think twice more than once. Meanwhile McGoldrick now playing a sort of Darren Currie tribute by himself on the left, suddenly cut inside and lashed another shot that looked the part but fixed nothing as it settled the wrong side of the post.

Varney a fan favourite from McCarthy’s glory days entered the fray to his signature song from us, not them. It wasn’t even close to the strangest thing you’d see or hear today. Abuse and protests towards the manager subsided and grew between encouragement for the players. By now everyone but Mick was calling for Celina.

The scoundrel of last night’s twitter infamy had 1400 characters calling for him, as social media made real started singing his name; all the while his teammates battled and bullied in equal fervour, but to far less convincing effect. Bru won the ball in impressive fashion knocking his man and the matchball sideways, Waghorn was unfortunately too far away to help, but right in the ref’s ear and his expletive-laden reaction put him in the book too.

The home side had been all over us for more than hour and bar the odd move and moment Town had simply been all over the place. It took a few minutes more to see those already on their feet applauding. Celina came on, McGoldrick went off and the striker on the wing, came off for someone who’s still either a striker or a winger.

With expectations and tempers high, the diminutive Kosovan had all eyes on him. Dancing on the turn past his man, he sent Knudsen away only for the Dane to try, and fail. His cross not bothering the near post as a crowd either side of the goal expected more.

Again, fans willed the ball back to the final sub when it came back towards them and he managed to run past everyone, and the far post on the edge of the box as the opportunity disappeared as quickly as it came.

It would prove third time a charm as the youngster won a soft freekick expertly. If Waghorn’s clipping of his own heels had been masterful, the Man City kid’s a valiant effort fortune clearly favoured. All 8 stone of him rose and fell under the challenge of Warnock as he crashed to turf on the edge of the box so did Burton’s day.

A long time coming, Celina, Skuse and Waghorn stood over the ball. Next to me a stranger and I pondered the fairytale of winning skill and winning effort “It’s not going to be him is it? It’s on his right foot”. Well it was, and what a strike. Right in line with me, it bent and snuck between the post likely a sniper’s round, a moment where you could be happy to die. Emotions, grace and belief went awry as the youngster wheeled away in delight that outdid any sense of ego.

Off came his shirt as he milked his moment dry, a strange jumping dance action in celebration as the cocky little genius stood in all his plucked chicken glory. Mobbed by his team mates as we mobbed each other. There was a sense of consequential dread as he picked up the predictable disciplinary, a yellow card and game of “where’s my shirt?”. Getting dressed and a vague dressing down from the official he trotted back. Mick clapped him with three quick slaps of his palms barking and pointing at the rest of the side to see out the game. Back to basics and back in business for the four minutes of injury time.

Post-fistpumps and with the glow of getting away with it at its brightest, two Burton fans assured us that was the best they had played all season. We assured them it was the worst we’d played for a long time. Pragmatic about their survival it’s hard to apologise and not smirk a little.

Again, the poison came to a head, the uncertainty of fans, players and manager were all on display. A lack of belief all round apart from one man, in one moment, stole 3pts and arrested the slide. What system did we play today? Who cares? It’s not worth trying to work out but it is a problem for tomorrow. Tonight we can consider how Mick has changed a game for a handful of times this season and turned draws into wins, those that came before Celina will not feature in the headlines or forethoughts, but the turning and tightening of the screw by Ward and Bru’s inclusion paid off when Bersant nailed it.

One of the worst, weirdest and wonderful games I’ve seen in over 25 years of Town, and best of all, there was something for everyone tonight.
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Sheffield United v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 20:16:04
It’s been a long time coming. Town’s return to the steelier side of Sheffield has been years in making, and much like their form this season it was pleasing to see at first, but finally too much to bear come 5pm.

The loss of Garner to a knee injury meant a surprising line up in part, but unsurprising deployment of 3-5-2 ahead of Bart. Chambers being flanked by Webster and Knudsen came up against the duo of Sharp and Clarke. Around them was Iorfa and Kenlock acting as wingbacks to form the defensive lip of a shallow 5-man bowl. Skuse sat behind Nydam and Ward and McGoldrick was nominally a strike partner for Waghorn, whose inclusion as a striker meant Didsy was often drifting towards Iorfa as a sort of winger.

The game started in bright unseasonable sunshine and a din across the lower tier. A massive following keen to see a resurgence in form, or a forgotten venue, or both; were making a grand noise. Aided in part by the rest of the 25k crowd in the home ends.

It was a half where Town had again made do with those available, and made the conscious decision to neutralise rather than corrode, the confidence of a side whose bounce from league one clearly had them sky high. Whether through formation or functionalist football, the quick build-up of pressure and play towards the away end by the home side was met gamely.

When Didsy found a perfectly weighted Knudsen through ball pleasing to the touch, he dragged play down with some technical drawing of defenders, before finding Waghorn too hurried and too close to the near post now to fire off anything effective. It was a design of things to come, both in terms of the unfamiliar attack and its scarcity.

There were passages of play punctured by a ref many felt was a homer. Certainly, it seems, one could again question the weekly calibre of second tier officials, but one must also question the recurring naivety of a Town side that seems to play into the hands of opposition so happy to drop to the floor when all else is shut out.

When Leon Clarke was booked for redirecting an already airborne Grant Ward with a clumsy slide from behind, the obvious yellow was met with predictably obvious glee of a congregation clamouring for momentary judgement when our salvation today looked unlikely.

Several corners ensued as Sharp looked the, well sharpest Blade out there early on. The number 10 snuck up on our centrebacks like time had on a career of non-Premier League heroics. While he and Clarke sounded like a crime fighting duo of Victorian literature, they proved to be both aged and experienced in giving Bart and several blue shirts either side of him palpitations.

There is no doubt that 3-5-2 doesn’t suit us. It fits all the right players in the all wrong places like a baggy t-shirt of tactical utility. Skuse seemed to get a foot to everything and if not a head, by 25 mins Ward and Nydam had switched sides, but the momentum of the half really hadn’t.

When through balls did find Waghorn or McGoldrick, they had the touch and time to bring red and white stripes scurrying back, but not enough blue shirts into the game. McGoldrick took one run from deep from the left flank and when it looked like everything was falling in to place to beat Blackman he produced possibly the worst and most uncharacteristic shank. It bounced off the hoardings with a thunk that said in a syllable why we just weren’t going to kill off the Blades.

Likewise, Town had two attempts to tap in a low cross from right to left. When McGoldrick was the supplier in the earlier attempt there was no one there to apply the killer touch. When Ward whipped one in to a crowded box just before half time, there were too many bodies and not one calm head. A long break due to a presumably nasty injury for Freeman. One of the many unfancied names, that made you remember how good the home side are collectively, it affected them and us for diametrically opposed reasons.

If McGoldrick is a No.10 in a world of false 9’s, Webster tried to shake off the positional rust by stepping out ahead of the defence in a manner way apart from the true 6’s of old. The like of Venus or Linighan wouldn’t be seen dead patrolling in such a semi-circular manner. It didn’t really work. The man hasn’t started since January, and that ballistic right foot of his sent wayward skid missiles at, past and towards team mates all too often.

Town looked more likely to snatch a lead in a 45minute spell that had seen Kenlock turn inside on the line and use his weaker foot to drop passes and play out of trouble. It was a much-improved performance rekindling the promise we’d seen so often since his debut.

At the far end the two young Premiership loanees had contrasting approaches to their defensive duties. For a big lad Cameron Carter-Vickers liked to let the ball bounce and then boot it away. More often than once it set us free, and challenged the gangly Blackman to dally in possession when needed. The Chelsea keeper spun on the edge of his area more than once, both with ball in hand and at his feet and each time looked likely to gift us something we just couldn’t manufacture ourselves.

The second half came as a chance to see Town attacking towards us, and there were plenty of pairs of lungs keen to inhale the ball our way and into the net. It took just a few ticks of the minute hand to put blue heads in theirs. Before falling to Fleck of all people, you knew the Norwich connection would produce a sweet one, as Basham skipped into the air and met an excellent cross unannounced to head home.

Iorfa had already come in for some criticism, it was conspicuous when you considered his absence in a move that was so simple from the side he was patrolling. But to single him out when so many were at fault for not doing the same to Basham might be unfair. Webster had after all clearly been instructed to ramble against a side so well drilled. Chambers and Knudsen also had had their moments of getting to grips with man and not ball too.

What had troubled Town also bothered United as Nydam found a wonderful incision not long after. A defence splitting ball in the proper and uncliched surgical sense fell to Waghorn. The man who had a goal every 81 minutes this season, looked certain to crunch his own numbers in this 90. Another example of excellent touch and control not always obvious from the North-Eastern attacker. Instead his superb shot crunched off the bar, a beaten Blackman and blues all over couldn’t believe it.

Mick decided there was space in which to play and removed Kenlock. It was clearly not akin to his removal at Barnsley as Town switched to a 4-3-3. Waghorn and Ward the widemen and McGoldrick less up top, and seemingly not up to turning the game like he had any man charged with dispossessing him.

The 4-3-3 would soon change again as Nydam and the injury-prone Irishman were removed. It turned out to be a clever choice. Neither team were accustomed to draws and artistry was lost in a clash so coloured by industry and midfield collectivism. The introduction of Sears and Celina as widemen completely changed the face and pace of Town’s threat.

Knudsen meanwhile dealt with Sheffield’s best chance to double the lead by halving their striker. Picking up a yellow card as he got up off the youngster who had kept him from the turf and an unblemished disciplinary record.

Clumsiness was another trait shared by both sides when Clarke had a chance from looked like 3 yards to finish everything. Bart saved easily. Too easily in fact. It was also Clarke who hit the bar in similar but not quite as impressive fashion as Waghorn had, such was their profligacy and the pondering nature of a game where neither side seemed demonstrably better than the other.

Celina had the more memorable moments of the double substitution. Closing down the ball and turning his man, but out of play from Knudsen’s clever work. He also spun a cross from deep over the bar and outside of the front post with a box full of players waiting. His first touch of the game had been a header from a corner, he was the wrong man in the right place and so it continued all afternoon. He beat two men with tow touches as he careered into the area only to have a toe poke it off his with glory beckoning and fate slowly shaking its wrist harshly toward the young star.

Sears meanwhile had look so often a lost cause all season, but chased them better than anyone in Yorkshire today. More than once he forced CCV into an error, despite being awarded the MOTM gong by the home fans. The young defender gave away fouls and possession as he had earlier in the game. Unfortunately, time was against Town, not the imperceptive officials.

You can see why the equaliser never came. Too many mistakes in play and preparation cost us. But whilst we edged out narrowly again to a side who sat in and around top spot. Mick’s home county has gone from providing many happy returns, to little for us to celebrate. The Blades are more like another red and white striped side when they came up and bothered the playoffs a while back.

As clubs they couldn’t really be further from Brentford in geography and ideology, and more like us in size and shared memories but ultimately United might fall short of promotion and understandably so. There’s no disgrace in the wonderful way they’re going about things right now.

With our sensational form, receding into defeats either side of the international break and memory beyond, the upcoming derby looks even more significant. From relegation favourites, to not quite fan favourites, the bar has been set much higher because of August. As we look to finally record a win years in the waiting next Sunday, it’s as important for the return of the natural order as it is the momentum that we thrived upon only weeks ago.
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Leeds United v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 19:56:15
“…Right up there com’t end o’t’season” said a local chewing chips, and all the vowels possible in my ear as we walked away from Elland Rd. today. His unsolicited interruption to me serenading Snr with breathless, sweaty, swear words and post-match expressions of pride down the phone was as unclear as the significance of today’s result. Whether he meant us, them or both we’ll never know.

It’s fair to say, before kick-off the black clouds and smiling locals rolled into suburban Leeds with ominous speed. Less “welcome to ‘Ell” more welcome to the dreary overpriced service station you’d rather not stop at but always have to on the ring road to the Devil’s residence.

Mick named a side with two changes and no clear formation until it took to the field. Bart started the game with flat banks of four and two strikers. Knudsen and Iorfa had Chambers and Spence in between them. Nydam and Ward the pinched wingers beside Skuse and Adeyemi. McGoldrick and Garner doing as they pleased way up top.

The game started with the first of many easy interceptions for Skuse. The westcountryman handed responsibility for getting forward quickly as Town first pushed down the right-hand flank, were turned all the way back to Bart with a second more frenetic a second, more frenetic move down the left.

Leeds seemed to have done their homework on us, and their shopping all over Europe. Eunan O’Kane is a man I’ve wanted at Town for many years. Sometimes, they hid him in the heart of defence between Ayling, Shaughnessy and Cooper. As the game moved in stilted passages, Leeds switched from 2-5 in the defensive and middle units of their team.
Up top they had the superb Hernandez as a secondary number 10 out on the left and complementing him, the wonky winger Alioski. It was the Macedonian who held that numbered shirt but cut in from the right on his left foot every time, much to Jonas’ confusion.

When their central secondary striker went through and then fell under Spence’s awkward challenge a baffling card and kick combination was served up to the Blue and was the last thing anyone let alone the proverbial Doctor ordered.

Completing their ferocious strike force was a hulking no.9 who looked like a middle-aged Sunday Leaguer who didn’t know how to give it up. At first glance, he seemed only interested in his own reflection, but under that lumbering frame was one hell of an engine and clever transience on the ball. Every move saw the white van of a man hang out aggressively in Spence’s blind spot before manoeuvring dangerously across the centre-backs. It took just 12 minutes and simple pass from the hosts, for him to fire low past a helpless Bart.

If Town were often too static and strung out in wire tight lines across the pitch, then Didsy was at times utterly electric. Knudsen started well, but soon succumbed to clumsy touches of the ball and Alioski, getting caught cold or flat footed in either direction. His eventual booking for pulling back a man who had less turning options than Zoolander summed up his trajectory in the first half from clear stand out, to stranded time and again. A short throw routine with our injury-prone striker should have produced better than a fumbled exchange that put most of our side out of position and chasing back.

In one move McGoldrick earned a corner having brought down a clever through ball from Skuse. Stopping it in mid-air on the edge of his smaller toes, he tipped and tapped through a whole defence but only found a corner when the net beckoned and the only defender in touching distance pushed the ball away. In contrast, the impressively reckless Garner did similar with a more bouncing set up and swing that went wide when glory beckoned. Both either side of a glorious move that saw Didsy again skip into danger and push it across the six-yard box just beyond the waiting Garner for an easy finish.

Grant Ward had a lot of luck down the line and up against Anita at left back. The former Spur flew past the former Magpie with impressive ease. A lot of this came from Mick’s early shuffle. Skuse remained the anchor as Nydam and Adeyemi tucked up and in to form a midfield V to catch a lot of play thanks to Leeds’s positional indiscipline.
When parity came, it was hard to say if it we deserved it. Some attacks had seen all ten Blue shirts defending set pieces and counters, however the Championship is a numbers game and out rise so far is the kind of sh1t that don’t add up.

Garner and Ward had been revelling in pressing back defenders all game, and sometimes the keeper. In fact, one rush forward from Ward saw the bizarrely cavalier Wiedwald met him close to the halfway line. Clearly the flying lime distracted the winger and he was mugged to the delight and relief of 14,000 enthralled day-trippers and even more regulars in the home ends. What did tell was Garner’s more muscular approach as he won a foul cutely near the line. Whipped in across the face of goal, the unsteady German could only stumble backwards as Didsy drove home a headed stunner.

The whole away end seemed to pause in unison as the ball hit the net like a body in icy water. When the breath and belief returned so did the 600 voices in celebration. Town players coolly sipped Powerade bottles around Mick in celebration and satisfaction.

The rehydration and relief soon splashed back on Blue laps as Leeds streaked forward. Again, questions may be asked as defending men were lost in the fog of longball, and Bart could only fill the space between the last man and the only one rushing forward to meet the ball and dispatch it. Kalvin Phillips would do little else, or need to as he restored the lead in sickeningly quick time all too easily.

With more to come and a quarter of an hour or so left before the break, it was great to see Town almost give the game away then rescue it all before the interval. Yet again Spence was stalked into getting caught slipping as the lively (cheating, dislikeable little) Saiz somehow ran clear only to have a Captain’s block stop his axe blow of a shot and deflect it away.

Soon up the other end Town had moved in little formational triangles, and muscular direct football that flirted with 4-3-3. Clearly the Leeds fans and players feared it, as Ward fired a sweeping back post corner past the flailing fists of their keeper. It dropped out for a second one from the other side. Again, they left someone to run at them, it turned out to be Luke. Warm applause for an unwitting Anita who had stood still all game, and it finally paid off as he planted on the line and let the header fly away from him like he had when tested by Ward and Garner all half.

Town were out early for the second half and unchanged only in terms of personnel. Nydam no longer floated around in front of the Dane but had clearly been ordered to shadow O’Kane and stamp out his ability to hurt us from deep. It worked well.

