Is there a feeling greater than the mixture of joy and relief that sweeps over you as your team seals a deserved win against stubborn opposition with a winner in stoppage time from your expensive, and thus far massively disappointing, German striker? I can’t think of many.
The Tigers returned to Championship action after a two week looking to capitalise on the three points gained at Hillsborough with a win over lowly Ipswich. The Tractor Boys have a decent squad of players that they’ve added to recently with the temporary arrivals of goalkeeper Stephen Henderson (West Ham) and midfielders Richie Wellens (Leicester) and Nigel Reo-Coker (the ego-driven unemployment line). Despite their quality on paper, their useless manager Paul Jewell hasn’t got anything much out of the squad in two years. He’s on borrowed time in Suffolk and the negative approach they took showed his utter desperation to leave the KC Stadium with a point, any point, gained in any way whatsoever. Steve Bruce had a fit-again James Chester available after Hillsborough but chose not to include him. Bruce’s loyalty to the players who did so well a fortnight ago is admirable but not something I agree with.
Tigers: 4-4-2 [G] Amos [D] Rosenior, Dawson, Faye, McShane [M] McKenna, Olofinjana, Elmohamady, Quinn [F] Aluko, Simpson
City made a bright start to the game and completely dominated the opening half hour. They played some sumptuous football particularly around the box where Rosenior and Dawson joined in with attacks and Quinn and Elmohamady displayed excellent vision to get the roaming full-backs into the penalty area. Two early corners exposed Ipswich’s frailties. The first flew across the face of goal begging for a touch before McShane and Faye slashed at it and the visitors smuggled the ball behind. The second was driven low to Aluko, 12 yards out and all alone but he failed to connect properly. Our visitors then downgraded from frail to decrepit as the handed City two chances to open the scoring in the space of a few minutes.
Elmohamady flicked on Amos’ goal kick to Simpson who raced down the right before returning the ball to Elmo to cross. The delivery was poor but the defender sliced it across goal and Olofinjana arrived at the far post but with his out-stretched right foot could only fire over the bar. Chance. Then Simpson turned provider again, sliding the ball through their centre halves for Aluko who’d run in behind. His first touch took him away from Henderson but the goalie flung himself in front of Aluko’s shot, it caught his midriff and bounced up slowly where a recovering defender was able to boot it clear. Chance. Another loanee Tractor Boy Danny Higginbotham then slipped while attempting to clear Rosenior’s harmless looking cross, presenting the ball to Aluko 10 yards out. Aluko side stepped another defender and hit a rising right foot shot that flew over the bar. Chance.
With the Tigers having stared three gift horses right in the mush, the next act was inevitable. The ref awarded Ipswich a soft free-kick for Rosenior holding Emmanuel-Thomas. While the City defenders trudged slowly into position, still whining at the ref, Emmanuel-Thomas picked up the quickly taken free-kick, ran at Rosenior and Elmohamady who weren’t set at all, beat them both with a quick switch of the ball off his right foot and then left, strode towards the six yard box with McShane struggling to get close and finished neatly from a tight angle [0-1]. It was against the run of play, undeserved and downright frustrating but that’s the way things have gone in recent home games. If you don’t take chances, you invite a kick in the teeth in top level football. We’re turning it into an art-form.
The Tigers didn’t respond in the way the crowd wanted. If the goal was a sucker punch, the players spent twenty minutes either side of half-time shaking off the groggy feeling it left in their heads. We lost the pace in our attacks. Olofinjana’s languid style became frustrating. McKenna misplaced passes. Aluko still provided real energy and movement but attempted impossible passes that cost possession. Dawson and Rosenior weren’t getting into the right areas anymore. Only Elmohamady provided a threat but Ipswich gobbled up his crosses against a lonely looking Simpson. Added to Ipswich’s clear lack of ambition, evidenced by Henderson’s time wasting having started ten minutes in and it taking 42 minutes for anyone to notice that DJ Campbell was actually playing, it was another frustrating spell. Simpson gathered in Quinn’s centre from the right edge of the penalty area, turned and bent a shot beyond the far post before the break. After it Faye met a dinked cross from McKenna and Henderson touched his looping header onto the bar. That was the sum total of our efforts for 20 minutes. Something needed to change.
Steve Bruce, who normally prowls the touchline, sat down for 5 minutes in the second half. He looked like he was out of ideas but he was merely contemplating his next move. Ipswich were having their best spell of the game. A deep cross from Murphy was cleared by Dawson only as far as Martin whose shot from a tight angle forced Ben Amos’ only save of the afternoon. Then a rare corner for them saw Cresswell make a late run into acres of space in the penalty area only to find Stephen Quinn had seen him and arrived first. It showed excellent awareness from Quinn who had another terrific, tireless game. Bruce chucked on McLean for Rosenior with Aluko moving wide and Elmohamady to right-back. It put Elmo directly up against Emmanuel-Thomas. Ipswich never reacted to the change and it eventually proved crucial. Before the Tigers would kick into gear though, they were let off big-time by Campbell. The ball was given away in our half and Ipswich put Campbell, who’d just about stayed onside, through on goal. Faye chases back and gave him a crucial little nudge in the back causing him to poke the ball a foot or less wide of the post. Campbell appealed in vain for a penalty.
