Town 3-0 Leicester: Winning In A Winter Wonderland
Saturday 18 December 2010
Heroes, villains, an interval and lots of snow; Portman Road's Christmas Pantomime had it all as Ipswich Town finally ended their losing run with a deserved 3-0 win over Leicester City.
With the covered Portman Road pitch passing a lunchtime inspection, Keane set about picking his lineup in a bid to end a string of six defeats in front of the Sky TV cameras. Former Leicester keeper Marton Fulop regained his place in goal with Brian Murphy dropping to the bench, while Damien Delaney came back into the side in place of Troy Brown. Meanwhile Shane O'Connor was given a rare start, taking the place of Carlos Edwards on the wing. Jason scotland and Rory Fallon continued up front with Tamas Priskin on the bench. For Leicester, former England keeper Chris Kirkland made his debut, while Kyle Naughton - a Tottenham team-mate of Town loanees Jake Livermore and Andros Townsend - started in the Foxes defence.
Despite a vast number of fixtures being called off because of the adverse weather, Town's late kickoff had been given the go-ahead by young referee Stuart Attwell, with just a dusting of snow like icing sugar sprinkled over the turf. Heavy snow was forecast to move in from the south-west however, and sure enough there was a fairly steady snowfall before Leicester kicked off.
Understandably, it took a few minutes for the game to get going. Fallon found himself in the referee's notebook within two minutes, Attwell adjudging the Plymouth loanee to have struck defender Curtis Davies with his arm after going up for a header. The yellow football, which was already proving too difficult to see clearly, was quickly replaced by an eye-catching orange ball.
Having gone behind in most recent matches, it was a pleasant surprise to see Town take the lead after just five minutes. Jack Colback pumped a free kick into the Leicester box which Delaney and Mark Kennedy nodded onto Fallon with his back to goal. Rather than trying to turn Davies whom he had clashed with before, the New Zealander laid the ball back for David Norris who drove low through the sea of bodies and into the corner of Kirkland's net for his sixth goal in all competitions this season to make it 1-0 to Town.
The snow continued to fall but Ipswich seemed to adjust to the weather far more effectively than Leicester and quickly went looking for a second. Kirkland got down to deny Scotland who just allowed the ball to get away from him running into the box, before Fallon nodded a cross from the right into the keeper's hands.
For their attacking endeavour however, Town have frequently been undone by poor defending in recent games, particularly from set-pieces. They were nearly punished in this way again a few minutes later, Darius Vassell heading Paul Gallagher's free kick from the left across goal before Kennedy unwittingly nodded it against the far post. Norris was able to hack clear but the danger of more defensive mishaps was clear to see.
Davies fouled Fallon to make it one yellow card each in their battle as the game reached the 20 minute mark, Vassell striking wide and Lloyd Dyer having a shot blocked as Leicester struggled for an equaliser while the conditions continued to deteriorate. The Foxes, who have generally played with a fluent passing style, were finding their game stifled by the snow, and prepared to bring big striker Steve Howard on for greater aerial presence.
Just shy of the half hour however, and before they could get Howard in the game, the Foxes were 2-0 down. Delaney won the ball from Andy King and passed to Fallon who found Jason Scotland with space to run into down the left. Unchallenged as he drove forward, the Trinidad striker decided to try his luck from the increasingly indistinct 18 yard line, drilling low along the snowy white floor across Kirkland and into the far corner. It was the first time Ipswich had scored two since their last win at Sheffield United - and crucially, Town have won every game this season in which they have netted twice.
With pacy but aerially-challenged winger Dyer rendered redundant by the conditions, Sven-Goran Eriksson immediately made the change he was planning and replaced Dyer with Howard. Leicester tried again to get a goal back, Vassell's shot taking a deflection off Delaney before King headed wide as the first half ticked away. The snowstorm was unrelenting however, and the Foxes found themselves continually frustrated by stop-start attacks.
