A WELL-timed double from Jon Stead saw off a below-par Queens Park Rangers on a bitter Winter afternoon at Portman Road.
Stead’s brace marked his fifth goal in three games against Rangers, following on from his rapid double salvo for Town at Portman Road last season.
The deadlock was broken when Jonathan Walters capitalised on one of many misplaced passes to see his left-footed effort deflected past Radek Cerny.
To Rangers’ credit they came back into the fixture in the latter stages of the first half and indeed the majority of the early offing in the second, but Stead killed off the fixture as a contest.
Firstly scoring a goal of outstanding individual class by rolling his marker and firing a venomous snap-shot into the bottom right hand corner before capitalising on defensive confusion and rolling home his second.
The withdrawal of Adel Taarabt was the final straw for some, who once again barracked manager Paul Hart and a couple of individuals who didn’t hit the standard on a disappointing day in Suffolk.
Paul Hart made a couple of changes from the side that edged past Bristol City on Saturday, with two games in three days too much for some players.
Radek Cerny started in goal with Damion Stewart coming in for Fitz Hall to partner Kaspars Gorkss at centre-back with Peter Ramage and Tom Williams retaining their place at full-back.
Wayne Routledge and Ákos Buzsáky started on the flanks with Ben Watson and skipper Mikele Leigertwood starting in the centre of the park behind the roaming Adel Taarabt.
The Moroccan played in behind lone striker Jay Simpson who was looking to continue his goalscoring form at Portman Road.
Meanwhile Ipswich reintroduced a few of a their ineligible players who missed the clash with Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Arran Lee-Barrett began behind a back four of Liam Roseinor, Gareth McAuley, former Rangers man Damien Delaney and a surprising choice in Jamie Peters at left-back.
Jon Walters was reintroduced on the left-wing with Carlos Edwards retaining his place on the other flank with the combative Grant Leadbitter returning from suspension to partner David Norris in the middle.
Stern John couldn’t feature against the Eagles but returned to partner Jon Stead, who was eligible to play pending his appeal against a red card picked up at Selhurst Park.
Kick Off: Ipswich Town v Queens Park Rangers
Both sets of players took to the field on a cold Suffolk afternoon under the back-drop of recent disappointment, with the hosts in particular still hanging perilously over the drop-zone.
Rangers by comparison were still not faring well despite a win over Bristol City – the fashion of the win wasn’t satisfactory for some who heavily criticised manager Paul Hart for the defensively-minded substitutions to secure the maximum.
From word go it was Town who had the bit between their teeth, predominantly looking over the top in a counter-attacking style. A tactic that in itself doesn’t sit well with the Tractor Boys’ tradition of short passing football.
In particular it was the striker partnership of Jon Stead and Stern John that hauled the R’s defence from its roots and created the early opportunities and pressure for Ipswich Town.
It seemed it would only take a spark to set the game alight, and it proved to be a misplaced pass from Mikele Leigertwood that set the ball in motion. Jon Walters picked the ball up from deep and ran at Peter Ramage.
He feigned inside of the former Newcastle United defender before surging outside his marker and firing a left-footed effort across goal. It appeared Cerny was behind the ball before Ramage’s momentum saw him deflect the powerful effort beyond the Czech and into the near post.
GOAL: Ipswich Town 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
With the deadlock broken Rangers finally came out of their shell and started playing some expressive football. Adel Taarabt was at the centre of Rangers’ creativity, coming deep to receive the ball before running at his opposition defenders.
Grant Leadbitter was an important figure for Town at the heart of midfield with his strong tackling sending Leigertwood to the turf twice, but referee Tanner seemed reluctant to stamp down on the former Sunderland man.
Taarabt meanwhile was creating space for himself through the middle with some excellent trickery and movement on the ball, and seemed intent on picking scything passes rather than just look for goal. An individual effort from the Moroccan sailed just wide of Lee-Barrett’s right hand upright.
Despite having some attacking prowess in their line-up Rangers were looking vulnerable at the heart of defence, none more so than at set-pieces. Corner kicks were proving a real issue for the visitors with Leadbitter’s testing deliveries proving difficult.
Sizeable defender Gareth McAuley was inexplicably left unmarked on the penalty spot but fortunately for Rangers his wayward header flew over the cross-bar. Moments later however was a key chance for Town to double the lead after a mix up in the R’s rearguard.
Jamie Peters was proving a tactical masterpiece at full-back, matching Wayne Routledge for pace before helping Walters and Carlos Edwards in attacking the Rangers defence. It was his cross that found the Rangers defence wanting once more.
A deep ball into the box saw the visiting defence playing musical statues as Walters coasted in behind, with the goal and John open to the wide-man. He could only fluff his lines and be snuffed out by Cerny, with Damion Stewart picking up the pieces to blast away for a corner.
