A point at Portman Road would, under normal circumstances be considered a decent result, but Albion return from deepest Suffolk wondering how they did not chalk up a second win of the calendar year after dominating large parts of the game. Only an excellent late save from Polish goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski, clawing the ball away at his near post after a corner kick had come off both Kyle McFadzean and Town skipper Luke Chambers, kept the game scoreless and denied Albion a three point haul that they arguably deserved.
A share of the spoils at least ensured that Town’s and manager Mick McCarthy’s run of three wins against the Brewers was ended but how sweet it would have been if Albion could have taken one of the few chances they had to snatch all three points for themselves on this occasion. Once again Albion looked anything but a side deep in relegation trouble as they played the ball around with confidence from the off, prompted by Manchester City loanee Jacob Davenport once again pulling the strings from his deep lying midfield role.
After the encouraging performance at Villa Park, despite a 3-2 defeat, injuries to Tom Flanagan, Ben Turner and Luke Murphy forced Nigel Clough into three changes for the trip to Portman Road. Lucas Akins started at right back with Tom Naylor dropping into the back four alongside McFadzean with John Brayford continuing where he left off at Villa Park, at left back. Darren Bent returned to lead the attack against one of his former clubs having missed out on the chance to do the same against Villa last week looking to notch his first goal for the Brewers since joining last month. Martin Samuelsen was sufficiently recovered from a bout of flu to resume his place on the right hand side of midfield and hopefully providing service to the Albion attack. The third change saw Jamie Allen make his first start of 2018, linking up with Hope Akpan and Davenport in a central midfield three. On the bench there was a welcome return to a matchday squad for long serving left back Damien McCrory who, after an injury hit loan spell at Portsmouth, was able to resume his Albion career.
It was Albion who certainly took the positives from the previous performance and started very brightly. Samuelsen, in particular, looked positive and won an early corner and some good link up with Lloyd Dyer from a free kick. The Norwegian’s clipped cross from the left looped up off Joe Garner and dropped over the head of Bialkowski but also landed on the roof of the net at the expense of a corner. A short corner routine involving Samuelsen and Bent resulted in half hearted shouts for a penalty as Samuelsen’s cross hit a defender inside the box but referee David Webb was not interested in any shouts for handball.
Despite Ipswich starting to feel their way into the game, trying to make inroads against Albion’s slightly makeshift defence, it was Dyer who fashioned the first real attempt on goal of the game, cutting in from the left hand side of the penalty area before sending in a rarely seen right footed effort that was always rising as Bialkowski saw it over his crossbar.
McFadzean was in the wars as he took a blow to the head in an aerial challenge and as a couple of meaty challenges from Garner flew in it became clear that there was an intriguing battle between the two brewing as the game progressed.
Amidst that little contest it was Dyer who was first to see a yellow card from referee Webb. Having ceded possession on the left hand side the Albion winger made too much of trying to win it back from Grant Ward and was penalised for dragging the Ipswich man back on the halfway line.
It was Albion who were enjoying most of the play in midfield areas and some of the passing was a joy to watch. When the ball came into the final third though it was a struggle to find that one killer ball that was going to open up a stubborn Ipswich defence. Bent’s persistence and closing down on halfway almost had Ipswich opened up as the home side temporarily found themselves short on numbers at the back but when a chance finally presented itself to Allen on the edge of the box he snatched at his shot, Bialkowski again able to watch it loop over his bar and onto the roof of the net.
The frustrations amongst the Portman Road faithful were beginning to show as they vocally aired their displeasure at Albion continuing to dominate the midfield exchanges. An encouraging sign for Clough’s side if ever there was one as half time approached.
The home side left the field to a chorus of boos as the half time whistle went. Such had been Albion’s dominance of the game, the home side had failed to muster a single effort on goal. Albion meanwhile had managed to have half a dozen efforts, albeit none of them troubling Bialkowski. Something for the Brewers to work on in the second half if they wanted to take a victory back home with them.
Half time: Ipswich Town 0-0 Burton Albion
Perhaps unsurprisingly Town came out much more strongly for the start of the second half and within minutes of the restart both McFadzean and Naylor had to make important blocks inside their own penalty area to prevent Bywater from being seriously tested for the first time in the game. Ward, on the Ipswich right was beginning to fancy his chances against Albion skipper John Brayford but the Burton man’s experience ensured that the threat of the Ipswich wide man was minimised.
Bent came closest yet for either side with the first clear sight of goal for a striker in the match. A long ball forward allowed the experienced front runner to get in ahead of the Ipswich defence but forced to shoot from an angle his placed effort was comfortably blocked by Bialkowski. A second chance presented itself a couple of minutes later, a quickly taken shot on the turn was on target but again allowed the big Pole in the Ipswich goal a chance to save easily.
Ipswich quickly made a double change as they sensed the early second half momentum changing. Recent signings Stephen Gleeson and Mustapha Carayol were sent on in place of youngsters Ward and Everton loanee Callum Connolly. Carayol soon made his presence felt winning a free kick from McFadzean on the corner of the penalty area, the free kick touched short for Martyn Waghorn to blaze a shot across ther face of goal and wide of the target without anyone in the middle of the box able to divert it goalwards.
As he took his leave from the pitch with twenty minutes to go Bent received an appreciative round of applause from both sets of fans and as at Aston Villa last week it was an opportunity for Liam Boyce to get more minutes in the legs after his long injury lay off.
Ironic cheers went around Portman Road on 80 minutes as Carayol fizzed in a long range effort that had Bywater scrambling to see it go wide of his left hand upright, the home fans recognising that they had finally mustered a serious attempt on the Burton goal.
Albion sent on Marvin Sordell in place of Dyer on the left. Dyer had been well marshalled by Town’s Jordan Spence throughout the game and at least the introduction of Sordell gave the Ipswich man something different to contend with for the closing period of the game.
Bersant Celina, Town’s free kick hero in the reverse fixture at the Pirelli earlier in the season fired in a shot that was straight at Bywater as both sides sought a late winner. Albion looked the stronger in the closing stages, Akpan’s surging run into the box winning a corner before Samuelsen pressured Jonas Knudsen into conceding a corner on the opposite side, Bialkowski having the final say with the best piece of goalkeeping of the day to keep the ball out with a full stretch save to keep a clean sheet.
Albion looked to press for what precious few moments remained of the game but a winning goal which would have done their position at the bottom of the table a world of good would not come. At least the four game losing run in the league since New Years Day had been ended and with performances improving a change in fortunes might perhaps be just around the corner.
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