Date: 19th October 2010 at 10:07pm
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Despite a promising start, defensive errors left Ipswich with a mountain to climb as Watford resisted a late rally to hand Town a second successive 2-1 defeat.

Six changes were made from the defeat to Coventry as Roy Keane looked for a major improvement on Saturday’s performance. Two changes were forced due to injury; Brian Murphy took the place of Marton Fulop in goal after the Hungarian was revealed to have suffered a knock at the weekend, while Mark Kennedy was also replaced having been ruled out for three weeks with a hamstring injury. Town boss Keane decided to go with an unfamiliar back line, bringing Tommy Smith into the left-back position with Damien Delaney making his return to league action alongside Gareth McAuley in the middle. Troy Brown occupied the right-back slot in place of Jaime Peters. Ahead of them, Norris returned to the midfield having been left out against Coventry, Tamas Priskin was chosen to face his old club and Jack Colback was given his second Ipswich debut since moving back from Sunderland on loan. Carlos Edwards, Andros Townsend and Luke Hyam were the other players to make way.

The changes looked to have had something of an effect in the early stages as Town put together some decent moves. Within three minutes, Jake Livermore’s cross from the right was headed across the area by Priskin to Jason Scotland on the left, but his effort went over the crossbar. Marvin Sordell threatened at the other end a minute later but narrowly missed getting onto a long ball from the right, but the opening quarter of an hour was certainly controlled by the visitors. Delaney’s long ball played Priskin in on goal, but the former Hornets frontman miscontrolled the delivery and lost possession. Two minutes later, Scotland powered forward from around the halfway line before curling a shot just wide of the right-hand post. The signs were promising for the Blues compared to the shaky start against Coventry.

After Town had dominated the early exchanges, Watford slowly began to come into the game a little more. On 18 minutes, Danny Graham cut inside and struck towards goal, but his effort lacked any power and was easily saved by Murphy in the Town goal. Four minutes later Stephen McGinn latched onto a layoff as he ran forward onto the edge of the Town box but smashed his shot way over. On the whole however, the game was largely being contested in midfield with Watford rarely showing cohesiveness coming forward and the Blues sadly fading a little after their bright start. The greatest threat to Scott Loach in the home goal seemed to be Martin Taylor, who sold his keeper short on several occasions with poor backpasses that were only just cleared away from the path of Priskin.

On the half hour mark, a cross from Michael Bryan took a deflection and went narrowly over Murphy’s crossbar, but Watford wasted the resulting corner. Graham perhaps should have scored 6 minutes later as he ran into the Town box and rose clear to meet a delivery from the right. The striker got his head to the ball but couldn’t get sufficient contact to prevent it simply skimming off and flashing wide of the far post. Town meanwhile were struggling to create many opportunities, the closest coming from Brown’s cross from the right wing which bounced dangerously across the Watford box, John Eustace fortunate not to put it into his own net as he headed just over to concede a corner, but the set piece didn’t result in anything. The game was proving to be a rather tight affair, and with five minutes left before the break, it seemed the teams would be going in level.

Unfortunately, those five minutes were to decide the entire match. A long throw from the right by Lloyd Doyley reached Taylor in the Town box who flicked on for Stephen McGinn in the centre. Having scored for Watford at Portsmouth last week, the Scottish midfielder volleyed past Murphy to put the hosts 1-0 up. The goal seemed to spark panic amongst the Town players who now seemed desperate for the half-time whistle, but it didn’t come soon enough. Boosted by their goal, the Hornets began applying pressure on Ipswich, and with the defence having failed multiple times to clear the danger, Taylor had time and space on the left wing to cross for Marvin Sordell. The striker, who we named as the hosts’ Man to Watch for this match, rose ahead of McAuley around 8 yards out and looped an excellent header over Murphy into the right of the Town goal. Having started so well and probably edging the first half of a tight game, the half-time whistle went with the Blues ruing defensive errors that had essentially cost them the match within five minutes.

With the visiting fans chanting “Keano, sort it out”, it was surprising that the Town boss made no changes at half time. As such, nothing changed at the start of the second half. Town came out and were immediately on the back foot, Watford having 3 corners within the first 2 minutes as well as enjoying the lion’s share of possession. The best effort for the Blues came from Priskin, who struck a fairly tame effort from the D for Loach to make a simple save. Only now did Keane decide to play his cards, taking off the Hungarian striker and Livermore to replace them with youngsters Connor Wickham and Ronan Murray just before the hour mark.

The fresh pair did start to make a difference for Ipswich, with chances more forthcoming in the minutes that followed. On 64 minutes, Scotland turned on the edge of the Watford box and fired, but similar to Priskin’s previous effort, the ball simply rolled into the arms of Loach. However, the Blues did manage to find a breakthrough three minutes later. McAuley, who had been receiving supportive chants from the Town fans several times over the course of the evening, drew a big cheer as he made a surprising charge forward on the right wing which ultimately led to the hosts conceding a corner. With the initial delivery headed out of the box, Carlos Edwards – on as a substitute just a minute earlier – pumped the ball high back into the danger zone. Loach attempted to claim but completely fumbled it, and the subsequent attempted clearance only went as far as David Norris stood inside the D. The Town captain had been in excellent form earlier this season but was pretty anonymous for much of the match at Vicarage Road. However, he made his one big moment count; with Loach laying stranded on the penalty spot, Norris spotted the opportunity to go for goal and nodded a perfect looping header over the top of the mass of players in the area and under the bar to hand Town a potentially crucial goal back – and put himself on 5 goals for the season in all competitions.

