Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 0-0 home draw with Oxford United
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com
WHAT A WEEK
Never has a week including two 0-0 home draws felt so dramatic.
This Ipswich Town soap opera omnibus would start with ‘the protests’ episode. Viewers tuning in to see a baying mob setting FIRE! to the training ground would no doubt be left feeling like those events had been oversold.
We’ve also had referee Darren Drysdale butting heads with Alan Judge (again, ultimately less dramatic than it actually sounded), under-pressure boss Paul Lambert telling anyone that will listen that ‘everything’ at the club was wrong (then repeatedly refusing to elaborate), plus news of senior duo Jon Nolan and Kayden Jackson being banished to the Under-23s.
In amongst all that, some football was played.
The end result was the same, but the two performances were very different.
On Tuesday night, it was a nervy, passive, toothless display against a struggling Northampton team. Town were arguably lucky to escape with a draw against a team who hadn’t scored in their previous five.
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Lambert looked and sounded a beaten man afterwards.
Four days later, following seven changes, the Blues played with energy, desire and intent against the division’s most in-form side of Oxford United. They were arguably unlucky not to take all three points against a team who had won nine of their previous 10.
Lambert, laughing off reports of ‘crisis talks’ with Marcus Evans, looked and sounded like a man who will be sticking around.
The soap opera continues.
BACK TO BASICS
Paul Lambert made seven changes to his team following that limp display against the Cobblers.
Myles Kenlock, Andre Dozzell and Troy Parrott were the only three outfielders to keep their places.
It was no surprise to see Alan Judge and James Norwood start after their impact off the bench in midweek.
More surprisingly, James Wilson, Toto Nsiala and Keanan Bennetts went straight into the team having all recently returned from medium-term injuries.
Elsewhere, skipper Luke Chambers was restored at right-back, while Teddy Bishop replaced the suspended Flynn Downes in midfield.
It meant the average age of the outfield 10 rose from 22 to 27. And that injection of experience helped.
This was a back to basics display.
Defenders focused on defending. Town didn’t fanny around with the ball at the back. Often, a direct ball quickly gave them a platform in the final third.
Norwood occupied centre-backs and Town's creative sparks worked hard to get on second balls. Parrot may have operated as the No.10, but his striker’s instincts meant he rarely dropped too deep.
Wilson was rock-solid. Kenlock was bright. Bishop and Dozzell provided a bit of midfield thrust. Bennetts was full of tricks. Parrott looked lively. Norwood was a handful.
For an hour, only one team looked like scoring.
So often this season we’ve bemoaned Ipswich having plenty of ponderous possession but not creating enough chances.
So often, the first shot on target hasn’t been produced until the latter stages.
Not so in this match. Town moved the ball quick and had several opportunities. They just didn’t take them.
Norwood had a firm header back across goal hacked off the line with seven minutes on the clock.
Bennetts twice got shots away and won fouls in dangerous areas, while Parrott dragged an effort wide from a golden position.
After the restart, Bennetts flashed a shot just wide after Town had kept the pressure on at a corner.
Then came two real big opportunities in quick succession.
First, Bishop’s pressing of Alex Gorrin suddenly led to Norwood being in one-on-one. His effort, on the stretch, came back off the base of the post.
Then, seconds later, Parrott bundled the ball the wrong side of the post under pressure in the six-yard box following good work by Bishop down the left.
It was a minute of profligacy that Town were left to rue.
RAN OUT OF PUFF
Collectively, Ipswich began to run out of puff.
Below-par Oxford, who had barely threatened, gained some extra life from their substitutions as the likes of Olamide Shodipo, Sam Winnall and James Henry were introduced.
By contrast, Ipswich lost something when the tiring trio of Bishop, Norwood and Bennetts were replaced.
Josh Harrop came on and played a deeper role than he prefers.
Then the late introductions of Aaron Drinan and Freddie Sears, with respect, represented a downgrade in talent.
Having ridden their luck, the U’s could actually have ended up nicking this game.
Matty Taylor put a gilt-edged headed chance over, Tomas Holy had to make a smart stop from Winnall and Harrop produced a vital last-ditch block on Liam Kelly at the death.
It left you wondering whether the exiled duo of Jon Nolan and Kayden Jackson would have been useful options among the subs.
BACK IT UP!
I’ve been quick to criticise poor performances, so it’s only right that credit is given where it’s due. This was a much improved display. It certainly wasn’t the display of a team that has stopped playing for the manager.
Lambert is right. Play like this every week and his team will be right in the promotion mix.
The thing is though, we’ve been here before. One step forwards is often followed by two steps back. The win against Blackpool at the start of this month is evidence of that.
The Blues sit 12th place in the League One table with a game or two in hand on many.
Forget the top two – that's gone. There’s just too much traffic in the way.
Realistically, Ipswich will need to win at least 10 or 11 or their remaining 19 matches (losing a maximum of five) to finish in the play-off places.
That’s a run of form they’ve only had once since dropping into the third-tier (at the very start of last season).
For context, Town’s record over the last 19 games is W7 D4 L8. Replicate that over the next 19 and they’d probably ended up somewhere between 11th and 13th.
In short, a 40% upturn in form is required. That’s quite the leap.
As much as there were plenty of positives to take from this draw, it’s wins that Ipswich need. It may feel like there’s still a long way to go, but the games will soon start to run out.
On Tuesday, it’s a trip to third-place Hull. Then comes further crunch clashes against fourth-place Doncaster (h) and seventh-place Accrington (a).
These next three games really do feel make or break.