Town's UEFA tie ends in disappointment

THE same word keeps cropping up after Ipswich Town matches this season and disappointing again proved the right adjective to describe how management and fans felt after this UEFA Cup stalemate.

By Elvin King

THE same word keeps cropping up after Ipswich Town matches this season and disappointing again proved the right adjective to describe how management and fans felt after this UEFA Cup stalemate.

George Burley's side now have it all to do in the second leg in Sweden if they are to continue their European adventure.

The optimists among us will cite a similar situation in the first round against Torpedo Moscow – and a dynamic second leg showing in Russia that led to a stirring aggregate victory.

Some good news was a second consecutive clean sheet, although goalkeeper Matteo Sereni, fast becoming a cult hero at Portman Road, must take most of the credit for that.

We know that the Swedes can manufacture reliable cars, breed pop groups who can write and record catchy songs and produce excellent football managers. Now we know that they can field competitive football teams.

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Helsingborgs IF could easily have won this game by two or three goals in a match that provided lukewarm fare for the millions watching at home on BBC television.

Ipswich's defending at times left a lot to be desired while their midfield had no one who could take the game by the scruff of the neck – and only Finidi George managed to get himself into goalscoring positions up front.

Burley's two main summer signings are currently having contrasting fortunes. While Italian Sereni is already the idol of the fans, Nigerian George still has plenty of folk to win over.

He had the best chance of the whole game after five minutes but posted a close range flick against the bar. On two other occasions he beat a square defence but was thwarted by a rapidly advancing goalkeeper.

But George's general play was disappointing. Passes often went astray and too many times he was knocked off the ball far too easily. And with Martijn Reuser not enjoying his best game of the season, Ipswich did not find the width or pace to build penetrating attacks.

Burley decided to take off Reuser, quickly followed by Jim Magilton, early in the second half. He was left with no option than to search for a key to unlock a defence that was difficult to probe with a back line of four behind a middle line of five.

Reuser's withdrawal was understandable but who gave way to Sixto Peralta was open to question with neither Matt Holland nor Jermaine Wright lighting up the park with their midfield skills.

The Argentinian showed enough composure to suggest that he can make an impact in the Town midfield, but Spaniard Pablo Counago made little impact when he came on to partner Marcus Stewart up front, with George moving to the right wing.

No one can fault Stewart's work rate and we all know that he is a natural finisher, but to get the best out of him he needs the ball at his feet in sight of goal. This is rarely happening this season and I cannot recall one chance that Stewart has had in the last couple of games.

There was precious little comfort to be found at the back either with the Swedes at times far too skilful for Town's defence and often carving their way towards Sereni's goal almost at will.

Town extended their remarkable unbeaten home record in Europe and are left in the same position as they were after the first leg of the previous round – and they made progress then.

So all is far from lost although the Swedes are now favourites after Ipswich failed to make home advantage count. Helsingborg look stiffer proposition than Moscow, possibly not more talented but better organised with a desire to enjoy a lengthy UEFA Cup run.

If Town do score in the second leg it will mean that the Swedes will have to find the net at least twice to go through, and Helsingborg only made progress in the first round by the away goal rule, showing that their home form is not remarkable.

In the next round teams dropping down from the Champions' League will be included in the draw which will add more colour. Every incentive then to pull out all the stops on November 1.

UEFA president Lennart Johansson officially opened the Greene King stand before the game and a crescendo of fireworks signalled the arrival of the players on to the field.

But after a bright opening it was all rather dull for Town fans. Burley has certainly accumulated a cosmopolitan squad and at the end of the game players eligible to play for eight different countries were representing Ipswich.

But how the side cried out for a local player with a bit of bustle, grit and no little skill like Trevor Whymark showed the last time Ipswich played Swedish opposition in Europe.

The England international found the net four times at home in a 5-0 romp against Landskrona in 1977.

Chris Makin was left out of the starting line-up for the first time this season and Fabian Wilnis came in to well without being able to make the forward runs that were expected from him.

After 34 minutes Burley switched Hermann Hreidarsson to partner John McGreal, with Mark Venus moving to the left side of the back four. Although the Icelander was not at his best in the middle, Venus' forays up the wing did lead to more accurate crosses into the box.

A combination of a poor final ball by Ipswich and an ability to pick up anything loose by a packed Helsingborg midfield led to no end of moves breaking down before they reached the opposition penalty area.

There were a number of times when the visitors looked as though they must score but Sereni stood firm – and Ipswich are still alive.

Town fans were in good voice and are doing their best to enjoy the European experience. However, the frailties that have shown up in the Barclaycard Premiership this campaign have been in evidence in the two home UEFA Cup games. And there will be plenty of nail biting between now and a couple of weeks when Ipswich will have to play with more invention and confidence to come back from Sweden in good cheer.

If not it will be yet another disappointment.

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