Ipswich 3-0 Sheffield Utd: The Magic Number
Saturday 05 February 2011
It's 3 goals, 3 points and 3 successive wins for Ipswich Town as Damien Delaney set the Blues on their way to a 3-0 victory over Sheffield United at Portman Road.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" was the motto for Ipswich Town manager Paul Jewell who named an unchanged side from the win over Derby County as Town looked to make it a hat-trick of league victories. Meanwhile Sheffield United boss Micky Adams named former Ipswich striker Marcus Bent in his side as they looked to avoid a hat-trick of another variety having lost their last two Championship games.
Although the two sides have enjoyed contrasting form of late, it was strugglers Sheffield United who began the game the brighter, forcing a number of corners in the opening stages. Gareth McAuley blocked a ball by Nick Montgomery before the resulting corner fell to Michael Doyle on the edge of the box, but he struck wildly off target. Bent then drew a save from Marton Fulop on 11 minutes as Town looked to be making a slightly sluggish start.
Town's first chance came from Jimmy Bullard, who received a warm welcome from the Portman Road crowd on his home debut for the Blues. Lee Martin was brought down on the edge of the D as he made a run across field, but Bullard's subsequent free kick sailed straight into the arms of Sheffield keeper Steve Simonsen. Connor Wickham then volleyed narrowly wide as Town started to come into the game.
Having taken a while to come to life, the Blues then took the lead just before the half-hour mark. Bullard's free kick from the right found Damien Delaney unmarked running in at the far post, the defender thumping a header down across goal and into the far side of the net. Having called for the club to begin contract talks with him earlier in the week, Delaney will no doubt have given Jewell further cause to offer him a new deal beyond the end of this season.
The Blues had perhaps been a little fortunate to take the lead in the match having started so slowly, but they were even more fortunate not to concede an equaliser 6 minutes later. Grant Leadbitter completely fluffed his clearance from Elian Parrino's cross from the right, sending the ball bouncing precariously right across the face of goal ahead of Bent and Richard Cresswell before Carlos Edwards managed to concede the corner. Fulop was on hand to claim a cross from Cresswell before the half-time whistle blew with Ipswich heading for that elusive third successive victory, even if they had ridden their luck at times.
Sheffield United came out in the second half looking to hit back quickly, Fulop doing well to prevent Daniel Bogdanovic reaching a through ball. However, it was Town who were to find the net again within 8 minutes of the restart. With Martin and Wickham unable to break through the Blades' defence, Delaney turned from scorer to provider as he lifted a ball towards the far post where David Norris was racing in. The Blues skipper - who like Delaney is out-of-contract at the end of the season - managed to bundle the ball home in slightly scrappy fashion to claim his 9th goal of the campaign in all competitions, further extending his lead as Town's top scorer and indeed taking him beyond the 8 managed by last year's leader Jon Walters.
The Blades had probably been the better side in the first half, but with Ipswich now enjoying a two goal lead, the visitors began to crumble. Adams sent on Mark Yeates and Stephen Quinn - brother of Town's Alan - to replace Bent and Doyle in the hope of rescuing something from the game, but the next chance again fell to the Blues. Tamas Priskin ran onto a long ball downfield from Edwards and did well to loop a shot over the onrushing Simonsen, only to see it come back off the near post.
Town continued to look like extending their lead as the game reached the hour mark, Martin crossing from the right and Leadbitter attempting an ambitious overhead kick which bounced wide of the right-hand post. Rob Kozluk came on for the visitors in place of Parrino before Priskin struck over the bar, then at the other end, substitute Yeates jinked neatly past Delaney to cross for the head of Bogdanovic, only for the attack to break down inside the Town box.
