Sunday, September 27, 2009

Walking in a Robson wonderland

Ipswich Town 0 - 4 Newcastle Utd

Yesterday's match at Portman Road may have been marked by poignant tributes to the late Sir Bobby Robson from his widow Elsie, former Ipswich players and both sets of players and fans (as well as an unwelcome histrionic warble through 'My Way'), but by the end of the game we were very definitely looking forwards and not back.

There was a Robson-esque endeavour, energy and sheer enthusiasm for the game shown by the side he managed most recently as we cruised to our most comfortable win of the season - a win which not only returned us to the top of the table, with results elsewhere going very much in our favour, but also gave beleaguered Town manager and old foe Royston Keane a beautifully timed boot in the swingers.

The team sheet made for interesting reading, with Chris Hughton opting to partner Nile Ranger with Bigger Lad up front and as a result selecting a compact, narrow and relatively defensive diamond-shaped midfield comprised of Kevin Nolan, Ryan Taylor, Nicky Butt and Alan Smith. Of the two recent loanees, Zurab Khizanishvili made his debut at right back, while Marlon Harewood looked on from the subs' bench.

We signalled our intentions within four minutes of kick-off, only Richard Wright's palm coming between Ranger and his first senior goal for the club after the young striker had easily got the better of the Ipswich central defence (something that soon became a recurring theme). The game then settled into a pattern, with us dominant without exerting enough pressure on what was evidently a brittle opposition back four.

When the opening goal arrived, on the half-hour mark, it was no surprise that the defending was questionable - but Ryan Taylor's whipped free-kick still left the alert Nolan with quite a bit to do, and he powered his header past Wright.

The second followed two minutes later, Nolan again profiting from some clueless defensive play by Ipswich to scamper onto Bigger Lad's clever pass, outwit his man with ease and fire home at Wright's near post. It was great to see that he had not only been given licence to roam beyond the strikers, but that he was actually doing so to such devastating effect.

Another two minutes elapsed before we decided to tuck the game up and read it a bedtime story, Ryan Taylor at last proving he can score free-kicks for us rather than just against us by finding the top corner with unerring accuracy.

An onlooker inclined to feel charitable to the home side might have suggested at this point that 3-0 was rather unfair, but in truth the Tractor Boys seemed intent on turning in a performance of such staggering defensive ineptitude that it's a wonder they weren't punished again soon after, Bigger Lad unlucky to see his far-post header tipped away. As if Ipswich captain (and, lest we forget, son of the current Mackem manager) Alex Bruce hadn't been humiliated enough already, Keane demonstrated his impeccable man management skills by hauling him off before the break.

Keane's half-time team-talk had the desired effect - none whatsoever - and barely six minutes into the second period Nolan had his hat-trick. Khizanishvili, who not only looked comfortable defensively but had also evidently read his brief to help provide width down the flanks, passed the ball back to Ryan Taylor to cross. Ranger's header had beaten Wright but would have been cleared off the line, had Nolan not darted in with a sharp finish. Much more of this and we'll be crowning him King Kev II.

The look on Keane's face was as priceless as they come, and I'd like to think there was also a member of the BBC's punditry team joining in with our cheery chant of "You're getting sacked in the morning"... (Incidentally, does anyone else find it amusing that Keane seems to be trying to emulate his old mentor Fergie but has opted for bubblegum rather than chewing gum?)

Ipswich posed us so few problems thereafter that Pim Balkestein's long-range shot wide was met with ironic cheers from the home supporters, and had we been more ruthless we could have significantly boosted our goals for column. Marlon Harewood came on for Ranger and stung Wright's palms with a fearsome drive, while the only minus point of the whole evening was Fabricio Coloccini's departure through injury. Quite how ex-Mackem Grant Leadbitter wasn't even yellow-carded for an appalling two-footed lunge on Steven Taylor I have no idea - unless the ref assumed it had something to do with his being haunted by imaginary Newcastle fans and took pity on him...

The final scoreline was Ipswich's worst home defeat in six years and our best away win for eight. It also meant that Keane has now presided over his club's worst ever start to a season. Couldn't have happened to a nicer fella. Crystal Palace's shock win over West Brom at The Hawthorns (do we really have to be grateful to Neil Warnock?) coupled with defeats for Sheffield Utd and Cardiff, and Coventry coming back from two down with an injury-time equaliser against the Smogs, made it as near to a perfect day as I can remember.

Sir Bobby may have managed Ipswich to European glory, but I think he would have allowed himself a smile.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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