It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Championship is a difficult league in which anyone can beat anyone else. Nevertheless, when that league's most prolific attack comes visiting a defence which has more than played its part in producing its worst goal difference, the omens appear easy enough to read.
Such prejudice may take no account of home pride – or the improvement in Ipswich Town's previously calamitous defending since Mick McCarthy got to work on them in November – but expectations were nevertheless fulfilled as Gianfranco Zola's Watford triumphed over a side who never matched their pace or quality.
McCarthy was man enough to admit: "We were beaten by a very, very good side – as good as I've seen this season in this league. I have no complaints; they deserved to win."
Goals in each half, from Ikechi Anya and Nathaniel Chalobah, two of Watford's loanees, settled the affair in favour of the promotion-chasers. But McCarthy was not rising to offers to join in criticism of their use of the international loan market. "I don't give a sh*** what they do," he said. "If it's within the rules, let them get on with it."
Zola, after expressing himself "delighted" with a victory gained despite, in his view, a dip in his team's performance, also defended the policy that has brought in 12 loan players, seven from Udinese and all but Chalobah, Chelsea's Sierra Leonean, from foreign clubs.
"The criticism is very unfair," he said. "We didn't break any rules; we're winning games playing very well and very fair. Football is on the pitch; we play very well on the pitch." They certainly did well at Ipswich, where the elegance of their passing game got the better of the home side's more ponderous and muscular approach. "The difference was when we had the opportunities, we scored, when they had the opportunities, they didn't," Zola said.
That perhaps understated the quality of their approach play, but the finishing – Anya's curling shot in the 18th minute, Chalobah's conversion of Almen Abdi's neat through ball in the 72nd – was certainly cool, calm and collected.
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Henderson; Stearman, Chambers, Smith, Cresswell; Edwards, Hyam, N'Daw, Martin (McLean, 54); McGoldrick (Nouble, 64), Chopra. Substitutes not used Loach, Hewitt, Kisnorbo, Drury, Murphy.
Watford (3-5-2): Almunia; Doyley, Nosworthy, Ekstrand; Cassetti, Adbi, Chalobah, Hogg, Anya (Forsyth, 78); Deeney (Yeates, 85), Forestieri (Geijo, 73). Substitutes not used Bond, Yeates, Murray, Vydra, Battocchio
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