Writing's on the wall for Ipswich
HOCKEY: Ipswich 3 East Grinstead 3. Like a drowning man clutching at straws, Ipswich are beginning to feel the waters of relegation closing over their heads. For the third time in the last four games, the Henley Road side shared six goals with their opponents, but if only a couple of those had been turned into victories, their task might not seem so arduous.
By Martin White
Ipswich 3 East Grinstead 3
LIKE a drowning man clutching at straws, Ipswich are beginning to feel the waters of relegation closing over their heads.
For the third time in the last four games, the Henley Road side shared six goals with their opponents, but if only a couple of those had been turned into victories, their task might not seem so arduous.
Having established a two-goal interval lead, Ipswich then shot themselves in the foot by allowing a pretty, but basically ineffective East Grinstead side, to equalise during a three-minute spell soon after the break.
Oliver Didham, playing his last league game for the club, then threw them a lifeline with a superb reverse stick shot with six minutes left, but they failed to hang on to it as Duncan Howarth rammed home his second to earn his side a point they hardly deserved.
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The expression on the Ipswich players' faces at the end said it all and although it is mathematically possible for them to still escape with two games left, the writing is definitely on the wall, with the play-offs against regional winners looking the best bet.
After surviving a goalmouth scramble as early as the second minute, Ipswich settled down to look purposeful, determined and organised.
They went ahead after 24 minutes when Andy Cook beat two men on the left touchline and slipped the ball to Richard Fox whose cross was tucked home by Ian Driver's intelligent run across the area to get in front of keeper Richard Harms.
Seven minutes later, Ipswich were celebrating again as Fox was left all alone to thump Cook's cross home and at that stage the home side were very much in command.
Soon afterwards, Ipswich skipper Asif Rais was lucky to stay on the field after chopping down Michael Holland from behind.
If St Patrick was smiling on his side then, he certainly wasn't seven minutes after the break when Chris Palmer, who otherwise had a sound game in midfield, gave the ball away and Matthew McNeill profited from Ben Payne's pass.
Three minutes later, Ivan Smith outstripped the East Grinstead defence but no one was able to get on the end of his cross and immediately the ball was switched to the other end for Howarth to equalise with a soft effort.
With Paul Calver finding plenty of space on the left and Simon Miller, Didham and Fox all using their pace and skills to good effect, Ipswich refused to lie down and when Didham's shot left Harms grasping at thin air, it looked as though victory was on the cards.
However, with three minutes left, Howarth latched on to a ball through the middle and as the defence hesitated he beat Hendy.
Ipswich's feet should have been on a slightly firmer ground, but instead they have been swept further out to sea and the forecast is not getting any better.