Summer holidays are, according to flimsily researched articles I googled in newspapers that I must admit to rarely reading, rivalling the Christmas break as peak periods for divorce decisions.
It could still be a long hot summer of 2017 for Mick McCarthy and Marcus Evans, and indeed for Bristol City’s beleaguered leadership team of Lee Johnson and multiple Bristol sports’ owner and multi-millionaire, Stephen Lansdown, who (planning carefully ahead) moved to Guernsey in 2013 to ensure himself a safe distance from any irate Bristol football, rugby or basketball fans. But following the fractious family row at Portman Road on Boxing Day there was something locally more pressing to resolve. Might the Ipswich family tear itself apart and finally call it a day – or at least a Friday night – in a massive moaning, hooting and Trumping boo-fest? Alternatively might the team just turn up and play … a football match?
Thankfully for those of us who have had enough of 2016 surprises, the surprisingly pleasant latter outcome was the one everybody opted for. Mick McCarthy, after carefully considering the fact that none of the 11 players he picked for the last game did very well, changed 4 of them. McGoldrick, Bru, Ward and Kenlock all started. City boss Johnson brought in Little, Golbourne and Wilbraham. Both teams had been in poor form prior to this game and City’s has been especially depressing; despite which the opening passages of play were reasonably constructive, at both ends of the pitch. For Bristol, Brownhill struck an accurate if optimistic free kick from well outside of the penalty area – safely scooped from the slick green turf by Bialkowski, just in front of whom it had bounced.
Abraham then had a clear sprint on goal deep inside the Ipswich penalty area. He looked likely to score but Ipswich captain Luke Chambers somehow, shoulder to shoulder, edged him enough to stay legal but force a mistimed shot that tamely bounced out. It was excellent and experienced defending. Meanwhile Ward and Lawrence for Ipswich, from both flanks, used younger legs and positive thinking to attack with pace on several occasions. Having said that neither side had created a clear chance following Abraham’s 16th minute run, until Ipswich took the lead in the 39th minute. Following a few minutes of sustained pressure and two good corners, Ipswich’s Webster found himself yards outside of a crowded Bristol penalty area. With a cool head he picked out a beautifully weighted pass for Lawrence to his left; whose decisive cross was turned in by Bru running into the six yard box at Bristol’s near post. Ipswich’s half time lead had been secured by the best move of the game so far; but nobody could have quibbled had it been nil-nil.
And soon after, it was one-all. Two half time substitutions appeared to galvanise Bristol and it was from one of those (Bryan) that a 52nd minute cross resulted in a City equaliser. Struck with force across the Ipswich six yard box Bialkowski and Berra appeared to bump into each other during a panic-struck moment, and Bristol’s Abraham tapped in his 15th goal of the season. That is an impressive tally, for a young loan striker in a struggling side. He might even one day get a game, in Chelsea’s reserves.
After that though, it was growing and in the end relentless Ipswich pressure. Even before Ipswich’s second half substitutions a deflected Chambers header had bounced off the Bristol bar and Ward and Lawrence had created chances to shoot. City’s chances were further restricted by Magnusson picking up a hamstring injury and being replaced in the 66th minute – meaning they finished the game with only one of their original back four still in place (Flint).
Mick McCarthy meanwhile sent on Dozzell for Bru in the 71st minute and Sears for Ward in the 78th; and Sears’ pace created several half chances in the next few minutes with toe pokes, mishits and goal bound efforts all adding to the total of 14 shots that Ipswich managed during the game. But it was Dozzell who, without actually creating a clear cut chance, caught the eye. Several passes from a variety of angles cut their way through Bristol’s midfield and as his manager eulogised afterwards ‘he came on and gave a masterclass, he had his laser working tonight didn’t he?’ Which is high praise for a 17 year old and especially welcome, as like the rest of his team Dozzell had been overrun by Fulham’s midfield following his first start to a league game of the season only days before.
Yet it was Freddie Sears and Brett Pitman, both ten years his senior, who combined to provide the decisive moment in the 86th minute. Lawrence had sent Sears down the right wing, whose pace and strength enabled him to send a brilliant cross into the Bristol box moments before he reached the touchline. Just before he did that I screamed despairingly ‘there’s only one (Ipswich) player in the box’. I need not have worried. It was Brett Pitman who, responding to Sears’ perfectly placed and weighted pass, fell deliberately backwards and volleyed the ball, whilst hanging nearly upside down, into the Bristol net.
The fact that he simultaneously beat two Bristol defenders and their goalkeeper to the ball says everything you need to know about the quality of his finish and of the assisting pass. It was tough on the Bristol players and on their excellent travelling support; both of whom had given their all. But as Gary Johnson said after the game “this league is relentless … it doesn’t feel sorry for anybody.” A sentiment with which after that Boxing Day roasting by Fulham, anybody from Ipswich will agree. Meanwhile I suggest McCarthy phones his lawyer to suggest staying together, for the sake of the kids? If he dares to risk blending home grown youths like Dozzell, Kenlock, Emmanuel and the soon to return Bishop, Smith and Hyam with astute signings like Pitman, Sears, Bru and Webster: who knows? Fans might turn up to watch. And without feeling the need to boo…
Match review by Grant Bage