Town were now in full flow and from a similar set-piece to earlier it was Damien Delaney that broke away from his marker in the box, once again to no avail as he missed the target from just outside the six-yard box.
With home supporters still lauding their attacking play, it was QPR that finally carved out a chance of note with some neat interplay at the centre of their surge. Leigertwood linked up nicely with Routledge to see Ramage send in a killer cross into the heart of the area.
Taarabt was unmarked in the area but somehow guided his header wide of the left hand upright. It was a key chance for Rangers and Adel who was visibly disappointed at his contribution in a chance that epitomised a large weakness in his game.
A brief attacking foray from the visitors saw Rangers win a free kick on the edge of the right hand side of the area. Ben Watson stood over the ball and delivered an outstanding far post cross for Taarabt, somehow the Spurs loanee slammed his effort into the stand.
Town’s chances were becoming few and far between as the half drew on with Keane’s men content to sit with two banks of four and look for balls over the top on the break. One of these chances appeared when Walters fed Stead, but the striker saw his effort blocked by Stewart.
It seemed that Rangers only positive creative outlet was Taarabt as he continued to grab the game by the scruff of the neck in the middle before running direct at the defence. His shy from distance bounced and bobbled its way towards goal but Lee-Barrett was more than equal to the shot.
Rangers were the only side intent on going forward and searching for goals, with Town content to soak up pressure. The home supporters responded to this style of play by remaining quiet throughout the first period in a game devoid of passion and atmosphere.
Mr Tanner blew his whistle to bring to an end a mediocre but by and large even first half. Chances for both sides in an open game, that was blighted by a lack of quality and atmosphere. There was hope from both sides that the second half would bring renewed optimism.
Half Time: Ipswich Town 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
As the teams emerged for the second period it was clear that Rangers’ intentions were not to rest on their laurels but to go and try and score that equalising goal. Hart’s men had most of the early play as the second period got off to a sharp start.
Taarabt was once again at the forefront of Rangers attacking credentials as he drove at the heart of the defence after a neat turn. His pass found Jay Simpson moving wide of the target but under pressure the Arsenal man struck a tame effort wide of the near post.
The home crowd were growing in noise and voicing their discontent as QPR continued to retain the ball and move forward with the pace of Wayne Routledge and the skill and poise of Taarabt.
Without creating clear-cut opportunities Rangers were looking a danger, with options open to attackers and constant movement pulling the defenders out of place. Positive play from Rangers that was failing to yield the desired result of an equaliser.
Despite this concerted 15 minute spell of pressure, the R’s weren’t getting that all-important statistic changing, shots on target and subsequently goals. Their conceded goal was hardly a surprise given they have only had three clean sheets this season, but goals were hard to come by against Town today.
One thing that had become clear was that the spell had come to an end after the hour mark, with misplaced passing and missed tackles causing widespread disruption to the formation and opening gaps for the Tractor Boys to exploit.
The momentum began to shift as a Leadbitter free-kick tested Cerny, but the Czech ‘keeper was more than equal to the chance, there was nothing however that he could do about Town doubling their lead, and it was another stunning effort – the second in two games that thwarted Rangers hopes.
On Saturday it was Nicky Maynard, today it was nemesis Jon Stead. The striker picked up a pass from substitute and reported R’s target Owen Garvan before holding off Kaspars Gorkss, rolling the Latvian and thundering a right-footed effort into the bottom right-hand corner.
GOAL: Ipswich Town 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
It was a fitting strike to settle any game, and indeed for many Rangers supporters it had settled the game as a contest. This was soon reflected on the field with some truly atrocious distribution combined with negligible movement making for a disappointing spectacle.
Stead was evidently relishing the encounter after a dormant first period, and this was highlighted as he cut inside both Ramage and Stewart before firing a curling, right-footed effort straight into the midriff of Cerny.
All Rangers could muster in riposte was the educated feet of Taarabt, with the attack-minded player once again trying his luck from distance only to see his effort fly over the bar. It was an effort that epitomised Rangers play since the second goal.
Paul Hart decided to withdraw the ineffectual Ákos Buzsáky, in a bid to get more numbers in the forward line. Patrick Agyemang came on to partner Simpson with Taarabt moving wide-left in a bid to yield a goal from somewhere and inspire confidence.
Routledge had put in a sporadic performance down the flank, but finally got the beating of Peters to send in a teasing cross for Agyemang. The substitute couldn’t put his effort on target however as it looped onto the roof of the net.
Lee-Barrett and Town were content to ebb away the seconds, and this became most noticeable when Agyemang was introduced. Nearly a minute to prepare himself for a goal-kick, but the young ‘keeper still wasn’t ready to take his kick when the game resumed.
