Oh my god. What a game! If any footy match merited the clichéd description, “a game of two halves” it was this one. 1-4 after 34 minutes. Bloody hell. 4-4 at full time. Amazeballs.
I’d approached this game with cautious optimism, having sort of got over the shock of Clough going and feeling pretty good about the “Return of the Mac (McC..?)”. As me and my dad approached the ground I could sense a bit of optimism from the crowd too. In my book, 21,000 is not a bad attendance for a game on an autumnal October evening, especially when the small contingent of temporarily boisterous Ipswich fans appeared to be sufficient to have arrived in a small convoy of combine harvesters. My brother had made a last minute decision to attend too and was so ludicrously optimistic he’d put a bet on a 4-0 victory for the Rams with Sammon scoring. Well, I suppose he was half right but I’m glad we didn’t indulge in any gambling on our recent visit to Las Vegas.
I liked the team selection. Max Lowe on the bench, heard lots of good things about him and thought he looked very promising in the FA Youth Cup game v Chelsea last season. Sammon certainly deserved a start and we’ve been lacking some width and set piece quality, so Ben Davies at right midfield sounded good too. Zac Whitbread in on loan to bolster our central defence and to provide much needed solidity at set pieces.. I was perfectly happy with a 4-4-2 formation.
Oh dear. What followed was the most abject Rams performance I’ve ever seen (well, it felt like that at the time anyway). Every time Ipswich attacked they just carved their way through our midfield and we simply did not defend set pieces. 0-2 down after 8 minutes and 1-4 down after 34 minutes. Buxton, Whitbread and Smith were at fault for the goals, in my view, but the whole side was awful. They did not seem interested. I heard some suggestions that they were deliberately playing poorly as some sort of protest over Clough. Well, in the cold light of day that sounds fantastic but last night it seemed pretty plausible to me and those around me. The team went in at half time to a chorus of well deserved boos. They deserved that.
Highlights of the first half? Well, Sammon worked hard. The Clough tribute on 9 minutes was widespread (and I’m pleased Bryso and Barks mentioned it in tweets after the game).
What a difference and, as we now know, it was inspired by a half time team talk by the man himself. This intervention has taken on a rather messianic quality since last night but, whatever he did and whatever he said, it worked. The team came out in the second half with fire in their bellies. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen such an energetic, determined and passionate performance from the Rams, certainly in the Clough era.
Obviously, the substitutions worked. Bennett is obviously very talented and it’s time he got more game time. He slotted in well on the left of the forward line. The crucial change was Eustace. He was simply brilliant, breaking up Ipswich attacks, helping to prompt Hughes and Bryso and basically commanding the pitch. Perhaps the best I’ve seen him play (and I’ve seen him play 20+ times for Watford). That’s what Clough bought him for. Or was it? He’s supposed to be the “see it out” guy, the player you bring on late in the game when you’re a goal up. Did we expect him to be the guy who prompts us to recover from 1-4 down? Well, he did it.
The second half formation was 4-3-3, with Eustace a bit further back, allowing Hughes and Bryso to attack at will. Hughes played as far forward as I’ve seen him and he was devastatingly effective. Obviously, Bryso scored two massively important goals, the first ensuring we were back in it, allowing us to gain some momentum and the second to equalise in the final minute. What a passionate goal celebration too! Martin was excellent and managed to stay on his feet for most of the game as well. That’ll please some people.. Both full backs redeemed themselves after woeful first half performances (particularly from Smith).
Whitbread’s performance intrigued me. Obviously at fault in the first half but he’s not played much this season and didn’t get any support from his fellow defenders. He was great in the second half, refreshingly composed and showed good ability on the ball. He visibly flagged at the end, which makes me think he won’t play against Dirty Leeds but could he be a solid partner for Keogh until O’Brien comes back?
Highlights of the second half? Everything. But particularly Eustace. I think I might order that home shirt with his name on the back after all.