Having finally seen a goal, the Town fans burst into life, and so did their team. From that moment on, the game was all Ipswich. One minute after the goal, substitute Murray looked up from the corner of the Watford box and lashed a firm shot across goal which was just off target. With a quarter of an hour left, a blocked shot rebounded to Delaney 25 yards out who went for glory but blasted way over the bar. Despite being off target however, there was no doubt that the Blues were having much the better of the play and were starting to look good enough for a point.

As the game reached its final ten minutes, Watford seemed to panic. Unable to keep possession or create any opportunities of their own, they started to open up at the back. Having been unable to get a shot on deep inside the Watford box, Scotland rolled the ball back out to the left for Wickham who unleashed a shot from a tight angle that zipped over the bar. The ball may have taken a deflection on its way but the corner was not given. Three minutes later, Town thought they had finally gotten their equaliser… only to see it ruled out. With 84 minutes gone, a free kick by Grant Leadbitter from the right flew towards the far post where Wickham was just able to slide in and knock it back across goal. Scotland couldn’t get a touch in the middle but Murray was on hand on the right-hand post to tap in. Unfortunately, the linesman’s flag had been raised for offside the whole time, presumably against Wickham.

Having had the ball in the net, the disappointment of the disallowed goal did not stop Town, instead encouraging them to push ahead for an equaliser that now seemed closer than ever. In those few remaining minutes, having struggled to find a killer ball all evening, the Blues managed several such passes but couldn’t capitalise. On 87 minutes, a long ball from the wing looked to be reaching Wickham on the far post, but Doyley did just enough to deny him with a header to concede the corner. Another ball was rolled into the box perfectly for Murray who was clear of the defence, but he miscontrolled the ball and allowed Loach to scoop up the danger. Scotland did pretty much the same thing with another delivery as the visiting fans started to get the feeling that their team was sadly just running out of time. With three minutes added on, Watford finally managed to get hold of the ball and bring it into the Town half, and there it stayed for pretty much the entire three minutes as they ran down the clock to seal a 2-1 victory and leave Keane’s side with a second successive loss for the first time this season. It is a result which, despite some dreadful play at times, was rather harsh in the end for a Town side that were probably worth a draw in the end against a Watford team that, with the exception of a few sweet moves, were never really that impressive.

The most frustrating thing about this match was the manner in which Town’s performance fluctuated so drastically over the course of the 90 minutes. Compared to the opening minutes against Coventry, where anyone could probably have already predicted that a struggle was on the cards, the first quarter of an hour was far more encouraging. They began to falter as the half went on, and then just before half time, those ‘crazy five minutes’ – as Keane later referred to them – saw Town completely collapse and give themselves a real mountain to climb in the second half. Sadly, it then took them until the last 20-25 minutes to get themselves going, and once they did, it was just too late to find that elusive second goal. Specifically, several players had a very poor night: without Darren O’Dea or Mark Kennedy to call upon and with Jaime Peters on the bench, Tommy Smith and Troy Brown looked very uncomfortable in the full-back positions throughout the match, with Smith in particular failing to deal with the threat of Sordell. Their struggles were evident even at the times that Town were playing well, and to a degree, it was only a matter of time before Watford were able to capitalise upon that weakness. Livermore also did little to aid Town’s cause and was rightly taken off in the second half, whilst Norris – with the exception of the goal – has put in far more impressive and memorable performances this season. Colback’s first appearance on his return from Sunderland began very strongly with the youngster showing his willingness to pressure the opposition and win the ball, but he seemed almost invisible in the second half.

On a more positive note, Keane’s substitutions really did look to pay off. Wickham and Murray – the latter in particular – were very lively once they came on and were key to the improvement in the Blues’ performance in the second half, while Edwards had a crucial part in the buildup to Town’s goal. Scotland also had his moments as did McAuley, whilst one has to feel sorry for Murphy; getting a rare opportunity in goal after Fulop was ruled out, he did pretty much everything right aside from a few stray kicks, but found himself picking the ball out of his net twice. It would be a shame if he is not given further opportunities when Fulop returns to fitness.

The result drops Town out of the playoff places into 8th position, level on points with Derby and Coventry, while Watford move up to 3rd. It is by no means a disaster and things should really be kept in perspective given the comparative turmoil at the club this time last year, when Town were bottom of the table and 12 points worse off. However, the recent slump in form cannot go unnoticed, and it raises questions over whether our start to the season was really as good as we thought – with the likes of Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Bristol City languishing at the bottom of the table, Cardiff look to be the only team of real quality that the Blues have beaten up to now, whilst games against teams around them in the table have resulted in a hefty share of points being given away. Overachievement or not, the first six weeks of the campaign have not been matched since, and fans are yet to be convinced that the current team is really good enough to challenge. A point at least will be a must from the upcoming trip to Nottingham Forest on Saturday, and that won’t be easy either.

Watford: Loach, A Taylor, M Taylor, Mariappa, Doyley, Eustace, McGinn, Bryan (Buckley 76), Mutch, Graham, Sordell (Deeney 70) – Not used: Gilmartin, Hodson, Bennett, Walker, Whichelow

Ipswich: Murphy, McAuley, Delaney, Smith, Brown (Edwards 68), Leadbitter, Norris, Livermore (Murray 58), Colback, Scotland, Priskin (Wickham 58) – Not used: Lee-Barrett, Peters, Eastman, Townsend

Did you travel to Vicarage Road on Tuesday night? Did Town deserve a draw, or were we simply not good enough? What do you think has been wrong with the team lately? Are we now being found out for what we really are after a decent but misleading start, or is this just a blip as we develop towards a playoff campaign? Vote in our latest poll on Town’s chances for this season and have your say by registering with Vital Ipswich:

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