Walking into Portman Road it was clear to see that Ipswich are a side and also a club in stagnation. 15,000 was the rough attendance at the game, around half of maximum capacity, which speaks volumes about the disillusionment surrounding the football club at the moment.
The anger provoked by controversial owner Marcus Evans has been directed towards Town manager Mick McCarthy and his side, who have been struggling in the lower reaches of the Championship table since pretty much the opening weekend.
Contrast this with the mood surrounding Reading Football Club at the moment and all things pointed towards an away win. However, there was one factor keeping me grounded as I strolled into the away end and that was Tom Lawrence. The Welsh youngster, on loan from Leicester, had bagged 6 goals in 7 games prior to Saturday’s clash, and was certainly the main threat on the Ipswich team sheet.
Coming into the game on the back of a dreadful 3-0 defeat to Ipswich, another loss would have spelled disaster for Mick McCarthy, and you could really sense the tension amongst the home fans.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that in another year Ipswich could be in the midst of a relegation dogfight given their performances this season, and with the greatest of respects, if you remove Lawrence from the equation then their squad isn’t too far apart from the likes of Wigan and Blackburn who currently occupy two of the relegation zone spots.
But I felt confident that with our own midfield dynamo in Liam Kelly and a solid prospective back three of Liam Moore, Reece Oxford and Paul McShane, that we could certainly nullify the threat of Lawrence. When I saw that Blackett and Gunter would start alongside Moore in the back four, the smile was wiped off my face.
It had been some time since my last Reading away trip, a 5-0 humbling at the hands of Fulham, and in the opening 20 minutes I was getting a horrid sense of déjà vu.
The game started in a similar fashion, Reading trying but failing to get a firm grip on the game, and several times the Royals were caught dillydallying on the ball. Debutant Jordon Mutch took 45 minutes to adjust to playing first-team football again, something he hasn’t experienced much of late, so Kelly and Swift were forced into action on multiple occasions.
The state of the pitch was also an issue. Stam has already complained about the quality of the turf at the Madejski, which has already played a part in new signing Tiago Ilori suffering ligament damage. This time it was John Swift who suffered, slipping in possession and picking up a knock in the process.
With Swift running on 50 percent and Mutch a little off the pace, Ipswich were granted space through the middle, and Toumani Diagouraga, Emyr Huws, and Tom Lawrence all had decent opportunities through the centre of the park.
With Danny Williams struggling to fill in at wing-back, McCleary was starved of service, and whilst Yann Kermorgant dominated the Ipswich centre-halves in the air, there was nobody to latch on to his knock downs, so Reading offered little in attack.
Just as the Royals were easing into the game, they were dealt a sucker punch just before half time, as Tom Lawrence capped off a flowing Ipswich counter attack by turning Chris Gunter inside out and hammering a shot in off the bar.
I don’t know what Jaap Stam said to the players at half time, but Reading looked like a different side coming out for the second period.
Lewis Grabban replaced the injured John Swift, and made an almost immediate impact on his debut, playing in Crystal Palace loanee and fellow debutant Mutch, who slotted home past Bartosz Bialkowski in the Ipswich net.
Ipswich were happy to sit back, as so many sides have done against us this season, and try to hit on the break. And they did just that, with Lawrence once again causing havoc amongst the Reading defence, latching on to a through ball to slot past Al-Habsi in style to make it 2-1.
Once again, the Royals conceded against the run of play in a spell of dominance, which has been a real issue this season, and we will have to work on our attacking profligacy if we are to sustain our promotion challenge.
But Reading hit back one more time with 10 minutes left, and through the most unlikely of sources. After a short corner deflected to the edge of the box, the ball fell to Jordan Obita, who unleashed a rocket of a strike from 30 yards to steal a point for the Royals.
Both sides pushed for a winner late on, but 2-2 was a fair result given the performance, and you can’t help but think that against better quality opposition, this game would have been finished off before half time.