If Ipswich Town are everybody's favourite "other" Premiership team then we had better savour the next month, because they are not going to be in the top division for much longer. Confronted by a relegation six-pointer against Bolton they succumbed so meekly that the word surrender would flatter them.
The least that should have been expected from George Burley's team was an eagerness to confront their relegation rivals, but from the moment Fredi Bobic put Bolton ahead within 90 seconds they seemed to accept their fate, and it now seems a matter of when they will go down rather than if. With remaining fixtures against reviving Middlesbrough and title-chasing Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool, that could be soon.
Bobic went on to complete a hat-trick in 38 minutes and, with Youri Djorkaeff getting his third goal in four matches in the midst of this salvo, this much-trumpeted battle for survival had become a rout before half-time. Ipswich got a goal through Jamie Clapham a minute from the end, but that merely made the score less condemning.
Bolton, whose imagination and movement were worthy of a team much higher in the table, are now six points clear of the relegation places and probably need only another win to ensure that they stay part of the élite. "We are nearly there now," Sam Allardyce, their manager, said, "and it's my job to guard against complacency. I was happy when the first goal went in, but to get four by half-time was something I could only have dreamed about last night." You suspect his Ipswich counterpart will be suffering nightmares about his bedraggled team, whose spirit appears to be dribbling away. "If you defend and play like that you are going to lose," Burley said.
The teams have a history that includes two First Division play-off meetings in the last three seasons, so they are used to summit meetings that have required penalties and away goals to separate them. Everyone expected a similarly close encounter yesterday; no one anticipated such a one-sided affair.
Bolton had the benefit of a gusty and unpredictable wind behind their backs, and it made sense to take Route One towards the Ipswich goal. Twice the visitors cleared successfully, but the third attempt fell to Simon Charlton 25 yards out. His shot miscued beautifully for Bolton because it became a through-ball to Bobic, who turned with admirable calm before passing into the corner of the net.
A goal down before the game was two minutes old, the onus was on Ipswich to go forward, allowing Bolton to counter-attack. The visitors looked to have cracked the white wall in front of them when Marcus Bent crossed dangerously from the right, and it required a magnificent tackle by Anthony Barness to nick the ball from the path of Sixto Peralta.
Were Ipswich reviving? The answer came with a devastating burst of three goals in eight minutes from Bolton. The first, on the half-hour, was a mixture of the blessed and the fortunate, the former provided by Djorkaeff, who supplied a delightful pass forward for Rod Wallace. He appeared to have dallied too long with his shot but when he did connect, the ball rebounded off Andy Marshall and bounced invitingly for Bobic to head in.
Five minutes later and it was 3-0, Bobic turning the provider with a pinpoint cross from the right flank. Wallace rose at the far post and his header was so perfectly weighted that Djorkaeff could walk the ball into the net.
Ipswich were reeling and they looked like a relegated side feeling sorry for themselves when they neglected to mark Bobic at Ricardo Gardner's 38th-minute corner. The German striker sauntered to the near post and headed powerfully to the opposite corner, Finidi George's desperate attempt to effect a clearance merely helping the ball on its way.
Burley had spent much of the first half urging his players to develop a degree of competence, but by the interval his patience had gone. Three players – Marcus Stewart, Clapham and Titus Bramble – were introduced as substitutes to chase the lost cause, a realisation underlined by the ironic cheers the Ipswich supporters gave for a move offive passes.
It was gallows humour and, to give Ipswich their due, they did make the less- than-difficult improvement from diabolical, Clapham side-footing a curling shot past Jussi Jaaskelainen a minute from the end that would have been an eye-catching goal in less dire circumstances. To put it kindly, it was a little too late.
Bolton Wanderers 4 Bobic 2, 30, 38, Djorkaeff 35
Ipswich Town 1 Clapham 90
Half-time 4-0 Attendance: 25,817Reuse content