McLean made a nuisance of himself from the moment he stepped onto the pitch. He doesn’t have the nous of an instinctive striker nor is he a composed finisher but he’s a complete pest whose constant movement when we have the ball or are trying to win it back just drives defenders mad. McShane played the ball forward to Simpson who held it up, turned and played in McLean on the right, in a similar position to the one he got in to notch the winner at Hillsborough. He shot hard and low but straight at the ‘keeper. That’s his weakness. It was almost hit and hope. McLean got into a similar position moments later, this time fed by Aluko, and hit a shot-cum-cross that evaded a despairing slide from Simpson in the middle. Steve Bruce then threw on his two remaining subs. Nick Proschwitz replaced Olofinjana and went up front. Simpson moved onto the left and Quinn made up the midfield pairing. We had four forwards on and a winger at right-back, you couldn’t accuse Bruce of being defensive. James Chester also came on for Abdoulaye Faye. This change didn’t produce the effects as noticeable as the attacking switches but it was just as important. Any threat Ipswich had on the break was quashed by Chester’s arrival and his ability to carry the ball over the half-way line was important. Ipswich were defending in great numbers by this point so we had to move the ball quickly across the back.
It wasn’t long after the changes before City were level. Elmohamady squared up to Emmanuel-Thomas on the right, left him for dead, slammed the ball across the near post and Nick Proschwitz arrived to volley home from close range [1-1]. The delight was obvious in his celebration and it was shared equally by the vast majority of the 15,983 inside the stadium and his team-mates who mobbed him. If there was a time for him to make his first big contribution to the season, that was it. Ipswich realised that with 15 minutes or so left, they were still going to face an onslaught and they pulled everyone back and wasted as much time as they could. Aluko took Elmo’s lead and got himself into the box on the right. Ryan Cresswell got between him and the ball but Aluko didn’t give it up and nicked the ball off Cresswell before he was tripped. The ref immediately gave the “no way Jose” signal (that’s official FIFA lingo, honest) but I think if it was anywhere else on the pitch, he’d have given a foul.
Ipswich sub Bilel Mohsni hit a wicked, dipping, curling shot from 35 yards that dropped just over Amos’ crossbar. That was their last thought of winning the game. It was all City in truth and it represented a siege at times. James Chester strode forward, didn’t realise he had a man on, and let an Ipswich midfielder get a foot in but he inadvertently put Andy Dawson in behind his full-back. With Proschwitz waiting in the middle, Daw fired it high across the box when it really needed sliding low. It was a poor cross. The ref gave us a free-kick for Wellens reckless dive at McKenna which Aluko then smashed into Wellens’ one-man wall. Elmohamady then sauntered passed Emmanuel-Thomas again, skinned Ryan Cresswell and clipped in a cross just before the ball ran out of play that Quinn headed poorly over the bar. Quinn then picked up the ball in midfield, strode forward, ignored the runners and hit a low, left-footed drive that bounced off the far post.
The ball was fed back into the box where Aaron McLean curled a cross or a shot towards the far post and Henderson had to dive full length to tip it around the post. From the corner McLean met the ball at the far post but saw his header headed off the line by the defender on the post. Another corner fell kindly for McLean whose shot looked like it might have gone in had Mohsni not blocked it bravely. The crowd noise by this point was immense. Everyone willing the Tigers forward, desperate for them to find the winner they so deserved. The board went up to indicate four minutes stoppage time and City’s last chance came and went. Jay Simpson decided to shoot from a free-kick on the left wing. His shot was heading into the ‘keeper’s arms when a defender decided to try and control it but succeeded only in presenting it to McLean 6 yards out. McLean was well off-balance, in his defence, and struck it over the bar. 2 minutes into stoppage time the ref finally realised that Henderson was deliberately wasting time and produce a futile yellow card. That’ll really show him, ref. I don’t blame Ipswich for time-wasting. If we were as crap as they are, I’d want us to waste time too but the ref should really have got hold of it earlier. Instead, punishment was to be issued by a gangly German striker. Elmohamady crossed half way with the ball, looked up, floated the ball in towards the penalty area where Proschwitz got across the front of his marker and flicked a header into the far corner, leaving Henderson grasping at thin air. I haven’t heard a reaction like this one at the KC since Robert Koren’s winner against Leicester last December. It was magic.
City haven’t always gotten what performances have deserved over the past 18 months, especially at home, so it was nice to pull this one out of the bag. As much as we only had ourselves to blame for not capitalising on the early dominance, a team as negative and desperate as Ipswich didn’t deserve anything out of the game and it would’ve been sickening to watch them take anything. The sponsor’s Man of the Match was Sone Aluko which was a bit of a joke decision, as unimportant as it is. Elmohamady was clearly the biggest threat throughout, even before he made the winner. Aluko had a disappointing afternoon by his standards and didn’t produce the end product to match his great approach work. Defensively we were OK but still gifted a couple of chances to a side with no ambition. Chester needs to come back in for Tuesday. We’ve also got a selection header up front where Steve Bruce has to choose between Simpson, who didn’t do a whole lot wrong, and McLean and Proschwitz who both affected the game positively. Both have scored winners off the bench in the last two games and will be desperate for a starting opportunity.
With Robert Koren due back soon and Corry Evans only on the bench at the moment, we’ve also got plenty of options in midfield. It’s all evidence of a squad that is very strong when everyone’s fit. We’ve got 18/19 really good quality players for this level. The only bit of bad news at the moment is Matt Fryatt requiring surgery on his Achilles. That’s a big blow. It’s a credit to the other strikers that we haven’t missed him as much as we would’ve last season. They’ve really stepped up.
After that frustrating winless run a few weeks ago, things are frighteningly optimistic again. We’ve got two away trips this week that while both tough, are also highly winnable if we play well. I’d be delighted with three points from the two though, that would keep us well in the promotion race. We are good enough to go up this season. I think 8 or 9 other teams probably feel the same, so it’s going to be a fantastic fight for the top six spots but we are definitely in with a shot.
In December, the Tigers celebrate 10 years at the KC Stadium. I've been blogging the best 10 games, goals and players for City in those 10 seasons. You can read them here: