A DEFENSIVE horror show saw Leeds United capitulate in sorry fashion in Suffolk as they were dismantled 4-1 by their high-flying hosts Ipswich Town.
After being afforded the considerable fillip of an early lead in the fourth minute, thanks to Mirco Antenucci’s eighth goal of the season, it was downhill all the way for Neil Redfearn’s troops, who were punished for a woeful performance at the back.
Ipswich dined out at their expense time after time, none moreso than striker Daryl Murphy, who notched his 12th and 13th goals of an impressive campaign.
The match programme alluded to the former Sunderland forward being in the form of his footballing life and it was hard to argue, although he was given a helping hand by a meek defensive showing from Leeds.
David McGoldrick also got on the scoresheet from the spot for Ipswich, who turned around a 1-0 deficit to lead 3-1 at the break and Christophe Berra added a fourth three minutes into the second half to providing the gloss.
Redfearn has often admitted that this season will be a case of one step forward, one back for Leeds and plenty of evidence was provided of that at Portman Road, with his side, so defensively sound against Derby last weekend, exactly the opposite a week on.
At times, it was truly alarming stuff with Marco Silvestri offered no protection whatsoever for large parts of the afternoon, with 1,835 Leeds supporters forced to suffer amid bitter cold.
Both sides kept changes to a minimum after both enjoyed their Saturday afternoons immensely seven days ago.
Jason Pearce, a week after being dropped to the bench, earned a reprieve with Giuseppe Bellusci out with a hamstring strain with the centre half lining up alongside Liam Cooper, but with Stephen Warnock retaining the captain’s armband.
Town, with just one defeat in 15 games and with a chance of going top if they prevailed and Derby slipped up at home to Brighton, also made just one change from the side who triumphed 1-0 thanks to Noel Hunt’s last-gasp strike at Charlton, with Berra returning from suspension and Jonathan Parr dropping to the bench.
Leeds followers who made the journey to Suffolk soon made their feelings known about the decision by the Football League to disqualify Massimo Cellino for failing their Owners and Directors’ Test in no uncertain terms with voicing their backing for the Italian.
After their side’s early opener from Antenucci, they were given precious else positive to shout about on the pitch.
The liveliest of halves began with Murphy seeing his deflected shot comfortably held by Silvestri before play proceeded to move up to the other end of the pitch, with Leeds stunning the Tractor Boys by taking the lead just four minutes in.
Town were left exposed down the right hand side of their defence, with Warnock profiting from indecision between home captain Luke Chambers and Tommy Smith before delivering an inviting cross which was tucked away from close in by Antenucci - ahead of the inquests beginning in the Ipswich defence.
It represented the dream start for United at a venue which has not proved a particularly happy one over the years.
The early signs were encouraging ones for the visitors, but in a clear sign of things to come, Leeds blotted their copybook at the back, with the charge-sheet containing several more entries before the interval.
Ipswich manufactured space down the right on 12 minutes with Chambers’ high cross dispatched clinically by the head of Murphy, who pulled away expertly from Pearce with his effort giving Silvestri no chance.
It was the portent of worse to come, although not before Antenucci fired a chance over the top, yet while Leeds possessed a semblance of threat going forward, it was a different matter at the other end.
A lack of defensive cohesion and organisation was exploited by two proven Championship operators in Murphy and McGoldrick, who had too much nous and power for a rearguard who looked dishevelled and beaten up by the interval.
Only a last-ditch block from Pearce denied Murphy in front of goal after the Irishman was afforded far too much space to attack Stephen Hunt’s floated corner.
Antenucci, trying his best at the other end, then headed at Bartosz Bialkowski, before Warnock, so consistent this term, suffered a rare aberration to hand Ipswich a gift-wrapped second from the spot on 26 minutes.
Mike Dean showed no hesitation in awarding a penalty after Warnock went through the back of Paul Anderson with the clumsiest of challenges.
It was an opportunity that McGoldrick was never likely to pass up and the striker - who netted in both matches against Leeds last term - continued his impressive statistics against United by effortlessly sending Silvestri the wrong way for his sixth goal of the campaign.
Sadly, it got worse for Leeds and Murphy should really have made it 3-1 soon after, but bundled the ball wide from close range after Hunt headed Chambers’ centre into his path, with Leeds again showing a dereliction of duty at the back.
McGoldrick, clearly showing the Leeds infallability, then fired a couple of efforts off target before the hosts grabbed a killer third moments before the interval.
Leeds were undressed down the left, with Murphy left clear on goal and he fired the ball under the legs of Silvestri to fire his second and Ipswich’s third.
It left Leeds with plenty to ponder at the interval, but the early pattern of proceedings on the restart followed the first, with the visitors’ meek defensive showing continuing.
Murphy, having an absolute field day won an early header, but no-one could get the final touch in front of goal before Town wrapped it up on 48 minutes.
More poor defending allowed Smith a free header following Hunt’s corner, with Berra gettiing the final touch close to the line.
With the game now in the bag for Ipswich, the only question was whether Leeds could stem the tide and prevent further concessions, with the action at the other end non-existant, with the visitors wholly demoralised.
The main question for the hosts was whether Murphy can clinch his hat-trick and he went mighty close after latching onto McGoldrick’s cross, with Leeds again all at sea, but his powerful hooked volley was beaten away at the near post by Silvestri.
Play proceeded to peter out, with the outcome clear and defined and Town saving their energies for future battles, with Leeds not threatening Bialkowski in the home goal.
An awful afternoon, all told.
Ipswich Town: Bialkowski; Chambers, Smith, Berra, Mings; Anderson (Bru 72), Skuse, Tabb (Bishop 60), S Hunt (Sammon; Murphy, McGoldrick. Substitutes not used: Gerken, Parr, Bajner, St Ledger.
Leeds United: Silvestri; Byram, Pearce, Cooper, Warnock; Bianchi, Cook; Doukara (Austin 51), Adryan (Sharp 53), Mowatt; Antenucci. Substitutes not used: S Taylor, Berardi, Tonge, Dawson, Del Fabro.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Attendance: 21,489 (1,835 Leeds fans).