Ipswich Town – at the start of a busy week that encompasses three home games, they found themselves at the bottom of the pecking order; like the ugly bridesmaid who stands at the back of the entourage, invited out of mere obligation rather than choice, seemingly even slipping behind Middlesbrough for the role as maids of honour to our beloved visitors of midweek.
With the forthcoming attraction of Chelsea’s glitterati of mercenaries, adulterers, racists and egotists on the horizon, those Nike shirts of the fair weather brigade were left consigned to the wardrobe for few more days before the Fabreze could gain be given license to waft its magical fragrant charms; so it was left to those hardy souls who’ve suffered the rest to watch the small matter of a league game.
A mere 19,185 troubled the automated turnstiles with their cards and tickets, maybe a sight reflective not only of the untimely rush of pre-Christmas games, but also of the lack of excitement and/or confidence the timetabled arrival of the GFH white knights has inspired – hopefully a press conference will be called come the end the week to put minds at rest on that score. For the moment at least though, looking around the stadium, it’s hard to detect there’s been any change; the Kop remains flat, the South Stand sparsely populated, while the pockets of supporters scattered in the East Stand continue to form patterns reminiscent of Chris Whyte’s head covering, back in the days before he made the wise decision of joining ‘Team Chrome Dome’.
Such a paltry attendance was harsh on a Leeds side that since the arrivals of Jerome Thomas and Alan Tate have finally proved themselves a team worth watching. It also undersold Ipswich somewhat, typically one of the division’s more interesting clubs, bang in form and offering the spectacle of Mick McCarthy – a man who’s often more captivating than the matches he presides over…there are far less enticing visitors on the fixture list.
As it was, Leeds started the game as if unaffected by the turnout; El Hadji Diouf, his future now resolved, the hub of all things in the final third of the pitch, his awareness, vision and hold-up play combining with the pace of Thomas, the industry of Becchio and the running of Norris and Green to provide a new found attacking fluidity to the side. For much the early stages, Leeds pressed and in the 19th minute reward was forthcoming; a goal…from a corner. That most rare and remarkable of phenomena was delivered via a deft flick of the boot from Thomas, helping divert Tom Lees’ towering header beyond Ipswich feet.
Buoyed by this new found ability to effectively utilise set pieces, Leeds pushed for a second, at one stage Elland Road was even treated to Michael Tongue overlapping, his low ball was only parried by the keeper, the looping ball slowly dropped into the path of Norris, it begged to be despatched home, but he could only meet it with a header so apologetic that the BBC Football League were moved to name him Andy Gray.
Norris was not to be the worst culprit though, around the half hour mark, Diouf fed Byram, his pinpoint cross onto the head of Becchio didn’t so much invite him to score, it effectively rolled out a plush carpet, sent down that carpet a troop of dancing girls from which a butler emerged, carrying a silver salver on, presented upon which was an envelope that within heralded a golden slip of paper that simply read…GOAL!!! He missed.
Gasps of disbelief and mumbles of barely stifled horror followed as replays confirmed the moment, for his part, Becchio meekly trotted back towards the centre circle, his head sheepishly bowed as though to avoid eye contact with all those around him and his gaze steadfastly focused away from the damning case for the prosecution being played out from multiple angles on the big screen. It could’ve been a game changing moment; Ipswich, although second best had offered flashes of a threat on the break and with Tonge expected to help cover Peltier when the opposition broke forward, the potential for carnage remained very real.
That threat was rather more potent after the break as a more positive opposition started to push Leeds backwards, the brooding Mick McCarthy of the opening 45 minutes giving way to a rather more animated version, his multitude of exaggerated if nonsensical hand gestures increasing in direct proportion to Ipswich’s foothold in proceedings. But Leeds held firm, while Kenny was to be called upon on occasion, the back four exhibited a calm authority to which supporters are suddenly becoming charmingly accustomed.
Meanwhile, down at the Geldard End, a chance for redemption: the same combination again, Diouf to Byram, a cross to Becchio… A SAVE! It was another opportunity Luciano would expect to bury, though at least he dare re-live this one through the replays. Come the 68th minute it seemed to matter rather less anyway, as Norris fed Thomas in the box, he paused to check his options then picked out the run of the oncoming Paul Green who side-footed home majestically. Warnock rejoiced, McCarthy shoe gazed and Green celebrated wildly.
Jay Emannuel-Thomas was thrown on as Ipswich attempted to rescue a point, but as much as they pressed, again it mostly came to nothing, only once did real panic ensue as Chopra was presented a free shot at goal in the closing minutes; Kenny saved well but should’ve never been given the opportunity to do so.
The final whistle arrived to be heralded by victory salutes; the consensus of opinion was one of another good three points from a game that’ll be soon forgotten. For now, I’ll take that, certainly while Watford remains so vivid in the memory. The fun can wait until Wednesday.