|Birmingham City 2 v 2 Ipswich Town|
Saturday, 29th September 2018 Kick-off 15:00
|Mullet added 20:25 - Sep 29|
It was a Birmingham side who made a good measure for us right now as they so often do. Similar home kits, similar stadium, similar attendances, expectations and frailties in recent memory in perhaps very different contexts; all meant the second city’s second club, were this week’s hot tip to be the first victims to an Ipswich win under Paul Hurst.
27 minutes and some scares were all it took for things to look eerily like the fixture that kick started his predecessor’s reign at Ipswich. The hosts had the better of the ball and won niggly free kicks and corners perceptively, as well as using them well, to force Gerken into a floored stop after a flap. In the resulting play a long-distance Gardener chip bounced off the post when everyone stopped to watch it break the deadlock.
Had the man in two shades of green just caught the ball initially then all of that could have been avoided. At the other end, Lee Camp was making yet another appearance at yet another ground against Ipswich, and unable to catch the first thing of note we would throw at him.
Pennington had looked every bit the centre back in the early skirmishes. Pinning Maghoma to the line and whilst Jonas was high up the pitch when off the ball, we had Chalobah dropping between Chambers and Nsiala. It was effectively meant to give us three at the back, but the young Evertonian lingered when he should have pressed, and the misshapen lines only severed much of Town’s rhythm and squeezed out a little of Brum’s.
When he did march forward down the line he bypassed Edwards and dropped a perfect ball over the top. Jackson didn’t just dance through the offside trap, he beat it. Nolan who had looked every bit the invisible man in neon again, mounted a cavalry charge in the right channel and met the layoff to perfection. One step, instep, goal. The away end didn’t know what to do with themselves or each other.
It had taken nine barren games, but the midfielder had shown the right belief and right technique to bring about an opener worth the admission fee but maybe not his just yet. The home fans went back to silence, those of us visiting fizzed a little.
Early in the game the ref had ignored the more desperate attempts to win a foul, such as Che Adams’ pathetic dive in the box, when a card was clear. As Maghoma and the game drew on it was clear he and Pennington would again have to keep a beady eye on the wonky winger. Brum don’t exactly have form or finesse when it comes to the dark arts, but Town don’t have any self-restraint either as the free kicks and fifty-fifties piled up in a frenetic and splintery game.
When a Knudsen long throw saw some far side intricacies bear a corner, the half was nearly done but Town weren’t. Ward swept a foot across the stationary ball and it swept across a stationary diorama of defenders. Only one, Pennington leapt forward to drive the ball in for a dizzying second.
Composure where there was none soon after at the other end of the stadium had reaped rewards. The contrast had seen another scrappy corner hooked off the line when an equaliser seemed certain, may have been Knudsen’s best contribution to the match. Blues of both persuasions seemed to look to see if the referee would raise with watch and make a digital pronouncement, but it never came.
There was a long pause between the 45 minute mark and the half time whistle four minutes of injury time had accumulated thanks to two innocuous looking head injuries for the home side and a lapse from Chambers who hobbled his way to the floor after 20 minutes or so. The skipper assaulted in the thrusts of an unclaimed aerial challenge and limped through 2 minutes of tepid tiptap before succumbing to the physio. Had he gone off then, or worse been ruled out for longer the game could changed there and then.
The injuries told more on Birmingham who at half time subbed the head-bandaged Gardner for “Dutch Mike” Kieftenbeld. The man they said can’t control a ball, has similar issues with his temper judging by a stamp on Chalobah deep into the half that saw both flare up.
But after 15 minutes of tentative hope, belief and tactical dissections beneath the belly of the stand, it was Town who started brighter and gutsier. A dancing Edwards had one or two slaloming runs at any defender who dared oppose him on the left. Firing behind or beyond with his crosses, Town failed to capitalise.
But it was again Pennington who put himself all over the game, his cross a better bet. Ward was unfortunate to find for the second time his run and timing excellent, but his finish weak. Chesting the ball down under pressure but stabbing fluffily into Camp’s arms from close range when a third looked likely.
It was also Pennington who had helped show that Nolan clearly had his pecker up as in the opening attacks. Skipping like a one-man Swan Lake into centre stage only to be felled. But Nolan was whipping the free kick from the right side into the right-side-netting.
