More difficult questions to be asked. Another chance to cement our top six credentials wasted, and a game that, from 1-0 up, we ended up losing 2-1 as the Lads left Portman Road empty handed.
Following the limp FA Cup exit at the hands of Newcastle, there was undoubtedly more fight on display during Sunderland’s performance on Saturday night, but it ultimately counted for nothing as we dropped out of the playoff positions following Coventry’s victory over Leicester earlier in the day.
Pre-match, eyebrows were certainly raised as Michael Beale opted to persist with Jobe, who’s been visibly flagging in recent weeks, as well as bringing Abdoullah Ba back into the team and relegating Nazariy Rusyn to a spot on the bench, alongside the returning Jay Matete.
To say the least, this felt very harsh on the Ukrainian, who’d looked encouraging in his two previous appearances but as ever, Beale’s judgement call would either backfire or be vindicated at the end of the game.
Ipswich, meanwhile, fielded former Sunderland loanee Nathan Broadhead as well as the dangerous Leif Davis and the potent Conor Chaplin, as Kieran McKenna’s team looked to get things back on track after a mini wobble in recent weeks.
We knew it would be a tough task, but after barely throwing any punches against Newcastle, we simply had to show more attacking spark in Suffolk.
The early exchanges were lively, with both sides looking up for the battle and the hosts enjoying the lion’s share of possession, and Sunderland’s first effort came through a speculative long-ranger from Alex Pritchard, which was followed by a well-struck shot from Jobe that was saved by Hladky after some good work by Aji Alese.
At the other end, Wes Burns fizzed a ball across the penalty area that evaded the outstretched Kayden Jackson as Ipswich served early notice of their attacking prowess. Some minutes later, a game of pinball broke out in the Sunderland box after Pierre Ekwah lost possession, and a good block from Luke O’Nien ensured that we kept the home side at bay.
It was a fairly open game, even if we looked somewhat blunt without a genuine striker on the pitch, and another sharp piece of movement from Jackson almost caught us out from an Ipswich throw in.
Another chance came and went as Jobe played in Jack Clarke after a good first touch, but the winger’s effort was saved by Hladky. However, the Yorkshireman soon made amends as the ball broke to him on the edge of the box after a good run from Ba, from where he lashed home an emphatic opener.
1-0, exactly what we needed, and somewhat against the run of play, but it was almost 1-1 immediately as Anthony Patterson had to be alert to tip Harry Clarke’s shot around the post as the hosts sought an instant response.
Eventually, that response came as Jackson curled home a neat finish after the ball somehow found its way through a crowd of Sunderland players. The lead had barely lasted ten minutes and suddenly it was all square, and that was how it remained as the first half came to an end.
It had been an intriguing game to watch. We’d generally been solid and had certainly upped it from the Newcastle debacle, but it also felt as though there was something more for us if we could grab it.
No changes were made by Beale as the second half began, with Ipswich straight onto the attack as Davis’ powerful twenty-yard shot was palmed away by Patterson. We weren’t finding much early joy, and a Pritchard free kick missed the target by some distance, but Ba was impressing with some driving runs at the Ipswich defence.
With half an hour left, there was little in the game, but Patterson had to be on his toes to prevent Clarke from making it 2-1.
Subsequently, Beale made his first change with Adil Aouchiche replacing Ba, and the Frenchman spurned a glorious chance to give us the lead, as he fired wide after a Hladky error.
Unfortunately, the Ipswich breakthrough came shortly thereafter, as a free kick from the left (conceded by Aouchiche) was headed home by Chaplin for 2-1 as our weakness from set pieces was exposed once again.
With seven minutes left, Rusyn finally entered the fray for a visibly annoyed Pritchard, but it all felt like ‘too little, too late’ as we tried to salvage something from the game, and that’s now it ended.
Another frustrating loss from a position of initial promise, and despite the fact that Ipswich’s form suggests there’s no shame in losing to them, to taste defeat in such a manner is a source of major annoyance.
Friday’s game against Hull now takes on slightly more importance, without a doubt.
The race for the top six is hotting up and we have to keep ourselves in the mix. The doubts about Beale won’t be going away any time soon, and he needs his players to deliver when we return to home turf for another big televised game against Liam Rosenior’s side.
Sky Bet Championship
Saturday 13 January 2024
Referee: Sam Allison
Ipswich Town: Hladky, Clarke, Woolfenden; Edmundson, Davis, Travis (Ball 68’); Taylor, Burns (Ball 68’), Chaplin (Tuanzebe 93’); Broadhead (Harness ‘88), Jackson (Sarmiento 68’)
Subs Not Used: Walton, Ladapo, Aluko; Humphreys
Sunderland: Patterson, Hume, Ballard; O’Nien, Alese, Neil, Ekwah; Jobe (Burstow 88’), Pritchard (Rusyn 83’), Clarke; Ba (Aouchiche 64’)
Subs Not Used: Bishop, Seelt, Triantis; Matete, Hemir, Bennette