Stu says: Seven observations following 1-0 win v Plymouth
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town beat Plymouth Argyle 1-0 at Portman Road yesterday. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.
SAMY ON THE SPOT
Just like at Fleetwood a few weeks earlier, super skipper Sam Morsy timed his run to perfection to pass the ball into the net from six-yards out.
Finally, after what's felt like a lifetime, Ipswich Town have a goalscoring central midfielder. He's much more than that though.
The Blues captain is the engine of this side. He is its beating heart. His energy and desire spreads infectiously to team-mates and supporters alike.
During an even opening 10 minutes, the Egyptian international set the tone with a couple of firm-but-fair crunching tackles.
In the 14th minute, he berated Wes Burns for not picking him out in the box. In the 28th minute, he crashed into another challenge - this one earning him a booking - and immediately bawled out the Town defence for not dealing with the situation seconds earlier.
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Town have themselves a mentality monster, someone who leads by example and expects everyone around him to hit those same standards.
KILL IT OFF!
That 37th minute opener, another straight off the training pitch, was coming. Once it arrived, the Blues went up another gear.
Sone Aluko was at the heart of everything. He oozed class. Bersant Celina looked like he could provide a killer pass, as he did in the lead-up to the goal, at any moment. Norwood, who showed great strength and composure with his assist, constantly triggered the high press.
Plymouth were penned in. Town repeatedly worked golden positions. But, as has been a theme, they couldn't score a second when on top.
Norwood twice fired over the bar from decent positions before a thoroughly entertaining first period came to an end.
After a slow start to the second half, Town got their passing game going again to repeatedly get into dangerous areas. Sadly, the final bit of decision-making or execution still wasn't there.
Norwood's sweeping pass, off his weaker left foot, was cut out ahead of a forward-charging Morsy. Morsy, having burst through the middle, was guilty of holding onto the ball too long with runners either side. Burns should have found lively substitute Conor Chaplin with a cut-back.
The Blues could and should have scored more goals against a team who had gone almost 10 hours without conceding.
SEEING IT OUT
Plymouth hadn't had a single shot on target all game. Town looked in utter control during a more low key second half. It didn't ever feel like an equaliser was coming... but then we'd said that at Oxford the previous weekend.
In the 89th minute, the Pilgrims won a corner and keeper Michael Cooper joined the attack. Oh no, here we go again... And for a split second it looked like that was going to be the case when the ball bounced dangerously in the box. Luke Woolfenden did superbly as a human shield though and keeper Christian Walton came to collect.
Burns subsequently spurned a huge chance to wrap things up in stoppage-time when firing a one-on-one chance wide following Celina's outstanding skill and bending through pass.
With the door still somehow ajar, Plymouth won a deep free-kick and Cooper ran forwards again. Surely not? Nope. The delivery was well-cleared and, after Chaplin's ambitious long-range attempt at an unguarded net was reached by a back-tracking defender, the final whistle blew.
There was to be no late heartbreak this time.
This was Town's sixth successive clean sheet at Portman Road. It was their 12th clean sheet in 17 games under McKenna. Those are stats worth reading again.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH
In hindsight, maybe this was a good time to play Plymouth.
This was their seventh game in 21 days. They were without key men Conor Grant (groin), Panutche Camara and Luke Jephcott (both international duty), then saw defender James Bolton and striker Ryan Hardie both limp off in either half.
Manager Steven Schumacher admitted afterwards that his players, off the back of a six-game win streak, had looked jaded. He also revealed that he would have had 15-year-old Freddie Issaka among his subs had the schoolboy not been sitting his mock exams this week.
It was a another reminder of just how much strength in depth Ipswich have in contrast to most of the teams in this league.
Even with George Edmundson, Lee Evans, Kyle Edwards and Kayden Jackson all sidelined, McKenna still had the luxury of bringing on Chaplin and Macauley Bonne - two players with plenty of Championship experience - to provide fresh legs in the second half.
McKenna hasn't just improved Town as a team, but he's also improved individuals too.
Cameron Burgess is the latest example of that. The Scot was beginning to look all at sea in the latter stages of Paul Cook's reign, but has been rock-solid on the left side of a back three since stepping in for the injured Edmundson over the last three games.
With Corrie Ndaba to return from his loan spell at Salford and Elkan Baggott doing well for the U23s, there may not be a mad rush to bolster the defence when the transfer window opens.
McKenna's two January additions - Dominic Thompson and Tyreeq Bakinson - are getting better as the weeks go by too.
On Bakinson, the Blues boss said: “I think from where he came in at to where he is now, I think he’s really developing.
“It’s probably taken a little while for Tyreeq to get used to playing that deeper role and holding the middle of the pitch by himself at times. But I feel that he’s really growing into that role."
FUN IN THE SUN
Under glorious spring sunshine, the FanZone was packed both before and after the game. The life of Town and Plymouth legend Paul Mariner being celebrated added to a warm glow.
Ipswich Town could well be set to finish outside the top-six in the third-tier of English football for a third successive season and yet this was their ninth successive game with a 20k+ crowd (23,256).
That's pretty incredible when you stop and think about it.
"The atmosphere was great," enthused McKenna afterwards. "It felt like one of those days were everyone - staff, players, fans - were all pulling in the same direction. If we can keep going then this is potentially a really powerful football club."
He's not wrong. Expect season tickets for 2022/23 (the prices of which have been frozen) to sell like hot cakes.
This was Town's first win of the season against a side currently in the top seven.
Following 'close but no cigar' draws against in-form trio MK Dons, Portsmouth and Oxford, this felt like a milestone moment for a team making exciting progress.
No longer is one step forwards being followed by two steps back. Under McKenna, the Blues (now unbeaten in 11) seem to be learning and improving by the week.
The only downside is that we're rapidly running out games.
Sheffield Wednesday's win against Cheltenham means the gap to the play-off places only narrowed to five points. The four teams immediately above Town all have a game in hand to come too.
A near perfect six-game finish is going to be required against Cambridge (h), Shrewsbury (a), Rotherham (a), Wigan (h), Crewe (a) and Charlton (h).
Too much to do? Probably. But it ain't over until the fat lady sings...