Town taste Swede success
SOCCER: The blue and white army conquered without any real resistance – making more noise than any other visiting fans to Helsingborg's Olympia Stadium. For their heroes on the pitch it was a more difficult battle to be won.
THE blue and white army conquered without any real resistance – making more noise than any other visiting fans to Helsingborg's Olympia Stadium.
For their heroes on the pitch it was a more difficult battle to be won.
But win they did after hitting their Swedish opponents with everything but the kitchen sink in the second half of last night's UEFA Cup second round game which was shown live on British television.
When Matteo Sereni made a frightful mistake to gift the home team a goal after just seven minutes it looked black for the Premiership side. But they turned the game round and showed to the watching millions on TV what a capable side they still are, despite their disappointing start to this season.
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Even the near 2,500 Town fans were temporarily stunned into silence when the ball went through the grasp of Sereni for what looked like a run of the mill save and lobbed over the line.
But this European adventure is too precious to let go without a scrap and slowly but surely – aided by the withdrawal through injury of Helsingborg's key player, Hans Eklund in the 31st minute – Ipswich's fans regained their voices and their team took complete control.
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The lack lustre play that has haunted most Premiership games this season was forgotten as Ipswich got the bit between their teeth and proceeded to simply stop Helsingborg from playing.
The opening stages had seen the home team run rings round Ipswich but after the interval Ipswich players all ran, chased, harried, closed down and refused to let the Swedish team settle on the ball.
Helsingborg were overwhelmed and they were eventually forced to capitulate.
It was another emotional night – even better than the Moscow experience in the last round, as this time Town were in a class of their own come the final whistle.
Officials and players from both teams took time out to say what an impact the travelling Ipswich hoards had on the outcome of the tie.
It was like a home match for skipper Matt Holland and his boys with the attendance much lower than anticipated caused by an increase in prices and an apathy by the Swedish fans after a disappointing league campaign.
For Swedish league games the average Helsingborg attendance is around 11,000 and the capacity for European matches when the stadium is all seated is 12,600. It was well below this last night with Ipswich supporters making up at least a third of the crowd and making at least three times as much noise.
Banners proclaiming support for the Suffolk club were to be found in abundance behind one goal – ironically the Olympia Stadium north stand.
This brought out the best in every blue and white supporter – and they were eventually given every reason to party through the night in this Swedish town set just across the water from Denmark and just north of Malmo.
But it could have been so different with George Burley's decision to play 3-5-2 backfiring and leading to Helsingborg doing as they wished in the opening minutes until the Town manager switched to 4-4-2.
This move steadied the ship with Hermann Hriedarsson moving from his central defensive role to go left back and not only supply a reliable defensive show but also create havoc when he marauded forward epitomised by the equalising goal struck with such efficiency.
Helsingborg made inroads down the Ipswich right and Fabian Wilnis was sacrificed after 37 minutes and replaced by Chris Makin.
The Dutchman was exposed and was obviously not happy with the decision as he marched straight down the tunnel to the dressing room and did not watch the game again until the final moments.
Titus Bramble came back after five weeks on the sidelines with achilles heel trouble and after a few errors early on he got back into the groove and showed once again what a tremendous prospect he is.
And Town supporters will be heartened by two more goals from their hero Marcus Stewart, both struck with deadly accuracy and giving the goalkeeper no chance. There is no doubt when provided the ammunition Stewart has the ability to tuck the chances away and he has now reached seven goals for this season and if his recent good run continues he could approach last year's overall total of 21.
England's assistant manager Tord Gripp was watching in the stands and admitted he was impressed by Stewart's contribution which might see him figure in the England plan with friendly matches coming up and the World Cup next summer.
One huge boost for the Suffolk team was the highly impressive debut of 17 year old youth player Darren Bent who was picked by Burley for the first time and given his chance when called off the bench to replace Richard Naylor after 72 minutes when the striker who had earlier headed against the post suffered cramp.
Bent looked lively and well on the pace and for one so young he took to the scene like a duck to water. If he progresses through it will be a big bonus for Town and there was certainly no denying the impact he made, almost scoring with a close range instinctive shot that was well saved.
Naylor came back after recovering from an ankle injury to replace Alun Armstrong who was not 100 per cent fit with his recurring back problems. Burley considered using young Bent from the start but Naylor worked hard beside Stewart as Ipswich shook off their early poor form to knock the ball around with far more conviction and poise than they have since they thrashed Derby County in their second league game last August.
Mark Venus has a tremendous left foot and he used this to good effect to curl in free kicks for the opening two goals. The 34-year-old defender did his stuff at the back as well and was another big success in a memorable night for the Tractor Boys.
Holland was also more effective than he has been for most of the season last night adding some telling passes to his non-stop running.
Helsingborg manager Nanne Bergstrand said before the start of last night's game that Ipswich would be favourites despite the 0-0 scoreline in the first leg at Portman Road.
His job must now be under threat as he has failed to qualify for next season's UEFA Cup and by the end of last night his team looked a pale shadow of the one that impressed two weeks ago.
The pitch was expected to cut up and although it was nothing like Portman Road's manicured surface Ipswich were able to play without any problem on a night when the home authorities were incensed by the sale of an English language pirate programme costing three times as much as the official one outside the ground.
Sereni will look back on his error with horror as it was a comfortable catch from a speculative effort by Hans Eklund early on. Eklund looked a real force until he was slowed following a tackle by Hreidarsson and when he left the field his replacement was nowhere near the same class giving Ipswich a lift.
But once that goal went in there was always the reassurance that just one reply from Town would still be enough, on the away goals, to go through.
When this came albeit later than we hoped with the visitors pounding the home goal for some while before they scored, the match was done and dusted and the final two exquisite goals only emphasised the superiority of Burley's side.
Hreidarsson slammed the first goal into the net off the hand of the keeper in the 69th minute and 11 minutes later Venus sent over another free kick that Stewart met perfectly with his head to send the ball like an arrow just under the bar.
Two minutes from the end Holland put Stewart clear and he showed his composure by lifting the ball over the keeper for an exceptional goal to round off an exceptional night.