North Stander: Four positives to take from an ugly win

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna applauds fans after the game.

Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna applauds fans after the win over Gillingham - Credit: Steve Waller -

Ipswich Town fan and journalist Terry Hunt shares his thoughts on the Blues after the hard-fought win over Gillingham...

Well, that wasn’t the most thrilling way to spend a cold February afternoon, but there are some positives to take from what was a less than convincing win against lowly Gillingham.

First and foremost, we won a game which arguably we didn’t deserve to. Under Paul Cook, we would definitely have conceded a late equaliser. Winning ugly is a good sign, even if it doesn’t make for a thrilling spectacle.

Once we went ahead, we managed the game very efficiently, and although the visitors had plenty of the ball, they didn’t really look like getting level.

A second positive was that we stayed eight points outside the play-offs, instead of falling further behind. The margin for error, however, is absolutely minute.

A third big positive for me is our keeper. Christian Walton is a rock-solid, calming, reassuring figure between the posts. He is such a good keeper, as he demonstrates in game after game. He was my man of the match against Gillingham, simply because he made no mistakes.

Goal scorer Conor Chaplin applauds fans after the game.

Goal scorer Conor Chaplin applauds fans after the game. - Credit: Steve Waller -

The fourth positive is that, under Kieran McKenna, we now have five wins in seven league games. So more than two points a game, which is promotion form. It may not always be sexy football, but we’re putting points on the board.

McKenna, in his calm way, admits that we are a work in progress and asks us to “trust the process.” In other words, he is asking us to be patient while he sorts it out.

There are clear signs of progress, mainly in our defensive work and game management. They’re not aspects of the game which get fans out of their seats, but they are crucial to long-term and sustained success and progress.

Having said all that encouraging, positive stuff, the game against Gillingham was frustrating to watch. If we are serious about sneaking into the play-offs, we will need to play a whole lot better than that.

For me, the main problem was in central midfield. Lee Evans and Tom Carroll are good footballers, comfortable on the ball, and can spot a pass, but they don’t provide the forward impetus which we so obviously need.

There’s too much passing the ball sideways in front of the opposition, which teams like Gillingham absolutely love, as they try to park the bus.

George Edmundson, just a whisker away from making contact with the ball as it flashed across the six

George Edmundson, just a whisker away from making contact with the ball as it flashed across the six yard box. - Credit: Steve Waller -

The result was that the service to the strikers was very poor. James Norwood just wasn’t in the game, and Joe Pigott again failed to convince. Not all of it was his fault.

I would love to know how many crosses we put into the box in that whole game. I remember a couple of poor ones from Dominic Thompson in the first half, but none at all after the break. When you’re playing with a big centre-forward like Pigott, then surely that has to be a failing?

Our other shortcoming was losing possession on a regular basis, usually with sloppy passes or misunderstandings between two players. I like Conor Chaplin for his bubbly enthusiasm - and he scored a nice winner - but he was very wasteful in possession.

The injury to player of the month Wes Burns is worrying, although McKenna seemed to think it was only a knock and nothing more serious. If he isn’t fit for the trip to Doncaster, I would put Kane Vincent-Young into that role.

Macauley Bonne fires high over the bar.

Macauley Bonne fires high over the bar. - Credit: Steve Waller -

The three at the back system with wing-backs seems to suit us. Luke Woolfenden has been a revelation, George Edmundson came forward to provide the assist for Chaplin’s goal, and Janoi Donacien remains rock-solid.

So...can we make the top six? Realistically, we need to do something we haven’t yet managed and that’s go on a long unbeaten run. So far under McKenna, results have been win, win, loss, win, win, loss, win. Anyone spot a pattern there?

We clearly must win at Doncaster, although their result at the weekend will give them huge confidence. Winning at Sunderland was certainly an eye-catching result. By the way, what are Sunderland thinking of? Roy Keane as manager? I know he did well there previously, but really...?

Then, next Saturday, comes the big test at MK Dons. Can we break the pattern and get a result? it will certainly be tough, because they are flying. However, it will feel like a home game, with our 7.000-strong travelling army outnumbering and out-shouting the puny home support.

Three points there would be a real statement of intent.