Stu says: Six observations following Town's 1-1 draw at Wigan
- Credit: Phill Heywood
Ipswich Town drew 1-1 at Wigan Athletic yesterday afternoon. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.
THAT'S MORE LIKE IT!
The travelling Town fans stood warmly applauding at the end spoke volumes.
They had demanded a reaction following the lifeless and nervy 2-0 defeat at Charlton four days earlier - and they sure got one.
In a back-to-basics 4-4-2 system, the Blues were organised and hard-working during a scrappy, fine-margins first half played in the Lancashire rain. Few chances created, sure, but also few conceded.
Midfield duo Sam Morsy and Lee Evans were much improved back at their former stomping ground. Morsy, in particular, played like he had a point to prove. Conor Chaplin had a finger-jabbing red-mist moment after Tom Pearce appeared to take a dive. Kyle Edwards' driving run drew penalty appeals. There was effort and endeavour all over the pitch.
Still, it was hard not to fear the worst once Callum Lang profited from a poorly defended corner to give the Latics a 22nd minute lead. Going behind midway through the first half had proved the cue for a collapse at The Valley. It didn't this time though.
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John McGreal's men continue to battle for every ball after the restart. They stayed in a niggly game.
James Norwood (more on him later) stepped off the bench and scored. Town, having fought for the right to play, suddenly rediscovered a bit of confidence on the ball. Yes, they rode their luck when Will Keane had a one-on-one finish disallowed for offside and also headed wide from close-range, but it was undoubtedly the Blues who finished this game stronger against an in-form, high-flying team that has the reputation of being second half kings.
Only a good block on Kyle Edwards late on stopped all three points going back to Suffolk. All in all, a point apiece was about right.
There is clearly still much to be worked on. However, this spirited comeback draw was a solid step in the right direction after a miserable few weeks. It certainly gives a platform for the new manager to build on.
MAKING A POINT
Back in September, the club's hierarchy decided that James Norwood simply wasn't for them.
A long running appeal against a drink-driving ban, silly spats on social media, a no filter personality that not everyone around the training ground appreciated... it all added up. Image is everything to Town's new US-based owners and Norwood wasn't helping it.
And so, he was quietly made available for transfer and told to train with the Under-23s.
That was an easy to call to make when new fans' darling Macauley Bonne was in red-hot form. It became an increasingly tougher stance to take once the goals, both for Bonne and the team, started to dry up.
Former Blues boss Paul Cook, stuck in the middle, flat-batted all questions on Norwood. Following Cook's sacking, Norwood took to Twitter to express his sympathy and suggest his former boss' 'hands were tied'.
On Monday, chief executive Mark Ashton paved the way for a recall when stating Norwood's selection was '100% down to the manager'. McGreal, no doubt getting positive reports on the striker from Under-23s boss Kieron Dyer, quickly had him back training with the first team. Then, within 14 minutes of being back on the pitch for the first team he had scored.
It was an instinctive left-footed strike after the ball had fallen loose in the box. It was a difficult finish made to look much easier than it was. Not only that, he injected some trademark energy into the front line.
That's now 167 career goals for the 31-year-old. It's 23 in 44 starts and 23 sub appearances for the Blues. Those are impressive stats for someone who has rarely been fully fit during his stop-start two-and-a-half seasons in Suffolk.
Norwood pointed to the name on the back of his shirt as way of a goal celebration.
It's vital now that he keeps doing all his talking on the field.
TWO UP TOP
For the very first time this season we saw Ipswich Town start with a formation that wasn't 4-2-3-1.
"The fans shouldn't have come down (to Charlton) and not seen a shot on target - that's criminal really from a team of our quality," explained McGreal. "So I had to shake the pack and go with two boys up top."
Joe Pigott made his first league start since the 2-2 home draw against AFC Wimbledon at the end of August, playing right up against the centre-halves alongside Bonne.
"I thought they were a little bit sloppy in the first half," said McGreal. "JD (Janoi Donacien) was putting little round the corner balls in, something we had worked on, but it just bounced off one or two times and we weren't able to gain the territory. I thought the guys started the second half well, to be fair, but when you get towards 55/60 minutes and you've still not got near the goalkeeper you have to make the change."
If Town continue with this system, it'll be interesting to see which two strikers get the nod from the start next.
If Town continue with this system, the strikers could do with a few more crosses into the box to attack.
Set-pieces are a massive part of the game, but Town haven't been good enough at them, either offensively or defensively, this season. Here we saw a reminder of that Achilles heel, but also some improvements too.
The corner which led to Wigan's opener was really poorly dealt with. Gwion Edwards got a run on his man to divert a header towards goal and, after Christian Walton's reaction save, Lang was left with a simple tap-in due to the fact Morsy had wandered off the post.
To be fair, Town did repel several other corners.
Max Power whipped a shot just over the bar from a free-kick routine in the second half. Keane, as mentioned, spurned a golden chance from a deep dead ball delivery too. Cutting down the number of free-kicks conceded per game is something that needs to addressed.
In terms of attacking set-pieces, Evans sent some wicked deliveries into the box. Bonne got his head on the end of a couple in the first half. And it was a bending deep free-kick delivery which led to the equaliser.
McGreal, once again, started with Kane Vincent-Young at right-back and Janoi Donacien at left-back.
However, seeing that Wigan left-back Tom Pearce had been bombing past James McClean, the Blues boss switched his full-backs at the break.
Getting the more defence-minded Donacien on the other side really helped stem that tide.
Credit to the Blues boss for reacting so swiftly to the danger.
STAR IN THE MAKING
Sometimes it's very clear that you're witnessing a player destined for bigger things. George Edmundson is one of those players.
The 24-year-old centre-back has that same Rolls Royce look about him as Adam Webster did during his time at Town. He's got a turn of pace, a cool trick to get out of trouble and reads the game superbly.
Mention must also go to his partner at the back Cameron Burgess. The big Scot, in for Toto Nsiala, made a string of contested clearances. He took his chance.