Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa
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Ipswich Town remain seven points adrift from safety at the foot of the Championship table following today’s 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
TALE OF TWO PENALTIES…
One was given against Ipswich, another wasn’t given to them.
Referee Keith Stroud drew the ire of Paul Lambert in his post-match press conference.
No doubt about it, Town were wronged in the first instance.
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Tammy Abraham coolly converted his second of the day (and 19th of the season) from the spot just after the hour.
The first instinct was ‘Groundhog Day’. Here we go again. Town have shot themselves in the foot. This was, remarkably, the fourth spot-kick they had conceded in the last five league games.
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The previous three – against Middlesbrough (Spence), Millwall (Chambers) and Blackburn (Elder) – were hardly stonewallers, but undoubtedly clumsy. This time, however, Town can feel very, very, very aggrieved.
There was little danger as a deep corner sailed over everyone in the box. Alan Judge and John McGinn turned to set chase, Judge put out an arm to roll his man and McGinn threw himself to the ground dramatically.
He made it look like a judo throw. It wasn’t. Stroud, just yards away, pointed to the spot.
The second big talking point came in the 73rd minute. Collin Quaner, who had a real impact off the bench, latched onto a raking Flynn Downes pass, rounded keeper Lovre Kalanic and then saw his low shot strike the trailing arm of sliding defender Tommy Elphick.
It all happened so quick. Could he have done much to get his arm out the way? Was fellow centre-back James Chester there to cover anyway? You see them given.
Defending set-pieces has been Town’s Achilles’ heel all season. It would help, therefore, if they stopped giving away soft free-kicks in dangerous positions - especially when the opposition has a known danger man on dead ball deliveries.
Trevoh Chalobah – who provided some good drive from a more advanced midfield role – bundled into Anwar El Ghazi down the flank, ex-Blues man Conor Hourihane whipped in a fine cross and Abraham converted from close-range to put Villa up inside seven minutes.
The Blues enjoyed a really confident spell of possession after going behind. One passage of play must have consisted of 30+ passes before Matthew Pennington wasted a crossing opportunity.
The frustrating thing is that it never lasts. Purple patches (with no punch at the end) is not enough. We’ve said that all season.
Bartosz Bialkowski was dropped at the start of December with Lambert saying the Polish keeper, who had just 10 days off after the World Cup, need a break ‘mentally and physically’. He returned to the side today and was pretty busy.
Could he have done more for the opener? It was a fine delivery into that corridor of uncertainty, but that’s when centre-backs want their keeper to take charge. Bialkowski remain rooted to his line.
There was a better punch from another Hourihane free-kick soon afterwards, then a series of saves – some which were more convincing than others.
The offside flag saved him after a McGinn shot was pushed into the path of Albert Adomah, who gobbled up the rebound. Bialkowski then needed two attempts to gather a Hourihane attempt.
The stops to deny stinging McGinn and Abraham efforts were solid. After the break he got away with spilling a downward Abraham header.
His best moment came at the death when doing superbly to deny Abraham with his legs.
For all the talk about Town being on the end of bad luck, the sheer number of chances detailed above tells you that Villa could have been out of sight before the late drama.
SPIRITED FIGHT BACK
When it went to 2-0 you thought ‘here we go again’. Town have lost by that scoreline seven times on their travels this season. This time at least they made the hosts endure a nervy finish.
After Quaner’s penalty appeals were turned down, Freddie Sears rocketed a 25-yard strike into the top corner. The ball was still accelerating as it hit the back of the net. Quarter of an hour to play. Game on.
Villa (one win in nine before today and with the division’s third leakiest defence) got edgy. The crowd got edgy. Town were roared on by their magnificent away support.
Chalobah glanced a Judge free-kick onto the far post. Sadly it was not to be.
The gap to safety remains at seven thanks to Leeds coming from behind to beat Rotherham late on. Bolton (23rd) host Reading (22nd) on Tuesday night.