Nobody said it was easy (nobody said it would be so hard).
Despite the (actual) facts suggesting otherwise, it feels that we always draw with Ipswich, so I’m unsure how I convinced myself this time would be any different. The unchanged team was a boost – Solly March and Anthony Knockaert in tandem. Attack from the off. Let’s do this.
Within 30 seconds of the kick off, referee Roger East had his cards out. Young full back Kenlock crudely chopping down March out wide. Mr East got that one right, and credit for that – many refs let a poor challenge so very early go unpunished. A small plus mark, in an utterly lamentable officiating display. Dropping down from the Premier League, presumably because he’s been shit there, too, he fairly and squarely earned the choral comparison with Mr. Dean he was later to receive.
Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal caused palpitations in the away end, dropping the subsequent free kick – onto the head of Dale Stephens – fortunate to see it bounce safe. 90 minutes for Kenlock to walk a tightrope, seemed a big ask. He needn’t have worried – the woeful Mr East seemingly has a strict one card each policy.
Before the game had settled into any rhythm, a long delay – Bruno crashing into the back of Emyr Huws – both requiring attention for head injuries. Bruno’s treatment amounted to a bottle of water over his shiny head – Huws was removed to the changing room for fully ten minutes, for stitches and a fresh numberless shirt.
By the time he finally returned, his numerically disadvantaged team-mates were a goal up. Tom Lawrence, a tricky thorn in Albion’s side throughout, threw himself over a non-challenge to win a free kick on the angle of the box. His right foot delivery of the set piece was a peach, swinging in at goal, with pace – ‘one of those’ where any touch will do. His captain Luke Chambers obliged – showing huge bravery and commitment, in stooping to head home – coming off worse in a collision with the outrushing David Stockdale. Another lengthy stoppage – a cynic might suggest drawn out as long as possible, to allow Huws to be patched up.
Right wing back Emmanuel, joined his colleague, in receiving one of the terrible Mr East’s Valentines cards – clipping Hemed as he surged down the line. No panic though, son – you’re only allowed the one, so feel free to foul away from here on in. Knockaert woke the crowd up, cutting in from the right, past two, then shot tamely at the keeper. Shame. A little pressure building though, and soon to tell.
A pass into Bruno’s feet on the edge. Clever turn to roll Huws. Massive shirt pull almost giving the crowd another look at the Spaniard’s legendary six-pack. Theatrical collapse from the skipper, in truth, but the offence very clear. Not clear enough for Mr East, who was very poor all night. The inept official waved play on momentarily, before being put straight by his assistant.
A couple of minutes later, after several unnecessary struts along the D, from the petty Mr East, to check toes were behind the line, Tomer Hemed stepped up to do what Tomer Hemed does. Goals in five straight games now for the Israeli, and into double figures for the Championship season. Pretty impressive for a striker considered by many as third choice.
Tom Lawrence the third Ipswich name in the sub-standard ref’s book, for dissent after the goal. A game too late for the Albion – the influential Leicester loanee now misses two (annoyingly for us, the first is THE Leeds United. Annoyingly for the tractor boys, the second is the East Anglian derby). Chambers followed soon after, again for dissent, after Baldock had fouled the Ipswich man looking to herd the ball out of play.
Sloppy passing in the final third – a theme of the night, sadly – led to a quick Ipswich breakaway, and very nearly disaster. Stockdale to the rescue, saving well with his legs, when McGoldrick ought to have scored. The Ipswich number 10 was soon to trigger a club fine - the fifth to pick up a yellow – and with it immunity from further punishment, in Mr. East’s personal disciplinary system.
Lest anyone think that Roger East was the primary reason for the dropping of points tonight, it should be made clear that the Albion themselves were very far from blameless. The positively inadequate man in turquoise was a factor of course, but less so than the sloppy passing, poor decision making and erratic finishing of those in stripes.
The rock solid defence of late 2016 is wobbling too – the back four again grateful to the man behind them seconds after the break – Lawrence’s near post fizzer repelled by Stockdale’s boot. The game opened up now – chances both ends. With Solly March about to deliver from the side of the box, star man Roger, stopped play, with Duffy down in the middle. His eagle eye had spotted the head injury, but not of course, the cause of it. Big Shane broke his own nose, maybe, just to prove how hard he is. Once the Irishman had shown the North Stand his pants, swapping his bloodied shorts, and retaken the field with swabs up his nose, Ipswich sportingly returned possession, a mere 80 yards further from danger.
Back up the wrong end, Duffy and Dunk slid in together on Lawrence out wide – Dunk looking to have taken the ball cleanly, under the nose of the linesman, who flagged for a throw. What would he know, though? He’s not PREMIER LEAGUE. Our hero, a mere 30 yards away, had a much better view, and decided a free kick, and a yellow for Dunk, were in order. 11 for the season now. A three game ban seems inevitable, at some point. Have to feel for him on this occasion, mind.
Those of us bemoaning two dropped points, should remember it could have been worse. Ipswich played their part in this game, and could have won it. Chambers hit the foot of the post late on, then Sidwell rescued the situation, heading McGoldrick’s follow up, over the bar. Decent unfussy performance from ‘Siddy’ tonight. Many clamour for the reunion of Stephens and Kayal, but Sidwell out-performed Dale here – an uncharacteristically loose display, for a chap with higher league pretensions. You’ll love it there, Dale. Apparently the refereeing is great.
Fed by Knockaert, March drove into the box. To the by-line. Six yards from the post. Stood up his man, Spence. Cut back onto his right. And down. Spence has caught him, surely? He’s four yards from goal! From the middle of the West Stand it looked the clearest penalty you’ll ever see. Viewing the incident later, from other angles, opinions are split between minimal contact, a genuine slip, or a (why the hell would you?) dive. In which case, you would say Mr East has made the right call. But honestly, I don’t care. He was so irredeemably shithouse throughout, that by default, his decision was probably the wrong one.
Any injustice would have been brushed aside moments later if Sam Baldock had kept his cool. Knockaert – well off colour all night, but always capable of producing a special moment – drove at the centre of the defence, before slipping the number 9 in – just the keeper to beat, from 15 yards. Baldock struck it well enough but without really picking a spot – Bialkowski relieved to make the block. Huge chance wasted.
Jamie Murphy, out of form of late, joined the fray in place of March, and proceeded to liven things up with some direct running. Only Roger’s Valentines Card double jeopardy rule saving Emmanuel, after the Scot had beaten him. The same rule surely spared McGoldrick too – a clear arm into the face of Dunk.
Glenn Murray and Chuba Akpom on now too, in place of the front pair. Akpom busy and bustling. But threatening? - not so much. Murray into his stride with a speculative strike across goal. A point apiece ultimately a just outcome perhaps, but either side could have snatched all three – a last ditch block from Duffy denying Huws, before Murray had THE chance at the death. Receiving the ball, with back to goal six yards out, he teed it up then volleyed on the turn. The ball crashed against the inside of the post – YES! – and out to safety – NO!
Just as elsewhere Huddersfield and Reading were chalking up last minute winners, we came an inch from doing the same. That strike, an inch to the left, would have seen the Albion top of the pile and saved an awful lot of angst. That pesky inch leaves things feeling so, so different. I can’t be doing with all the ‘look at the table – we’re still in a great position’ stuff. The four point gap suddenly feels paper-thin. I trust that Chris Hughton and his players are a damn sight better at dealing with the pressure than I am – we’re screwed otherwise.
Football, eh? Bloody hell.