MATCH VERDICT: Ipswich 1 Wanderers 0
IPSWICH gave Dougie Freedman his first kick in the shins as Wanderers boss, and this run-halting defeat amounts to something like a bloody nose.
Bullied out of this game for the most part, the Whites can use the international break to go away and lick their wounds. Some would say they deserve a chance to collect their thoughts.
But whether Carlos Edwards’ late winner at Portman Road proves to be a defining moment in Wanderers’ rollercoaster season now rests on their ability to get into another rich vein of form, and fast.
We had waited seven years for a streak of five successive wins but that is exactly the kind of immediate reaction Freedman will need from his team now if they are to stand any chance of hauling themselves back towards the likes of Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Leicester City.
Brutish, brash but blunt for most of the afternoon, Mick McCarthy’s Tractor Boys made up for what they lacked in subtlety with the kind of gutsy performance that will surely see them steer clear of trouble.
They typified exactly the kind of straightforward Championship side Wanderers have struggled to overcome many times this season, and though Freedman claimed after the game that he was generally happy with the performance, I’d suggest he would be disappointed with the lack of cunning shown going forward at times.
Chris Eagles, Chung-Yong Lee and Marcos Alonso all seemed to be at odds with a dreadful playing surface that stifled their own natural ability on the ball.
And though this kind of rough and tumble would normally suit midfield terriers like Darren Pratley and Jay Spearing, both were bypassed for most of the afternoon.
Craig Davies – well versed in this kind of second-tier scrap – led by example up front by never giving the Ipswich defenders a moment’s peace.
Even though the former Barnsley man is yet to fully hit his stride since signing for Wanderers, there is something of the nuisance factor he lends to the team that needs to rub off on a few others.
He had got the nod up front ahead of Kevin Davies, who has been honing that same routine for a decade at the Reebok now. Clearly, the two share more in common that just a surname.
Ipswich have, down the years, been known for playing attractive football and that fact has always been mirrored in one of the land’s best playing surfaces.
Little wonder, perhaps, that the home side showed little desire for the ball to meet the floor for most of this encounter.
The gameplan was as simple as it was effective: pump the ball into the channels, and leave roaming wingers Carlos Edwards and Jay Tabb to whip crosses into the penalty box.
It was a ploy that particularly troubled Alonso early on, especially as hulking full-back Richard Stearman had been pushed right up to challenge for everything in the air.
Edwards was profiting considerably from this approach and after heading just wide himself, the veteran Trinidad and Tobago international whipped in a delightful ball for Adam Drury whose downward header was pushed away well by Andy Lonergan.
Wanderers seemed content to hit on the break and Eagles saw a lot of the ball early on.
Even though he never looked truly comfortable on the playing surface, he did look the most likely goalscorer and his dipping shot 20 minutes in was as close as the Whites got all day.
Ipswich should have taken the lead when David McGoldrick got in behind Alonso again and pulled a low cross back for strike partner Daryl Murphy, who was also a victim of the bobbly pitch as he skewed a shot well off target.
When the break came, you sensed the worst must have been over. But unfortunately, Zat Knight’s sloppy pass across towards Craig Dawson gave Murphy some encouragement, and the Irish striker beat both for pace before firing disappointingly over the crossbar.
Both teams continued to labour in a disjointed game but gradually the half-chances started to appear for Wanderers.
Davies and Eagles snatched at volleys from the edge of the box, and when skipper Kevin Davies came on to replace Craig Davies, he too scuffed a decent chance from Sam Ricketts’ cross.
Eagles crashed another effort narrowly wide with about 15 minutes left on the clock and if anyone was going to win the game, it looked like the Whites.
McCarthy changed the shape of his side by sending on Michael Chopra – whose goal had settled the game back in December – and the imposing figure of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who immediately set about causing problems for Ricketts.
It was his chasing in the corner that led to the winner.
Wanderers claim the ball had gone out for a throw-in on the left but as some defenders protested, the ex-Arsenal trainee skipped to the byline to pull a cross back for Edwards whose first shot cannoned back off Alonso before his second tucked neatly into the bottom corner.
Freedman went three at the back and sent on Marvin Sordell in a last-gasp attempt to salvage a point but Ipswich managed to hold on without any further problems.
In fact, had it not been for a smart save by Lonergan from Murphy late on, the lead would have doubled.
And so Wanderers have a week to take stock and go again. Having given themselves a glimmer of hope in the last couple of months it would be a travesty to think this result would spoil all the hard work.
Freedman says he will not be dipping into the transfer market to “gee up the fans” but the right signing at this stage of the season could make all the difference.
Wanderers’ supporters will not need any revving up in the last couple of months of the season – so the focus falls once again on the dressing room, and how it will respond.