Leadbitter saw his volley deflected off target as the game moved into the final 20 minutes, Martin then hitting into the side netting before Blades midfielder Lee Williamson was booked for a foul on Mark Kennedy. Town's dominance continued as they were given a great chance to make it 3-0 in the 81st minute, Wickham crossing from the left for Priskin only for the Hungarian to be bundled over at the far post by Shane Lowry. Referee Dave Phillips took some time to make his decision before awarding the Blues a penalty, but Leadbitter's low strike was brilliantly tipped around the right-hand post by Simonsen.
Despite the missed opportunity, Town kept on the pressure and looked almost certain to find another goal before the end of the game. Martin set up Norris who struck at Simonsen before Jewell made his first change of the match, Bullard getting a roaring round of applause from the Town fans as he went off in place of Colin Healy.
With 3 minutes left of normal time, Town finally did grab their third goal of the afternoon, and it was an absolute beauty. With Sheffield United pressing for a goal back, McAuley cleared the ball away to Connor Wickham on the right touchline, yet as the teenager neatly brought it down well inside his own half, few would have predicted what was to follow. Beating Neill Collins for pace, Wickham charged into the visitors' half, skipping over the sliding challenge of Montgomery, jinking right and left past Kozluk inside the Sheffield United box and catching Simonsen off balance before sliding the ball coolly into the net. It was a masterpiece of individual skill which any player would have been proud of, let alone a 17-year-old, and rightly earned congratulations from all of his team-mates including Fulop.
Wickham's moment of magic had put the result beyond all doubt, but there was still time for Adams' side to make life even harder for themselves as they plodded towards a third straight defeat. Substitute Kozluk reacted angrily off the ball following a challenge by Martin, prompting referee Phillips to show him a straight red having been on the field for just half-an-hour. As if that wasn't enough, Williamson then exchanged a few poorly-chosen words with the referee which, having already been booked, earned him a second yellow and saw the visitors reduced to 9 men within a minute.
As the afternoon got worse for the Blades, it got better for the Blues. Coasting towards three straight league wins for the first time in two years, there was a wonderful moment as Jewell made his final two changes in stoppage time. Priskin and Martin - each receiving a great reception from the fans - were taken off, with Jason Scotland one of the men coming on. But significantly, much to the delight of everyone at Portman Road, the other was Luciano Civelli. The Argentinian midfielder might have feared for his career after a devastating ligament injury in March 2009, but far from being forgotten, Civelli received a raptorous welcome from the home crowd as he came on for his first league appearance in nearly two years. His appearance may only have lasted a couple of minutes before Phillips blew the final whistle, but it was the perfect way to cap off a fantastic afternoon for Ipswich as Jewell celebrated his third successive Championship victory in just 4 league matches in charge.
Plenty will be made of the hat-trick achievement, something which Town failed to manage at any time under Roy Keane's managerial reign. But in a much more significant way, whatever the reasons were for their decline under Keane, the arrival of Jewell seems to have transformed spirits at the club. Despite a poor start to this match, the Blues slowly gained in confidence and in the end showed some real quality to run out comfortable winners, albeit against a struggling side that in the end proved to be their own worst enemies.
More importantly than that, whilst other teams around them have faltered, the Blues' run of wins has risen them to 14th place in the Championship and 10 points clear of the relegation zone - and indeed, 10 points away from the playoff places. With the recent tumultuous period at the club, a top six finish still looks a distant dream this season, and there will be far greater tests in the games to come, but still with two games in hand, Town could yet find themselves amongst the chasing pack if Jewell and his Blues can continue their newfound winning habit.
Ipswich: Fulop, McAuley, Delaney, Leadbitter, Edwards, Norris, Martin (Civelli 90), Bullard (Healy 84), Kennedy, Wickham, Priskin (Scotland 90) - Not used: Lee-Barrett, Peters, Smith, O'Dea
Sheffield United: Simonsen, Ertl, Lowry, Collins, Parrino (Kozluk 61 (s/o 88)), Montgomery, Doyle (Quinn 56), Williamson (s/o 89), Bogdanovic, Cresswell, Bent (Yeates 56) - Not used: Long, Jordan, Calve, Lowton
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