Adeyemi had a clear run at the back four thanks to Christiansen being short-sighted enough not to move his side around. Mick on the other hand had conspired to see us now moving it around as if were the much better side but much lower in the league. Possession is 9/10ths of the boring excuses for your team being sh1t these days, but all it did was rekindle the contest.

When Didsy moved from just behind Garner to just behind Skuse, a tantalising run for yard after yard gave the illusion that the bloke who is always breaking down was bearing down on goal unchecked. Finally felled it was the right result in the wrong place. A shaky short one to Knudsen who was the only left foot on the field capable of shooting, proved a cross is sometimes better.

When Garner again untangled himself from playing the man and space behind him on the line (and rarely going over it), he produced a cross almost as expertly crafted as his offensive routine. It would be the last thing Anita would do as he was switched before the resulting corner. McGoldrick had ghosted into space but saw Ayling go to ground to win something fairly for once. Clearly the former Bristol full back has a name that is Anglo-Saxon for massive lump of ponytailed human blancmange. He hit the turf time and again without shame, even then Nydam was the tiny gust of wind putting him there, and he got the decision every time.

There would be one more galling and telling one soon to come. If Bart might be blamed a little for the second goal, when Leeds made it three against the run of play and undeservedly he was certainly credited with it. Parrying the ball downwards from a corner, only one man knew what the naked eye could never do. An 80’s dance move thanks to 90’s tennis technology and a decision the colour of infra-red. It won us the game against Brentford, but ultimately meant all was lost when 90 mins came, as 70 mins approached.

Mick had already been signalling to one of three attacking subs warming up, as the home side jogged back under a rare barrage of noise he signalled to two more. Nydam and Ward understandably withdrawn. Leeds looked susceptible to pace, so Celina then Sears entered the fray as the game ended for two players who had done well in places.

Nydam might have surprised a few today, and at times looked every bit the kid in the game, but when he tangled with all comers and had one or two nice passes and a shot come off he looked every bit the man. Ward who can be so flaky, was smoothly versatile and useful all day but didn’t have the legs and tools to keep unlocking Leeds.

If Town couldn’t answer the conceded goal as quickly as Leeds had before the break, the 5 mins it took them felt like an eternity. Iorfa had been rampaging forward with more success and regularity as the game opened up. There are times when everyone in the ground doubts if his legs know exactly what they want to do, Dominic included; but when one scrambling run saw him find space on the cusp of the area he opted to use his shot as a cross. The reassuringly flappy German again spilled and this time right into the waiting path of Garner. Joey jumped at his chance to ram something other than an elbow down opposition throats and slammed the ball into the goal as the ground rang with just 600 voices or so, and alarm woke Yorkshire eyes wide once more.

For a set of fans fixated with the ills of Manchester, their unintelligible version of Love Will Tear Us Apart was an odd choice, yet fitting sentiment that has seen our own open letters underlining the state of Ipswich’s support right now much better than their taunting. Really what the home fans needed was some Atmosphere, as the last 20 minutes was given over to silence and pregnant pauses in play and posturing all over the ground.

A rare booking for a Leeds foul, and even rare decision our way saw more quality sapped from Leeds as Hernandez showed if he was capable of 90 mins he’d be at a club with more than just designs on being Premier League. Waghorn soon joined Sears and Celina as the final sub as MOTM McGoldrick was lovingly greeted in the stands and on the bench.

Mick left guile to the Kosovan now, as pace and power kept us on the front foot in a 4-2-get it up there and us streaming forward selection. The much-wanted winger looked to fit in well but made some odd decisions with his distribution. Step overs gave him ground and space but he drilled low crosses when floated ones threatened such a poor keeper, and would have been better. What he did show, was that we had something to offer games that needed changing and changes. That desired start is coming, and with playoff placers vs strugglers at Portman Rd. this Tuesday maybe it’ll be his night.

Delivering some much better corners at the death Town had every man bar Skuse up for Celina’s set pieces. The booking he earned was one of many vitally superb last-ditch tackles, he ran the captain close for today in terms of snuffing out any more unwarranted assaults on our goal difference.

Those that feared a beating before, will be ruing the fact that Town didn’t see the joy of six outside of a derby day. A draw would have been fair given the turn around and narrow margins between both teams.

If Leeds are truly promotion calibre, it’s amazing that we’re so close behind them right now. From the basement of Championship football, where fake Tom, Dick and ‘Arry’s don’t come back, the clogs of McCarthy’s men have again come thundering up the stairs only to get a face full of landing today. Expensive Italian loafers may rest uneasy on all our backs tonight. But if today’s showing is indicative of anything, then we’ve seen that for as long as we keep this up, up is where we’ll be heading.

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Barnsley v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 21:36:14
Rain greeted the away fans as it drizzled in our end on a slight wind, it had threatened to all day. Before the game some Barnsley fans relayed their frustration of 18 months or so as we compared notes. The feeling of having the squad sold from under them was clearly taking its toll and despite assurances “’Ecky were keppin’t lid on it” their lack of confidence in their side rang hollow. It was the polar opposite of ours once hundreds began drumming our way to ground in anticipation.

Plenty walking up the hill were walk-ups as the away end was fuller and louder than the 600 or so pre-sold, requests for spares common from lunch time on. Some of the new signings must have dined out on the musical tributes coming their way as all the new songs got an airing during the warm up.

Not since 2002 had Town won all three opening fixtures, it was a time of nu-metal, old media and the twilight of the careers of some of the fathers whose progeny littered both squads.

A baffling selection from Mick was shrugged off as Bart kept his place at the base of a 3-5-2. Knudsen and Spence flanked Chambers as wing backs Kenlock and Iorfa pressed ahead. Skuse had to chaperone both Downes and Nydam while Sears partnered Garner upfront. No Smith at all in the lineup caused mild concern, but the plan was clear. Barnsley’s 4-1-4-1 meant all eyes would be on the midfield.

As Town saw Chambers receive the ball directly from kick off and his punt forward fail to connect with either striker and lose use a throw, Garner did well down the flank to reverse the trend for a corner early on. Nydam all diddy and confident strutted over to take it. Downes came up to him short and like much of the first so did their execution, however well intended.

It put Town on the back foot and there they stayed for the half by and large. Today it was no surprise to see the right as fertile ground for dominance and the alternative attacking prospect of Dominic Iorfa hurtling towards you is enough to make giving way understandable. The on-loan Wolf was knocking at the Tykes’ door constantly. He had more crosses than Easter and none of them looked deadly. Redemption was yet to pass too.

At the other end, former McCarthy signing Hammill was delighting in tearing through and past Myles Kenlock who unlike the rest of us; had the kind of day he’ll want to forget. It was lucky that Knudsen’s one real error after ten minutes or so wasn’t costlier. Moncur stuck out all half, more than his rugrat hair piece. With a head like a furry onion he looked to make blue eyes cry when he received the Dane’s soft gift. All following Nydam being dragged in behind the wingback from a run receiving a curled pass off the outside of a Barnsley boot and drilled it on the spin back on target. Bart palmed to Bradshaw who with the goal all his, headed softly into the waiting gloves of Bialkowski.

Both Moncur and Potts have been linked with Ipswich and both linked with Hammill in doubling up on the left’s weaknesses. For every cross-field ball Knudsen managed to set away Iorfa, he had two or three moments of marking the man Kenlock didn’t. It is fair to say the shape of Town’s 3-5-2 wasn’t unorthodox it was akin to a sack of sh1t.

With all three centre-backs auditioning for the Webster role of pass pinger, it was the captain who moved the pieces of the back line as best he could. Cutting out the dangers of Bradshaw and co. with deft experience. When the deficit was made, again Kenlock will be glad Bradshaw will take all the credit. One of many communication errors between Bart and his defence gave away more than a corner. The one-time Walsall man put us up against it with a free header from another decent move.

It’s hard to say what worked well, rather than who worked hard. Garner and Sears pumped arms and legs in an effort to chase everything on the floor and over their heads. Nydam who took every set piece, but often failed to find a blue shirt did much better when he had one moment of time and space. Dropping the ball wonderfully over for Sears to get away but not put away the chance.

At the other end Bart was again excellent in stopping shot, after header, after scramble. With Garner clearing off the line and at the other end being cleared off the line our only real chance of the opening play, it was the Pole making his goal impenetrable again. When another free header from a corner dropped over the bar following a rare fumble home fans must have wondered what had happened. Their attackers saw very little reward for their work.

Town did improve as the half came to a close, breaking out more fluidly but failing to gel as the midfield three was two young and too inexperienced overall to command the game or the respect of the opposition. Skuse struggled to steer enough of the play or players around him and when Barnsley broke free yet again it looked to be game over before the break.

A suspiciously forward looking Bradshaw waited for the overlapping Moncur to slide between centre backs and test Bart when he should have bamboozled him. Hedges the much quieter of the attacking 5 had scored in injury time against Morecambe but failed to make a habit of it here.

You could not envisage a bigger reversal of expectations or fortunes for either side before kick-off. Under the stands the steady stream on stainless steel an echo of the Reds’ riotous 45. Changes were needed and unsurprisingly they came. It was Kenlock and Nydam removed for McGoldrick and Waghorn. With Celina too on the bench it was strange that Mick kept such explosive options dry up until now.

However, if the 3-5-2 of today was anything like the Burley one it was one were we didn’t look like going up. Too many sideways passes, we had one man over in defence but only when attacking and our options were decimated as the wings became the place where Barnsley hemmed us in to profound effect.

For all the talk of 4-4-2 Mick over the years, it was rare to see four potential strikers out there. Downes and Skuse came into their own as partnership in the middle. Sears went left, Waghorn went right and the natural feet meant we could cut in at will and it wasn’t long before we drew blood.

As Sears and Knudsen now at left-back formed a slow and steady overlap, the ball came in and out of the Barnsley box seemingly one time too many. The Dane steadied himself and assured himself of the MOTM accolade. Every Blue saw a cross sit perfectly in the back corner of space between hosts. From our vantage, you knew as soon as McGoldrick dropped his shoulder, white shorts were being pulled down. A sweet volley into the back of the net was never in doubt. These moments of ferocity and beauty always seem to happen in slow motion.

Hundreds celebrated as one felt the long arm of the law and cold smack of tarmac under several stewards, not to return unlike Ipswich. The noise and significance still in the ground was clear to all.

Garner had spent all game winding up either centre back. Whoever had the job of standing next to him didn’t want to. He was clotheslined, had his ankle stamped on and in one bizarre moment was pinned to the ground during a corner in the six-yard box by a clearly livid captain. Whatever he said to them saw little given by a ref who was left red-faced when he let Nydam slide through dangerously before the break and waved play on. When Potts was dispossessed and went through the back of his man, all he could do was stop the game and warn both when either could have been booked or more.

Unfortunately, McGoldrick’s free kicks were not as good as his volleys when Skuse laid it off to him he skied it, thankfully for the one and only time. Generally, though, it was Town’s whole approach which impressed. With the game all level the first sub on loan Ike Ugbo relieved Bradshaw who never looked like doubling his tally. Nor did his colleagues after a dangerous volley flashed wide in one of many close shaves with Town’s woodwork and lead.

Ipswich meanwhile pressed on and the legs of Sears and Waghorn unlocked yards of space. It was the kind of game where either player deserved attention from more than just their markers. Downes was quietly effective when given the chance and with Skuse next to him both had the wherewithal to make simple layoffs and let the attackers do their job.

It was Barnsley now who found that pressing forward left space, and in one sweeping counter attack counted the cost. McGoldrick’s second sashay put a spring in his step as the inside of his heel redirected the ball and left his man chasing shadows. Garner delighted in weighting a perfectly timed ball to Waghorn’s run. Low and powerful he raced forward and despatched the ball in off the inside of the post with near perfect technique.

There’s something about the sight of Martyn racing clear to finish the game and win it for Town that makes you want to see it again and again. You can almost picture it when you close your eyes.

A final change for Town came when Downes hit the floor for a second time. The first saw Skuse react to the foot being left in and three men bearing down on him. Expertly timed barrier slide saw the other central midfielder hobbling too. When Flynn fell a second time in a matter of minutes McDonnell emerged yet again to take his chance. The Irishman did just fine for the last 15 or so. With injuries mounting up he should be eyeing this week as time to make a case for himself.

Town could be judged harshly for the first 45, but the way they closed out the second way was equally a return of what you’d expect from McCarthy and the portion of the game we should focus on for now.

As Barnes made his bow from the bench, Town fans wondered what they might have missed out on three or four times. The young fox drifted to the periphery of the box to rework a cross cut out by Chambers. When Sears showed a rare moment of weakness the youngster got a chance to volley at goal from the resultant passage of play.

It would all prove futile as Town saw out the time and served another defeat on a side that must now fear relegation already. Barnsley will probably have enough about them based on today. For a second time running allowed us to burgle them in this this fixture. Often this one throws up bizarre comebacks or pedestrian stalemates, we can rejoice in it finishing the former even if they have a case for it being the latter.

At some point this McCarthy juggernaut will slow, if not be derailed. With bodies being put on the line and all too often the physio's bench, we badly need some luck in that department too. That, and reinforcements. News reached us that Smith too, is out for a lengthy spell again and became a small cloud in the brilliant glow of sunshine and 3pts. The Lions may find us easy prey with some many wounded, if today brings up the names of yesteryear then who is our Matt Elliott in 2017?

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Nottingham Forest v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 20:11:39
Sent to Nottingham, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? But whatever compelled 1500 or so blue souls to a ground where Suffolk seems to translate as second best for years now, there we were. At home, many watching on TV sets to see a solid second tier team, once known for European heroics and generations of success outside the bigger, fashionable clubs in the English game take on Ipswich to avoid relegation to the third tier.

It was like looking at next season as the teams came out in too many ways to be comfortable. This was Ipswich with no Lawrence, no McGoldrick. Bart had Kenlock, Berra, Chambers and Spence from left to right. Skuse, Huws and Ward the more fancied midfield of late and Rowe and Sears supporting Samuel as a lone striker. The team told us as much about our future by noting who wasn’t there as much as who was.

Forest started in silence and a deflected speculative ball across the goalmouth, fell just beyond their expensive focal point. After two or three attempts to get something on target saw Ward whip past the post their opening salvo at salvation or just enough safety gave way to a period of Town ascendency.

In the time, it took a few amateur awayday Stellings’ to announce the Blackburn lead and commemorate the fondness Mogga is still held in by us, Danny Rowe began to smoulder rather than light up the match.
Impressive youth product and nominal number 1 Jordan Smith was forced to save the recently fit Rowe’s effort as showed what cutting in and letting go might do for the first time. Town’s version of 4-3-3 seemed to work much better as both lone strikers looked isolated. Samuel more from the impetus of the wide players servicing him, Assombalonga more through the impotence of his.

Carayol who has always impressed me, crashed to the ground and before being subbed early on massaged both his hamstring and his groin. Who else would forest look to but a lad named Clough. Former Trotter and fancied by many Town fans at one point saw the home side put a flatter, higher line behind their striker and cause more issues for Bart on the counter. The Pole off his line quickly, and collecting slowly much to the annoyance of home fans who slowly found their voice.

Build up play from Town saw Skuse switching momentum down the right and Spence finding Rowe more than once. Huws and Ward swapped sides often, and when the wingers did it, it exploited space and little else.

Sears down the left had the speed but not the balance too often to find a shot or cross that could make the difference. Even when Skuse sliced a volley from a defended corner way beyond him, or Huws passed 15 yards into touch with the wide-playing striker having no chance of getting one on the intended ball. When he collapsed in a heap untouched when Town needed the cross more than anything, the jeers of the home fans drowned out the sense of wonder at what the hell was going to come off for us today.
Rowe on the other flank (mostly) had much better going of it. His electric runs slowly burning and forcing the Reds’ defence to twitch and jerk. When he again found that moving across the whole width of their shuffling perimeter he was unlucky to see his drive bounce back off a defender. The follow up from the keen but off key Samuel forced a save and the woodwork to conspire in keeping us level and Forest in striking distance of survival.

Bar this chance you felt Town might well deserve a lead, or even just a break but didn’t look like they had the skill or savvy to force one. At the other end of the pitch and the contest Assombalonga seemed to be the one man carry a team on his shoulders. His battle with Berra saw much manoeuvring but few shots fired. Both he and Kenlock had moments of denying him, it was Eric Lichaj who had the best chance of making himself a hero. A beautiful cross proved too much for a defence even as resolute as ours, and on the all but the goal line he let his toe take the ball high over the bar, when any other part of his anatomy might have got the touch to poke the ball over the line.

Moments later he tried to atone for this sin with one of the worst penalty shouts ever seen. If Chambers’ tapping of an invisible watch at the linesman had spared his blushes after a late flag early on, I’m not sure a whole game of charades would have spared the Americans blushes. Going down untouched like a geriatric sex worker, his demands for payment from the linesman were brazen and shameful in a manner that deserves viral condemnation.

