Andy's Angles: Six observations following Town's 2-2 Wigan draw
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town drew 2-2 with Wigan Athletic last night. Andy Warren reflects on the action.
A reason to smile
Ipswich Town didn’t have an awful lot riding on this game. But Wigan Athletic certainly did.
The Latics would have completed promotion to the Championship had they won at Portman Road, owing to MK Dons’ loss at Oxford, but they will need to wait a few more days to secure their spot in the second tier.
For Wigan, it’s a point closer to their ultimate goal, but for Ipswich it was a reminder of the quality they possess and an encouragement that next season could be different.
Wigan have set the standard in the third tier in 2021/22 but Ipswich more than matched them here and arguably deserved to win.
Town brought intensity throughout the 90 minutes and showed character to come back from a goal down to lead. You would never have known Kieran McKenna’s side’s season has been over for a while and Wigan were the ones gunning for promotion. That’s the greatest compliment you can give them.
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The hosts maintained an attacking presence throughout while Wigan came in and out of this game, threatening Christian Walton’s goal sporadically but ultimately doing enough to take a point.
A crowd of more than 21,000 watched this match under the Portman Road lights, despite little riding on it for the Blues. But just imagine how many would have been inside the home of the Blues had this game a) been played on its original Easter Monday date and b) been of vital importance to an Ipswich promotion bid.
Hopefully, following plenty of hard work on the training ground and in the recruitment market, Ipswich will be in Wigan’s position a year from now and we’ll have huge Portman Road crowds to match.
More performances like this will be needed if that’s going to be the case, though.
It wasn’t just a performance built on intensity and heart. There was quality from Ipswich, too.
That was evident in both goals, with Conor Chaplin showing great composure as he kept his cool inside the area before firing into the bottom corner. You wouldn’t have wanted anyone else in that scenario.
It came from a much-discussed Town set-piece, too, though the fact the Blues were able to net following Bersant Celina’s low, clipped, effort was perhaps more by luck than judgement.
Prior to the leveller, Town had been in control of the vast majority of this game but trailed to Keane’s first goal. The fact it went in during first-half stoppage time made you feel this was going to be another of those oh-too-familiar Ipswich Town nights where chances went begging and punishments were handed out,
Chaplin’s strike secured parity before Sam Morsy’s thumping volley put the Blues ahead, as the skipper converted a goal of real quality which involved a deep Wes Burns ball and a well-cushioned Dominic Thompson header.
Burns was involved in the strike but, in a break from the norm, it didn’t feel like the entire Ipswich attack went through the Welshman in this game.
Town were strong in the middle of the pitch, with Morsy marauding and Tyreeq Bakinson jumping on loose balls time and time again, which gave the Blues a platform to attack through the centre and test Wigan in different ways.
Shots were fired in from outside the box – another break from Ipswich Town tradition. Even though none yielded goals on this occasion that’s a promising sign.
McKenna said after the game he wanted to see even more long-range efforts from his side.
We’ll hopefully see more of these two things next season.
Hello, old friend
Will Keane was back at Portman Road and certainly enjoyed his evening.
The top-knotted striker made 41 Town appearances over two seasons, scoring nine goals, but we never really saw the best of him.
The Latics certainly are, though.
At Town the skilful striker was used as a battering ram far too often by former Blues boss Paul Lambert, a role which didn’t suit the tools the former Manchester United man brings to the pitch.
But now he’s playing in a withdrawn striker role which allows him to work the ball cleverly with his feet in deeper positions and attack the box in equal measure.
It’s worked for him. He now jointly leads the League One scoring charts on 23, alongside Morecambe’s Cole Stockton.
How well would he fit in this McKenna system? Pretty well, I’d say.
He made his mark in this one, heading home expertly from a corner and then making a clever run to slot home the leveller late on.
Keane, who certainly didn’t depart Portman Road on bad terms, was the pantomime villain for much of this game owing to the cupping of an ear in the direction following his first goal.
He did that because, prior to the corner being taken, fans in the Portman Road hotbed threw the ball away from him when he went to collect it for the set piece. Keane had the last laugh then and he had it in the 86th minute, too, as he silenced ‘Keane what’s the score’ chants by equalising.
The exchanges added greatly to the atmosphere on the night and gave this a feel of a really big Ipswich Town game. That can only be a good thing.
Be careful not to poke the bear too much, though.
Praise for Conor
Was this Chaplin’s best game in an Ipswich Town shirt?
His manager certainly thought it was his best under him.
“He is one who’s good at getting his shots off in those tight spaces,” McKenna said. “I thought his all-round performance was excellent. I think that was probably his best performance in my time here.
“Starting with his intensity, him and Macauley (Bonne) leading from the front with that, but his general play, his understanding now of how he can contribute in general play was good. It’s still a little bit of an adaptation for Conor, he was more of a pure striker in his early career.
"We keep reinforcing with him that we’ve got to get him in goalscoring areas because his best attribute is his ability to get snap-shots off in tight areas in and around the box and that’s a key attribute for us and he did it very well for the goal.”
It wasn’t just his goal. He was creative, too. There was one brilliant ball to free Janoi Donacien in the first half and another excellent spin of Kell Watts which freed attacking partner Bersant Celina to shoot.
That’s 10 goals for the season now for Chaplin. A good return considering he’s shared attacking duties with Sone Aluko for much of the campaign and has been playing in a role he’s still getting used to.
It will be interesting to see what he can manage in year two as an Ipswich player.
We’ve already covered Morsy and Chaplin’s roles in this performance, but there are a few more players deserving of mentions.
Bakinson, as previously stated, seemed to pick up on every loose ball which gave his side possession in dangerous areas. He’s grown into his loan spell here and, when he’s on it, looks a good partner for Morsy. He’s certainly built an argument for his loan to be made permanent. It will be interesting to find out which way that will go.
Cameron Burgess’ return to the side saw the big centre-half defend excellently against a tough Wigan attack, as he read the game well and made vital interventions with feet and head. He’s shown he’s good enough to be a reliable member of this team next season. George Edmundson may face a fight to be a certain starter on the opening day of next season, when he’s back from injury.
Luke Woolfenden had another good game, too. He defended well and also looked keen to replicate his storming run forward at Rotherham on Saturday, striding out from the back on several occasions. There was one moment where he looked furious at a lack of attacking movement from Bonne.
And Christian Walton proved his worth in the second half, following a quiet first, as he bailed Donacien out with a great save from Bennett following the Town’s defender’s poor chest back. He made a great stop to deny Keane’s driven shot, too.
We know Town are in safe hands, there.
Well, sadly, it’s two truly dead rubbers for Ipswich Town now.
First it’s a visit to already-relegated Crewe on Saturday, then it’s safe-in-mid-table Charlton at Portman Road on April 30.
Then it’s the summer, where all eyes will be on how McKenna and CEO Mark Ashton will rebuild this team to give it the tools it needs to compete at the very top of the division in 2022/23.
Ashton watched this game in Phoenix with members of Town’s ownership group, as he meets with the Blues’ US investors to ramp up preparations for next season.
They will have seen plenty to be encouraged by but will also know plenty of improvement is needed if Town are to hit the heights of Wigan a year from now.