Stewie's double saves Town

MARCUS Stewart found his scoring touch as Ipswich Town rediscovered their heart in this pulsating contest.Stewart was the Ipswich Saint against a Southampton side that was twice two goals ahead but were left still looking for their first win at their new St Mary's ground.

By Elvin King

MARCUS Stewart found his scoring touch as Ipswich Town rediscovered their heart in this pulsating contest.

Stewart was the Ipswich Saint against a Southampton side that was twice two goals ahead but were left still looking for their first win at their new St Mary's ground.

George Burley's team appeared dead and buried when Chris Marsden headed the home team into a 3-1 lead after 51 minutes and the dread of a back to the wall fight against relegation for the rest of Town's season intensified.

To be honest, there were times last night when a depression surrounded an Ipswich side that has won just once in the Barclaycard Premiership this season.

This was strange as they knocked the ball around with more authority and purpose than at any time since their thrashing of Derby County in August, but when you are two goals adrift and at the wrong end of the table, the climb back up to the top of the mountain does seem to present a real problem.

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The home side were given a tremendous reception by their fans and the team was no doubt sent on to the field with the demands of new manager Gordon Strachan ringing in their ears.

But by the time referee Uriah Rennie blew the final whistle Ipswich had done more than enough to have collected all three points.

The Tractor Boys will benefit from this game.

Thanks to Stewart's double strike and a peach of a goal from Mark Venus, Town dug themselves out of a hole to get something from the game and extend their unbeaten run to five matches.

It could well prove a turning point and the team will enter the arena for Sunday's Portman Road game against West Ham with renewed vigour.

Burley played Argentinian Sixto Peralta just behind the front two with Chris Makin and Jamie Clapham wing-backs. John McGreal, Hermann Hreidarsson and Venus formed the back three.

Peralta did his reputation no harm with a busy inventive display as Ipswich silenced the home fans by knocking the ball around delightfully on a fantastic playing surface.

By the end of the 90 minutes Ipswich were in complete command and if Paul Jones had not tipped a near-post header from substitute Richard Naylor over the bar late on, Town could so easily have come away with their first league victory of the season on their travels.

Stewart has been somewhat of an enigma this term, not always showing the body language of a player at one with his team-mates.

Burley left him out of the match at Fulham on Sunday and the 28-year-old, who was on a crest of a wave for most of 2000/01, was at a rather low ebb.

But all is well again after two headed goals from Venus' inswinging corners – the first appearing to go through the keeper and the second arrowed high into the net with perfection.

Stewart, who rolled the ball to Venus for the defender's 22-yard goal, should have repeated last season's hat-trick at Southampton when he somehow prodded wide of a vacant goal after Jones had dropped a cross from Alun Armstrong after 20 minutes.

At the other end Ipswich will not be happy to have conceded three times, but the first was a dubious affair with goalscorer James Beattie looking as though he climbed all over McGreal before heading past Matteo Sereni.

There were some questions being asked about whether the Suffolk side had the heart to get stuck into the battle after a lukewarm beginning to this campaign. After last season's wonderful exploits and tremendous displays here there and everywhere, the performance on the field had gone off the boil and was a concern to everyone.

But last night the answers were found and no team without the determination and character that Ipswich showed would have got something out of the match in these circumstances.

Venus is a different class in much of what he does, taking the rough with the smooth, holding no grudges and playing the game his way.

He played on the left at the back and was never afraid to come forward and his strike at goal gave the keeper no chance and ballooned high into the net.

Jermaine Wright is one of the Ipswich players who has failed to repeat last season's high standards. His performance at Fulham at the weekend was an improvement and he carried on the good work managing to find plenty of space and he was always a thorn in the side of the Saints' defence.

The match began 15 minutes late because of traffic problems and with roadworks commencing yesterday on the A12 at Hatfield Peverel many Town fans had another nightmare journey to watch their heroes in action.

Strachan is an animated character and there is no doubt that he relishes the chance to fight the relegation battles that were hallmark of his stay in charge of Coventry City.

He patrolled the technical area surrounding the home dugout for the whole of the game urging his team on and making notes as he went. He has certainly livened up the Saints but he will know by now that they have their shortcomings.

His side got the perfect start after Ipswich had gained the upper hand from the kick off with the Saints looking rather nervous and giving the ball away.

But once Beattie had climbed to head in the first goal after 13 minutes the Saints went marching on and it was a beautiful cross from the right by-line by Beattie that saw Marian Pahars head the second goal eight minutes later.

These were bad goals for Ipswich to concede but when Stewart headed in Venus' corner when left unmarked after 37 minutes it gave Ipswich the lift they needed and at the interval optimism was high of a victory.

This was dented when Southampton, who were well outplayed after the break, counter attacked well and when Pahars had a shot which Sereni found too hot to handle, Marsden headed in the rebound.

That was in the 51st minute and it needed the blockbuster from Venus 13 minutes later to set Ipswich up again and lead to a right-wing corner curled in by the number six which Stewart headed high into the net for the equaliser in the 72nd minute.

Town's draw at Fulham was rather run of the mill against a side that were reduced to ten men, but last night Ipswich were back to their best and if Burley can keep this form going then a move sharply up the table should materialise in the weeks ahead.

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