It was a soft throw across again that would crucify Town. Bart seemed to fly in behind a stationary Kenlock, and getting an uncharacteristic flap at the ball, Spence then cleared off the line as somewhere in the melee the ref pointed to the spot. Confusion reigned amongst Blues fans long after who else but Britt held his nerve and slammed high into the net.

Town rallied, but the corner which they won and saw Berra glance way wide summed up the lack of breath or belief that remained after such a body shot. The hosts went in at half time looking safe(r) and Town fans wore looks that became increasingly stranger and furrowed. It wasn’t unfamiliar enough or good enough.

Before the interval our Ward had been hobbling on his ankle, Skuse had collided heavily with their Ward during one of his many intervening runs. To hear Emmanuel had been warming up and was coming on was confusing but not surprising, until Kenlock was the man removed in a straight swap. Perhaps Mick had wanted to see a half each from the young-backs, perhaps he was less than impressed with some of the defensive decisions that clouded another example of Myles consolidating his claim for regular football.

Town’s straight swap didn’t last long as the game again mirrored the season as a whole. Anything good about the start not built upon, the need to chase worse teams than us, and lack of end-product saw Emmanuel shift to the right and Rowe fill in at wingback. It stifled Forest’s more direct build up, but where the gaps had been ours to exploit previously, now the openings and distance to run shortened.

If Rowe had looked the only man likely to score, let alone have a go from any angle Forest found a superior effort and it was a Captain’s moment. A simple shimmy inward and Cohen unleashed an absolute worldie. Clearly deflected, but no one cared. It looped past a stranded Bart in a way that you just knew would hit the bar at the other end. Forest went wild, and seemed surer of themselves and their status next season. They have a habit of saving these types of things just for us it seems.

Town might have appeared winded by the first goal, the second one smothered us. Adrift and left to wonder at what distance divine intervention might be as Mick switched us back in shape again with the sense that all was lost for a third time in a row. The moment that sealed it again a spot of bother far more blatant.

Emmanuel chasing down his man from the wrong side, is something we’ve seen before. Him handling him less so as the youthful exuberance upended Ward yet again. A clear card and black mark against Josh as again Assombalonga lined up. Switching his kick, it wasn’t just Jesus who saves. Bialkowski hammering the spot kick out for a corner and a restoration for Town seemed just a matter of faith and a little patience.

Sears who had again worked hard but not made headway was booed off or Moore was booed on. Whatever it meant, was soon replaced by a clearer chant of disgust towards McCarthy from a growing minority.

Celebration gave way to rhapsody as finally the second coming of Assombalonga was heralded by their star shooting high into the net again past Bart, having beaten all in front of him and a tight angle. The former Nottingham man chambers and Huws rushed straight to the referee. It was clear the man in the middle had pointed to a free kick for Town, before changing his mind and direction.

Our white Knights gallantly trotted out of position so the scorer could be released and goal made. The mistake was glaring, so was the ref’s but nothing was changing. Town limped to three goals down.

The sub Moore caused far more fear than necessary in his defensive counterparts. Hauled to the ground several times, Huws criminally wasted one free kick with a tame chip into Smith’s arms. The tallest man on the pitch also took a nasty elbow to the mouth which went missed and unpunished. His revenge was a cold moment, a header from close range kicked off the line when he did well to find the effort.

For all his attempts, he was just that moment too slow, too ponderous, too far behind when one looks at the performances of Rowe in a similar light and context.

The final bow of Berra came ten minutes from time as Webster made his long-awaited return. He was a shout back to better days, sunnier August afternoons full of hope and pregnant with potential. As we throw the dirt on this season and the mudslinging will continue as it must surely do now, one wonders if we saw our future in the crystallising defeat today.

An unpopular owner, a squad loaded with injury prone, expensive and incoherent players. An expensive manager, well regarded and with a point to prove. The last time I saw a team like that perform like Forest did today, all whilst facing the drop; Mick McCarthy was in the dugout. We were playing fellow relegation avoiders Birmingham that day.

Bart waded through the pitch invading home fans, between the red smoke and relief evaporating into the air. He was clapping purposefully.

Every team finishes where they deserve, on and off the pitch.
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Rotherham United v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 19:52:11
The season over in April and a short taste of summer on a cool, sunny day. Nine changes for Mick as he looked over those we’d seen less of this term. Gerken came back between the sticks. The familiar pairing of Smith and Chambers the only one. Kenlock and Emmanuel back inside the side-lines at full back. Diagouraga sitting with Dozzell and Bishop, out wide Samuel and Rowe. Pitman the lone striker.

An opening minute of head tennis saw neither side take control of anything. The lack of fluency showed as Ward lead the line for the Millers and showed why Town might be looking at him as much as anyone in Blue. After ten or so minutes Chambers struggled with him and the ball in the box, the ricochet falling between Gerken and the onrushing red. Emmanuel clumsily flew in from behind to give the hosts a chance to draw first blood.

A well struck spot-kick, a dive to his left and Gerken palmed away. The palpable belief from the few home fans that had bothered with the spectacle clearly evaporated as Town scrambled away. The stopper in lime green will never escape comparisons with the Pole but his first half showing between the posts was reasonable enough.

One good punch and little else, he was off his line smartly and his choice of kicking allowed Town to play out of the back. The rigidity of the 433 gave way on around the 20 minute mark to complete amorphousness beyond the defence. Town were never free-flowing, at our finest perhaps gelatinous.

Rowe swapping sides whilst Samuel went up top on his own, Pitman filled a sort of neither/or role between strike partner and wide outlet. Winning cross-field long kicks in the air admirably, but losing the battle with himself all game.

There had been neat triangles of football deep in midfield allowing the full backs to get involved, and Rotherham’s strict structure and punt to Ward policy meant that Dozzell and Bishop both alternated behind the striker and at LCM. Whoever took the latter role drawn out wide to meet the oncoming attacker as needed.

It was in this period that Town carved out the better chances off the half. Rowe was clearly designated set-piece taker, his delivery consistently deep and troublesome. All of his corners found the last man, but not the first touch goalward. It was a freekick from just inside the touchline and just outside the box that saw him swing his left foot through the ball and whip across goal for the first time. When Samuel won one on the opposite side of the box, Pitman worked a baffling chipped effort from Diagouraga’s layoff that did nothing but alarm fans instead of foes.

Bishop and Dozzell had perhaps had the focus of the most hope, if not all the eyes of Town fans on them with every touch. The lack of understanding amongst the lineup saw both miss runners and momentum and restricted us to safer five yard passes around their men. The youngster who would turn one, then nutmeg another was nowhere to be seen; as the older version of the Blue #7 meticulously tried to get Town playing but couldn’t. He had the ball, he had the brain, but not the belief it seems.

It was about 28 minutes before Bishop found Kenlock and not just empty space ahead of him with throughball. The assured left back on the overlap and Ted sent him flying down the line. His cut in, cut out and Town won another corner. Rotherham meanwhile were using the hold up play of their bigger striker Morris to unleash Ward. Emmanuel not long after the penalty was more comfortable shepherding the smaller striker away from goal having stayed the right side every other time. Had the hosts’ #10 had hold up play any better than his attitude we might have been in trouble all afternoon.

Rowe was the really moving into centre-stage as most of Town’s better moves seemed to involve him. A shot towards goal as he ran diagonally in from Dozzell’s visionary pass. The low rifle caused all sorts of problems from the man stepping up from the National League. Just behind him in terms of movement and effort was Samuel, he made that literal as his rebound also failed to find the net. The keeper and then the woodwork conspiring to deny Town who had hoped to ride the limited pressure of a team already sunk.

Half time came just as Ward again tried to run clear. Clutching a clearly pulled hamstring he hobbled towards the throw in he’d won, sat down and the referee seemed to sense his anguish as much as ours and blew up. The image of the striker sitting forlorn and broken encapsulated a half of football with all the feel of a friendly and warmth of an afternoon in Yorkshire.

An unsettled and unnerving half saw only Rotherham make the obvious change. Ward unable to continue was replaced by someone else you’ve probably not heard much from before. If Burton had a side that looked like a Championship calibre swapsies pile of players which few others needed let alone wanted, Town played along with the theme of fielding strangers.

It didn’t take long before the unimpressive Ajeyi went off injured or sick and tired. His distribution had stopped both teams playing often enough and caused Rotherham to shuffle around a bit. Their midfielder dropping back before firing wide at the post in another unlikely effort.

The lumpy afternoon from Diagouraga saw the big man slow down again. His movement dropping in contrast to those ahead of him. Rowe dipped the ball forward perfectly and Pitman seized on the bounce. Further out than his effort a week ago, he again failed to find the target despite the much better build up but none of the breaks.

Mick’s lack of shape saw Town move to a strange 4-2-2-2 with the deflated Bishop removed for Moore. The lofty striker seemed steely and determined, his first chance to score saw even his long legs too short to stud home on the slide. A good move down the right saw Pitman ass the ball across the goal thanks to the legs of Emmanuel and then thrust forward of Rowe.

It was the two recently non-league men than combined to allow Rowe to have beautiful effort clipped wide. Moore stood between two defenders and blocked the view of the keeper long enough to shield the ball down to the diminutive strawberry-blonde winger. No peach, and little sweet about the continued struggle against such low-hanging fruit.
The waspish frustration only increased when it was the second of such attempts to beat a keeper with little natural ability.

If Ipswich were to take a lead they needed to remove the shackles that seemed to slow down so many moves across the pitch. The unorthodox nature of the gigantic striker meant he so often looked like a crane when we needed a wrecking ball. Neither Rowe or Samuel seemed to find their mark. However, the Reading striker showed great technique and comprehension of Blues’ attacking intent. I’d like to see more of him.

Emmanuel beat his man then turned back on himself to cross nicely with his weaker foot. The godfearing Samuel had no divine right to score, but he deserved better than the save off the legs of O’Donnell.

With little left of the contest and Bru coming into central midfield, marked a shift in approach. If Diagouraga has hopes of staying in Mick’s plans he needs to complete 90 minutes and do so to a much higher standard. The same might be said for many of those out there. Dozzell shifted into a deeper role that allowed him to become more of a playmaker. That left foot of his could level an entire city in the right contest.

However, it was Ipswich who would give way in a fashion that summed up so much that is wrong with this season. A reasonably well defended corner saw the ball pushed back to half way. It was the half measures all day that meant it wasn’t too surprising to see a mortar round drop in the area and no one scramble. The solid centre backs afforded one momentary lapse and the hosts fired themselves ahead and into a brief moment of escapism. A rocketing lead taken well enough, but as the whole game had shown.
Questions were far more prevalent than answers.

Sears emerged to play out the last few minutes as Town threw everything forward. Rowe making an impressive debut in uncertain circumstances. If Oar was not the answer, it’s impossible to know if Rowe is. More aggressive and industrious, he is more like Anderson or Roberts which must be why Mick likes him.

Moore on the other hand put in arguably his best shift for Town, again off the bench. Not everything went his way, and his shove on Mattock at the corner flag either non-league experience being shown up, or revenge for the left back’s earlier diving misdemeanours in a game littered with bad tackling, bad passing, bad shooting and a bad taste in the mouth. The Forest Green import was clearly having his shirt tugged but not his attention as he headed back a corner past the keeper, only to see it booted off the line and away.

There was little noise all game. A few strained lines again telling Mick McCarthy what a dozen or so thought of his football and an inflatable dinosaur upturned on the concourse said as much about today and this year as the few hundred who spent most of the game silent. There might have been little on the pitch to shout about, but you hope that today might settle the arguments about who we need next year in and around the squad.

It’s fair to say that Rotherham are possibly the worst side I’ve seen in the decade and a half we’ve been a Championship club. What such an experimental side told Mick exactly we might not see for a few weeks. To say it blew up in his face today would be too much, we simply didn’t get much of a reaction at all let alone a meaningful result.
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Burton Albion v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 00:55:28
The ghosts of Ipswich past perhaps haunt the moans of Ipswich present, but tonight was a visit to the potential Ipswich future. It’s easy to forget that not all Championship teams are equal and the sheer miniature scale of Burton is genuinely impressive. A tiny ground clearly well-suited to the return to the lower leagues they had left behind and were hoping to avoid. A set of results from this afternoon meant Town’s comfort zone from the drop had the potential to shrink.

Bart had a back four of Spence and Kenlock in full back berths and Berra and Chambers inside. The rest of the side fluctuated between 442 and 4231 all half and all game. Lawrence began on the left and McGoldrick was always central but fleeting between frontman and support act. Sears had much of his best work on the touchline but came to the middle constantly when called upon. Ward operated more like a number 10 as Huws and Skuse were the pistons in the engine room.

Burton seemed to change formation like the wind. Brayford acting as a sweeper then a right back as the first half progressed. Like our own ex-Colchester man Sordell too flitted from striker to winger with Lloyd Dyer up and down the left flank. Loanee and Town target Woodrow was aimed with firing the bullets centrally and had the experienced Kightly just behind him pulling the strings in contrasting method to our own McGoldrick.
Only a footballing hipster might call the tactical machinations of this one fascinating. Disarming might be a better word.

Both sides had their moments in a first half where Town’s first breakthrough saw a McGoldrick shot palmed away as the keeper went low towards the post. It was a smart save and smarter shot as the torrential drizzle that blasted the country all day showed no sign of relenting.

When the ball did touch the skiddy surface for brief moments both teams struggled to keep it down. Bart’s first save was a fairly timid collection. Both sides struggled to fire on target. Sears had a trio of crosses from long direct runs down the white line. The first one long and just about dealt with, the next one short and cleared away, the latest one a shallow cut to McGoldrick who danced inside but on his weaker foot swirled a drive past everyone and whipping over the bar.
There was space in behind the Burton backline and it was Sears’ ceaseless running that often found it. Lawrence too had his moments. Cutting in from the left to dink another goal-like drive just past the post. His next attempt saw a smart backheel go to Myles Kenlock instead and opening the defence.

Whereas a neat interception, Skuse to Huws sent Sears free to wondrous effect, also down our right flank Lloyd Dyer was finding joy against an out of sorts Jordan Spence. The right back seemed to think he was always back at wingback and left Chambers exposed and frustrated more than once.

One moment saw Kenlock charge along the six-yard line to header clear behind both men on the corner of the smaller box. Another meant Bart too, got an earful from the captain after Chambers sliced out under pressure needlessly.

While Kenlock was repeatedly frustrated going forward he made it count when he did, it was a rarer sight to see a man get behind him and not have Berra to contend with. A fussy official sometimes found against Town in dangerous areas, but even an early challenge through the back of the Scot from Woodrow didn’t yield a yellow card. It was an odd atmosphere in the tiny ground, the distant prospect of a relegation fight pacifying the nerves of the terrace to some extent until a close call came careering into view.

Australian Irvine Jackson seemed another player charged with just getting in the way in the middle and onto anything he could. He looked like a carboot Andy Carroll, at half time one fellow, fairer TWTDer suggested he played more like a knock-off Fellaini. The ponytail certainly flicked everywhere when one corner saw him clearly volley the ball with a perfect spike technique then snatch at it with a high boot to negligible effect.

Town meanwhile looked more comfortable when one of the few more industrious sides in the league, gave us time to work a little bit. There were celebrations when the underwhelming Ward was charged down outside the box by three or so defenders.

Kenlock diverted the deflection goalward past everyone. If there were scenes they were more soap opera calibre. The late flag of the lino scrubbed clean what seemed a perfectly good goal. Half time twitter stills did little to shake the belief of the travelling fans, but it was clear the Blues’ on the pitch were more than put out.

With a chunk of the half still left to play Sears had the next most clear-cut opportunity to take a Town lead. His finish from just on the angle at close range, second right. McGoldrick getting free again with the kind of touches that turn a sketchy half into a moment of art. Freddie could only blaze high and wide when at least a save was required.

The second half saw a little change from Town whose approach had been largely good enough to deserve more than their hosts, but still (as was ever a pattern this season) had nothing to show for it.

Spence moved inside as both teams flirted with wingbacks. Lawrence seemed to drift into the gaps Ward had failed to occupy and the strikers looked more forced into a partnership. Still it was Sears chasing down Turner and winning hard yards on the break as Sordell gave way to Varney as soon as both teams emerged. The popular former Blue got his disco-tinged welcome and warm applause. He soon deserved it.

Town’s first memorable second spell assault on goal forced a corner. Lawrence whose delivery had been somewhat erratic whipped a beautiful ball in. It was attacked by all in a 5 yard radius and crashed into the net for Town’s second goal of the game and first that really counted. Chambers celebrated wildly, more than the hundreds throbbing in front of him. It seemed an almost magical header from him to take the leader based on his reaction, and it turns out it was. Reg again scoring when Town needed it most.

