Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 0-0 draw at AFC Wimbledon
Ipswich Town’s poor run continued with a frustrating goalless draw at lowly AFC Wimbledon last night. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
There's a scene in Only Fools and Horses where Boycie reminds Del Boy of the time he asked him to procure two tickets to Wimbledon in order to impress a client. 'I got you two tickets didn't I?' is Del Boy's reply. The punch line... 'That's right, they drew 0-0 with Ipswich'.
Last night's goalless draw at the modest Kingsmeadow Stadium was far from funny though. This felt like the night that the promotion dream died.
That may sound a tad dramatic given the Blues are just a point outside the play-off places with 13 games still to go, but the supporting evidence for the prosecution is beginning to stack up.
Town are not creating enough, scoring enough or winning enough, while others at the top end of the table are. To compound matters, several teams immediately above and below have one or two games in hand to come. Little more than a fortnight on from occupying top spot, a mid-table finish looks far more likely than automatic promotion.
Relegation-battling AFC Wimbledon offered next to nothing offensively. They parked nine men behind the ball and asked the question 'can you break us down?' The answer, sadly, was no.
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Paul Lambert once again insisted his team are still right in the mix when delivering his post-match verdict, but the tone of his voice suggested otherwise.
His comments regarding missing out on several January targets in 'certain areas' (plural) suggests he doesn't think this squad has what it takes. Hearing that, how are his players and the fans therefore meant to believe?
Town may have one of the biggest budgets in this league, but this squad is proving to be nowhere near as good as we hoped it would be at this level. Are there enough leaders to deal with the expectancy levels? It didn't look like it last night. Too many were looking at each other for inspiration rather than taking responsibility. The body language wasn't good.
Talking of body language, James Norwood looks like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
His day started with the posting of a photo taken inside the team coach on social media accompanied by the words 'Match: 2 hours away. Leave: 12 hours before (thumbs up emojis)'. He then had a long chat with assistant manager Stuart Taylor on the pitch prior to starting a torturous warm-up.
Whatever he tried during the shooting session - power or placement - it didn't come off. First there was a rueful smile and shake of the head at each miss, then some pained grimaces followed by several rolls of the eyes to the heavens. As he jogged over to join the rest of the group it was clear he was fighting some mental demons.
Had his thunderous volley rippled the back of the net rather than cannoned back off the crossbar in the 41st minute those negative thoughts may have dissipated. Instead they got louder after he saw a low shot kept out by keeper Joe Day, before a powderpuff free-kick effort hit the wall down low (his follow cross going behind to cheers from the home crowd).
Norwood's big moment subsequently arrived in the 69th minute when Callum O'Reilly's mistake presented him with the chance to burst into the box. Unfortunately the vital second touch was heavy allowing Day to block from close quarters. The missed one-on-one chances of that nature are beginning to stack up.
Two minutes later he was given the hook. Was that helpful for his confidence? Was it then helpful for Lambert to talk so publicly about said lack of confidence and how he tried to sign a striker?
The 29-year-old spoke confidently about his ambitions when arriving at Portman Road off the back of two prolific campaigns for Tranmere in the National League and League Two. Town really could do with him stepping up as a talismanic figure and doing his talking on the pitch if this season isn't going to quickly fizzle out.
TOILING FOR TWENTY
This worrying run of league form has now reached the 20 game mark. That's almost half a season.
Since the 1-0 win at Fleetwood way back at the start of October, the Blues' record in League One is as follows: P20 W5 D7 L8 F20 A25 Pts 22
Here's some context. Only Bolton, Tranmere, Southend (the bottom three) and MK Dons have claimed fewer points over the same number of games. And only Southend and Tranmere have won fewer matches.
Town are placed seventh on the strength of their flying start to the campaign and no-one would be rewriting history by suggesting they weren't playing *that* well back then.
POSSESSION WITHOUT PUNCH
Town had 63% possession in this game, hit the woodwork and did test the keeper several times, but to suggest they 'did everything but score' would be over-stating their dominance.
Break down how the chances came and you'll see how little was created from open play.
Norwood's volley against the bar came from a corner that dropped kindly in the box. His one-on-one chance came courtesy of an error at the back.
Other Day saves came from a Freddie Sears free-kick, a Norwood snap-shot (following a poorly defended corner) and after Kayden Jackson ran onto a hopeful ball over the top to cut-back for Will Keane.
The home custodian's best stop, a flying dive to his left to keep out Keane's crisp volley on the spin, was after a cross had been headed clear, then helped back into the box.
The build-up was infuriatingly slow and ponderous. It allowed Wimbedon to always stay in shape. They were quite happy to let Town knock it about in their own half.
Plenty of passing without a cutting edge is a recurring theme of this campaign (and the previous). There are rarely moments in games where you really sense a goal is coming. That's a major problem.
MISSING MAGIC AND SAFE SUBS
This game needed Luke Garbutt's set piece magic. With him injured (nothing Lambert can do about that), Cole Skuse was left to float rather than whip in corners or deep dead balls.
It needed a twinkle-toed Teddy Bishop or the dynamic Kane Vincent-Young to break the lines, but they're both injured. Again, nothing Lambert can do about that.
The Blues boss could have done more with his team selection and substitutions though.
Did this game need three centre-backs, Cole Skuse sitting in front of them and no natural No.10? As the action wore on it became apparent that the answer to that was very much 'no'. Yet Keane for Norwood, a like-for-like swap, was the first change. Then Freddie Sears replaced Josh Earl for a late tweak to 3-4-3.
It meant Alan Judge, Andre Dozzell and Jon Nolan all stayed unused when some guile was clearly required. Even Armado Dobra (not in the 18) might have proved a good wildcard option.