After Tuesday night’s slap in the face what would we see this time around? The determined and effective team which saw off Portsmouth or the one which lacked intensity and imagination against MK Dons? Not all down to us of course, as those two teams adopted different approaches; and surely today Ipswich would come looking for the win. Second in the league, 11 won out of 16 (and only two lost), 31 goals in the bag, spread well across the team, and sure of going top if they took the three points. But as our five wins have included two of the top six (and four of the top 10), perhaps another rousing performance against a promotion contender was on the cards.
What we ended up with was a game which will live long in the memory, mainly for the remarkable stoppage time of course, as six minutes ended up being nine (for good reasons) and four goals were scored (making it five in total in stoppage time – a record?), the last of which sparked howls of delight from Addicks in London and across the globe (it was International Addicks Day after all). We had a timely reminder of just what football can deliver, especially as we ended up with a tangible return for our character – and as a catalogue of errors and dire officiating spiced things up. You can understand why VAR is not used in this league, if it was the game might still be going on. That we emerged not having lost was incredible. I wonder what odds you would have got on a draw after Ipswich had gone 0-2 ahead in the second half (I’d guess perhaps 20-1 in the circumstances), then at 2-4 after 94 minutes (this is real fantasy land, I’d suggest at least 500-1, even if bookies seldom go that far).
We’ll try to keep things brief, just focus on the main incidents. As regards the team, we knew there would be at least one change from Tuesday night, with Inniss sitting it out on another suspension. Looked like a choice between Lavelle, Thomas and Clare. Otherwise just a question of whether Garner would stick to the system with Kirk in a sort of forward position and two wide men, with possibly the return of Sessegnon and/or Blackett-Taylor. In the event Thomas got the nod to replace Inniss, with Lavelle on the bench. Sessegnon was back in from the start but so was Clare, which left it in doubt whether we would be sticking with 4-4-2. It turned out we would, but with Clare switched to right-back and Egbo asked to play in the wide-right midfield slot, Kirk was switched to the left side, and Rak-Sakyi – who had made a better fist of the job against MK Dons – alongside Stockley, while CBT was back but also among the subs.
The first 20 minutes or so were pretty even, with plenty of probing by both sides but – aside from an opening minute misplaced ball out from their keeper going to Stockley, who was taken by surprise and couldn’t clear the keeper with his shot to find the empty net – little in the way of goal threat. However, the game did take a turn for the worse from our perspective as Egbo went down and, after lengthy treatment and an attempt to run it off, had to go off. Perhaps surprisingly Garner opted for Morgan to replace him; I thought Payne would have been the more obvious choice for the position.
That change did alter the game as progressively Ipswich got on top. We simply weren’t causing them any problems, with Kirk generally ineffective and Morgan and Clare on the other side more focused on how to sort out their defending, while Rak-Sakyi was not really involved, Stockley looking isolated once more. We had nevertheless prevented them from creating real openings and on 40 minutes you just felt we needed to get to the break on level terms and regroup, see if the introduction of Chuks and/or CBT would change the picture.
Didn’t turn out that way. A breakaway and good ball through saw their guy with a clear run on goal, with O’Connell struggling to keep pace. Whether or not he was distracted by a whistle from a moron in the crowd, O’Connell did in the end get to him and helped divert his effort wide – but at a cost. He stayed down and was unable to continue, a stretcher being required. On came Lavelle and suddenly we had very much a makeshift defence (no reflection on them as players just how many minutes they’ve been on the pitch in recent months and whether the four, especially the central two, had even worked as a pair in training).
Into six minutes of stoppage time and Ipswich came close. They had joy again down their left and the ball in four their guy in acres of space. Odds on for him to score, but the shot was somehow deflected for a corner. It proved a brief respite as that was played into a dangerous area and one of their centre-backs got free of his marker (possibly for some reason Morgan, who ended up closest to him with a despairing lunge) and had a free header, which he planted firmly in the net.
At the break we had real cause for concern. Two players off injured, a goal down against a strong team, and not much in the way of goal threat from us. You felt then that another Ipswich goal would be the end of things, our hope being that the subs could shift the balance.