“He’ll want to make up for that” an Irish voice said behind me minutes later. Those words were foreboding despite the friendly accent. Bart was soon tested properly for the first time by a Kightly drive as the former McCarthy man looked to give Mick another highlight to consider. He and Varney would prove dangerously clever in attack and combined to beat Berra but not Skuse who again put in a timely defensive stop to restart a Town attack.

The home side sensing the need to level came at Town and pushed and pressed. This not only unsettled us, but upset our shape. The upshot being it did the same to Burton and allowed numerous attacks and counter attacks from either side on either flank.

A good move down the right saw Town flash the ball across goal as they realised the gaps behind the Brewers’ defence were prime real estate for runners to attack driven crosses. When one fell to McGoldrick just outside the six-yard box, so did he under clear physical involvement from two defenders, to add insult to injury Varney handled the clean up by palming the ball out for a corner. Two penalties, not one given. The resultant corner was another of Lawrence’s less notable efforts and despatched.

It fell to Myles Kenlock to catch the eye and evade the gaze of yellow shorts. A computer game like run, with Sears on his shoulder. Finally, he let it go to the striker, who after clattering his first go off the keeper used the space created to produce a mega drive into the net. He looked almost embarrassed to celebrate it in front of the jubilant Suffolk crowd in front of him.

Huws was less shy having won the ball back in our half to start the move. Catching the attention of a few fans and mouthing and fisting his pleasure our way. As gentlemanly handshakes ensued. The captain appeared from stage left to nearly remove Sears’ head in celebration then hug Kenlock in congratulatory style for an uncomfortable length of time. His joy doubled, his joy real for all to see.

Clough Jnr. seemed to rejig his side constantly, it was hard to tell if it was tactical nous or his bum squeaking that called the changes. A double sub saw Kightly and Woodrow withdrawn. The winger Akin and another Fulham player came on. Their target was clearly Kenlock. His youth seemed to be the reason for exploiting the full back who had put in an excellent shift so far.

Town went back to a flat back four at some point probably, but by the time Pitman replaced Didzy it was all about defending the lead. That was soon shortened as Varney came together with Kenlock and skidded to the turf. The referee was unusually quick to point straight to the spot. Akin despatched it viciously and the home fans finally made some noise. We all did our best to suck it up with sharp intakes of breath.

If the young left back stole the MOTM award from Sears, it was the goalscorers’ endless pursuit of balls over the top and down the flank that won him much of the plaudits tonight. However, when Pitman did the same and was sent clean through you could almost feel the away end ready to celebrate. The deadly reputation came with a dry heave as a tame shot clattered of an admittedly quick to cover keeper.

Smith emerged from the bench to shore up during injury time. The less than fully functioning Lawrence finally withdrawn, so seemed the result. Before the game could come to an end Bart tipped over what looked like an exquisite chip. It possibly hit Berra or another body to gain so much upspin as the Pole adjusted to push it onto the bar and out.

It would have been a cruel finish and result as Town thoroughly deserved their win tonight. If at times ironic chants and mockery of the East Midlanders’ inability to draw level or keep Town out was interspersed with renditions of “Ipswich til I die”.

As the players gleefully celebrated at the full-time whistle and the fistpump returned like a long-lost friend. Mick stood at the dugout shaking every hand that passed him by of either colour. No glance to the Blues in the away end, no sign of his name being sung all night.

We rise to our familiar 15th as we put the season and the final meaningful game to bed tonight. What remains now will surely see us lay the ground work for next season. Whatever that might bring.
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Barnsley v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 20:03:39
Home and away for Mick today, a first visit to his beloved Oakwell without his beloved mentor and the lack of security seemed to tell. A trio of changes but little difference in the starting XI again. Bart was again the trusted palms behind five defensive fingers of Kenlock, Knudsen, Berra, Chambers and Spence. A midfield of Skuse, Diagouraga and Huws had the soft jazzy ensemble of Lawrence and Didsy somewhere up ahead.
Town started brightly and a quick switch on the left from McGoldrick picked out Spence making moves down the right flank. An early corner won and buried well wide off the head of Berra got Town hopes up early on.

In a game where neither side had much to play for there was precious little football at times. However, Town’s effort was rewarded with the excitement of winning corners, from which we hoped to gain the edge.

The blues had an impressive 742 in the away end and clearly relished the only voices being heard for much of the first half being theirs. When Barnsley had their chances of note between Town’s pattern of set pieces and stop-start possession it did little to engage the home fans.

One time loan target Armstrong used his head but not his brain to put a tantalising cross out of play when a certain chance to hit the target if not score went begging. It wasn’t even the first of many misfires that suggested McCarthy dodged a bullet there. Bart already smothering one effort and letting a missed cross sail a little close to the goal into touch in the opening passages.

While Barnsley seemed to have a solid 4-4-2 that attacked in streaking runs, it was Ipswich that looked more comfortable on the front foot. Kenlock had a challenge in the impressive Yiadom at right-back who was far better attacking than defending. Ahead of him was Watkins who was a big and physical threat often shackled with the help of Knudsen.

When the home side switched wide options, and allowed Hammill to torment in slow motion and showboating, you felt that his crosses were harder to bear than his Hollywood blockbusters way away from Bart.

It was in fact the left foot of Knudsen who would let fly from half to half and find McGoldrick or Lawrence in the channel that yielded much of Town’s best threat in the first half. His long passes were much preferable to the layoffs to young Kenlock outside, causing Scowen in midfield to scurry back and cover for Yiadom as any of Town’s attack cut in and tried to force something.

A brilliant timed tackle from the causal looking right back thwarted Lawrence in one such attack, while a rare Huws incision was cut out by the mobilised centrebacks for yet another corner. It was in the industry not the end-product; you felt Town might make a breakthrough.

Skuse had the best chance of the half for a Suffolk celebration. McGoldrick collected a Chambers header which went out towards the opposite corner from which it’s assist came. Wheeling, and arcing around Red threats of dispossession he turned back on goal and unleashed a fierce shot. The parry was thrust upon our No.8 in an instant and he either shot poorly or was the reason for a smothered ricochet that the relieved Davies collected.

If headers and flicks had sometimes seen impressive moments of keep-going rather than keep ball from either side, then flattening of the contest coincided with the shape of the central three. The individual instincts and mobility of Huws, Skuse and Diagouraga often meant Barnsley had any of our men surrounded with the ball. If it wasn’t for the close control of McGoldrick, you sense we might have lost more than just the end to end sense of a team struggling well beyond the scope of this match alone.

In one passage of play Lawrence caught Yiadom late and left him flattened, Huws soon after was lucky not to get a deserved booking for chopping at the heels of the man who breezed past him, Diagouraga then slid in recklessly in a heated five minutes that saw the Reds reflecting on the reputation rather than reality of Mick’s side coming to the fore.
When Skuse received one for a necessary but cynical challenge close to the edge of the box, you watched the preceding pinball build up past our players as if they were little more than cones and prepared to see the worst when Cole and Hammill finally collided.

It was clear if McCarthy had a plan today it wasn’t coming together. The returning Yorkshireman on the touchline must had recoiled, as the one on loan in midfield was charging around all afternoon like a war elephant. But instead of trampling the hordes assembled ahead of him, he looked clumsy, belligerent and wasteful with the ball. Ultimately producing play more suited to the circus.

When half time came, you sensed a change was needed. Barnsley had carved out numerous moves, and more chances if Town arguably had started better and should have made more of the better opportunities afforded them.

It took maybe seven minutes to see that today was Diagouraga’s day. It took that many into the second half to see it end and Grant Ward replace him. Barnsley had clearly smelled the weaknesses of a team coming to them in such disrepair and began to push on the fixture and fitting together more pointed attacks.

It took several free kicks as soft as our underbelly to make Mick and us squirm. When the Tykes ran at us, we reached for our loose balls and cowered on the back foot, failing to find our stride. Barely minutes after our first change, it was Watkins who changed the game. From a refreshingly promising Town attack the ball slid across goal ahead of Chambers who did so a second or two too late. A quick counter from the pass of James and Watkins was away.

Outnumbered 2 to 1 he rode his luck and shook off the odds to work not just into our half, but the heart of our defence and ram the ball past Bart and deep into our goalmouth for the lead. It’s hard to judge the ones Mick missed out on in a single game, but if Marley might not fix every little thing at Ipswich, still he’d be all right.

A few minutes more and Kenlock would sneak off the field as he happened to be almost stood next Mick when the ball went out. On leapt Sears, and Town completely changed shape if not much else. Finally, four at the back came back, the Danish Baresi went to left back and Freddie and Lawrence were the two outer prongs of an attacking fork. McGoldrick still hadn’t formalised his move into midfield, despite having most of the game there.

As the game progressed Town seemed not to. The miscontrols that punctuated more coherent passages of play saw the away fans turn a little. When we finally produced a shot, the chant triumphing it followed. Things started to look black amongst even the bluest of views, as Town seemed to be conspiring in being beaten all too easily.

Playing for the victory despite being behind, Sears and the impressive Ward especially, found joy moving the ball deep into the corners of the Barnsley end but rarely did they find a cross to muster. Skuse nodded down for Dids to drive directly at goal, previously Lawrence had the sting taken out of a similar effort from the opposite side by a defensive deflection into the Keepers’ arms.

If we looked better at all, the stumbling that blighted our movement and aided a decent home side meant a sickener looked likely. When sub Williams flicked the ball back into play on the byline he scampered forward with the kind of run that looked destined to seal the game. Hammill had the whole of our universe shaking at his mercy, yet seemed not to know it. It was one of a few times Bart ended up grasping the ball, thankfully and with little problem.

As the game closed out and with it the dreams of just treading water, Mick again sent out his strikers to warm up. For the first time in what seems an age Pitman emerged with little of the game left. His reception lifting proceedings above the tepid they had lapsed into.

It wouldn’t take long for the poacher to join the hunt. Linking neatly with those around him, Huws who he had replaced left a small gap perfect for McGoldrick to make his own. The striker had sometimes been forced to chase down the keeper and now could sit on halfway and dictate the full force of Town’s attacks.

With much of Town’s success coming down the left, the imposing figure of Spence sat alone on the right as an option used once to great effect with a cross field switch by Knudsen. However, when the telling moment came, it’d be from Town’s left flank.

A simple free kick in the dying moments saw Bart launch the ball at everyone with everything we had. Falling to Pitman on the outskirts, he seemed languid as he grounded the onrushing defender with a drop of the shoulder. A sweeping cut across the box saw red spilling and spattering. At the back post came in Tom Lawrence to stab home almost on the line. It was the Blues who would crown an ultimately poor performance with a point.

The excitement and relief of that 93rd minute seemed to last an eternity. The sense of joy and sight of Jonas head first in amongst the celebrating fans as others raised hands and thanks, lingering. Terry shook the hand of Pitman heartily, knowingly. Chambers waited to until last to follow suit and salute the standing ovation ahead of them.

But in an afternoon where it was hard to see the artistry in Mick’s team, his old guard looking like they’d been in and on the field too long, what does another draw do? What does this point prove?
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Aston Villa v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 20:43:06
Through the ice, mist and chill that pierced the heart of the country Town came to Villa Park with renewed faith. It’s not often you see stained-glass in the sides of a football ground, but 1800 faithful took their seats across two tiers. The Blues made only one change. Ward replacing Skuse in the middle, bringing back a nod to the previous home draw with Reading.

Bart had another 3 or 5 depending on your view point ahead of him. The captain to the right, Berra to left, Taylor right in the middle. Flanking them were Knudsen and Emmanuel respectively. Diagouraga was the sitting minesweeper, beyond him McGoldrick and Lawrence free moving attackers supported by Huws and Ward.

Villa were unrecognisable, yet hauntingly familiar when you stare at the squad list. A who’s who of decent Championship names over the past 3 or 4 seasons, but a reputation this season that matched Town’s on points alone before kick-off.

When Lansbury launched it forward and Taylor et al. easily motioned to contain the aerial ball, Town looked at ease. Pre-match exuberance continued across the stand and onto the pitch. Huws the first fall almost before the ball. It was a nasty moment as Chambers remonstrated with the ref for what seemed minutes. His Welsh colleague catching a clear elbow outside of the box.

There was some nice movement from Town especially down the left-hand side. Knudsen the beneficiary of timing his run to receive the rewards from Lawrence and McG’s magic feet. His touch didn’t allow him to attack the ball, and offloading it again Town’s movement signalled little.

Villa’s first real threat on goal was a soft free kick. Ward tactless in the tackle and grabbing a sleeve instead of fresh air. The ref march the wall back, and back. The shot that came in saw Lansbury scissor kick a volley. Granite hands from Bart signalled a corner. Rock beats scissors. If that £40k a week could buy a decent haircut, maybe he’d know that.
The resultant corner saw another decent chance as Bart and Chambers stopped close range efforts. Hourihane looking to score against his former club and finally get noticed by Ipswich fans. It was a period marked by early excitement and excellent flowing runs by both sides.

Kodjia was arguably the hosts man of the match. With the space afforded to him thanks to the support of free floating Hourihane and Bjarnason it was here he began to push Town back and look more like a multi-million-pound player. However, Town matched that with value of their own.

When Lawrence went into the box and then over his feet, everyone was on theirs in all four sides. It was either a clear penalty or the ban-inducing yellow a long time coming. The ref didn’t know either were options. Choosing to trot away disinterestedly.

Emmanuel saved at the other end felling the begoggled Welshman on Villa’s left, Neil Taylor. What looked like a bizarre haircut initially from a distance, became clear to being eyewear as the harrying youngster saw the danger out for Town.

Ipswich looked the away side, but were enjoying themselves. Taylor hooked away from an onrushing Bart and out to safety as strikers closed in and the longball clearly wasn’t long enough to be handled. It was one of many simple steadying moments the new defender would have in a short time.

Another free kick in a dangerous area as Hogan’s only real contribution to the game seemed to be falling like chocolate soldier. Lansbury marched to the deadball, with Town deep and dense along the goal area the former Gunner bottled firing. A strange short routine slid across the pitch to an unmarked Bjarnason who smashed his shot off the bar.

Myles Kenlock made a welcome return to the side in unwelcoming conditions. Somewhere Taylor slipped from view and took a knee. The fight knocked out of him, he was erect again long enough to shoot down the tunnel. A worrying sight given Town’s injury crisis.

With Villa well on top, Knudsen seemed to step inside not once, but twice for a minute. A makeshift sweeper as Berra didn’t know whether to attack man or ball as both receded away from him and goal on the edge of the box.

Their next best chance saw Kodjia try something that was neither acrobatic or sensible. A scorpion kick of sorts from Hutton’s cross barely a few yards out. Maybe Hogan put him off, but he flopped like a scorpion who had stung itself and Bart collected the venomless remnants.

Town rallied and again it seemed like Lawrence was the best outlet for attacking intent with the slower but beguiling McGoldrick close behind. With Diagouraga in the middle and two fairly attacking central midifelders ahead of him, there was a Claret and Royal mesh in the centre of the pitch that meant runners rather than punters unpicked the best attacks.

Bucking the trend, Lawrence screwed a cross field ball that bounced fortunately for Town and beyond two defenders. McGoldrick collected the speculative effort and cut inside only to have his shot clipped out for a corner. His next effort towards goal would go way off it.

As half time came a second bout of sickness swept over Town fans. Berra making the most of his aerial aggression at the close of the half, and quickening of Blues crosses was hit himself. An arm that looked admittedly accidental crumpled the Scot. Down for a marked length of time it didn’t look good.

Jordan Spence trotted on as many fans and staff vented their disgust and dismay at what might be a costly decision from the referee not to even investigate what he clearly hadn’t seen. The former Don took a controlling position next to Chambers as Town ended the half in yet another tactical teaser.

The second half started with a new look Ipswich. Not just the bizarre defensive fan of centre-back whose better at right back, wingback who can play right back and arguably centre back, left back, and two youngsters who can play either variant as long they can touch the white line enough.

Ahead of them was the large defensive stopper in what looked more like a second midfield ahead of Bart. Villa meanwhile didn’t really shuffle their pack in terms of shape, or approach. Both sides had the room to run, thanks to what looked like soft centres and space to exploit. When defenders were drawn in during either side’s runs forward, gaps appeared on the overlap. Where this benefited Knudsen in the first half, now Ward made a little more of his role.

Bruce clearly spotted it too, replacing Hutton first with another “shouldn’t he be in the Premier League?” name off the bench in Albert Adomah. This was not long before Spence had got forward and from barely three yards repeated Kodjia’s feat with slightly more respectable flailing of his own. Somehow contriving to catch the ball, presumably off balance in the six-yard scrap and miss the gaping portion of the goal.

If the game had died in large parts during the middle of the first half it was regaining some its feeling by the hour mark. Unfortunately for us it was the Clarets that were spilling forward with greater intent but little execution. Had we not already lost two giants to injury the midfield might have benefitted from relieving Toumani from an excess amount of playing time. The loanee seems to age alongside the game still and that played a small part in Town’s best repellents and moves forward starting at the back.