Town meanwhile, perhaps taking something from the rugged figure of their manager, were playing some surprisingly impressive football in the harsh cold and were soon able to further reinforce their dominance. O'Connor, who had been working hard on the left wing, jinked neatly around Naughton before heading into the box. He still had Yuki Abe to beat though, and looked to have lost out as the Japanese international nicked the ball from his feet just short of the goal-line. O'Connor kept pressing Abe though and his persistence paid off, forcing the defender into a mistake and stealing possession before slipping a pass across goal, where Jason Scotland was sliding in. Having failed to net more than once in any game this season, Scotland finally recorded his first Town brace, diverting the pass high into the back of the Leicester net to give Ipswich an unprecedented 3-0 lead 6 minutes before the break - the first time they have managed such a feat under Keane.
That looked like game over for Eriksson's side before the game was even 45 minutes old, and indeed it should have been four when Fallon found himself in a great position from a flick-on deep inside the Leicester box. His first shot was blocked by Greg Cunningham, then he seemed to stumble in the snow as he lined up a second on the rebound before trying to lay it back into the path of the onrushing Colback, only for the ball to be cut out by Gallagher for Kirkland to gather.
Town had utterly dominated the match by half-time and would in any other circumstances have been quite relaxed with their biggest lead of the campaign so far. The trouble was the snow - a thick blanket of white was now laying across the entire pitch, covering up the lines which despite being painted blue were now well and truly invisible, and the white stuff just kept coming. For all their excellent play despite terrible playing conditions, there was now a real risk of Town's 3-0 advantage being wiped out by abandonment. As such, referee Attwell sounded the half-time whistle, prompting award-winning Ipswich groundsman Alan Ferguson and his team to rush out and begin clearing as much as they could. Sure enough, by the end of the interval, the lines were visible again and the penalty areas had been brushed down, leading Attwell to send the players back out for the second half - though whether they would get to 90 minutes was still up for debate.
Leicester came out knowing they had a lot of work to do to come back, and set about attacking as quickly as possible. Howard volleyed well wide before Gallagher raced forward into the Town box ahead of the defence only to scuff a poor shot straight into Fulop's hands. Town meanwhile started the half rather quietly compared to their first half exploits, and didn't look like adding to their lead until just before the hour mark. O'Connor gave Richie Wellens the slip - quite literally - as he cut inside from the right and curled a good effort just over the far corner.
However, then came the moment everyone in Ipswich Town colours had been fearing. Wellens' slip seemed to prompt Attwell to walk over to the managers and begin consulting over how they should proceed. Keane seemed to be wearing an ironic smile at the prospect that his team, now enjoying a convincing winning position after 6 straight defeats, could be handed the most cruel dose of bad luck through the game being called off. With Roy's stern gaze on one side and Sven's protestations on the other, 28-year-old referee Attwell surprisingly decided to halt the match for 10 minutes only, giving Ferguson and his staff another opportunity to get the pitch clear - much to the relief of all watching Town fans.
Unsurprisingly, Eriksson and his players were furious, insisting that the game should have been called off. Perhaps by now they were right; perhaps it should never have been started in the first place, and had the score been 0-0, everyone would probably have been unanimous in calling it a day. However, having allowed Ipswich to play to a 3-0 lead - and put them on the brink of a vital victory - Attwell had an impossible decision to make, and having overseen such a stop-start affair for nearly an hour, it now only made sense to just get the game out of the way there and then. Perhaps the only strange thing about the decision was that the conditions had seemed more playable when play was halted than they had been towards the end of the first half - and indeed by stopping the game, some of the biggest flakes of the evening had been given their opportunity to line the pitch.
Despite the bizarre stoppage, the players trotted out again for a third time as Attwell resumed the match on 58 minutes, now set on getting the match finished. Seemingly accepting that their hopes of wiping out the scoreline had now been dashed once and for all, Leicester started to enjoy much more of the play. Sure enough, it looked as though they had gotten a goal back, Davies stabbing home from a free kick by Gallagher, but the linesman adjudged the defender to have strayed offside. The decision seemed debatable, given that there had been other Leicester players ahead of Davies who hadn't made contact with the ball, but the Aston Villa loanee may still have been beyond the last defender.
