The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Dave Good­er­ham

MICK McCarthy was spot on when he pre­dicted pre-match that the race for Pre­mier League pro­mo­tion would go to the wire.

His Ip­swich team were one of four that started yes­ter­day in the top six but who stut­tered to a sur­prise de­feat.

Read­ing were the de­served vic­tors at Port­man Road, manager Steve Clarke get­ting the re­quired re­sponse af­ter de­scrib­ing his side’s home mid­week de­feat against Wi­gan as ‘rub­bish’.

The Roy­als should now be safe to look ahead to an FA Cup quar­ter-fi­nal be­fore plot­ting im­proved league for­tunes next sea­son.

But Ip­swich re­main very much in the here and now, still with real chances of both au­to­matic pro­mo­tion or slip­ping out of the top six al­to­gether.

Jamie Mackie’s 14th-minute goal proved the dif­fer­ence, though Town left-back Ty­rone Mings and goal­keeper Bar­tosz Bialkowski might both look at their own in­volve­ment in the game’s cru­cial mo­ment.

This fact was not lost on McCarthy, who said: “Jamie Mackie is a good striker but I don’t think we should have con­ceded the goal we did – he shouldn’t have got the shot away and we could have done bet­ter to save it.

“It was one of those days. We took the game to them but we were not able to score. They got the goal and then sat back in what was a good away per­for­mance.

“We watched Mid­dles­brough lose to Leeds be­fore­hand and that’s the Cham­pi­onship. When you put that Read­ing squad of play­ers up, they should be com­pet­ing for the play-offs - there is noth­ing be­tween us at all.

“Our points and po­si­tion might be dif­fer­ent, but in terms of qual­ity and strength of squad, there is noth­ing in it.”

Read­ing sur­vived an early storm from Ip­swich – and Cham­pi­onship top-scorer Daryl Mur­phy in par­tic­u­lar who went close to scor­ing his best goal yet af­ter tak­ing ad­van­tage of a kind re­bound to burst past two Read­ing de­fend­ers but not keeper Adam Fed­erici.

But on 14 min­utes the vis­i­tors gained a sur­prise lead with a goal out of noth­ing. Mackie took the ball on down the right wing and sur­prised both Mings and Bialkowski with a quick-fire shot that rested in the far cor­ner.

Vis­i­bly shaken, Ip­swich of­fered lit­tle by way of re­sponse dur­ing a largely flat first-half.

They fared lit­tle bet­ter for chunks of the sec­ond pe­riod, though Jay Tabb could have changed all that when his low shot evaded both the far post and the on­rush­ing Mur­phy on 56 min­utes.

Read­ing al­ways looked a threat on the counter attack, though it was a from a set piece where they went clos­est, Nathan Chalobah’s 20-yard free-kick pro­duc­ing a fine fly­ing save from Bialkowski. Ip­swich fi­nally came to life in in­jury time when Mur­phy headed a free-kick just wide and then pro­duced a fierce drive that could only sting the palms of the well-po­si­tioned Fed­erici.

Though his side’s home form re­mains patchy at best, Clarke was de­lighted with an­other win on the road, pay­ing par­tic­u­lar trib­ute to re­turn­ing cen­tre-back Michael Hec­tor who put in a man- of-the match per­for­mance to shackle 21-goal Mur­phy.

Clarke said: “It was a tough game and I can’t imag­ine it was very pretty to watch.

“But you could see we have qual­ity in the group and good char­ac­ter and re­silience. If you don’t show char­ac­ter when you come to places like Ip­swich, you won’t win.

“We let our­selves down on Tues­day, but we bounced back well here. I got the re­sponse I was ex­pect­ing.

“We are dis­ap­pointed we are where we are.We are nine points clear of the bot­tom three, but it is not enough.

“It is frus­trat­ing that we can’t find a level of con­sis­tency and the home form is puz­zling.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

MASK THE PAIN: Ip­swich Town’s Daryl Mur­phy. Inset: Adam Fed­erici is warned about time wast­ing

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