Adomah soon became the first to see the ref’s cards, mainly as he was looking up following a deliberate challenge from Knudsen looking to stem a flowering performance from the sub. More misery all around as the home fans felt they had the advantage.

Once the smoke cleared Lawrence was on the ground holding something, so were we. Our breath. The winger got back up and went back on the attack eventually, but a third sub due to injury and another Leeds away scenario might be all too cruel.

Diagourara’s latency showed as he went late in to stop another attack and take a booking. The free kick was again tame from Villa, swinging just a step to the side of Bart who collected happily. He would be less comfortable when someone cleared off his line, an attempt between those two missing all and should have been buried by an attacking head. This time the header came but not the goal that looked certain.

Town had ridden their luck, good and bad. When they finally broke with something meaningful, it was none other than Lawrence who picked apart the men in front of him. He was then blown up, but the ref didn’t. As his arched body bounced off the turf McGoldrick got lower towards it. Sneaking a run down the white line of the box and squaring. It looked certain to be defended. Huws came from nowhere, unsighted having loitered near the spot. He was our Johnny to smash apart the door and knock the ball home.

1800 throats opened as Brummie blood boiled. Limbs, voices, centres of gravity went every which way as the jubilance made flesh sprayed everywhere like a medieval painting of sin and ecstasy. All wrapped up and nowhere else we wanted to go. The white shirts on the field bristled as they exchanged salutes with those off it.

5 minutes left.

4 more once the board went up.

Kevin Bru would make a late appearance for the winning goal scorer. A little hobble rather than hop in his step as he went off. Meanwhile so did Didzy’s howitzer of a right boot. Slipping himself past one man with the outstep then meeting the ball with his laces and unravelling a shot well off target again. Ill-discipline or careless abandon. Either way it was Villa who looked to fire back with the news of unduly long time added on.

A climb into 13th far from lucky today. There was some excellent work from a host of individuals, and perhaps for the goal alone Huws takes the champagne and adulation. You could see the forced changes, forced innovation and fresh ideas from Town who not only nullified much fancier and well-heeled opposition but reduced them in every conceivable way.

The true cost of victory might well be counted when Matt Byard gets his hands on yet more broken bodies. The lists grow ever longer. But chalk that one, and those three points up at the top of all of them this season. It felt good.

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Preston North End v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 19:40:16
Both teams strode onto the Deepdale turf to the low drones of the theme from Game of Thrones. A blue mass conducted in the Town half, as the would be kingslayers of Lancashire hoped to add McCarthy to their list of dethroned managers this season. The longest serving in the division named a hugely changed side.

The unworkable back three, was back to a back four ahead of Bart. Knudsen, Emmanuel, Skip and Berra. Skuse partnered debutant Diagouraga in a deep two. Lawrence left, Ward right. Sears ahead of him with Pitman his partner. It was a deeply effective combination.

When the game kicked off Gallagher made good use of a fortunate ricochet off his and Knudsen’s shins down the right in the opening minute. It felt like his last foray forward, as Lawrence pinned him back and all that was left for Preston was the skills of McGeady.
The Russian speaking Celt, looked a cut above as his first attempt at leaving Emmanuel miles behind saw his wonderful feet dance over the line. The second time after just seven minutes, saw Town target Hugill for the first time slip between centrebacks to head over the bar when a goal looked certain.

If it sounds like a bad start for Town it wasn’t. The Blues played the ball across the cold, wet and greasy surface with aptitude. North End meanwhile were happy to chip and chop and nod what little they could get their bodies on forward. But enjoying greater chances.

In a match that was oddly attritional, both sides countered quickly and often. The loaned #37 from Leeds looked more belly pork than sirloin, but put his frame in front of everyone’s eyes with an intelligent use of space and timing. This allowed Skuse to sit just ten yards from him at all times, and play with those ahead of him.

To call the Lilywhites dirty seems sour. Cynical, maybe cowardly. Every time a blue shirt went past them, out went their heels from Preston toes. When Skuse intercepted a ball wonderfully just in front of the half way line he had three open options ahead of him. He soon tasted dirt. Right back Vermijl the worth recipient of the first caution after the fourth or so of these offences.

While young Josh struggled to find his position defensively, he was picked out by Toumani just the once with a lovely flighted ball that reminded us all what an athlete the kid is. With the support of Ward, it sprung a trap that saw Sears look looking like the best outlet on the pitch. Unfortunately, not for the first time today, the deadly touch of his early games looks to have numbed.

With both sides fielding a 442 that dipped in the middle, it was Town’s central pairing that looked the better. In a game where one wondered if Lawrence would be allowed the space to run, it took just 15 or so minutes not to matter. Picked out wonderfully, he beat the entire home right side, who were steps apart. Dancing inward from the corner as he does, he slapped the ball across every Preston face and into the far side of the net. It looked impossible. For the star of the season, it was typically dazzling.

In the massed celebrations of the 600 travelling fans, I’m sure I spotted some grudgingly claps across the pitch from the Deepdale regulars.

Once Lawrence got back off his knees, Town got going again. It seemed barely soon after he was mimicking his goalscoring movements only to get further into the box. Definite contact, a definite wobble from the winger. Had a penalty been given the nervy home side would have erupted and crumbled like you’d expect most in Tom’s position to have done.

Pitman and Sears didn’t look like a proper strike force. Individually both unlocked the defence with clever touches. When Preston again caused problems in the Town box, Knudsen rifled with his weaker foot clear, picking out Lawrence perfectly. Sears was sent through and with one touch too many failed to find the finish.

It was a scenario replicated time and again. As both Skuse and Pitman allowed the former Hammer to take a touch palpably too heavy to get off the strike he deserved. Meanwhile Preston who were all McGeady, nearly took the game back to Ipswich through Hugill. If Chambers isn’t familiar with the #25 yet, he’d rather not be shown like he was at Playford Rd. let alone in a match scenario.

A routine back pass to Bart, during another spell of short game in the defence saw the forward bidding for the loose ball out of nowhere. In a half where the skipper had put his body on the line, and blocked and barracked his way into quelling a decent attack, it would have been a cruel concession to give.

As pot-shots flew over Bart’s goal, Pitman was squaring the ball down for anyone he could find. Sears again went close as drifted across the final third, perhaps too familiarly out wide with a touch past defender but not keeper. The near post and near miss colluding to keep Town’s lead at half time to a single strike.

There was a moment of panic when Hugill looked to get involved in a sure-fire equaliser. The man watched closer than usual by away fans couldn’t get out of the way of a goalward lash from the busier of the Whites’ central midfielders Pearson. The tenacious #4 in one of his better moments volleyed another cross from the left sweetly, only to be left bitterly disappointed by the unwanted assistance of his teammate.

Despite double marking Lawrence and targeting Josh, it felt like PNE didn’t expect this from Town. It was a game which scrapped and harried into a dogfight all too often, but had some passages of streaming forward thinking play from both sides. One comical dogfight between McGeady and Diagouraga saw the Suffolk staffie lumbering the Irish setter away from goal off his stride just enough to shank his shot and claim foul. When he tried similar with young Josh the jeers for the penalty appeal where pure pantomime.

On 37 minutes a heartening Town applause broke out. A young fan had asked his mother who had died tragically young be remembered this way. I hope if he wasn’t there, he knows it was observed impeccably as he requested and brings him some comfort.

The second half started with Grayson clearly unhappy. His charges came at Town with everything they had, it started to look like it might be enough. Ward who had been steady and Sears who had been every ready seemed not able to spark as often.
Pitman too looked leggy one minute and then either frontman would take centre stage as if resurrected by the promise of glory. Not since the days of empire has an expeditionary force looked so bedraggled one moment and brave the next.

When the threat of home advantage looked to tell, Knudsen and Berra were unlucky to be wrongfooted in the slippery conditions by a crisp short pass. With the goal there, all the lively Callum Robinson could strike was our steely Pole. Back in the side and back in our hearts.

It marked a series of corners where disappointment looked inevitable. Set pieces swung across the defence, and one header that was certain to go in hit a blue body for another corner. In the midst of this bombardment Town could only cannon the matchball off bodies and out of play as the front end looked like grinding to a halt.

Diagouraga exited on the hour mark. Lifting the away end and his opposite number into the air with superb elevation. His lack of match sharpness showing as he bluntly dumped a Preston player on the break. A poor use of advantage not for the first time cost the home side initiative whilst the French-African escaped a sure booking and off to the bosom of Mick and Terry.

French-Mauritian Bru kept up the steady marching legion quality of the midfield. At the same time a second near-Tractor boy came on for the home side. Horgan replaced the lively but ineffective Robinson and two out and out Irish widemen occupied the full backs. Surprisingly small but a neat package of pace of passing nonetheless, it helped open the game and put pressure on Bart and his barrier like defence.

If Town looked to have weathered the storm in piddling conditions, Pitman would continue the splattering attacking nous. His last action saw him curling an effort across goal and just over the bar. Maxwell was relieved as the thud of the hoardings and realisation he’d casually misjudged just how close the shot had been to beating him.

Lawrence’s corners and freekicks had not been their usual high quality. Town had thrown everyone forward gallantly all game, but this often was met with resistance and running. When Pitman got the ball from Berra’s head via much better struck attempt from the quarter circle, the ex-Cherry couldn’t top Town’s performance. Awkward bobbles and touches left a frustrating finish for all involved.

When McGoldrick replaced him soon after the whole crowd lifted. Well one of the four sides did. The other three were just kept on their toes. David’s caress set alight the game, and lifted the siege mentality that Ipswich seemed to fall into.

Preston obviously felt they lacked fight as they brought on Jermaine Beckford minutes before. The experience and quality amongst their ranks, perhaps explains their current position and form with little surprise.

Soon another misfiring forward would be withdrawn as the man who should have been MOTM gave way to new man Moore. A second Northern sub bow soon showed that the first of two signings plucked from non-league was far more than an elevated cranium for fans to peer at through this window.

Although Preston had by now put Makienok alongside Hugill and Beckford to create a triumvirate of big, physical brute force, it was the magic of McGeady that continued to make them tick. Kieffer meanwhile just lingered in the corner of nervous Lancastrian eyes. Coming on before one was taken he shook up the box and caused a scramble from the word go.

If Town had been a tight and ticking grenade of 4-4-2 orthodoxy, Grayson had moved to a weird 4-3-3 that caused Ipswich problems. What had been a crucial defensive two, was now a defensive Skuse and floaty Bru. With the game ticking away, Lawrence was let go, but understandably frustrated as the ball forward that left him clean through with nothing but grass and the whole half his, skipped off the ground out for throw. All thanks to way Bru launched it forward.

It’s the little things that count. When a rare run for Lawrence saw with skid from left to the centre only to disappointingly drip the ball into the waiting gloves of Maxwell, one wondered if one would be enough?

Skuse was again far further forward than usual in support and Bru not at action stations either. It was a sign that our rigid shape was as wonky as the Deepdale lines. When Maxwell clearly handled outside the box, thanks to his feet being on the line and his hands in front of them the linesman shook his flag as if it were a brolly not an implement of justice.

When the goalkeeper immediately launched it forward to a waiting Makienok, Berra had to put his body on the line this time to send McGeady’s whipping drive crashing off course. Somewhere in the brooding greying of the already pale conditions an evil stirred.

Whilst Moore and McGoldrick made an odd couple and Ward and Lawrence decent supporting characters, you sensed Town didn’t know what to do. The brass ring needed to take three precious points in a place that felt just south of Mordor, wasn’t apparent.

Another end to end exchange saw Knudsen overwrought. Two on one and the Dane didn’t know what to do, when he did Horgan cut at goal with a cross. Hugill who had stood between Chambers and Berra all game, no longer had either standing in his way.
Sweeping home from the middle of the box at close range, it seemed hard to believe. The man Mick wanted hit the Bullseye as we got a look at what he could have won.

The quest for a rare away win, had come to an end. It felt like the leveller was deep into injury time. But a full minute or more saw another handful added. It was clear Town didn’t know what to do, or where to go. Previous efforts to keep the ball in the corners and away from danger were now looking like scarring evidence of self-inflicted harm.

When the whistle came so did the relief and regret in pulsating waves. A tangible exhalation from everyone, for different reasons, arose. Before the match a draw would have felt like a reasonable aspiration. On balance, it was more an amicable end.

Another game, another day, even another shot and the result could have been so different. Town looked so much better after those drunk on the hope in August, might have felt an end to the perpetual hangover. Now we’re left with a dull throb and nausea knowing that sooner or later, it’ll be over and better again.

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Huddersfield Town v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 18:57:37
On a long enough timeline, all life drops to zero. Somewhere short of that falls hope.

Town wanted a response, without spin or hot air following the cup exit at non-league Lincoln in the week. It's hard to know if Mick changed a lot, or enough upon reading the teamsheet tweet. Strong rumours that Bart Bialkowski was somewhere in the Potteries about to sign for Stoke gathered credibility as they spread amongst the away end before kick off. Local journos insisting he was instead kneeling before his own porcelain throne did little to allay fears.

A neon Gerken back in the no.1 spot. New boy Spence took his bow at RWB, Knudsen the other side. Chambers was the central pin in a flat three, completed by Berra and Digby. Beyond that whose to say? Skuse, Bru and Dozzell were somewhere in the centre circle. Lawrence and Sears were attackers, rather than strikers. Maybe that's just the bootleg Barcelona look, playing hideous tricks on the brain?

Switching wings, and cycling across the defence, both made for a thin and malleable frontline. Was it 352? 532? When Skuse midway through the first half played one of two passes unsighted to where he presumed Knudsen would be, rather than where he was much further up the flank. You sensed there was a problem.

Huddersfield didn't match us. In any if many ways at all. Wells was clearly the striker, but their intent to press the man, space and flesh meant our lack of shape induced theirs to surround us. When Tom Lawrence won a freekick on the edge of their box, it looked like a brighter start for the unlikely away side. A short routine with Skuse and it went over the wall for an easy, teasing take.

The Terriers then had, but failed to take the better chances. In fact, really in 20 or so minutes of football they had most of them. Van la Parra promises so much, but delivers little but cross after cross. That was once his first chance to skate into the box on the strength of flashy feet saw a tame skidded effort taken by Gerken.

The game moved and swirled between the two goalmouths. Unfortunately, a lead looked on the tip of the home side's tongue, whilst Town gulped. An embarrassingly poor header from an offside Kachunga went way over. It was a warning as dangerous as the one which saw Gerken tip over superbly from close range.

Of the two keepers, ours was busier. Huddersfield's Ward, had lots of possession but even when a runner closing, or his defensive options were marked, his poor kicking and inability to catch proved no obstacle. Town's better moments in the final third saw Lawrence simply stand still as the glovesman, flapped into him when the catch was seemingly a formality.

Town didn't so much play it out of the back, but around it. This not only invited intrigue, but pressure. The back three when stretched won lots in the air, and rarely did Digby look miles away from Chambers. In fact it was clear the lack of experience in this system caused them to crash into each other and allow Town to attack us.

If the gaps were there, so was the guts in a period where new boy Spence played a lively but lonely Sears in with a wonderful crossfield ball. It was a rare moment of intelligence and direct passing combining. A decent drive forward but all in vain and soon over.

The former trialist, was caught twice in a first half against the tide of Yorkshire pressure. But overall he and the newer face inside of him did well to keep the ball and man out of Gerken's way when needed. Both sides seemed locked in a footballing embrace, brow to brow and grappling but the short chopping shots led to Huddersfield looking the more likely to land a bodyblow of substance.

Old wounds and new looked at risk from this pummelling, and the Terriers smelled blood. Hogg in midfield moved little, but like a rudder steered either flank as, Ipswich were slower to close and migrate towards the ball or tide of attacking play. When Gerken let one of several crosses go, it simply trickled to a waiting wideman and caused the defence all sorts of problems. Cut back and snuffed out, one of Bru's better moments was a series of short passes with Lawrence. Cut out on halfway as Dozzell looked on.

The youngster was essentially a passenger, as Ipswich had enough deficiencies struggling to kept under wraps without the midfielder unsure if he was a deep 10, between two runners or a central partner to Skuse. It was clear he wasn't the only one unsure of who and what went were, you can understand it from a teenager but not the men around him.

When he trotted after his man Brown, rather than go up against him he travelled full circle behind his back as the midfielder managed ten or more yards. The back three made a mobile wall, but it was one more from Jericho as his dipping shot nestled in the goal to oddly little fanfare from the home fans. I'm hoping Gerken didn't see it, at least if he is to retain his place.

We responded with an immediate attack down the left. A more probing Knudsen, still couldn't find the throw or Hail Mary pass when there was so little ahead of him, and every team mate ahead of him was so little. One thing, that became apparent as our grip on just holding on failed. There was no hint of hoofball, as there was no point hoofing it at all. Whatever myths, truisms and legends you might associate with McCarthy's side, this one was so alien it couldn't be described as much of a side at all. His or otherwise.

