Ipswich Town 1 Blues 0 .. report

Last updated : 02 January 2007 By Richard Barker

Just three days ago Blues went into a game looking to open up an 11 point gap at the top of the Championship, but the gap is now down to just three points as clubs have a break from league football going into the 3rd Round of the FA Cup.

Steve Bruce opted to make several changes from the team that struggled to earn a draw against Luton Town with Cameron Jerome making way for DJ Campbell, Seb Larsson replaced by Damien Johnson, Stephen Clemence coming in for Mehdi Nafti and Martin Taylor stepping in for Radhi Jaidi. Why those missing were missing, I don't know (Jaidi, for example), but Jerome was on the bench and was an unused substitute, which seems a bit strange. Oh well, maybe he was ill or something.

Anyway, I'm going to let you all into a little secret… at the QPR home game I had the honour of being the guest of one of the sponsors and post-match the chosen man-of-the-match addressed us prior to the few token presentations you get at such things. The chosen one was Stephen Clemence, and upon Blues going eight points clear he said, and I quote, "you have to say, if we let this slip now then we deserve shooting." Good, huh? Will it be a case of Bigmouth strikes again? Nothing against Clemence in particular, but why would anyone say such a thing? Anyway, I've been out and bought a shotgun since.

So, Ipswich then. Well, Blues started like a team that had been necking bottles of WKD Blue until 4am in the morning to see in the New Year. Credit where credit's due, Ipswich took advantage and started very brightly indeed. Alan Lee was typically a handful up front whilst Gary Roberts (celebrating his permanent deal after his loan spell from Accrington Stanley… who are they?! Exactly.) caused problems down the right cutting inside to use his left-foot. He hit the crossbar early on after some poor Blues defending and Mat Sadler getting caught out - starting a theme for the afternoon. Roberts had already gone close, as had former Fulham midfielder Sylvain Legwinski who'd been denied by Maik Taylor in goal.

Blues did begin to settle a bit more - well, going forwards anyway. They continued to look suspect the back, but starting putting some neat moves together, one of which resulted in Nicklas Bendtner hitting the crossbar with a header from a Stephen Kelly cross. At the other end Ipswich still threatened, notably from set pieces with Maik Taylor looking about as comfortable as a pair of trousers that used to fit you before the festive break. Sadler cleared off the line (and did so on other occasions in the second half) as the home side toiled to make a breakthrough, but the sides went in level at half-time.

The second half was similar to that first, with Ipswich enjoying more of the play, Blues looking dodgier than a Christmas jumper at the back, but still looking fairly dangerous if/when they went forward. The problem was that it was neither Gary McSheffrey's or Bendtner's day really, and so their usual impact was reduced. Bendtner amazingly started getting abuse from a small section of the Blues fans. I'm not sure what people expect of him, but if it's throwing himself into tackles and chasing the ball all over the pitch, then it's not going to happen. Then again, the same goes for Thierry Henry, Michael Owen, Ruud van Nistelrooy, etc, etc. Perhaps all their fans throughout their careers at various clubs should have been getting on their backs too? Bendtner is an absolute class above anyone else in this division and booing him is nothing far short of stupid. He didn't have a great game, but come on, who does have a great game every week? Battering the confidence of an 18 year old who just so happens to be our best player (and probably the third best youngster the club has ever had, after Trevor Francis and Adam Wratten) isn't particularly clever though, is it?

Anyway, back to the match and Sadler cleared a few more efforts off the line to break up his shocking performance. His positional sense is getting worse, by the looks of it (I don't mean his position on the far post, I mean as a left-back) and his distribution and control were dreadful. When it comes to poor distribution, Matthew Upson takes some beating too. He defended alright-ish, but any Premiership scouts watching will have been far from impressed and would have been contacting their bosses to tell them they should save the £7 million touted for him and offer £1.5 million for the gangly bloke next to him and spend the rest on agent's fees - Martin Taylor shone out alongside Upson.

Blues nearly snatched a late winner themselves when McSheffrey got the better of Alex Bruce (who had vomited on the pitch four times when coming out for the second half - someone can't take their NYE Lambrini) and squared the ball to Bendtner who was denied by a brilliant save by Lewis Price. Again, the Bendtner critics might bear in mind that as bad as he was to deserve his barracking he still had our best two chances and was unlucky not to have scored on both occasions. Sell him, I say.

Deservedly so though, it was Ipswich who got the late winner courtesy of substitute Gavin Williams. Ipswich broke and a good cross from Roberts (who had now switched to the left) was knocked past Maik Taylor by Williams at the far post, where Sadler was conspicuous by his absence. I don't mean that sarcastically in that he wasn't there to clear off the line, but that Williams had made the run down their right and Sadler was stood on the edge of the box watching as he netted the winner. He may have saved Blues at times with clearances off the line, but lots of people can nod the ball off the line from a corner - otherwise his display was awful.

So, guns at the ready for Mr Clemence and his team-mates. Blues have managed to reverse all the good work they did in opening a real gap up at the top and are now (excuse the pun) there to be shot at again. Yes, it's a draw and a defeat in two games, and that's not exactly cause for heads to roll, etc, but the more worrying thing will have been the displays in the games. Add to that the lacklustre performance against QPR on Boxing Day, plus the bombardment that Blues somehow repelled at Hillsborough and there's only the Southend game in the last five in which they've comfortably been the better side - and Coleshill Cobras Under 12 'B' side would have beaten Southend that day.

This is the first time that Blues have failed to score in the league since "that Norwich game", and after that had someone told you that Blues would be three points clear at the top of the league one game into 2007 you'd have snapped their hands off and given their dismembered body to the men in white coats. It's hardly crisis point, is it? I think the frustration though is that it COULD have been so much better. It's not though, so forget Newcastle - it's an unimportant game - and Blues need to regroup and come out firing against Leeds United in two weeks time and start doing the hard work all over again.