What cannot be in doubt is that when the team needed to step up it did so, pulling out its most impressive performance of the season so far. Sure we had won our only game by a more convincing margin, but there is no doubt that last night’s all round performance was against a far more talented side than the Coventry one that we mullered at the Turf back in August.
The Clarets made 3 changes to the side which started against Brighton with the Beast replacing the unfortunate Danny Coyne, Frank Sinclair taking the place of the injured John McGreal and John Spicer coming in for Gifton Noel-Williams. Although a fan of Gifton, it was fairly evident that this change in particular led to a more fluid style of football with the team interchanging between 4231, 442 and 451 throughout the game, with one midfielder in particular benefiting from this change.
Ipswich began with a 3142 formation with Jim Magilton sitting in front of the back four playing in what is now known as the “Tony Grant role”, obviously minus Tony’s obligatory roll-neck jumper. Virtually everything ran through the experienced Magilton, and it is hard to think of an occasion when he gave the ball away.
Despite all of that the Clarets had the first chance of the game attacking the Jimmy Mac stand with Ade breaking through to fire a shot with the outside of his boot in to the heads of the probable new Welsh number 1 Lewis Price. Shortly after that came the first and only chant heard from the surprisingly large contingent of Ipswich fans, although I did wonder why you would travel 500 miles to chant “Barmy Army”; surely the witless Wurzels could have though of something better?
On 10 minutes Ipswich had their first real chance with some quick, one-touch interplay through the middle of the Clarets defence resulting in a Parkin shot in to the side netting, and Ipswich threatened briefly again shortly afterwards as Sito committed an outrageous dive inside the Clarets box, sadly not the only time that our Spanish friend would struggle to stay on his feet in the first half.
After 15 minutes a long punt found Akinbiyi one on one with the goalkeeper, but sadly the burly front man had far too long to think about what he would do with the ball and he weakly shot straight at Price. It was fairly clear at this stage that it would be an open game and the first goal would be crucial.
The end-to-end nature continued with Spicer unfortunate when he closed the goal down only to see his block spin back to Price and Hyde shooting over from 20 yards or so. Garreth O’Connor was becoming more prominent through the middle of the park, drifting from left to right, and one lovely piece of skill in particular put Ade in down the flank only for him to waste the cross. Other notable incidents were a poor tackle by Parkin on Sinclair which caused the Burnley skipper to struggle throughout the rest of the game and probably ensured an uncomfortable bus ride home for the Burnley stalwart, and Kevin Horlock using his right foot for the first time after 16 years as a professional to dribble a shot wide.
As the first half dropped in to something of a lull a goal appeared from the right boot of the slightly out of sorts James O’Connor. Bursting forward from midfield O’Connor struck with his right foot, and the ball may have taken a slight deflection (!) before looping over the despairing dive of Price. 1-0 and very much game on.
One very much nearly became two as Spicer mis-hit an Akinbiyi pull back and a Des shot from the resulting corner was cleared on the edge of the six yard box. The end of the half drew near with Ipswich very much looking like Burnley on Saturday, side to side passing with little penetration. As the half came to a close and the GM Fitted Furniture added time was announced Beast came and took a cross well, and the pleasant news that Preston were 3-0 down at half-time rang round the ground.
The second half opened again in the same vein with Garreth O’Connor again prominent in putting Spicer through, and then Ade hitting the side netting after beating his man. Garreth was really starting to come in to his own now, popping up all over the park, and he again put Ade through to shoot wide, when perhaps a less honest player (Sito?) would have gone down as he was clearly having his shirt pulled.
The Clarets pushed and I remarked to my Dad that we really need another goal, as another decent chance fell for Ade after a lucky ricochet in the box. Unfortunately it seemed as though he was having one of those days, and he again scuffed the chance.
Ipswich made a double substitution bringing on the highly rated youngster Peters, and shortly afterwards the cumbersome looking Parkin chipped over when decently placed, but it was the Clarets who strengthened their position. After a decent period of end-to-end football the Clarets were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box after a foul on Branch. Garreth O’Connor always looked favourite, and so it was to be as the ball was touched to the Irishman who drilled in a fantastic shot to bag his fourth of the season.
Chris McCann was brought on for John Spicer who earned his round of applause, and O’Connor grew ever more confident, swinging in a great cross for the completely unmarked Ade. He had time to chest it down, have a look, read a novel, translate it in to his native Nigerian and then dispatch the ball, but unfortunately chose to head it first time and put the chance wide. It didn’t matter though as less than 10 minutes after coming on young McCann rose majestically to plant an inswinging corner from who else but Sinead O’Connor to make the score 3-0 and put the matter to bed.
A further substitution followed with Bermingham replacing Ade who was given a round of applause more for his efforts throughout the season than his finishing on the night, and the Clarets killed the game off stringing a number of passes together.
As mentioned, this was the Clarets best performance of the season, and all involved played well. Beast had little to do, but did it well, and Jon Harley showed what a very good signing he is linking up very well with Di Branchio who is perhaps playing his best football under Cotterill. Keith Lowe again did not put a foot wrong and was close to the man of the match, and the bulk of the midfield were solid, with special mention going to Spicer and Branch. Ade, although missing chances, worked very hard and kept the Ipswich defence occupied, and it was fantastic to see young McCann score his first goal.
For me though, there can only be one man of the match, and strangely I actually agreed for once with the match sponsor. Garreth O’Connor scored one, made one, and was a constant threat to Ipswich in what was far and away his best performance in a Claret shirt. 4 goals already speaks for itself, as does his assists, and it appeared last night that playing in a midfield 5 definitely suits him best. The acid test for the young Dubliner now comes on Friday against the strong Wolves midfield, and if he puts in a show we may just get a result there for the first time in a long time – because as Elvis said, “It’s now or never”.