The second half rightly saw Andre removed. You could pick any reason. Whether it was his hand in the goal that had cost us so dearly, or simply another demonstration of his unreadiness in the face of what you might read. The swap for Douglas produced a one man tantrum somewhere in the back of the stand and resignation in the back of many minds.

Suffice to say when his first touch was soon taken off him, so was dignity. His or the dozen or so offering an opinion is a matter of perspective. Ipswich looked likely to carry on giving their foe looks but little else.

The game still appeared to be contested until disaster struck and histrionics followed. A low drive on the angle from distance saw Gerken palm it away fiercely. As can happen when a shot is fired off. Nobody moved. But with the ball begging to be executed, every last one of us collapsed a little inside as Schindler added another to his list against the Blues. Thundering skyward into the central part of the net. 'Hell Ipswich.

Bru who once again faded from view now there was a vacancy for a midfielder to become anonymous, didn't slip away before showing he could pick a pass when the mood suited him. Huddersfield were not the dominant force you'd assume, and undone by well timed punches forward but not affected enough to be unseated by them.

Spence's last action saw him fly down the line. It's hard to see what's changed since his earlier stint with us, as he has the feet and force but not the faith to beat his man. Mick's comments about his fitness might well be correct, but as his shot fizzed out of play past the post and waiting Douglas et al. It seemed likely his condition after an hour of first team football was not as healthy as the team's as a whole.

Switching to 433, Chambers moved out as there was Moore to come for Ipswich. The new signings exchanged courtesies as the striker headed out to the middle. He soon headed up a much better looking attack, even if the charges forward were forlorn.

His best chance came after Bru finally had had enough. Stretching out on the turf and gingerly facing the dugout after colliding with his man, he made way for Pitman as ten minutes of 433, became a staggered 442. Sears and Lawrence had spent long enough being crowded away from centre stage. Both taking supporting roles as Town's intent directly improved their appearance far too late in the match.

Moore had his first shot on target after an excellent move started with Douglas. A nicely timed ball between runners into Pitman's feet, off to Lawrence, Skuse to Searsy on the switch and back across to Moore who ended up shanking rather than stirring up the away fans with an effort low and not hard enough.

The home side still went forward but instead of pinning and sticking, they undulated play into countering and trying to run away with it. This yielded little but bookings. Lawrence threw frustrated words and actions, his eyes skyward and the ball miles away from where the ref wanted it to earn his. Another warning to the one thing we would really miss, even in a period so full of holes bigger than just absentees. Berra was left to chop down Wells after Digby and Douglas turned a short freekick in no man's land into a free run on goal. The veteran midfielder showed his experience to earn his, when taking out his man off the ball before being called back when the attack broke down too to receive his caution.

In the mean time Town showed clever touches but none of the answers to reduce the deficit, let alone avoid defeat. Pitman was put off just enough at the back post. Glancing his header wide and then at the floor away from where his marker lay. Of several late corners and chances to expose the obvious inability of the keeper Town were too long, too short, too slow too often. Big men, big effort and little resulting in a likely breakthrough.

At 0-0 the game was one Town were neither winning nor losing, simply holding on to. But telling difficulties and indifference to the duties summarised the collapse. Claret and Blue so unclear and unfamiliar in role and remit often blurred into a brown long before the man of the same name scored.

Moore and Pitman looked one of infinite possibilities and combinations this season, that might just work. But it was too little, too brief, too academic to have any real world impact. The game played out to the strained protests of a few, then a few more. But despite the fascia of two debutants and grounded football, the 700 strong mob were no more bound together than those sat in the solidarity of deathly silence, or the figures long gone when the whistle came. All wondering what good the axe might do, if it were to fall at all. Those with the mentality of us already being in the bottom three, might drag us there through will alone. Persuasion and February's fixture list is looking a powerful sedative as the life slips away a little more following every defeat.

Talking to home fans before and after the game, seeing their side up close, it's hard not to cast your mind back to two years ago. This is a machine more than any man working it. An unfancied and unfashionable side beating the odds and many in front of them. Despite such clear strengths, and glaring flaws, they know their game and cover for them exactingly and easily. Not only does it work, it inspires. The sight of this in that Blue and White, makes for a strange and frosty mirror.
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Queens Park Rangers v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 20:28:31
New year. New team. Town entered 2017 like it was new territory. What more could we ask for? Running out onto Loftus road with he return of Josh Emmanuel for Grant Ward in an otherwise unchanged teamsheet, but a 343 befitting of loftier West Londoners.

Bart had a flat bank of Berra, Webster and Chambers in front of him. Skuse and Bru had young wingbacks Kenlock and Emmanuel on their level. Lawrence occupied a free role in a restricted front three where Pitman and McGoldrick picked and chose how far beyond him they'd play.

QPR countered with a tighter back two lines and Sylla as a target man who gave Mackie support and a their whole final third a stilted feel. Town had the best of the opening 15 minutes. Both teams competed for the ball but it was largely the away side who attacked with real gusto. The R's most dangerous move involved felling Webster deep in our half, long after the ball had gone.

A buoyed away end was swelled with a recent home win, and all eyes fell on the youngsters on either flanks. Both of whom enjoyed the safety of an extra defender to cover their forward thinking and space left by a side with a hesitant handle on McCarthy's unorthodox shape.

The whole Town left seemed involved when Pitman was left sprawling after a nasty boot to the face on halfway. Arms of encouragement from the ref instead of reprimand saw Lawrence advance only to be felled and Smithies given possession by a laughable dropball.

It was part of a five minute spell where the away side looked to be getting ahead of QPR. Bru much like Friday night, opened up everyone and everything by finding Emmanuel deep on the right. One of many athletic runs saw the youth produce step overs, direct movement into space and a lashing drive from an angle when he saw a glimpse of goal.

Skuse was enjoying the lack of space around him but finding it in front of him with several good touches and passes into a front line who were often corralled centrally but. Allowed to exploit the channels. Lawrence and McGoldrick both threatened when given set pieces or defined space but when there was little room neither looked entirely at home.

Defensive bodies blocking, and shrugs and shirks towards goal offered hope for a swaying away following as each block or bounce at the far end felt like it might lead to a Town lead. Smithies denied McGoldrick more than once as the folk-hero struck and strutted but never hit a shot or his stride like we know he can.

Shortly after one typical defensive clear up in our box, Skuse sent him away into theirs again, the slight advantage Town sensed proved to be misleading. From a simple Perch launch into the box, Berra again did all he could to get something on the ball. Much like in the last game, it wasn't enough. Looping up and dropping for Sylla to slam home past a struggling Bialkowski. As the half hour came and half-hearted protestations towards anyone who'd listen from Town fans were drowned out for the first time by the home crowd.

It wasn't long before the scorer was on the receiving end of that sinking feeling. A head injury saw him laid on the turf from a nothing punt forward. A short spell of playing with ten men saw previous Town target Washington replace him with 5 minutes of the half to play. QPR shifted to a more free form attacking shape. Perhaps because Town remained in their unfamiliar and now unworkable formation.

Chambers who had been dominant in the air all game, (sometimes through necessity) nearly levelled just as the half looked lost. Lawrence was again hemmed in, but from a free kick and the loose ball managed to loop a telling switch from the pocket. The armband swung back as the forehead lurched forward and the header deserved better.

Cramped in the deathtrap and piss puddled guts of Loftus Road's away stand, a mix of resignation and reservation hung like a nasty fart amongst the tentative hope that came from airing the 45 mins of unexpected selections, unsuspecting improvements from many individuals and sense we were still in this.

Town resumed in more familiar fashion with Ward replacing Emmanuel. It was clear that an extra man at the back and front was not giving the numerical advantage required as Town trailed and regrouped to a classical 442.

Normal service was resumed, then with a near poetic move in terms of simplicity and prior ennui. On the spin Ward, who again showed that ten yards of grass was his for the taking, controlled the ball on the spin and outside of his boot. A simpler exchange via Dids and Skuse either side of him and that touch put Lawrence in. Lawrence put it in.

Usually strikes of such intent are cited in murder trials. The Welshman whacked a death-touch past Smithies and off the inside of the post from a distance. It was a close call whether it was better than Pitman's winner a few days before.

The game opened up again like the travelling fans. An end to end period saw little in the way of clear cut chances but some cut and thrust. Washington showed why Mick was interested but not at that price. A decent move and average finish saw Bart deny him. While Pitman was a little way offside when nodding down past Smithies from one of two crosses from the right which promised but just weren't the delivery.

Onuoha came on and changed more than just the shape of the hosts. Replacing an anonymous midfielder and switching tactics completely as now Mick's 442 should have easily contained a side with a flat back 3.

Kenlock would make one lasting contribution in a much improved performance. The left wingback had been much more forward thinking with the ball at his feet and powered past the one man who stood between him and the near post. A neat switch of the feet but not play as like his opposite equivalent in the first half, he chose poorly. Forcing a corner from a regulation stop.

Douglas came on for the improved but fading Bru. If you had to pick a man for 90 minutes it's not clear if you'd plump for either. Let alone the young Dozzell who was called for by the end full of Blues. However not many of whom demanded a 4th sub once Kenlock made way for Knudsen a few minutes later.

In the interim Douglas did his usual shift of predominantly shielding runners and presumably his ears. The Irishman fed a nice header into the box for the attackers who failed to wrest control from the defence. When Knudsen released Lawrence for one of two runs that left Pitman and everyone else frustrated you sensed victory was beyond Town. The worst saw the Dane straining to overlap the gliding winger and Pitman just inside screaming for a layoff that never came, as the ball shanked beyond the entire playing staff of both sides.

Between those moments where just one touch would have made the difference to the game, disaster struck. Just as substitutions looked to renew tired legs and dropping heads, Onuoha looked up or at least lumped up. Webster didn't. The breakout talent of the season, again broke concentration and in Bramble-lite fashion allowed a much loved Pole to stab home beyond our own Bialkowski.

It was about that time of the match that Pitman won it in spectacular style for us, in what seemed a year ago. It was not long after a minority reminded Mick what they thought of his football, all toilet talk or gallows humour without the laughs.

Despite three second half changes and those before the game, Town came away from a match where any given period might point to all possible outcomes. A win would not be out of the question, a draw a fair result or the whole outfit falling foul of chance and expectation. But a defeat all too predictable and yet inexplicable if not unjust. QPR needed it more, it's debatable if they wanted it more though.

Two much-loved defenders making at least one indefensible error, again proved to be the subtext to Mick's novel approach and reversion to old ground and known quantities. Ultimately though we again come up short. Of goals, points, or villains to point to and condemn as a lack of execution leaves Town dangling once more.
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Ipswich Town v Bristol City Your Report added at 23:14:26
Thick fog and gloom hung over Portman Road as 2016 as fellow strugglers Bristol City lined up against Town, less than a month after besting us in the return fixture. What better time than a festive lull and strangers dressed in red for the diehards to come out?

Knudsen dropped to the bench, instead Kenlock took his place in an otherwise familiar back five. Bru took the place of Douglas who was as missing as any goat or other old McCarthy type. Skuse sat next to the Frenchman fancied by Mick with Ward and Lawrence outside those two. They, the legs that switched and swapped on either flank as attacking midfielders. Dids and Pitman a more recognised partnership.

Town took Brizzle's kickoff and pressed them. After one minute McGoldrick opened his body and the play to find Ward who charged down his man and lots of space with one frantic touch too many. His cross swinging out of play to no one, just. Two minutes and Lawrence cuts inside as he does. Again forcing his defenders down and pushing play towards the goal line.

It was a game where Town's slightly altered 442 matched the shape Bristol used to beat us. The away side looked very much like one on a shaky run and when Town took the game to them they shuddered.

The giant Flint was tellingly bypassed by each goalkick and push forward. Bart targeting Ward and shifting the deadball away from the obvious defensive strengths. Along with the deeper central unit of Skuse and Bru Town found an excellent amount of space to turn the hips an inch and change the spread of play time and time again.

However Tomlin was the first to show what worked against us previously. Four players let him go before he skidded to the turf having decided long ago, running just isn't for him. The ref brought it. Bart caught it. A poor chip right into his arms.

Town went back on he front foot and combined well across the attacking line without drawing clear. Pitman beat is man more than once with a little muscle and a lot of guile, at times McGoldrick played some obscene touches. An unsighted cushion on the volley deserved a defensive inquiry as the away side looked at each other whilst crosses and shots whizzed past everyone or crashed against bodies without finding the target.

At the back Abrahams who caused Bart so much woe previously broke free only to have a heroic challenge from Chambers push him off course. It was a rare moment where the threat looked real, while Town schemed admirably but struggled to execute the final touch.

This summed up much of Kenlock's game who's final and first touch was neither consistently good or consistently bad. Either told how successful he'd be. Sometimes he'd turn Freeman at ease, sometimes he'd turn right into Freeman. The young left back deputy has lots to learn and lots to take heart from. He often spotted the run of Lawrence ahead of him but not his own chance to run ahead of him on the overlap. One nice crossing chance went begging too often, but Town weren't feeding on scraps tonight.

A beautiful run from McGoldrick saw him one step ahead of everyone thanks to the industry of Ward who drove a stake through the breathing room in the Rover defence. Dids touched delicately to make space at the near post then spray the ball across the face of the goal and everyone else for a throw. No one could catch up with his feet or thinking.

It was the long sweeping motions from deep inside Town that dictated the play. Webster didn't look like the £4m man when he underhit an audacious pass way behind the motoring Ward, with a stab of his weak foot. His edgy heading often squirted defensive moments neither side could savour. His strong suit on the floor rarely lead to a moment that would cause City blushes.

But when it came, how Town fans smiled. A first corner from Little taking a big risk and clashing the ball off of Lawrence and then himself. The Welshman's swing cleared poorly, Ward fluffed his lines and a dominant Webster composed himself and a lovely stroke into Lawrence who again, cut inwards and drilled the ball into the danger zone. The Mauritian cocked his wand and knee to provide a little bit of magic and a deadly finish past Fielding. Barely 5 minutes from half time and Town's deserved pressure split the deadlock like an axe.

A wounded City struggled to muster an immediate answer but asked questions of Town's temperament. Another cheap booking for Pitman who disagreed with a nothing foul with his typical charm and the demeanour of a Parisian waiter. Tomlin served up another bit of gamesmanship to enable Abrahams and Wilbraham to hammer at Bart's door weakly one last time.

After the break Bristol would obviously come at Town wanting blood. Curiously they subbed both full backs. It was a telling swap. Not long after a few furious runs at us, Bart shanked a goal kick to none but the away bench. From there they launched a simple throw while their new LB loitered unmarked in no mans land. Abrahams would find just enough time to pick him out on the turn and let him fly down the line. Ward couldn't get to him and Chambers had his man already.

Robins' Bryan would launch a cross, Bart claimed, Berra stuck his nose in and somehow the ball squirmed free. It barely hit the deck before Abrahams run away from goal, this time already scoring as the Blues pointed out and at each other's failings.

All square and not in terms of balance. Town pushed back immediately and Berra this time found a header in the box not quite as deadly. He plopped a lovely Lawrence freekick back to Ward who could only nod right at the keeper in a split second.

If Town have been typically shot-shy this season it wasn't for lack of trying tonight. A much more composed passage of play that typified the first half, resumed now the scores were level. Pitman nearly changed the course of the game along with his centre of gravity. A looping overhead kick fell kindly to Fielding after a defending midfielder somehow looped the ball onto his own bar to tee up the Channel Islander.

Bristol made their final change as Town then made their first. Central Defender Magnusson hobbled off under no challenge after his colleague committed a foul. Although already booked, again the visitors played musical chairs on the bench and pitch. Winger O'Dowda came on as another central player dropped back.

Town soon removed Bru who's shine had dimmed whilst the fog lifted. The goal scorer rested in favour of Dozzell. The well-received youngster took a couple of minutes to make an impression, but when he did it stuck. As with the man he replaced, when he found the space he often found the ball and his man.

One such move saw Lawrence again slice through time and space to test everyone. A corner from his shot saw arms raised, as Blues were convinced the Captain's effort had been handled from the resultant corner. If you make your own luck, it's no wonder McCarthy's team have had such an unproductive year.

Ward who had put in the kind of shift the gaffer likes with his endless energy had sparked those around him into life more than once tonight, was changed for the ever-ready Freddie Sears. With his first touch the sub nearly scored.

Again Andre took a moment, and made one. His left foot proved to be so cultured it will one day be dragging him into a museum or two. His delicious chip, dipped to Pitman who sent Sears through. Once again keeper and defender collided but the loose ball meant Sears took just enough ground and time to see his shot clattered off the line by the recovering defence. A sure lead snatched away from us. There was red sprayed and sprawled all over the box but no reward for such penetrative play.

