By Mark Rasdall
It was twelve years since Leeds United had beaten Ipswich Town away and the rain lashing the seemingly endless A14 yesterday did not augur well. LUFC fans were gathered outside the pub next to the railway station with the river on the other side of them. Spirits (and beer) were high but it was as though nobody quite dared to cross the bridge on to Portman Road itself. I've been at the last two games there and, honestly, it has always seemed a bridge too far (and no, I don't blame Tom Lees for his lack of civil engineering skill).
Unfortunately Tom did make a mistake for what was a fairly soft Ipswich opener and should have dealt with it better. In the four games of the league season so far he does look a bit less assured but I put that down to both youth and the huge desire to satisfy both Brian McDermott and the legion of Leeds fans who travel to the ends of the earth - and Ipswich certainly fits that description.
However, I thought that Lees and Pearce actually played pretty well for the most part, as did Green in front of them. We had to survive barrage after barrage in the second half with a seemingly non stop flow of corners from both sides but stood firm and had a much better (or more organised at least) shape about us in the second half. Ross scoring just after half-time clearly helped with confidence, though he didn't do ours much good with his muted celebration and despite our assuring anyone who would listen that he really wasn't for sale...
Varney went for everything again (including a paper and a bottle of milk) and you cannot question his commitment. He was too eager at times and got caught offside too often but, hey, when his first-half chance came he took it really well. Apart from one horribly mistimed tackle Austin was solid again but I do wonder about his fitness levels and the impending, obligatory trip to Jamaica must be a concern for Brian.
Murphy showed some great touches and at one point early in the second half we played some really slick passing football. I suppose nerves over finally being in touching distance of winning in the Suffolk desert were bound to play a part and the persistent rain did nothing to quench the dryness in all of our throats. We seemed unwilling to really go for it with a typical away, smash and grab, strategy and too often got to the halfway line and then simply were unsure whether to have and hold or move further forward.
Pace is still an issue. When Poleon came on for Varney we looked alive in a way we hadn't quite done for the most part of the match. Given he's been playing in the Development games I'm still not sure why Ryan Hall doesn't get a place on the bench. Either he's not really fit, has psychological problems thinking he's a fishing rod instead of a footballer or he makes follically-challenged jokes when he thinks Brian can't hear him?
All in all, we did cross the river together and we finally prevailed. We must surely draw confidence from days like this and it did remind me of Reading grinding out those wins two seasons ago. As for the Ipswich fans, I know we sang non-stop as usual but, really, they didn't get behind their team at all who were, frankly, as passive as everyone in blue deserved. If Ipswich did something daft like say damming the Orwell and diverting the water into the players' showers to save money and were made to play their matches behind closed doors, I honestly don't think anyone would really notice.