MATCH VERDICT: Bolton Wanderers 1 Ipswich Town 1
“AWFUL, dire and dour” – words used by Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy to sum up a lukewarm 90 minutes of football; suffice it to say that stronger language was used around the ale houses in and around Bolton on Saturday night.
Plenty of effort has gone into improving the match-day atmosphere at the Reebok in the last six months and though the jury is definitely out on some aspects of the work, there is one place where Wanderers are definitely getting it wrong.
On home turf Dougie Freedman’s side look scared stiff and that is not a cheap effort to shoehorn in a pun this close to Halloween.
Defensively the manager appears to have got his blend just about right, and that has come at a cost in the entertainment stakes.
Shorn of Liam Feeney on the wing and with young Rob Hall still deemed only an impact sub, there are few players in Freedman’s line-up who looked capable of lighting up such a dull day.
So after forging ahead 63 minutes into a bang-average game through Medo Kamara’s free kick you would think the “fear factor” that has gripped the side at home since the tail end of last season would cease to become such an issue? No such luck.
Just when the advantage should have been driven home, the Whites regressed. David McGoldrick’s low drive into the bottom corner levelled the scores and though Freedman tried to change the shape of the game late on – it was too late.
There had been a groundswell of support before kick-off for the manager to switch to a two-man attack to give Jermaine Beckford the support he appeared to miss in the previous week’s stalemate with Sheffield Wednesday.
David Ngog came into the side but as so often in his Reebok career, looked better outside the penalty box than he did once he bore down on goal.
Beckford was again feeding off scraps and the few decent goalscoring opportunities he had were almost all of his own invention.
Switching to a four-man midfield, Freedman put Neil Danns and Chung-Yong Lee on opposite wings and suffered at times from a lack of genuine width. A penny, then, for Feeney’s thoughts as he sat on the bench for 70 minutes in Millwall’s draw at Reading.
In the creativity stakes Jay Spearing and Medo both struggled to break down McCarthy’s well-drilled Tractor Boys and, in truth, both are more attuned to playing the 4-2-3-1 system that Freedman has used so extensively since his arrival a year ago. Consequently, that spark in the middle was nowhere to be seen.
Chris Eagles has been out of sorts and Andre Moritz is yet to get himself fully fit, so will we need to wait until Mark Davies returns in December before a genuine link-man takes to the pitch?
Freedman certainly needs some help and a replacement for Feeney before this weekend would be a very good start.
Before the game the Fijian rugby league team treated fans to a surprisingly harmonious version of their national prayer Meda Dau Doka (translated as God Bless Fiji). If only things were that melodious on the pitch for Wanderers from there on in.
The first 45 minutes crawled by with Andy Lonergan providing the very few moments of interest, rightly or wrongly.
His mis-kick 11 minutes in presented a chance for Cole Skuse but the Ipswich midfielder’s lob back over Lonergan’s head from 40 yards landed on the roof of the net.
The Whites stopper, in for the injured Adam Bogdan, soon made amends with a stunning sprawling save at the feet of Ryan Tunnicliffe, who seemed to have a simple tap-in from eight yards out after stealing on to Daryl Murphy’s low cross.
Beckford’s inventiveness forced Dean Gerken into a couple of nervous moments, one hook over his own shoulder landing just over the bar and another shot on the turn going wide.
Chung-Yong and Danns had played some decent football between them in the wider positions but nothing to particularly damage the visitors, who were the happier of the two sides going into the break.
Wanderers suddenly shifted up a gear after the restart, with Mills heading just wide, Gerken pushing a header from Chung-Yong over his bar and Ngog racing on to Spearing’s pass only to be denied by a good late challenge by Tommy Smith.
The crowd responded in kind and as Freedman prepared to send Eagles on, Beckford was brought down on the edge of the box by Smith – offering an excellent set-piece opportunity.
Medo stepped up to curl his shot round the wall, just inside the post, leaving free-kick specialist Eagles to turn on his heels and sit back down.
Where would it go from here? Six or seven months ago, Freedman’s Wanderers would have gone on and scored a second. Nowadays, one goal never really looks enough.
And so, just eight minutes after going ahead, a cross from the right was half cleared to the edge of the box. Matt Mills was one of six Whites defenders inside the penalty box to block McGoldrick’s first effort but when it bounced back to the Ipswich striker, his second effort powered past Lonergan into the bottom corner.
Eagles and then Hall were thrown on to try to muster something late on but the fact Wanderers finished the game with only one recognised striker on the pitch only served to antagonise the fans who believe Freedman is being too cautious in his approach.
Even five minutes of added time failed to inspire the Whites for a final push and so the jeers that echoed round the ground at the final whistle were only to be expected, and not to be ignored.
Home certainly doesn’t feel sweet for Freedman’s side right now and so next weekend’s long haul to Bournemouth may be just what they need.
Yes, this was five games unbeaten – the first such occasion since the five-game winning streak propelled the Whites up the table in February and March last season – but it certainly doesn’t feel like something to celebrate.