Not long into the second half and it went from bad to worse. The ref was instrumental as he decided Dobson’s excellent challenge - which saw him clearly poke the ball away from their guy before any contact between the pair, only for their guy to carry on and go over Dobson’s other leg – was a foul. To add insult to injury he gave Dobson a yellow, and as the wall was being formed dished out another to Clare, presumably for dissent. The shot from the free kick was blocked but we were slow to respond to the ball falling to them wide right. Nobody closed them down, or pushed out of the box. A good ball back in and with three or four defenders standing watching their guy timed his run well and beat an advancing Wollacott to nod it past him. Had Wollacott called for it? Hard to tell, but the goal could be put down to lack of organisation and understanding. No doubt who Garner was blaming as he was sent to the stands, urging on the crowd as he went (seems it was later confirmed he was yellow-carded for dissent then given a second for sarcastic applause of the officials).
It was at that point hard to see anything other than an Ipswich win, possibly a very bad one for us if they extended the lead. On the hour we did make changes out of choice, with Aneke on for Stockley and Blackett-Taylor for Kirk, with Rak-Sakyi moving out wider and Morgan central, with both he and Fraser expected to provide support to Chuks. And within a couple of minutes we were back in the game. Aneke tussled for the ball on the right side and ended up outmuscling their guy (OK, replays did show he had him around the throat but might have been viewed as 50-50) and took it on. He hit a cross to the far post where Sessegnon met it with a good header. Their keeper pulled off a good save but the rebound fell invitingly for Rak-Sakyi to control and poke into the net.
Back in the game, but the daft thing was it could easily have immediately been 1-3. A cross from the left and another free header, only for their guy to send his effort straight at Wollacott; either side and it was a goal. Nevertheless, our tails were up and clearly Ipswich couldn’t handle Aneke’s sheer strength or CBT’s pace. He roasted the full-back at just about every time of asking. On 70 minutes Ipswich made three changes, including one very big guy of their own up front. But glory be on 75 we were level. Blackett-Taylor cut inside this time, across a couple of defenders, and sent in a shot. It looked fairly routine but their keeper instead of parrying it wide turned it back into the danger area and Morgan was on hand to put the rebound home.
What next? An unlikely winner or be happy with the point? Have to say I tended towards the latter as Ipswich were dangerous and, while we carried much more goal threat now, were looking leggy in defence. With five minutes left the dreaded winner for Ipswich almost came as the ball broke to one of theirs inside the box only for him to scuff his effort over.
Into another six minutes of stoppage time and our hearts were broken. Their big guy was allowed to turn with the ball to face goal and put in a very good shot to Wollacott’s right and into the bottom corner. I felt at the time obvious desolation but was focusing on how well we had done to overcome injuries and a two-goal deficit, even if we ended up losing. On 94 minutes it looked like we would be very hard done-by as another shot from the edge of the area was deflected and went in. 2-4 was unfair on us.
When Morgan curled in a free kick on the right side which found CBT at the far post and he squared it for Thomas to tap in (replays showed he had conveniently shoved his marker into the net before the ball was played to him) at least it felt a little fairer as regards the scoreline. With the indicated six minutes already up, nobody expected anything more. But the ref kept things going, taking account of the goals scored and Ipswich’s lengthy celebrations, getting at least one thing right in the game. As we brought the ball forward via Morgan and Fraser it was surely just a case of getting it into the danger area and hope for a miracle. In the event it was played wide and CBT delivered one to the far post, where Dobson of all people got above their guy. His header may have come off the defender but in any event curled over a keeper off his line and into the net.
Well, we haven’t celebrated a late goal like that for a long time, probably Wembley. When the final, final whistle went nobody was in any doubt about who had won the draw. Ipswich were just shaking their heads over how they had not won, we just celebrated. And rightly so. We had collectively overcome game-changing injuries (let’s face it, their first two goals could be put down to a lack of understanding and their second two to very tired defenders not able to close down the space or get bodies in the way of shots) and two two-goal deficits (with three tap-ins two goals which their keeper will be unhappy with) against promotion contenders.
In the cold light of day (not yet) we will have to start picking up the pieces. How long Egbo and/or O’Connell will be on the sidelines remains to be seen, while Inniss has another game suspended and I think Clare now has one too. The good news is that we don’t have another league game until 12 November, with three cup games in the interim to play around with. The greater question is just how does Garner mould the team when some of its most potent weapons are not considered able to last 90 minutes? As a final note, I’d add that I thought that Sessegnon, who has been unable to last a full game himself, was outstanding.