As the game passed 60 minutes, Keane took off Fallon - who had enjoyed a fairly productive evening - and brought on Connor Wickham, before Jake Livermore replaced Jason Scotland. Meanwhile Sven was making the remainder of his substitutions, Matty Fryatt replacing Gallagher and defender Jack Hobbs taking the place of Davies. Neither team seemed to have much momentum by this stage however, and things were held up again after Wickham challenged Portuguese defender Miguel Vitor for the ball in the Leicester box. The challenge was fair, but Vitor's right foot had slipped away underneath him and sent him crashing down awkwardly into the snow, injuring himself in the process. That was the end of his evening, and indeed seeing his side go down to 10 men having made all his changes, Sven knew it was probably the end of Leicester's evening too.
Keane sent on Edwards in place of the impressive O'Connor as the final 10 minutes rolled on. By now this bizarre game was definitely petering out, Ipswich happy to sit on a 3-0 lead while Leicester continued to find the conditions were playing havoc with their passing game. Indeed, the weather seemed to be calming down too, the heavy flakes slowly dying down into a finer shower, though still not ceasing. Town tried to extend their lead through substitute Wickham after 85 minutes but his effort flashed across the face of goal, Norris narrowly missing out on diverting it in, but the goal would not have stood given that he was miles offside as the ball was played. At the other end, Foxes substitute Fryatt came closest, curling a shot narrowly around the far post as the match entered three minutes of injury time. All the talking points had already occured however, and nearly two-and-a-half hours after kicking off, Attwell brought to an end an extraordinary game for Ipswich to draw the line under their nightmare run with an emphatic win - their biggest of the campaign so far.
It's probably safe to say that this match was not the best advertisement for football. A spectacle perhaps, certainly not without its drama and surprises, but by no means a treat in footballing terms. Credit must go to Alan Ferguson for getting the game on despite call-offs throughout the rest of the country - including even the Premier League heavyweights - as well as recognition for the efforts of referee Stuart Attwell, who given his inexperience did the best job he could probably have done under such pressure. His decision to allow the match to proceed not only gave Town their much-deserved win but also ensured the fixture schedule - already pretty cramped - was not congested further by a replay.
True, Sven and his Leicester players had a point - the contest did descend into farce, the second half largely a non-entity as the deteriorating conditions and unexpected break disrupted things entirely. It was no doubt a memorable encounter however, treating Town fans to what must be said was an astonishing demonstration of how to play effectively on snow (and indeed making an example of Leicester's inability to do the same). Despite the weather, it could well go down as one of the Blues' best performances of the campaign - even in ordinary weather - and came as much needed relief for Keane in particular having been under severe pressure following the team's worst run in 15 years.
That pressure is unlikely to relent after just one win; indeed, with the surreal atmosphere of this match, with its hushed spectators, blustering snow, slow pace and disrupted passage, it barely felt like a proper Championship test at all. There is plenty of inspiration to be taken from it though, having pulled out a crucial win in the most adverse circumstances, and perhaps Keane may be able to buy himself more time if it can lead to further good results under more conventional conditions. Maybe Keane's rugged Ipswich Town team like playing in the cold, and if they can use that to their advantage over the busy festive programme, it might just be a Merry Christmas for the Blues after all...
Ipswich: Fulop, O'Connor (Edwards 77), Delaney, Smith, Zuiverloon, Leadbitter, Norris, Colback, Kennedy, Scotland (Livermore 69), Fallon (Wickham 62) - Not used: Murphy, Peters, Brown, O'Dea
Leicester: Kirkland, Miguel Vitor, Naughton, Davies (Hobbs 70), King, Dyer (Howard 28), Wellens, Abe, Cunningham, Gallagher (Fryatt 65), Vassell - Not used: Weale, Morrison, Oakley, Moussa
Did you brave the cold at Portman Road on Saturday? What did you make of Town's performance in the snow? Was Stuart Attwell right to play the match, and what did you make of his decision to take the players off in the second half? Do you have any sympathy for Leicester, or are you just glad to take the points at last? Have your say on this extraordinary game as well as all things Town by joining Vital Ipswich: