Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

4 January 2022

Bright, sunny afternoon with a cold breeze blowing across the pitch from Findus to Main Stand. The away suppporters took up most of the central section at their end, giving a reasonable atmosphere.

Town lined up on the usual 4-4-2 formation as follows: Coyne, Butterfield, R Smith, Groves, Gallimore, Donovan, Burnet, Coldicott, Pouton, Ashcroft and Lester. The subs (none of whom were used) were Croudson, Black, Clare, Allen, Chapman. Groves played at centre-back with Pouton at left midfield/wing.

Ipswich did not have Gary Croft in the squad. Many of the Pontoonites were (hopefully) speculating that as Ipswich are very unhappy with his actions he may be swapped with Jack Lester. Wishful thinking, no doubt, especially as he'd be no good to anyone behind bars. There was also speculation regarding the false name he gave the Police - Lee Ashcroft? Peter Handyside? or others with clean driving records.

1st half
Town played towards the Osmond Stand in the first half. The game started promisingly with both teams stroking the ball around, and into the feet of the front players. From the first minute the movement from the Ipswich front two was quite exceptional, with them creating a chance as early as the second minute. Naylor shot tamely at Coyne from the left edge of the area after Johnson had set him free with one-touch passing and movement.

The first half was quite even with Town possibly just having the best of the chances and dangerous moments. Ipswich's chances in the first half were relatively few, and confined to shots from outside the box, though this does not accurately convey the flow of play. Ipswich, for a couple of five-minute periods, totally controlled the game and laid mini-siege to the area. The Town defenders/midfield were disciplined and organised such that they either charged down/blocked shots, or shepherded the ball/player away from goal. The Ipswich chances were:

a) Naylor's shot previously mentioned;
b) A header flicked across goal, but landing on the top of the net;
c) A cross that landed on the net after they'd got behind the defence on the right;
d) A free kick curled three yards over the bar, from near the left corner of the penalty area; and
e) Some general possession and one-twos on the edge of the penalty area that were cleared, usually by Groves and R Smith.

R Smith even received a little kick from Johnson after he had succesfully blocked an attempted drive from the edge of the area. The referee did not take any action, something he was loath to do when Ipswich trangressed. Whereas Ipswich had pressure but not chances Town, if anything, were more incisive on their fewer forays forward. The Town efforts were:

a) Groves side-footed a twisting volley three yards wide after Donovan returned the ball after a corner was cleared;
b) A Pouton cross from the left was missed by Ashcroft and the ball drifted a foot wide;
c) A Pouton cross from the left was glanced a foot wide by Lester from a left of centre position; and
d) Ashcroft hit a couple of shots from outside the area, weakly, straight at Wright (not Lee Tissier today).

Ashcroft rather wasted the opportunities with his long range shots as Town were breaking quickly and exposing the Ipswich defence very well. They seemed to have difficulty coping with Lester's rolling turns and Ashcroft's ability to glide into the spaces in between their back three. And Town's goal was something special.

After 39 minutes Lester received the ball near the half way line, in front of the Main Stand. He rolled away from his marker and seemed to take on a couple of players. He rolled the ball to Pouton, who was in front of the away manager's dug-out. Pouton allowed the ball to go slighlty behind him and dragged the ball with his right foot between his legs and went down the wing (a sort of half-Cruyffian turn). He nudged the ball over a sliding tackle to place it further down the left, to the on-running Ashcroft, who controlled the ball and surveyed the penalty area. He turned inside and curled a low flat cross to somewhere near the penalty spot where Donovan placed a volley over Wright high into the centre of the net. It was a superbly worked goal - a four-man flowing move with a great finish. The crowd had been quite subdued until that point, when they exploded with relief. The silence was not through boredom (as had been the case against Stockport) but apprehension - Ipswich had looked capable of playing their way through the Town defence.

The chances listing looks rather threadbare, but this was down to very good defending stopping either set of attackers getting opportunities to strike. The approach play from both teams had been high quality and the game was absorbing and entertaining. The Town lead at half time was just about right, but only just. Ipswich had been by far the best team Town had played so far this season. At half time we hoped Town could continue, but many would have accepted a draw.

