By Stuart Watson
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Ipswich v Watford: IPSWICH Town have ground many an opponent into submission under Mick McCarthy’s management – but spirit alone was not enough against Watford’s sumptuous one-touch passing game.
The Hornets scored two superb team goals – Ikechi Anya netting in the 18th minute and Nathaniel Chalobah in the 73rd minute – to keep up their push for automatic promotion to the Premier League,
Ipswich, to their credit, stayed in the game until the killer second and kept battling until the bitter end – qualities that will stand them in good stead for the relegation battle ahead.
However, their lack of imagination and guile on the ball was highlighted by a far better footballing side.
The Blues drop to within three points above the relegation zone heading into Saturday’s game at fellow-strugglers Huddersfield – who themselves were thrashed 6-1 at Nottingham Forest last night.
McCarthy made two changes to the side which won 1-0 at home against Blackpool three days earlier.
Weekend hero Michael Chopra was handed only his second league start under McCarthy, while Lee Martin returned to the starting line-up after missing the previous three games with a hamstring strain.
Anthony Wordsworth – who could miss the rest of the season after cracking three vertebrae in his back on his full debut – and Daryl Murphy were the players to come out of the side.
Watford boss Gianfranco Zola has had his fingers burnt when tinkering with his side this year. The Hornets lost against Charlton and Bristol City when he made five and six alterations to the line-up on those respective occasions.
This time he made just the three changes to his team following their 4-0 win at Birmingham. Striker Matej Vydra – the team’s 19-goal top-scorer this season – was the key man to miss out as he dropped to the bench.
Watford came into the game with the division’s best away record, having scored an impressive 36 goals on their travels.
And you could see why in the painfully one-sided opening exchanges as time-and-again Zola’s side sliced through the static hosts like butter.
Jonathan Hogg left the crossbar shaking with a thumping 25-yard drive, while some superb one-touch football was twice let down by the final pull-back – all within the opening six minutes.
Town had just looked like they had begun to weather the storm when they found themselves behind in the 18th minute.
Chalobah’s ball up the line was squared into the box by Hogg, Troy Deeney produced a deft back-heel and left wing-back Anya produced a low curling effort into the bottom corner.
Watford began to enjoy themselves, with their one and two-touch passing in stark contrast to Ipswich’s contrived and one-dimensional play. The visitors always seemed to have their next three passes mapped out mentally, while Town’s lack of forward thinking and guile saw possession quickly turned over.
You sensed the hosts were in for a long night, but Town used a sense of injustice to fire themselves up just before the half hour mark.
When Lee Martin drove between two players in the box, it appeared that Hogg’s outstretched leg had halted his progress. The referee emphatically waved away the strong appeals though.
Watford continued to try and unlock the door, while Town attempted to bash it down.
Richard Stearman couldn’t quite react in the six-yard box after David McGoldrick nodded down a long ball into a packed penalty box, while Chopra forced Manuel Almunia into a save with an overhead kick just before the break.
Conscious that the Hornets have picked off many a home team that have gone chasing equalisers with vigour, Town came out with a second-half game plan of frustrating the visitors and looking to nick a goal.
Tommy Smith had the ball in the net after 56 minutes, but both he and Chopra were offside when McGoldrick’s shot-cum-cross was delivered.
Town were still huffing and puffing, but at 1-0 they were still in the match. That lasted until the 73rd minute when Watford scored another superb team goal.
Chalobah started the move 30 yards from goal and galloped forwards to convert Hogg’s inch-perfect through ball.
Still the Blues continued to battle away, something supporters can take great heart from for the immediate goal of staying in this division.
Spirit and work-rate may well keep them up, but if progress is going to made then McCarthy will need to add some creativity to his side this summer.