Both sides sensed an opportunity and Town knocked it about much better. McGoldrick finding his rhythm long enough to again run straight at goal only to. See yet another curling sidefoot end up the wrong side of the post.

Bristol used their sheer size and muscle to lump themselves and the ball forward. A rare piece of skill came earlier in the half when Freeman dared Kenlock and the kid jumped in. Leaving man and the ball in play as he careered out of touch, he could only watch like us as the man who got the winner and Ashton Gate drilled the ball at the near post.

Again Town showed how this type of attacking should be done. Lawrence remained where Ward had departed as a loose cannon, barraging Bristol. When he cut play across to Sears who now occupied the right sided spot, the one time Hammer knocked in the sweetest of crosses. Once more Pitman put his back into it. His indulgences and predatory skill combined in an arcing moment of centrifugal grace at the back post. Landing flat and flush on the cool, crisp turf in front of the risen North. The ball scorching inside the post and into the net.

It was worth the wait. It was worth the admission fee. It was worth the warm fuzzy feeling inside and for some maybe outside too. If the reverse was settled by a world, Town evened things up tonight.

Throwing everything and everyone at us, defence became attack as the gigantic Flint became a forward-looking focal point of every lump with and without the ball. Town held on and even placed Reg out there for McGoldrick. His work done, it was time to pin down the injury time with a little more power and less precision.

Overall Town may well look to the future with every opportunity. Webster proved, he is an abundant talent but not the finished article. Kenlock a worthy deputy but not yet fully rounded enough to wear the badge of definite starter. He sometimes made the right choice, he sometimes looked at ease but not every time and not often enough yet.

Dozzell made his biggest mark yet. Just by doing simpler things. His vision and passing is wonderful. When he sticks to his game and his position he showed tonight what a skill set he has at his disposal. Lots of cameos, will mean when his time comes he too could be a leading man.

Really it was about the established patterns and players under McCarthy. Pitman may well hate the supersub tag, but that late goal was superb and it was a 90 mins where again he didn't always get the service, but he got his deserved plaudits.

The defence where largely solid and ultimately Bart will have to shoulder the blame for not commanding the area and the cross which led to another soft and potentially disastrous goal. Ward and Lawrence where the wheels that kept Town running tonight, and while Skuse and Bru had their moments they also slid from view when Town were looking to keep momentum their way. McGoldrick just has it. We just need to see it more often.

Disappointing to see such a low crowd. But not a browbeaten or defeatist one. Rarely was there a lot of noise, but not a lot of complaints either. A strange time at Portman Road.
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Wigan Athletic v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 19:30:06
So this Ipswich, and what had Mick done? Knudsen paraded around the team before kickoff. One of five changes he high-filed and hugged his way around Berra, Chambers, Webster whilst Williams slapped hands with Lawrence and Pitman just out of range all took their places. The Dane let his arm linger around the shoulders of young Andre Dozzell as Bart scratched around like a neon cock between the posts. It was an experimental line-up in no uncertain terms. Completed by Skuse and Sears.

Town started brightly in grey gloaming come early, sunlight struggling to pierce the light fog all around. Luckily Ipswich kept the ball out of it with crisp and intricate passing in an opening spell that was all one way. Barca kit, Barca-lite play as Williams found Lawrence and the ball went from Wales to Jonas for our first attack forward.

Wigan were 9 men and a striker in front of the veteran Jaaskelainen. What was easy to break down for the visitors was the place of play as even the lightest and smallest among them won headers and flicks to play to feet. It took barely 6 minutes for the pressure to tell.

The impressive Lawrence one of two wingers looking to get inside the lumpen back four. He drove at as many as he could and forced the question. Upended after a couple of touches. The referee immediately gave a spot kick to the disgust of everyone local to the event.

Pitman was deadly. Firing low and firmly to make the lead ours.

Wigan seemed to succumb to crushing silence. Town moved the ball well but looked like a side that hadn't played together before. Impressive in fits, but not all the pieces fell into place every time we attacked. Dozzell sat centrally but dragged himself away from the action too often. His most eyecatching moment offensively came with a sweetly lofted ball to set away Lawrence. It was too much from the lad who looks a little too young and skidded out for a throw.

When Skuse had similar time further forward he picked a lower, shorter version to Sears' feet. From a position where his speed saw him hit a brick wall. It was one of several moments where Town who often look good enough up until the last 30 yards, took 10 or so off their usual tally.

Lawrence had the best chance again from the fruitful left flank. His touch let him spin away from the defence who were rocked rather than steady, but it became an easy take for a keeper sliding and smothering with blessed relief.

With Knudsen frequently exposed and caught between his man and someone else's the hosts best moments came when they too got space to play. Their second rate Costa rarely did more than filter the odd lumped ball out of a game increasingly descending into highballs from the hosts when they struggled and stumbled. Despite their clear ability to run at us.

Both Pitman and Dozzell picked up silly bookings from a fussy and infuriatingly poor ref. The goal scorer threw the ball back to their keeper, when it should have gone back towards ours near the halfway spot. Minutes later the youngster was turned slower than milk by his man. He took a lump of him and his shirt, but the ref mimed an elbow to justify to the yellow raised.

From the kick a spinning effort was palmed off the studs of an offside Grigg. Sliding in unnoticed at the back post, the equaliser looked on if you ignored every rule in the book. After 20 or so minutes of encouraging and sometimes excellent forward play from the Blues, the momentum swung away from us like many of the speculative efforts of recent months. To call their play more expansive would mislead us away from the reality of their previous stillness.

Town then began to crack and pixelate. The reception from the supportive away end turned to nervous crackles. Advantages were given unseen all round, minor infractions penalised whilst Berra did enough to put off one shot at the near post by clearly taking handfuls of shirt on the 12 yard line.

Desperation told when Max Power showed none and with his body between the ball Williams won, and the ref, a free kick given right in the middle of Bart's goal. Charged down, Sears lifted his boot to take the ball away and a dipping header earned another baffling decision. Hit at the second time of asking, a wrong footed Bart managed to fist away the deflection from a defender's asscheek. Waiting at the opposite post was Dutch flyer Wildschut who levelled easily.

Town's best moments came too far from goal and the revolutions of little Welsh feet saw little given, until a simple challenge by the line was enough to see another booking. The game didn't really shift back into our favour as the now buoyant Latics made themselves heard and drummed home their desire for a lead.

Pitman was then afforded a neat chip. Nodding past the last man, the clear foul by the last man went unpunished,. The high boot swinging at the striker's head a moment before not ignored. Another yellow in a game of bad tempers, bad decisions by too many people and a bad atmosphere looming over the 9k or so looking on.

The ref was booed off at half time, before then he managed to give Town more reasons to believe they might profit from the selection gamble of so many pacey players. Williams' lashed against the post after one of several setpieces had seen glancing headers and shots blocked, volleyed high or smashed clear. He put the ball in a second time to see it well handled but plenty felt not by the keeper. The resultant confusion and confrontations saw the glovesman booked and nothing doing.

It had been a baffling and often chest beating half of football. A supposed six pointer that had fingers and thoughts going in many more directions.

With the interval gone the drama continued as the fog descended further. The sky a leaden blanket that wore Town down. Whilst both goal scorers and sides looked keen to add to their lead, it was the hosts who would benefit first from the visual lottery that the game became.

Webster is a prodigious talent but always has a mistake in him. Having made a couple along with the rest of the defenders around him in the previous half, it was gutting to see him miss Wildschut. The winger had already beaten the captain and Sears who may have collided or at least colluded in a free run at goal. From an angle he beat Bart in heartbreaking fashion.

He had had similar runs finishing in crosses and sharp saves from Bart. Buxton at one point heading cleanly at the Pole who on one occasion also sent a skidding ball high into the air from the floor such was his Saturday acrobatics in a valuable performance.

Town meanwhile switched the youngster Dozzell and Williams for Bru and McGoldrick. The formation changed little but the shape and approach did. In the chaos of thickening fog on the pitch and blood off of it, at times McGoldrick and Pitman looked like two strikers but rarely a partnership for stiffer but equally shapeless Town.

When the lead came so did the protests. A dozen or so had dirty words for Mick. Half again then set about Marcus. Town quickly drove forward once more through Lawrence. Directing traffic towards the 18 yard box, Knudsen once more came over his shoulder. Lifting the ball over everyone, Dids and Skuse were the familiar faces giving Town a new look as relief splashed across them. Who else but Pitman would crash home from inside the box? It was a delightful assist from the prominent no.10.

Hostilities ceased. 500 blues fired up and spat out the chant made famous by the hosts. Shivering and joyous, it was our man who was indeed on fire. A glowering set of natives disappeared and not just because of the conditions.

Ward replaced Sears who like many of his colleagues had the kind of game that showed what he could do, even if he didn't get all he deserved from his labours. The sub was like for like in every sense. His speed down the right stretched a team looking to restore the lead and gave ours hope of doing the same.

As the last 15mins came into soft focus, the game was in a third and final act of Ipswich's impetus. Ward received the ball not once but twice from Bru who struggled to win possession with some soft and silly fouls, but used it well when he got it. Webster too lofted a lovely effort to the former Spur who either took one touch too many before shooting tamely or crossing poorly. With Pitman having a brief stab at a trilogy, his efforts had been good, bad and lastly ugly as he fired well off target with his final chance of the game.

It was 3rd time lucky though for Ward, as for the third time he ran freely. A beautifully lifted cross came to McGoldrick who was all on his own. Lifting his head and hundreds of others' he looked to take the 3rd goal and all 3 points with a wonderful finish, kissed in off the post.

Thanked by every man in turn, handshakes and hugs aplenty as our left back ran behind the goal to frantically gesture and join in the celebrations the other side of the hoardings. With two minutes left, and four added on there were half a dozen reasons to fear half a dozen goals.

Play resumed and so did the fear and fury and feeling of hope as all light had gone apart from the rows of halogens hazily trimming the tops of the side stands where we really couldn't see them sneaking out or not.

Town's resurgence saw Pitman cannily playing balls into the corners as not enough team mates supported him with options. Nipping at his heels came studs as well as time in slower and slower increments. When Lawrence did the same, he was not for the first time fouled. Another booking came, curiously for the Welshman, and with the scent of dissent all over it as the attacker bit too.

Very rarely will you witness a game like today. Full of everything and yet maybe meaning nothing. The players heartily greeted the supporters in triumph. But there was no fist pump. A shake of the hands and cold shoulder from Chambers. It could mean everything, it might mean nothing. Some questions answered, but many more forthcoming.

Oh what fun it is to see, Ipswich win away. Home fans meanwhile milled across the surrounding industrial site contemplating a return to the third tier. Rust, ruin and rubbish greeted them in daylight and unseen in darkness as one mused a parting just in earshot "We'll not make it back". McCarthy and Ipswich meanwhile must be looking elsewhere. Whatever your views, whether today warrants tissues for one eye or two, we needed this.

Merry Christmas. Everyone.

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Bristol City v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 00:42:49
A sense of a season beginning anew greeted us at the recently completed and revitalised Ashton Gate and a beautifully poignant observation of respect for the tragic lives lost in Colombia. In the still greying chill of a December afternoon, the electronic advertising hoardings rolled over to promote a local funeral service as heads collectively bowed. It was an ominous moment of unintentional farce that only modern football can produce.

Town lined up as Mick revealed days before the assembly in the South West. Unchanged with McGoldrick and Varney combining ahead of Lawrence, Ward, Skuse and Douglas. A now familiar back five from Bart and beyond. And perhaps the story of selection mirrors the story of today.

Town went into the game as even and balanced as any team can in terms of form. A half dozen of each result splitting the previous 18 matches. A form sequence that recently read win, lose, win saw little change by half time to some eyes and much to others perhaps.

On the one hand this is a tale of a bad decision and a wonder strike no one could foresee. On the other this is same old tale of Town just not having enough about them, of Town offering nothing of the unexpected.

Mick threw down not just his tactical intentions earlier this week, but a challenge to us, to his players to Bristol City. Those that feel we need teams to worry about us, will surely take comfort from the fact that the Robins lined up in unusual fashion.

Young and old came together in a strike pairing of Abraham and Wilbraham - whilst the work of a local barber made sure that Freeman and Tomlin looked more streamlined this time around than at first glance. Placed not quite as wonky wingers, but more attacking midfielders that would cut into Town's flanks and on rare moments draw blood.

Both players had moments early on to take the ball to their man and beat them, on one such instance Webster who was wrong footed after Chambers scrambled Tomlin's effort out for a corner. Freeman then delivered one of many set pieces that would derail Town's defensive sensibilities for fear of deja views.

Before that, an early moment of controversy preceding the clock reaching double digits. Douglas with back to goal and facing ours deep inside our half laid a hospital ball back to Berra. There was little wrong with the pass but the hulking demiScot was upended brutally by lumbering striker and ex-Canary Wilbraham. No sooner had he took flight than calls for an early bath hissed forth. A fresh yellow for the former one drew an end to the flashpoint.

Too often this season Town have failed to work referees, several times in this bad tempered affair they turned up when necessary but failed to enjoy fruit from their verbal labours. A similar story told in the final third of the pitch and entirety of the game.

McGoldrick was absolutely spell binding at times, but too far from centre stage to wow his audience. Where Varney might hustle and barrack backlines, Didsy would make space like a reverse black hole. As he backheeled, pirouetted and prowled past many men it seemed like physics is for other people.

However even he was a victim of Town's propensity to play with a 5-a-side mentality in an 11 a side contest. Shots from him, Lawrence, Douglas et al ballooned off target from distance, from angles that never added up to sensible practice. When Town moved it was stopstart and grace gave way to crushing gravity as momentum was often sucked from attacks at the slightest gust of wind or impatience.

Whilst the home side were wary of some crisp passing and movement, they also muddled the game with aerial superiority. Last season that translated to two identikit goals from corners for Flint, this season it meant pushing and pulling at the defence through uncultured lumps and cute runs that ended in cross or free kicks.

Mick soon moved Chambers to man marking Tomlin as it became clear that room afforded to a man of his stature and talent, meant danger. The home side's puddingphile would take the ball to his man several times and his first instinct was to then go to ground if the way did not become immediately clear. Attwell fell for it as often as both he and later Freeman would. Town no wiser than the official who refused to book the former Gunner for an embarrassing early vault, enabled a lot of pushing and protesting.

It was this sort of climate that saw the first big event of the game precipitate down on the Blues. Berra clearly took exception to the double scorer again sensing his opportunity from corners. Wrestling earned both reminders. Town did little to combat such dominance effectively and when Bart scrambled low in his six yard box young Tammy Abraham was there too. Both men got a bit of the ball and each other. The home fans roared as the youngster hit the deck long after the ball hit the hoardings for a throw in. The ref waited, then pointed a single digit down like a hapless emperor before the mob.

Again Town surrounded him, a pointless warm up to Tomlin burying the spot kick.

Our response? Silence. A quarter of an hour of playing out the half and more valiant efforts but magic of McGoldrick switching play to find Knudsen unmarked on the far wing, or blasting just past the post all moments in a game where again Town's best work was too far away to trouble.

If defensive frailties had been largely feared but rarely spotted as opposed to our last defeat it's noticeable that Webster gives us something rarely seen in a Town defence. He can header a ball unopposed, but under pressure does not have Berra's knack or nous, which sometimes has teams asking questions of Bart. But on the ground he is superb. Even when wobbling his way past several players he can ping a pass with either foot and find a man.

This openness gives Town a sense of options sorely lacking at times in recent months and there were two moments where he found attacking intent those in front of him did not. In the second half it was Webster careering through where others feared to tread. But this common theme was signpost to Town's greater departure from quintessential Mickdom. We were again a goal down and whatever the rights and wrongs of it, Bristol like so many sides simply closed ranks and pushed Town out wide and let us lap against their defences, where once we crashed. We now lick our wounds.

It was a match where both teams vied for a 52-48 style advantage all over the pitch. Where both seemed sure they didn't need to consider the other side with too much scrutiny. Simple football in a clash of utterly midtable quality, coloured much of the game.

Even when Mick brought changes we so desperately needed. It was an hour after he was crocked and Ward went off having put in another understated but accomplished stint of doing enough to show he is capable, but only eye catching in glimpses. Varney the embodiment of graft and can-do attitude, didn't today.

It was Town's Best and Sears that took their place and it wasn't enough. When Freddie strafed across a great red wall, his old understanding of Knudsen's overlap found the Dane perfectly. His response summed up his career so far. As promise yielded neither a cross nor shot. The drive evaded everyone expecting and went out for a goal kick. Leaving many confused, frustrated or wishing he'd done what we'd seen before.

