IPSWICH PLAYED both ends against the middle and walked away with three points yesterday from a game in which they were outplayed for the first hour. At one end, David Johnson stole two quick goals midway through the second half, but it was the goalkeeping of Richard Wright at the other that kept the home side in the hunt up to that point while West Brom controlled the game.
West Brom went into the game at rainswept Portman Road on the fringe of the promotion-chasing pack, but it was Ipswich who emerged with their Premiership pretensions intact. Courtesy of Johnson's eighth and ninth goals of the season and their 10th clean sheet, Ipswich stand one point off the top of the First Division and, like Sunderland, they have games in hand.
The old adage about the importance to "winners" of picking up points when not playing well will be trotted out for the next few days around Suffolk and it will be closely followed by praise for Ipswich's England Under-21 goalkeeper. Wright denied Lee Hughes a possible hat-trick with three superb saves in the opening 14 minutes as West Brom took a grip they were reluctant to relinquish.
After that Shaun Murphy had a close-range header deflected wide, Sean Flynn shot over the bar after Jimmy Quinn put him through, and Micky Evans had a drive blocked. Somehow Ipswich managed to hold out and it took a change of style after the interval, when the Frenchman Manuel Thetis came on as a third central defender, to help stem the tide.
Within 30 minutes, Ipswich were in control. The catalyst was a long shot from Mark Venus. It was deflected away, but Kieron Dyer's corner was headed home by Johnson. Eight minutes later, Johnson knocked the stuffing out of West Brom when he collected a cross from the left by Jamie Clapham and scored with an angled left-foot shot.
Ipswich's manager, George Burley, marvelled at Johnson's ability to turn a game. "He has given better performances when he has not scored but today his two goals were the sign of a talented boy who can score 25 or 30 goals a season," he said.
His opposite number, Denis Smith, could only praise the impressive performance by Wright and rue the way his side had let Ipswich off the hook.
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