There was still time in this encounter for another goal, but it soon become abundantly apparent that the visitors wouldn’t be favourites to produce it. An indifferent reception was in store for striker Stern John as he was withdrawn for young sensation Connor Wickham.
Wickham’s introduction was met with great enthusiasm by the home crowd and the players responded in kind with Walters continually proving a handful down the right-flank. His strong right-footed effort was merely parried away by Cerny.
Who else but Jon Stead was on hand to show excellent composure in front of the target to roll past the sprawling Cerny, kill the game and keep up his impressive scoring record against Rangers – five goals in three games for the striker against QPR.
GOAL: Ipswich Town 3-0 Queens Park Rangers
Sensing the game was up Paul Hart decided to withdraw Taarabt after a tireless 80 minutes, and he was replaced by youngster Angelo Balanta, who finally completed his return after a succession of injuries in recent months.
Suffice to say there were pockets of supporters that didn’t agree with the decision, and the now familiar chant of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ reared its ugly head once more. It was an opportunity to hand Balanta some pressure free minutes, and give an over-worked Adel a rest.
Ben Watson was being singled out by the same supporters for a perceived lack of effort and commitment to the cause. This was quickly brought to a head when some fans opted to boo the midfielder when he was taking a corner.
A chant from the home fans was becoming more audible and resonated across sections of the crowd, ‘You should have kept Jim Magilton’. Perhaps misinformed but nevertheless poignant as a defensively-minded line-up didn’t fare much better than Jim’s attacking style.
What a difference a half makes, with Jon Stead now looking a world-beater, leading the line alongside Wickham. A massive chance for his hatrick came as he strode through on goal towards the right hand side of the area.
Only quick reactions from Cerny denied the striker a much-coveted trio of goals, and a wry smile on his face told a picture of a man clearly enjoying his afternoon’s work. Contrast that with the emotion in the away end, where supporters drifted away on a bitterly disappointing afternoon.
Hart defeated for the first time as R’s boss, and while it wasn’t perhaps as dominant as the scoreline suggests questions will be posed in the dressing room as they welcome back Heidar Helguson and wave goodbye to Ben Watson.
Full Time: Ipswich Town 3-0 Queens Park Rangers
Arran Lee-Barrett, Liam Roseinor, Damien Delaney, Gareth McAuley, Jamie Peters, Carlos Edwards (Owen Garvan 54), David Norris (Jack Colback 54), Grant Leadbitter, Jon Walters, Stern John (Connor Wickham 75), Jon Stead.
Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Kaspars Gorkss, Damion Stewart, Tom Williams, Wayne Routledge, Ben Watson, Mikele Leigertwood, Ákos Buzsáky (Patrick Agyemang 66), Adel Taarabt (Angelo Balanta 78), Jay Simpson.
Radek Cerny – 6/10
Didn’t do a great deal wrong in truth, and made a couple of excellent saves to stop the scoreline from becoming more flattering to the hosts.
He punched satisfactorily and by and large commanded his area well, apart from one incident in the first period, where Kaspars Gorkss came to the rescue from under his cross bar.
His save to deny Jon Walters in the first half was desperately needed with the goal and a pass at his mercy, meanwhile in the second half he stopped Stead claiming a hatrick.
Peter Ramage – 7/10
By and large a solid display from the R’s full back, whose crossing seems to have improved immensely over the course of this season.
He was caught for pace on the first goal, and his attempt to retrieve the situation saw the ball deflect home. From then on he did a good job in testing circumstances with both Walters and Edwards interchanging and Peters supporting from the back.
His cross to Adel Taarabt in the first half was sublime and only the Moroccan will know how he didn’t make proper contact, while he supported an all too often isolated team-mate in Wayne Routledge.
Kaspars Gorkss – 7/10
Gorkss was once again in imperious form at the centre of defence and at times bound the defence together on his own with a commanding presence.
His distribution was excellent and he was always a reliable distribution for team-mates in trouble, and while Stead turned him for the goal it would have been difficult for any defender to stop.
The Latvian and Stewart need time to rebuild their formidable partnership and supporters should hope that Hart affords them the time after this display.
Damion Stewart – 6/10
Stewart didn’t play to his usual high standards today and this owed much to the excellent movement of the hosts’ forwards, and Stew-Peas’ lack of mobility on the day.
He was a useful presence in the air, but couldn’t seem to deal with the useful movement of Stern John, and in the second half Stead had it over the Jamaican.
Stewart and Gorkss require time to rebuild a partnership shot to bits by a previously trigger happy manager intent on changing back-four personnel week-in, week-out.
Tom Williams – 6/10
Didn’t do a bad job today but will have to look at some isolated errors that let Ipswich in behind in the second period.
Going forward the full-back wasn’t too bad and he often showed the opposing winger a clean set of heels as they continually committed themselves – at the back is the bread and butter and he will need to sharpen up.