When Town were harassing their hosts once more it was Chambers who produced cross after cross, it was his colleagues who let the giant defender clear them away unmarked and unchecked even when again Knudsen cleverly brought one down beyond the back post, but hard bit done saw the next touch squirt the ball over the line a long way from inside the post. Oddly the captain's best pass, was a short reversal inside two defenders and sent McG free enough to beat the keeper and put a shot off the post.

These were all familiar sketches of Town at their best and worst this season. Ability and endeavour ran parallel and past one another in all areas of the pitch. Nothing summed up the current predicament more than the sight of Johnnie Williams pre-bow.

Diving gleefully into the dugout as Bristol attacked once more half-hearted and cruising with a slender lead. The Welshman was pulling his trousers down as Freeman connected with a wonderful volley from distance that left all stood stock still and jaws agape. Even the locals who feel he rarely contributes with any meaningful threat can't have imagined such sublimity in flying size 5 form.

By the time the Welshman replaced his compatriot Lawrence the game was gone, the belief was gone and so was the moment. Just before the triple-blow ending Blue misery the little blonde darted across the line not once but twice, as he was felled in the area. It was as clear as the previous penalty shouts, but as when Berra wrestled the shirt of his man in the first half, it went unnoticed and unpunished.

Town's form now at sixes and seven in the worst possible combination. That is just as powerful as any one stat or result or moment. Without that attacking focal point there is no way to capture the potential threat we can show teams. There is no clear picture upon which we can draw.

As the league essentially loses one promotion and relegation spot in the shape of Newcastle and Rotherham it seems. Town are left even shorter of resources to compete with the best of them. Likewise, no team is too big or good go down. But this side is much better than one Mick inherited and the prospect being unthinkable, is of course never impossible.

Something has to change, for me it'd be the recruitment of a striker to begin the era post-Murphy and now just as pressing, a midfielder that can fill the hole Teddy Bishop vacated far too long ago. In a game where Bart had little to do an offside Abraham slid through and threatened to add a third goal, the problem being it was a game where nobody even the usual suspects did little wrong but again everybody did little right.

What seems obvious at least in the short term is that is impossible to move sideways without moving a tiny bit up and then a tiny bit down. As Town look to have put aside many injuries and kept the consistency in selection that made McCarthy so successful in seasons past, we have lost much of the resilience that turned draws into wins, losses into draws and so we oscillate and the binary nature of in or out ripples from each result with greater force whilst ultimately we go nowhere.
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Sheffield Wednesday v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 20:11:22
After the fear and loathing of last week, Blue met White on either side of the Hillsborough. A grand setting beneath a grey sky. The set back against the Millers an even greater backdrop as McCarthy’s men went back to Championship grindstone. Only Knudsen a preferred change as 442 met 442 in a finely balanced encounter.

The lead almost out of Reach for the hosts as the one time Town target beat the offside trap and met a neat through ball with a diagonal run. Today he was a winger, but moving into striking distance his marker Chambers took the ball off of him. Immediately Bart found Ward in acres of space. With the charge down the wing, Didsy did as he does and dropped shoulder and man to make himself available just outside of the box before turning and lashing Town’s first effort past everyone and everything and out of touch.

The game progressed in style. Town moved the ball in motions and gestures that suggested no lack of confidence. The defence and midfield happy play across the width of the pitch. It was clear that Webster is growing a fast rate. Central to more than just our defence, his looping passes result in one of three things. They find their man on a dime from tens of yard away. They stretch defences and force action and reaction alike. Or they miss their mark completely and give away the impetus and sometimes more.

With the Owls on their own run that feels more like they stand still in this division all too often, it was a match where the atmosphere was palpable. Returnee Knudsen worked well to find Berra and Lawrence, but this new style did not always fit and more than once the left side played themselves into danger with the impressive Bannan on hand to catch us out.

The diminutive former Villain was driving Wednesday forward. Running away from his man and even going down unjustifiably and winning free kicks in baffling fashion. Having dallied on the edge of the Town box before smashing his own effort just over, he later went on to fall at Lawrence’s feet and push him in the face as some sort of celebration at stealing a set piece.

While Town may have been finding their mark with many of their passes, they often lacked the man in the middle to make the most of a new vitality. McGoldrick might find Ward or Sears with a clever turn of limb, but it meant there was no one in the box to really challenge Westwood. The man that eluded Town many transfer windows ago looked more in danger when the strikers came from midfield and pressed him into kicking and groping possession into touch.

The technical capacity of Town to move the ball drew the respective oohs and aahs they deserved, but also the sense of panic when one went astray. Wednesday had more than just Bannan to test and tear at our defence. Lee as ever lively and Fletcher when not pretending to draw fouls, drew encouragement from a barely audible home crowd.
Around half an hour, the lively Lawrence opened his account with a rocket. Stealing the ball from his opposite man around the half way line. He ran. Then some more. Cutting in he seemed to beat the entire Wednesday team. With a screaming drive the match ball left his boot and hit the net having scorched Westwood’s path. The Leppings Lane end erupted in applause and appreciation.

Ipswich had little time to catch their breath, nor the game alight. Lawrence overlapping with Knudsen to defend well and concede a corner. A bizarre routine from the home side was seen again with added pushing. All their attackers standing in a huddle seeming to break loose in the box like shrapnel and cut the defence asunder. Chambers again was the man to block a goalward effort.

When the home side went again from the right Bart got down swiftly and palmed away a delicious shot. Hooper was yards out and broke free to devour an easy tap in. Parity restored and the promising build ups from Town were countered with too many shaky moments as the half drew to a close. The appeals for offside that came with the equaliser, as confusing as some of the more routine decisions the officials made throughout the contest. It was no laughing matter unlike one offside that was given as Lee looked to the linesman before diving to the floor near the six yard box, hoping his flag might wave in his favour. Such was the dearth of chances in a match that was all about the approach.

Both sides came out unchanged in personnel, but Wednesday’s Portuguese has a distinctly Italian streak it seems. Tweaking his formation several times in the half, Mick kept us a resolute 442 in the face of the Yorkshiremen riding in all directions over the tactics board.

The steadfast approach may have been our undoing as the impressive Webster again proved a little green. Showing his man inside only to recover with little composure and going to ground in the box. It was just enough to put Lee off who scuffed his shot wide off the rebound from Bart.

With little edge to the game, but some clear frustrations Carvalhal brought on the gravity-challenged Forestieri to draw blood for the Owls. It was no surprises Chambers and Fletcher picked up cautions as the match took a more eye catching turn towards the referee to decide where the points went.

Town made a change of their own with the understated Bishop making way. The reliance on Webster’s wand meant that simply keeping possession with concise passing was welcome but with Skuse in the side, you’d have hoped the midfielder would have found more room to play. When he did albeit once, he sparked a nice link with the front two. However the change meant Town reverted to just one up top.

With it every mouth moved, by every attack muttered “Here come Johnny Williams” he’s runs are like liquor and drugs, and I welcome the hangover and health risks they might bring. Intoxicating and dizzying at times, he propelled his colleagues forward as the away end almost sucked the air from beneath Wednesday’s wings.

The home fans feared our defensive solidarity, and although not every pass found every man. Our tackling and teamwork seemed to. Kept to good runs and poor shots, Town looked to upstage even themselves when Webster took on his customary charge forward. It took four men and forty yards to see him come stuttering to a halt. Again unable to find the shot or sight of goal you quietly pray for as he competes with the heavens for your last breath.

Wallace came on again to move Wednesday in the middle, and from out wide his pace and guile tested Knudsen who had had a hard return to the front line all afternoon and dealt with it ok. The support from Lawrence as he competed with Chambers for the MOTM award a big factor. The Welshman made way for Kevin Bru. The fires of discontent Mick might well sit above, clearly not seeing a change in him giving a damn for the sticks and stones hurled his way. The befuddling Mauritian sat centrally as a body to stem the flood of a home side looking for a rare win in this fixture.

With asymmetrical five between McGoldrick and the defence Town were handed belief with every surge forward. It seemed like every attacking player had a touch from Skuse’s rare forward drive. Across the goal from Ward and all between, Sears would be shut out when it mattered. The hardworking attacker ran his heart out all game as did the man we got from Spurs on the opposite side and it was these unforgiving yards that ultimately seemed to fatigue Wednesday.

With the lead looking ever more illusory the smell of treachery and zealotry hung in the air. An inflatable dinosaur caused ungracious chants toward its keeper, a lone pariah amid fantastic support. Meanwhile Williams in almost the same spot as Hooper failed to find the net, somehow clattering the ball off keeper or defender when a goal looked certain. Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work. The cliché could only be bettered by Ward’s dynamism down the right touchline. Felled as hope seemed fading. Berra and Webster colluded at the back post, asking for different deliveries. The Scot mimed loudest it seemed as he hung, headered what looked like enough to break the series of draws, before who else but the Captain quartered the ball in mid-air and crashed home the winner.

Subs and colleagues mobbed the man of the moment. Hugs and handshakes and everything between broke out above as they celebrated below. The few hundred who made it, breathless for a heady moment. Not long after, the Leppings Lane seemed louder than nine choirs in saluting “Super Mick”.

It could have been more. Williams denied previously, prodded into the home flank and found McGoldrick. One of many with cross-team affiliations he cut inwards again but failed to find the net with a shot that went wide, shortly after Varney another former loanee in Sheffield blue and white made a bow.

At full time the players sauntered towards us. The appreciation all theirs as the mob roared on a recently rare pump of the fantastic Captain’s fist. Mick, somewhere off in the distance of the technical area. He too an onlooker. As hundreds move tonight from S6 to Ipswich in the glow of an excellent win, three points and plenty of talking points.

Whether Mickxit makes you hard or soft, what better metaphor for protest than today’s inflatable dinosaur. Small, cheap and slowly running out of hot air as it is cast aside under the jubilation of Town rising.
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Newcastle United v Ipswich Town Your Report added at 18:21:48
Town returned to winning ways in midweek, and their upward trajectory had taken them up to the Toon today In better mood but worse shape. The heavy price of victory saw Mick's agricultural boys line up in front of the Magpies with the now usual back five, a midfield five of Douglas where Skuse usually is, Grant and Ward either side of him and Lawrence and Sears besides them. Best returned to another a former club within a week as a lone striker.

Newcastle also played one up top in the form of Gayle, and Perez in their hole, but it was the midfield magic of Jonjo Shelvey who undid the blues inside of a minute. Unshackled in the centre, from deep he spotted the chance to double up on Chambers and as the captain received two men, the ball and no time to think the big blue barricade across the goalmouth only spat the ball as far as Perez who crashed into the box and the goal scoring charts with a decent finish.

The talk of defensive fortitude reduced to hubris as again Town crumbled in the face of such awesome force. The game became an exercise in Newcastle letting us run out our legs, with the body blow already landed it didn't take much. The difference in class, quality, experience and simple touches told.

As Sears rotated with Lawrence and then Douglas the dull point of the midfield triangle inverted it by hovering in front of either D without the threat of penetration, Town's tactical puzzle was more like a Rubik's cube and all the squares were blue. Soon enough it was clear Mick moved into a more attacking 442 as the lone striker was abandoned in more ways than one. Ward and Lawrence remained narrow wingers on a big pitch, Grant and Douglas pushed and prodded while the Magpies were happy to volley and rush until the moment a yard of space became available.

Gayle was allowed to find enough freedom to fire over when once again the Blues were unable to stop themselves from competing or committing in game where ground was rarely given up by the home side.

Best would nearly upset former employers, but not quite. He benefited from a well worked corner that saw a run to the near post drag out defenders and his heavy touch was doubled as he drilled a teasing shot off his chest then the bar. If Town never stood a chance all day, Darlow didn't then and there at least.

It was hard to see what a weakened away side would do once that move was over. You sense there was a reluctance to move away from the nil-nil mentality with the lead already lost. Bart was one of two keepers that spent a lot of time shielded into collections from through balls and moving short passes around across the back. Town's aerial bombardment reduced to ten yard lobs and lifts bar the odd decision from Webster to try and bend in an attack from behind the last man.

The young centre back who caught the imagination of the Ewood 500 a week ago with long runs forward, proceeded to make like Bramble and burst what seemed the length of the pitch nearly unchallenged. A nasty check from Shelvey was waved on rather than away, as the Blue bent one way past the post you felt a more seasoned head would have dived for clod and cover. Earning the easy set piece and clear booking that never came.

In fact Town's best work seemed to come when Newcastle were caught unawares. Colback another link between the two clubs hacked down Sears from behind as the attacker latched onto a neat knock down from Best midway into the home half before being scythed from behind.

His neat work off the ball and use of tireless running into the corners saw some of Town's brightest moments. Whether it was a neat one two with Jonas, or a tight arcing pass from Lawrence, McCarthy's starlets twinkled off in the distance rather than shining a light on any potential frailties the Geordie defence might have.

Town defenders were left rubbing their heads on more than one occasion before the half came to a close. If Newcastle were letting us punch ourselves out in the corners, they were happy to let the referee hold sway on the contest. Gayle was not only miles offside when Bart took the ball off him at his feet, but laughably dived over Polish hands. It looked certain the referee might be sold again cheaply but this time he opted to abstain and not do his duty for us or them.

Soon after Knudsen was booked as this time he was the victim of a quick overlap, but seemingly happy to shuffle out a 50-50, his man Yedlin lost his balance and a booking was forthcoming thanks to frantic flagging. Berra's sarcastic and heartfelt mime was an artful commentary on the decision.

Panic rang out before the game, and with the lineup changed again at half time, I wondered to myself. Best had broken down twice on the halfway line as the first period ended. He didn't return and neither did Knudsen, for whatever reason. Instead McGoldrick and Emmanuel both earned much called for bows, in unfamiliar settings. It only took a minute an accidentally nasty challenge on Lawrence that had the Welshman pounding the turf with his hands and not his feet. His left knee clearly hyper extended in the crash to the ground, and Mick for a second time this season looking at all three subs forced early due to injury. Thankfully the left winger carried on.

Town flirted with a newer iteration of 442 and the unfamiliarity was not mitigated by any certainty of so much youth now in the side. Douglas again could not decide which side of the young central pair he should be. As it was, Shelvey who had opted to step back and pull at Suffolk heartstrings from deep led him to be a pointed reminder of what happens when you lose your shape, his raking passes often coincided with switches in midfield thanks to mishaps and shuffling moves that left gaps.

Ward and Douglas both expected the other to collect one looping hoof that came from somewhere near Gateshead, only to let it find neither of theirs and bounce forward pushing Town back. If both keepers had been collecting crosses and little else all day, it was Bart who would be forced to get his gloves dirty near the hour as Ritchie met one of several excellent moves on the volley.

Town meanwhile moved nearly as well, not nearly enough and found the build up more fruitful than the hanging balls Darlow would easily pluck two handed and unchallenged. In the vast gantry 3000 as mixed and make-do as the side beneath stirred into life as the game seemed to settle again. Neat flourishes across the park stopped any accusations of us simply parking the bus, but Newcastle would crash home a second in similar style to the first.

Again Perez popped up a late cavalry charge enough to cut Mick's weary foot soldiers asunder. A smart move that saw a driving run complete the rout by meeting a low pass and firing past Bart with aplomb. If these are the champions elect, their campaign may well be a simple one and finish long before anyone else's.

With both sets of fans raising their voices in a rare moment to salute the King of all that unites two clubs a literal country and metaphorical world apart. One Bobby Robson, thousands of voices, millions of goosebumps.

It was no surprise as Rafa swept changes once, more having already removed Gouffran, he waited for his side to completely clean out Town with the move of the match. This time Ritchie gratefully received from Perez and made it three with a devilish finish that left our Scottish international reeling, and theirs reeling away from goal. A clever run inwards, a threat of an overlap allowed them in once again to complete the victory in grudgingly impressive style.

Town meanwhile had to make do with more excellent build ups and little end product. When McGoldrick danced into the box, having moved past several players from the right flank, he was always going to struggle on his left foot and the finish was wayward.

Emmanuel at left back never looked in danger, but when he was happy to get forward and support it merely compressed Newcastle so that they might spring into action at will, and likewise with Chambers who linked up with Ward neatly to yield a decent cross more than once, ultimately Town never came close to a consolation. When Sears ran himself out with ten minutes left, a whole half with no target man had yielded a spell that was far from aimless but never going to leave a mark on a team so much better equipped and comfortable. Williams for all his exciting, head down hijinx was never enough.

While there was a legitimate fear of a thrashing, and a sneaking suspicion Town would do well to sneak anything past Benitez's golden men, it is clear Town's place in this division is as secure as Geordie promotion hopes. The gulf so vast, that a side as fluid and yet to be forged as the one we fielded today will always fear a hammering. The best hope we might take from this is that so many young players did not disgrace themselves.

A few waited until the contest was over to hold up a now defaced bed sheet bearing the slogan "In Mick we xrust". If that's true, then it was mostly young blood today adding to any decay. Once we wipe ourselves down and see what's left, I feel we might see the making of many of them.
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