Malky Mackay’s Latics were good value as they battled their way to a hard-earned point at a snow-bound Portman Road.
A clean sheet against the side with the best home record in the Sky Bet Championship was particularly welcome in the light of Mackay’s stated desire to make his side harder to beat first and foremost; and they were certainly that today, restricting the home team to precious few opportunities.
They didn’t manage to breach the Town defence at the other end but did have one or two half chances and there were certainly clear signs that the togetherness and determination which will be needed in the coming weeks and months is a major feature of the team.
Mackay included both new boys Billy Mckay and Jason Pearce on the bench after their signings were completed yesterday, while there were three changes from the team that faced Huddersfield last week. The big surprise came in goal where Ali Al Habsi came in for his first league game since last April in place of Scott Carson. Don Cowie and Marc-Antoine Fortune were the other two changes, replacing the injured Chris McCann and the departed Callum McManaman respectively.
Latics were first to show, a sweeping move on the break after five minutes begun by Cowie saw the Scot deliver a pin-point pass to James Perch on the right side , Fortune got a strong header to the skipper’s cross but the ball looped over the bar. Ipswich produced a replica move two minutes later, but Jay Tabb’s header was well wide. Tabb had a much better opportunity on 13 minutes but he skied Tyrone Mings’ neat through ball with an angled drive from eight yards.
As the snow began falling on an icy Portman Road, so creativity seemed to get frozen with its arrival, but from Latics’ point of view, this was not a bad thing, as Mackay’s men worked really hard to prevent Ipswich from building a head of steam.
Latics had the odd half-chance on the break, but the ball never quite seemed to run for them in the final third and they were not able to seriously trouble Bartosz Bialkowski’s goal again before the break. That said, Al Habsi was a virtual passenger, a tame Tabb header at the far post in the final minute of the first half was as close as the home side came. The biggest talking point of a disappointing 45 minutes came when William Kvist was inexplicably booked for a perfectly legitimate tackle on Kevin Bru – yes it was that sort of half.
Latics came out for the second half much the more productive side. Huws delivered a terrific cross into the box from the right that Waghorn just failed to reach, Fortune pulled a shot wide from the right hand side after Huws had sent him clear, then Perch was whisker away from connecting with Cowie’s corner.
Ipswich responded by making a double substitution on 65 minutes and it galvanised them into enjoying their best spell of the game. David McGoldrick headed from near the penalty spot, but it was a comfortable take for Al Habsi. Substitute Freddie Sears then forced a save from Al Habsi after McGoldrick had pulled the ball back from the by line.
Waghorn made way for Mckay to make his debut on 78 minutes. His first touch set McClean away down the left and Fortune wasn’t far from reaching the Irishman’s fizzer of a cross at the far post. The Northern Irishman looked busy and instantly added a new dimension to the side – a sign of good things to come hopefully.
With both sides looking to snatch a winner in the final few minutes, the home crowd became increasingly frustrated with their sides lack of opportunities and as three minutes of injury time were announced, it was Latics’ hardy band of followers who could be heard above the home fans.