|Stoke City 2 v 0 Ipswich Town|
Saturday, 8th December 2018 Kick-off 15:00
|Mullet added 19:49 - Dec 8|
Bart dropped, who knows how it was done, or how gently the news and his fall from the side was broken before the game, but he walked off clapping his ungloved hands, his eyes as twitchy and unconvincing as his stopping of late. Chambers broke from animated conversation with Roberts to beat his chest, to beat our badge and salute the few hundred of the thousand left to chant “one fcuking Chambers” as they, like him were the last to walk away from today.
Sometimes you have to start at the end to really understand a story, and if the last half an hour of “Ipswich ‘til I die” doesn’t tell us the moral, then the meaning is clear. Even if this is Ipswich’s time, Ipswich’s turn, if the pitch is a scaffold and the mob in the stands baying and trying to engulf themselves in the theatre are as involved as they want to believe, then this must be what it’s like to watch a loved one executed. Whatever they’ve done or not, whether they were merely hanging around too long in the wrong place or not, there is a sense that without severe intervention a deathly drop is coming.
The Stoke ground is one of those you always think of as new, but it is as weathered and obsolete as any of the 90’s Prem-money megastructures now littering retail parks just off of motorways out of reach between 5pm and 6pm. Whipping wind drove rain in from the sides, as the seats given were not taken by the sensible in many areas near the front. Driven back into the height of a stand stood triple figures of Suffolk support. It was not a day for football, and that probably suited us.
Gerken was behind the same back four. Chalobah deputised for the injured Skuse with Nolan right and Downes left, in a tighter than usual triangle. Sears on the left wing, Lankester on the right and Jackson dropped right out of the squad for Roberts once more. If Lambert was shuffling his deck, or merely picking on merit whose to say? But it was an improved opening.
Stoke were another team just down from the big time, still full of big names, old names and familiar names in slightly different orders and places as to where they might be known to most of us. Huddersfield’ Tom Ince was back at this level, whilst Woods seems to have stood still figuratively and literally thanks to the woes of his former side. They were indicative of a team as unbalanced as ours for all the wrong reasons.
Town barely saw their central midfield get a meaningful touch for fifteen minutes. Only Chalobah in his part of the pass the parcel style approach out of the back really got on the ball long enough to move it to centre back or keeper and receive it again. Both Gerken and Butland slipped in the rain, such was the oddity of trying to do that in conditions so unsuited and in our case a side so unsuitable for precision and poise.
When Afobe tried for an early penalty at the charge down of our dithering keeper he was rightly jeered and wrongly not booked. It was a recurring theme that would soundtrack a game with little entertainment value.
Ipswich worked their concertina passing game with less rhythm and found that the slowness of Shawcross allowed him to receive long balls hesitantly. Diving his hands over Roberts’ shoulders like they were pockets every time, we got little charity from either him or officials who again saw Roberts’ lower league aggression, as lacking class.
There was a much brighter period from the Blues around 20minutes. Chalobah and Downes had benefitted from Nolan coming into the game more. The older, but less experienced head of red and his luminous boots looked to warm up proceedings just a little. Whether his weeks with Lambert have meant he has been reprogrammed in the privacy of the training ground or, were just seeing him emerge from the shell of a team his former boss left who knows. But we clapped appreciatively in the latter part of the half when he drilled a shot at the near post.
It was Chalobah who again showed the light and dark duality of his follicles and his football as he chested a ball down and found a great threaded pass with the outside of his boot to set Town away, but when the defending was done, he stepped over his own trick part-way through and landed in a heap allowing the Potters to skip past him, thanks to Allen’s excellence in doing the simple things.
Lankester forced a great save from Butland with Nolan too getting a distant drive onto the gloves, and out for a corner. There was a feeling that the second balls might have been falling kindly for Stoke but either side would improvise cushioned touches, and contorted limbs to distract and disorientate in blowy conditions.
When the youngster then trotted over to the flag and clipped it in moments later, it glanced off Chambers and was too acute to find the far the corner of the goal as it maybe should have done. This was the period where Town were not only matching Stoke, but making it look like either side could have suffered a recent relegation rather than being fearful of one.
Both he and the diminutive Woods looked a central midfield that at times was either two too small to really combine or when they did, they were like some sort of midfielder-squared when they clicked. But when Lankester bypassed them all and got in behind Williams to fire off target, you sensed he wasted a golden opportunity. With Roberts leading the pile of bodies in a wet and crowded area, a low driven shot could have gone anywhere.
