Stu says: Six observations following defeat at Barrow
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Ipswich Town lost 2-0 at Barrow in an FA Cup second round replay last night. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.
WHAT A MESS
Backed by wealthy new owners, summer transfer business that was the envy of the division, led by a manager with a proven promotion track record and an enthused fanbase roaring them on...
Five months on, how on earth do we find ourselves here?
Ipswich Town are out of all three cup competitions having failed to beat the likes of Newport, West Ham U21s, Oldham, Colchester, Arsenal U21s and Barrow (twice).
They sit 12th in the third-tier table, nine points adrift of the play-off places and a massive 16 points away from the leaders.
At a crucial juncture they have been without a permanent manager for almost two weeks now.
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Last night, interim boss John McGreal was left ‘taking the positives’ out of the fact his team ‘at least gave it a go’ with some direct football in the second half of a 2-0 defeat at Barrow.
This is Barrow, a team who currently sit 19th in the League Two table and who only recently returned to the Football League following a 38-year absence.
This is Barrow, a team who hadn’t scored a goal that wasn’t a penalty in their previous six games.
And yet the Blues made them look like prime Barcelona during a bum-clenchingly embarrassing first half.
What a mess.
MOMENT OF REALISATION
Forget ‘62, ‘78, ‘81, ‘92, ‘00. Forget Town beating Inter Milan as recently as 20 years ago.
Remember that early part of this season when Town kept drawing entertaining third-tier games 2-2? Those were heady days.
Such is the steady cycle of decline at this club that we’re now left pining for things that were once resented.
Getting knocked out in the FA Cup third round every year and bobbing along in the Championship... what we'd all give for a return to that right now.
At least when the Blues were embarrassed by Lincoln in 2017 it was a game shown on BBC One. Last night, we patiently waited for ‘Giant Lobster Hunters’ to finish on ITV4 before the cameras went live at Holker Street.
Town legend Terry Butcher was on punditry duties for both those games. Four years ago, at Sincil Bank, he was visibly enraged after a shock defeat. Last night there was a tone of sadness, almost one of bereavement, in his post-match assessment.
“We’re not a big club anymore,” he said, in an apparent moment of realisation. “We're a small club really when you think about how far we've sunk.”
Just when you think Ipswich Town have hit rock bottom they find a way to plumb new depths.
Everything has changed, but yet so much remains the same. One step forwards is always followed by several back. It really is beginning to feel like this club is cursed.
FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT
As has so often been the case this season, Town followed up a good display with a rank bad one.
No matter how many times they’ve had their fingers burnt, this group of players continually allow a bit of arrogance to creep back into their play.
After the limp 1-1 home draw with Oldham back on November 6, then Blues boss Paul Cook said his players ‘didn’t respect the game’.
It happened again last night.
Town had to come into this match with the same competitive spirit they showed to secure a comeback draw at Wigan last weekend. Instead, they reverted to looking like a team who thought their technical abilities would carry them through.
“We lost second balls, we weren't challenging, we weren't up for the fight,” admitted keeper Christian Walton.
The goals were evidence of that.
Someone should have charged down Jordan Stevens quicker after a short corner was swept to the edge of the box.
Kane Vincent-Young, favourite to win a far post header, was then beaten to the ball by Patrick Bough ahead of the Robbie Gotts’ second.
Talk tactics, match sharpness and low confidence as much as you like, but none of that should affect one of the game’s key ingredients – pure desire.
No doubt about it, Town’s formation didn’t help.
Just like at Wigan it was 4-4-2. This time, however, the midfield was more of a box with ‘wide’ players Sone Aluko and Scott Fraser tucked right in.
Barrow’s impressive captain Ollie Banks was continually able to find pockets of space and work the ball wide. The Bluebirds’ wing-backs were able to pin back Town’s flakey full-backs of Vincent-Young and Matt Penney.
Their duo of attacking midfielders – Stevens and Gotts – were able to join pacey striker Josh Gordon in pressing Town’s jittery centre-half duo of Toto Nsiala and Cameron Burgess.
Barrow’s back three, even on a wet and cut up pitch, could have played with their pipe and slippers.
It was obvious very early on that things weren’t working, but McGreal waited until half-time to change things up.
Luke Woolfenden and Sam Morsy replaced Scott Fraser and Tom Carroll. Town switched to a 3-5-2 system and started to go more direct. It helped change the tide.
James Norwood stabbed wide, Woolfenden’s looping header was close, Morsy forced a diving stop, Vincent-Young and Penney sent in a couple of dangerous deliveries that were begging to be attacked, while Joe Pigott’s downward header was brilliantly saved at the death.
Barrow keeper Paul Farman, as it so happens, was the man in goal for Lincoln during that FA Cup defeat of 2017 too.
It was too little, too late. The damage had been done.
Town have now won just two of their last 22 games in the FA Cup.
Since Noel Hunt's dramatic late winner at Charlton in November 2014, the Blues' record on TV reads: P34 W3 D10 L21.
Town now prepare to face Sunderland at home on Saturday on front of a near sold-out crowd. Their recent record in games where the attendance has been 21,000+ reads: P22 W0 D8 L14.
Chief executive Mark Ashton must be deep into the process of appointing a new manager by now.
Have recent performances left him thinking that a more short-term fix is required? Will any talented up-and-coming bosses have been left with any doubts about this job?
Whether there’s an appointment by the weekend remains to be seen. You’d imagine, even if there is, there’s a strong chance they’ll watch from the stands.
How many fans actually turn up on Saturday remains to be seen. The current Covid situation, combined with recent results, may put many off.
The atmosphere inside Portman Road will certainly be very interesting.