2nd half
The second started as the first had left off - fine football from both teams. The only difference in the second half was the performance of the referee. He was very weak and gave a free kick every time an Ipswich player (usually Johnson) fell over near the Town box. Ipswich, of course, cottoned on to this and fell over a lot. Five minutes into the half Johnson fell over and got a free kick on the edge of the area. Fortunately Venus blasted it into the wall. Virtually from the rebound Town broke away and should have scored. Lester turned on the half way line and battled his way to about 25 yards out. He rolled the ball to the unmarked Ashcroft, who advanced into the area and shot straight at Wright. The rebound went back to Ashcroft, who tapped it back to Wright.

After about 10 minutes of the half Ipswich won a free kick on the right edge of the Town box when Burnett tried to control a header with his chest, but it caught his arm. Butterfield went back onto the line, so Naylor ran up to him. Butterfield then ran back up to the "line" of players and Burnett dropped back as Magilton took the kick. It was floated over Burnett's head. Burnett didn't jump and Coyne watched it go over Burmett's head into the centre right of the goal. It looked like Burnett didn't jump because he thought Coyne was behind him, and that Coyne thought Burnett was going to head it clear. Oops. Oh dear. 1-1.

The crowd murmurings and fears didn't last long. Two minutes later the ball was lobbed into the bottom left corner of the Ipswich half (in front of the Police Control Box). Ipswich defenders played it around between them and Donovan, Lester and Ashcroft ran up to them, forcing them to retreat. McGreal was the last player and he looked at Wright and tapped it back. Hilariously he hadn't noticed Lester right behind him and he, in effect, passed it straight to Lester. Incredibly, for the second week running, Lester looked up to see Ashcroft completely unmarked eight yards out and passed to him. Ashcroft side-footed it in, 2-1 to the Mariners. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

The crowd again exploded into life with renditions of "Sing When we're Fishing", "Mariners" and "Who are Yer". Every tackle, interception, and pass was cheered heartily. Ipswich pressed forward even more and switched their formation from 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 formation, then in the last 10 minutes what looked like 3-3-4 all out attack. Their only chances were:

a) A Thetis header from a corner about a yard wide;
b) A Johnson turn on the right of the area with a shot just wide of the near post; and
c) A header in the last couple of minutes from a corner that seemed to evade everyone and dribble into the arms of Coyne.

Ipswich fair pounded Town in the last 10/15 minutes, but the rearguard held firm with some excellent covering and tackles, most especially from Groves who cleared danger a couple of times before anyone could shoot. With Ipswich pressing so much Town exploited the spaces they left in defence, with Lester and Ashcroft causing havoc on the break. Lester, in particular, broke free three or four times and only fouls stoppped him. Incredibly the referee failed to send off any Ipswich players when, on at least three occasions, Lester was held back or fouled by the "last man". On one occasion Lester was held back by the substitute (Wilnius), when he was the last man. Play was waived on and the ball went to Ashcroft, who was flattened, and then Lester got the ball back and was fouled again on the edge of the area.

In the last couple of minutes Pouton beat three men in a determined charge into the area. Like most of the Town breakaways in the second half, these were "moments of danger" where defenders blocked before a strike on goal. Town won seven or eight corners but never got a strike on goal (though Pouton's corner taking looks useful. He clips the ball in low and flat).

The last minute of play was taken up with Pouton, Ashcroft and Lester holding the ball in the Pontoon/Findus corner and wasting time, very successfully. Then the whistle blew and Town had deservedly held on for three points.

Despite the paucity of clear chances, or strikes on goal, this had been a super game (as Ray Wilkins would say). Both teams stroked the ball around well, and defended superbly. R Smith and Groves played perfectly in defence, with the full-backs being disciplined and solid. Burnett brought calm and rhythm to the centre of the pitch, with Coldicott giving his usual terrier-like performance. Pouton performed more than adequately on the left. He is extremely one-footed (ie his right), but still produced some surging runs and fine, teasing crosses. His half-Cruyffian flick was the defining moment in the build up to the first goal. He has tricks which can unlock defences. Lester and Ashcroft were a real handfull up front, causing danger all afternoon. Lester produced the performance his agent demanded. He even looked up and passed to team-mates.

This was another performance to be proud of. Town matched Ipswich in all aspects of the game. Not bad, eh?