More picante than #peppery, his hot streak cooled as Birmingham turned it up on us. The boss’ main man, had gone from deft and decisive at times to trying to win everything and getting nothing. Whereas Skuse had remained sensible in pass and tackle, and Chalobah had rouladed and rotated around oncomers to cheers and applause in the first half, it was again Town’s middle that would let the opposition exploit our lack of depth.
Jota from a previously lukewarm Birmingham cut through us like a laser, Jutkiewicz had been denied too many times already. When he found what seemed to be far too much space on the edge of the area, it was inevitable he would not only pull one back, but drag Town’s belief through the floor. Gerken spread himself, but like his colleagues it was too thinly and the shot was despatched easily.
Town’s inability to play a simple ball or do simple things had meant the lead was not indicative of the quality either team had deigned to show. Too often the right tackle or right ball had seen an orange shirt isolated, or an orange limb give away possession and territory. A booking for Pennington had come from this as he laid out the intercepting Maghoma once too often after Chambers and Nsiala had run out of options with the whole field ahead of them.
Nsiala would do this too often and once turned his man well before trying to lay off a ten yard ball to Skuse who was 15 yards away. It was an infuriating set of omens as the runes and sense of victory fell upon the afternoon.
Again, Gerken would pull of the spectacular when the simple who do, but the corner that saw Jutkiewicz nearly double his tally was met with a withdrawn arm as the ball hit the bar and remained a Town possession. The temptation to batter it behind or back into play for once was not conferred upon a crowded box of players.
The same could not be said in the 67th minute. The referee gave the softest of free kicks as all Jonas did was clear the ball. He could not possibly know an attacker would stoop his head in, nor should he care. But when Jota’s whip was parried by Gerken dramatically, farce ensued. More scrambles and clearances only resulted in one thing. You can clear the ball off your line once, maybe twice a game and it be heartening, to do that in one attack is an invitation to concede. So…. we did.
It was the inability to deal with a second ball that castrated Ipswich once again. The high-pitched shriek over the tannoy announcing it, only served to pour salt on the wound and the ground from whence our first victory looked to be coming.
Hurst made no changes until he brought on Sears in the 80th minute. It didn’t change much. His pace and Jackson’s had shown to undo Birmingham but we had not seemed to feel the need to pick at their back door often, even after they had got one back. Shunting into a 4-3-3 that pushed Nolan to LCM, and Chalobah and Skuse in the spaces to his right, whilst Edwards and Jackson took up wider positions.
Running straight at the Blues’ defenders seemed to pay dividends and when we did that it worked. Jackson again beat the offside trap from a deep free kick. Again, the home fans and players seemed utterly at a loss as he hit the line and pivoted. This time it was Sears not Nolan onrushing. This time it was behind his man, not in front that Jackson placed the pass. A golden chance to for a third and three points burnished in the setting sun.
At the restart Town found themselves with yet another familiar dispossession and disposition. Pennington who had brought the kind of sweetness only a Toffee can, left fans gagging as he clearly had had enough of Maghoma’s petulance. Upending him in a throw of one-upmanship, it seemed he was booked not for the foul but his refusal to return to the ref. He shrugged his shoulders and soon so did we. Some applauded him off, some just sat crestfallen.
The last few minutes saw Birmingham paw and push for a lead they neither deserved nor should have had much trouble taking. This was the Ipswich way in a new era. Another red in a game with barely a scratch of violence, a little more than unruliness to it. Town stretched their time in the lead by around 20 minutes or so, and showed that when had belief, we at least had hope.
As prayers go unanswered, and what looked like a chance to make St. Andrews a place of pilgrimage for downtrodden Ipswich fans and managers alike goes begging, where do we turn to now? It was a victory we needed and a draw we got with little artistic merit. Even Pollock could inspire a sense of awe from his freneticism and asymmetrical dots and slashes. Town can barely fill their shirts these days, such are the stickmen we put upon the field.
Another game, another performance as half and half as Chalobah’s hair. Equally baffling as it was eye-catching at times. Ultimately it was not enough to sense that any questions are answered, any partnerships or even bonds strengthened. We can look at the side again and say there’s something in there, but like Brad Pitt at the end of Se7en, do we want to open that box and find out?
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