He didn’t put in any left-footed crosses of note as he did against Bristol City on Saturday and was found wanting defensively on a couple of occasions.
Wayne Routledge – 6/10
A sporadic display from winger Wayne, as despite seeing a great deal of the ball down the right, created very little for the forwards and the fact that the most testing crosses came from Peter Ramage tells you what you need to know about Wayne today.
That is not to say he was poor, as he constantly had Peters on the back-foot, with several players surrounding him and little in terms of an outlet.
It was the final product from Wayne that lacked today as despite seeing plenty of the ball he created little of note in truth.
Ben Watson – 4/10
There are certain players performances that stand out, and Watson today stood out for all the wrong reasons.
It is one thing to misplace passes, but supporters wouldn’t tolerate a lack of effort and commitment, and certainly in terms of going into challenges this was where Watson was found wanting.
He has certainly left a lasting legacy on his last performance in a QPR shirt, as a box-to-box midfielder that took the fundamental ‘box-to-box’ piece from his game towards the end.
Mikele Leigertwood – 6/10
A typical Leigertwood performance and it displayed his time at QPR in a nutshell, from the ridiculous to the sublime and back to the ridiculous again – the inconsistency was incredible.
He put in some fantastic tackles and showed great strength at times only to give the ball away softly all too often, an incredibly frustrating performer.
He seems destined to keep his place against Sheffield United after some defence displays of late, but he will need to eradicate the errors from his game and improve his passing.
Ákos Buzsáky – 4/10
Once again very mediocre from a player that in truth hasn’t had a good game for months – living at the moment on reputation alone.
I don’t recall him touching the ball in the second half before his withdrawal, and usually looked to as an influential player, went hiding when the R’s needed him.
Whenever Rangers looked the counter, the move grinded to a halt with the Hungarian’s slow stylings. His lack of pace was noticeable as the moved ebbed away from between his feet.
Adel Taarabt – 8/10
The most consistent Rangers player on the field, he received the ball and ran direct and take note – he always looked for options to pass to.
A spell out of the side appears to have done him some good as he came back with the same skill combined with the correct intentions.
He drove forward looking for goals and his attacking intentions spurred the crowd on if not his fellow players.
Jay Simpson – 6/10
Didn’t do a great deal wrong, but lacked the strength to compete with the likes of Delaney and McAuley, but some of the aerial distribution didn’t help his case either.
He had one real opportunity in the second half, a snap shot from a tight angle and that’s all he could fashion for himself in truth.
Simpson perked up a tad when Agyemang came on, but tired as the game wore on and didn’t contribute much when the third goal went in.
SUB: Patrick Agyemang – 6/10
Replaced Ákos Buzsáky – 66
The striker certainly sparked some positive play when he came on and competed well with the central defenders in terms of strength.
His introduction marked an improvement in Rangers play, but his influence waned once the third goal went in and most of the players’ heads dropped.
Pat will now be looking for a starting spot against Sheffield United as he seeks to rekindle a run of goalscoring form.
SUB: Angelo Balanta – 6/10
Replaced Adel Taarabt – 78
Balanta came to the field in a whirlwind of abuse for the manager, and despite the criticism being for the withdrawal of Taarabt it cannot have done his confidence good.
He seemed unfazed however as he looked to take on the Town defenders – or indeed any defender in the Championship since the first game of the season.
With the Rangers squad going through a transition as we enter January Balanta may well get a go in the cup against Sheffield United after this brief cameo.
Paul Hart: 5/10 – Paul will come under the spotlight for his decision to withdraw Rangers’ most effective player despite the score-line with supporters paying top dollar for a pricey perch,
It seemed that his team took too long to get going – indeed after the first goal – and then lost heart and stopped playing after the second goal despite a decent period of pressure.
Goals scored a crucial times killed the R’s in what was a rather flattering scoreline, but nevertheless it’s Hart that must carry the can for a damning result.
Roy Keane: 7/10 – Despite playing fairly basic football combined with a counter-attacking style at home, Ipswich managed to get past Rangers on the day.
Keane didn’t seem to want to out-right attack the R’s, rather do a Man Utd and wait for that moment where the visitors over-extend themselves and exploit the gaps.
His inspired change to bring on Garvan and Colback changed the tide of the fixture and ultimately paid dividends for the hosts.
Steve Tanner: 7/10 – I was very impressed with the official Steve Tanner today and the fact he’s been dropped from the Select List is a sad indictment on our system.
Previously remember Tanner as a card merchant, presumably only to get him to the top level, now he has matured and refereed the game with his brain and used great common sense at times.
Perhaps should have booked Leadbitter for a succession of fouls but beggers can’t be choosers in a fairly useful display by the former Premier League man.