Six wins from their last 15 games would do the trick, said the Ipswich captain, Matt Holland, when asked before this game what would keep the Tractor Boys in the Premiership. Make that five from 14 after this rumbustious if less than entirely convincing defeat of a Fulham team which is beginning to look nervously over its shoulder at the closing pack.
Five weeks ago there seemed no way back for Ipswich, bottom with just one win from 16 games. To win six of their next seven is a remarkable turnaround. "The difference is we've cut out the individual mistakes that were costing us in close games," said the Town manager, George Burley. "We weren't being out-played, we were giving away stupid goals. Now we've got a solid platform at the back, that gives you a chance."
The return of Mark Venus and Chris Makin, missing from the back line exposed by Manchester City in last Sunday's Cup match, certainly gave his defence a far more organised look, although Fulham's more studied approach helped. Fortunately for the neutral the visitors adopted a more positive approach after falling behind in the 10th minute.
Sixto Peralta's reverse pass allowed Alan Armstrong to beat the offside trap, and although Zat Knight got a foot to the striker's attempted cross, the ball looped over Edwin van der Sar and was probably already over the line when Marcus Bent, understandably keen to register his seventh goal in eight appearances, made sure.
One goal tends to be enough against Fulham, who have now scored only 23 in their 23 Premiership games, and yet again they lacked a cutting edge. Louis Saha hesitated when presented with a clear chance on the penalty spot, and with Steve Marlet unable to get into the game, Fulham's best efforts came from midfield. Sylvain Legwinski headed a Steed Malbranque corner just over and then shot straight at Andy Marshall, but the better chances went to Ipswich. John McGreal headed a Venus corner inches wide and Bent planted a free header straight into Van der Sar's hands.
After the break Holland almost marked his 200th consecutive League appearance in style, sending a 20-yard drive wide, but in introducing John Collins for Bjarne Goldbaek and the muscular Barry Hayles, the Fulham manager, Jean Tigana, went for broke.
However, his expensively assembled forward line continued to misfire. Saha and Marlet's unwillingness to shoot meant Marshall was rarely called on to make a save. Bent, sent through by Peralta, should have added to the score but Van der Sar saved well.
Ipswich Town (4-4-2); Marshall 6; Hreidarsson 6, McGreal 7, Venus 7, Makin 7; Clapham 6, Peralta 7, Wright 6, Holland 7; Bent 6, Armstrong 7 (Stewart, 68, 5). Substitutes not used: Sereni (gk), Counago, Reuser, Bramble.
Fulham (4-1-3-2): Van der Sar 5; Brevett 5, Melville 6, Goma 6, Finnan 5; Knight 5 (Hayles, h-t, 6); Legwinski 6 (Ouaddou, 67, 5), Goldbaek 4 (Collins, h-t, 5), Malbranque 7; Marlet 5, Saha 4. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Stolcers.
Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood) 7.Reuse content