Episode three of the Robins Nest podcast available
Posted: Wednesday, April 1st 2020
Saturday, December 3rd 2016
It was 59th time lucky for Luke Freeman as the winger finally broke his Ashton Gate duck with a wonder goal to help Bristol City to their first win in six matches.
Already leading through Lee Tomlin’s first-half penalty, the hosts were sitting pretty when Freeman connected sweetly with a stunning 72nd-minute volley that left Ipswich goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski a mere spectator.
Lee Johnson promised changes to his side and duly delivered, making five alterations to the team who started the two away defeats at Birmingham City and Reading.
Only one was enforced, as the suspended Joe Bryan missed out, but Adam Matthews, Scott Golbourne, Korey Smith, Aaron Wilbraham and Freeman were all recalled as Johnson matched up Ipswich’s traditional 4-4-2 formation.
City had scored first in only five of their 18 league matches and were clearly determined to get on the front foot early.
Luke Freeman, making his first appearance since City’s last victory six weeks ago, was straight back into his stride.
First he embarked on a lung-busting run down the inside-right channel that saw him upended under the challenge of Cole Skuse on the edge of the box, but referee Stuart Attwell was not interested in City appeals.
Then Freeman crossed low from the byeline to Wilbraham, who took a touch and saw his shot deflected over, only for Attwell to award a goal kick instead.
The skipper may have still been irritated by that decision when he poleaxed Christophe Berra with a lunging tackle that saw him booked inside seven minutes.
Having weathered an early storm, Ipswich settled into the game. Tom Lawrence cleverly spun away from Matthews and carried the ball menacingly along the byeline before the Welshman recovered with a crucial toe that put the winger off his stride.
Aden Flint then had to be equally alert to halt David McGoldrick in his tracks, twice blocking the striker’s route to goal.
But it would be City who edged in front on the half-hour, scoring before half-time for the first time at Ashton Gate this season.
Johnson revealed before the match he had taken an apologetic phone call from referees’ chief David Allison in the aftermath of the 2-1 loss at the Madejski Stadium in which three key decisions went against his team.
So it would have come as a welcome sight for the head coach to see City benefit from an important decision of their own that was not necessarily clear-cut.
Again Freeman was involved, clipping a deep cross up to the far post where Wilbraham rose to nod it down.
In came Tammy Abraham, charging on to the loose ball as Bialkowski dived at his feet.
When Abraham got there first, the Ipswich man was in trouble. Perhaps the striker’s heavy touch that flew off the pitch and was impossible to retrieve planted doubt in the mind of Attwell, who took his time before pointing to the spot.
Abraham wanted to take the kick himself but traditional taker Tomlin had the final say and duly composed himself before finding the bottom corner with a strike so accurate Bialkowski could not reach it despite guessing correctly as he dived to his right.
Tomlin was firmly in the mood, regularly leaving defenders in his wake with his quick feet and mesmeric passing from wide on the left.
He and Abraham both saw goalbound efforts blocked before Ipswich’s Grant Ward fired a warning shot from 25 yards that skidded wide.
It must have been a surreal occasion for Skuse, playing at Ashton Gate for the first time since his 17-year association with the club came to an end in 2013.
But the Bristolian was determined to make an impression and, from his pass, McGoldrick was only inches away from equalising as Ipswich began the second period on the front foot.
The striker’s low shot struck the inside of Fielding’s left leg but still looked destined for the bottom corner only to glance off the foot of the post as City survived a first major scare.
But in truth it was an isolated moment of panic for City, who were applying pressure again by the time Mick McCarthy introduced two strikers midway through the second half.
Freeman came close to scoring in a City home fixture for the very first time, but his glancing header from Hordur Magnusson’s cross dropped agonisingly wide and the game remained hanging in the balance.
But little did we know Freeman was merely setting the scene and five minutes later the winger sent Ashton Gate in raptures with a moment of sheer brilliance.
When Marlon Pack’s cross was headed out, the ball dropped blissfully on to Freeman’s left foot, who struck it first time on the volley. The ball sailed past Bialkowski and nestled into the top corner before he could move a muscle.
Suddenly full of confidence and fuelled by adrenaline, Freeman raced down the right flank and crossed to Wilbraham, whose clever dummy paved the way for Abraham to shoot low and on target but not beyond Bialkowski’s dive.
An Abraham goal was all that was missing, but City’s top scorer will have to wait at least another week after he was flagged offside in trying to slide home a low cross from substitute Josh Brownhill.
This, however, will always be remembered as Freeman’s day.
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