Ipswich Town 1 Middlesbrough 1

08 February 2010 09:40
Ipswich Town 1 Middlesbrough 1

IT WOULD have been easy to think a wrestling match had just taken place after the final whistle had blown at Portman Road.

Gordon Strachan claimed there were monsters and beasts in the blue corner, while the reds boasted their very own Mick McManus.

Mick has been the nickname associated with Middlesbrough's recently recruited no-nonsense defender Stephen McManus since Strachan afforded him the title during their days together at Celtic.

And at Ipswich there were plenty of early signs showing why he has been likened to the wrestler who was famed for pushing the rules to the limits during wrestling's golden age on ITV in the 1970s.

But while McManus' uncompromising style has earned him the utmost respect from Strachan, it also looks to have had an immediate impact on those around him inside the Boro dressing room.

Daryl Murphy's first goal in almost two years just 22 seconds in put Boro behind; and they have all too frequently failed to recover from such blows during the last few months.

In truth, the weakness has been evident for years.

However, with McManus' dogged spirit reflected in elements of his new teammates' play, Middlesbrough recovered from a thoroughly depressing and alarming first half to turn in a second half display which should have claimed victory.

Having been on the ropes, McManus and defensive sidekick David Wheater led a revival that almost earned an instant victory for a new-look team without injured £3.5m striker Scott McDonald.

It can be hard for new players when they arrive at a new team, said the 27-yearold, one of five January signings in action and three debutants. But to be fair the lads here have been first class with all of the new boys.

It's not just about the new lads making a difference, it's about the lads who have been here a long while helping everyone else to slot in. They are making our job a lot easier. To concede so early as we did was hard for the team, not just myself. It was not the best, but that can happen in football. It's how you react afterwards that's important.

Once Murphy, signed on loan from Sunderland last week, capitalised on Boro's sleepy start by edging ahead of Wheater to poke David Healy's centre from the right beyond Danny Coyne, Ipswich found the visiting defence a more organised unit.

Coyne was rarely troubled after that but he did command his box with strong handling, although McManus and Wheater deserved credit for quickly recovering from a poor opening.

Big Mick played well and showed again that he's a topclass defender, said Willo Flood, whose tenacious display in the middle was one of the brighter points of Boro's poor first half.

This move has given him a new lease of life. He took a bit of criticism in his last few months up north, so I think it'll do him good to get out of Celtic for a while to remind people how good he actually is.

The main reason Strachan has taken McManus from Celtic on loan until the end of the season is for his leadership qualities, after witnessing in his first few months in charge that a mouthpiece on the pitch has been missing.

I have not just been brought in to do this or that, I have been brought in to be myself, said McManus. I'm not going to do anything different to what I have always done.

There is a quietness but that's just because there are young players here. That's what can happen. I've found it to be a brilliant place to be around. They are a wee bit quieter than what we have been used to up the road at Celtic, but that's football.

Strachan has lost half of his 16 matches in charge so for his new-look side to earn a point in the first match after the transfer window closed he was right to be satisfied.

But with the window opening for emergency loans for Football League clubs today, Strachan knows he still needs to find more creativity after off loading Adam Johnson to Manchester City.

A failure to do so is likely to mean an end to Boro's hopes of closing the four point gap to the play-offs, even if McDonald should bring fresh vibrancy to his attack.

Chris Killen and Lee Miller, the £500,000 buy from Aberdeen, looked too similar to be partners up front, although Strachan's explanation was that he wanted to pit them against Ipswich's defensive beasts'.

Killen and Miller had half chances, but were unable to find a way past goalkeeper Arran Lee-Barrett, who was released by Hartlepool at the end of last season.

Lee-Barrett could not stop Wheater's first league goal in 17 months, though. The centre-back leapt above Gareth McAuley just after the hour to nod down Gary O'Neil's corner through a crowed six-yard box.

Throughout the second half Boro looked more fluid, coinciding with the decision to move Justin Hoyte out of an unfamiliar central midfield position which Strachan admitted afterwards he got wrong.

While there were plenty reasons to be depressed for the Middlesbrough fans before the interval, there were also an equal number of reasons to be optimistic after the restart.

But replacing Johnson on the left flank, where left-back Andrew Taylor played for much of the match, is likely to pose the biggest problem in the coming weeks.

It was a frantic game to play in, which was great, said McManus. We should have gone on to win the game, which would have been a fantastic debut. It wasn't to be.

I'm new to this division. I don't know what it is like to be involved in play-offs, promotions and relegations because I've never experienced those.

I'm just focused on doing the best I can and being a good team-mate. If I can do that, and others show the same mentality, then this club will be better off for it.

Match facts Goals: 1-0: D Murphy (1, edged Walters' cross beyond Coyne at the near post)

1-1: Wheater (62, nodded O'Neil's corner down beyond Lee-Barrett from six yards)

Bookings: O'Neil (63, foul); Norris (68, foul)

Referee: Keith Hill (Royston) - kept up with play on his first match in charge of Boro. 6

Attendance: 21,243

Entertainment:

IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2):

Lee-Barrett 6; Rosenior 6, McAuley 6, Delaney 4, Wright 5 (Garvan 79); Walters 6, LEADBITTER 7, Colback 7, Norris 5; D Murphy 7 (Stead 85), Healy 6 (Counago 63, 5).

Subs (not used): B Murphy (gk), Peters, Balkestein, Edwards.

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2):

7 Coyne: Never forced into exceptional saves but was a safe pair of hands throughout;

6 Naughton: Steady debut and looked to push on when he had the chance

7 WHEATER: Celebrated his first goal in a year like a man returning to form, which he is

7 McManus: Looking an authoritative figure at the heart of the defence

5 Grounds: A shaky start led to Ipswich grabbing the first goal after he lost out to Norris.

7 Flood: Had a terrific first half, charging everywhere, but faded in the latter stages

6 O'Neil: His performance was one of determination and drive in the middle

5 Hoyte: Never been a central midfielder and never will be

5 Taylor: Unfair that his rare chance to shine under Strachan was out of position

5 Miller: Lively enough but failed to look dangerous in the Ipswich half

5 Killen: Unlikely to be paired with Miller again, with the two very similar players.

Subs:

Franks (for Taylor 51): Must wonder why he did not start on either wing 5 Lita (for Killen 82)

(not used): Steele (gk), Walker, Bennett, McMahon, Williams.

MAN OF THE MATCH

DAVID Wheater - his equaliser edged him ahead of Flood and McManus.

Source: Northern_Echo