Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 1-0 home win against Rotherham United
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town beat fellow Championship relegation-battlers Rotherham United 1-0 at Portman Road this afternoon. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Paul Lambert handed out four league debuts. Altogether, there were eight changes to the starting XI which lost 1-0 at League One side Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup.
It meant a slight tweak of system. Rather than a traditional 4-3-3 it was more 4-2-3-1 with Will Keane playing just off of Collin Quaner.
Quaner, Keane, James Collins and Callum Elder went into this game having played a combined total of 334 minutes of competitive football between them this season. Cole Skuse was back in the side after a seven-game absence.
It was always going to take time for these players to gel and get their match sharpness back.
Town led at half-time, but were perhaps, for all their possession, slightly fortunate to do so. They did not lack endeavour, but it was all a little bit disjointed. Rotherham, playing a compact 4-1-4-1 system, were more than happy to sit in.
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FINALLY SOME FORTUNE
Town have not helped themselves this season, but they’ve also had their fair share of bad luck too.
Things certainly went their way in the latter stages of the first half though.
Keane initially mis-controlled Freddie Sears’ low cross with his thigh, but the ball bounced straight back to him off a defender and the Hull City loanee made no mistake with his snap half-volley from six yards out.
That breakthrough came at a time when frustrations were beginning to mount.
Rotherham then had two big chances just before half-time with Trevoh Chalobah twice guilty of lapses in concentration.
First, the Chelsea loanee turned into danger and Joe Mattock dragged a shot wide. There was an apologetic raise of the hand to his Town team-mates.
Then, the teenager did not hear the shout of his better placed team-mates when racing to win a header in the box. Thankfully for him, Jon Taylor put his volley over from a golden position.
Town have been routinely punished for such individual errors. This time they got away with them.
Rotherham came at Ipswich after the restart.
Michael Smith, who led the line strongly, saw a well-hit shot beaten away by Dean Gerken. He also sent a glancing header just over. It all began to get a bit ragged and edgy.
Lambert responded by bringing on Flynn Downes to add energy to his understandably leggy team. It was striker Quaner, who was seeing very little of the ball as Town got pegged back, that was sacrificed.
That meant going like-for-like in terms of systems. Keane was left leading the line on his own. It stemmed the tide slightly.
Rotherham relentlessly went route one. And Town stood up superbly to the aerial bombardment.
Luke Chambers, who went over a perimeter gate heavily in the first half, was a warrior. Matthew Pennington, playing at right-back, was excellent too. Collins, meanwhile, was an absolute colossus.
The 35-year-old Welshman was strong, composed and a real leader. His presence allowed Chambers to focus on his own game. This is what Town have lacked at the back ever since Christophe Berra’s departure.
There were still some heart-in-mouth moments though.
Dean Gerken dashed off his line in the 89th minute and bravely got the ball ahead of an on-rushing player after Smith had won a knock down. Town’s keeper also kept out a deflection off of Collins with his chest.
Deep into stoppage-time there was an almighty penalty box scramble. A controversial free-kick was given against Downes. After some frantic defending, Elder made a huge block.
The final whistle finally sounded to a huge cheer of utter relief from a bumper crowd that had really played the role of 12th man.
This was only the third clean sheet of the season.
Town have played miles better than this and lost. Rotherham look a side that will pick up plenty more points along the way between now and May.
A win’s a win though. And that’s all that mattered today.
Town have closed the gap to safety back to seven points. And there are still 57 points to play for.
The odds of completing the great escape still remain mightily long. But there is still a sliver of hope.
The Blues have to now go and back up this result at Blackburn next weekend. We said that after the wins against Swansea and Wigan. The last time there was back-to-back wins was February/March last year.
This new-look team needs to gel and get match fit quickly with some tough games on the horizon.
The influx of new faces meant that there were several senior players sat in the stands.
No fewer than 10 ‘first team’ players were left out of the squad entirely. They were: Jonas Knudsen, Jordan Spence, Myles Kenlock, Janoi Donacien, Jon Nolan, Andre Dozzell, Gwion Edwards, Danny Rowe, Jordan Roberts and Kayden Jackson.
And that doesn’t take into account Tristan Nydam and Ben Morris (back from their loan spells at St Johnstone and Forest Green Rovers respectively), as well as Josh Emmanuel and Luke Woolfenden (out on loan at Shrewsbury and Swindon respectively).
Tellingly, not a single one of Paul Hurst’s permanent signings were in the staring XI.
This is suddenly a big squad. And those can be difficult to manage.
Paul Lambert admitted this week that one or two players are likely to leave on loan before the end of the month.
A spell in League One for those who have struggled to make the step up this season is probably what’s best both for club and some players at this moment in time.