Town might have looked at the change of referee after an unseen injury as a chance for a fresh start, but really, they didn’t want or need one for once. We’d played well enough to be in it, and you have to be in it to win it. But with a new ref and oddly a new flag for the far side linesman came change.
Stoke moved the ball cleanly, Allen and Woods left it to their advanced midfield colleague Clucas. Stood off he picked out the run of Ince who snuck behind a straight blue line. It was a simple finish in injury time, and all Pennington could do was appeal for an offside that wasn’t there. It was harsh on Town but might not be harsh to suggest that once again, he was watching the wrong thing at the wrong time and a goal was conceded.
As the fans all slumped and rounded their shoulders in all too familiar fashion the players trudged off. Town’s response between the restart and the half time whistle, was in keeping with their season. Easily dismissed and ultimately not enough, no matter your perception of luck and entitlement.
The second half started better than the first. Ipswich were out early with their heads up and their march from the tunnel saw them restart with Lankester halted on the intersection of the 18 yard box. Clipped down as he drifted into a crowd of Potters, he was spun and flung for a free kick, again no card came when it was persistently presented to both refs and not by either.
The teenager rifled a shot on goal with the arrogance that is so lovely to see and so needed right now. A defender intercepted it, as many blue shirts raised their arm in sympathetic protest that he had done the same. It was frustrating more that Butland was not tested, than a spot kick not given but the corner was nodded away and so were Town again.
The home fans were not exactly jubilant at their lead and simple moves were broken up by both sides’ obstinate approach to dispossession. When Sears had the temerity to chase down a loose ball in the Stoke box, the ref ran as fast as he could in preparation to give a foul as soon as he made an attempt to win the ball. Such was the inconsistency as Downes twice disarmed his foe with a shoulder barge that clearly a league up would have merited more than a wave of play on.
Pieters had trotted past Lambert and high fived him in the first half with genuine affection when the officials were being changed. No such niceties, when he somehow found Allen with an exchange that saw the Welshman double their lead upon the hour. Either it was a sublime finish, or he just ran into the cross and it shinned its way at high velocity past Gerken, but he like his team mates were left with almost no chance.
Edwards was brought back in from the bench as Lankester’s impressive game was over. The Welshman’s first action was to pick up a cheap booking. The second goal’s provider Pieters got a taste of Blue studs almost instantly.
The Welshman would keep Town’s shape exactly the same but offer a very different off the ball outlet. Roaming inside to an already narrow midfield and try to compress Stoke enough before arcing runs to the corner flag and get a cross off.
It is something that has become a feature of us under Lambert, but both wingers found the corner flag marked the bottom of a cul-de-sac all too often. When Edwards and Sears didn’t have the excellent overlaps from either wingback, their crosses were going to no one as Roberts went to meet the man no his cross too often.
This is the sort of thing that Hurst has to work with too many times in his half a dozen games. He might have a handle on the tools left by Hurst, but we have no cutting edge at all. All we can do is jab and bruise teams with repetitive thwacks and thuds of eager wing play and committed set pieces.
Town’s best chance from open play saw some good passing link Chalobah to Roberts. Once of Crawley but now haring through just off centre, and just off target his low shot completely missed by Butland, and just the wrong side of the post. Comically the referee gave us a corner and the chance to introduce Andre.
The youngster was clearly given instructions to change the shape of the midfield, and Chambers double checked and relied it via a complex set of finger puppetry and shouting. Whether it was foreign to our players too was of little consequence, on we ploughed with perhaps Dozzell as the no.10 withdrawn to being almost on the toes of Downes and Chalobah.
He took a good chance to pull one back when Spence won a free kick. Running forward again like an escaped goat, he humped the gaps ahead of him to bring four opponents upon him and was adjudged to have been neutered outside of the box despite tumbling well inside it. A penalty shout of substance, but it was never going to be given for logical and superstitious reasons you can choose yourself.
Rowett made late changes bringing in the old heads of Fletcher and Crouch just because he could. Lambert has no such luxury or resource afforded to him. Whatever today cost in terms of points and cementing our place at the foot of the table once more, it only crystallised the defiant diamonds stood behind the goal. Rowett suggested that whoever he brought on he’d be criticised, you simply can’t imagine the same for Lambert from us. Stoke fans were left bored and bemused today, Town fans must now be left wondering how many of us believe this is not just another step from the security of a Championship cell each year onto a long road.
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