Five reasons why Ipswich Town have turned things around

The Ipswich team hug before kick-off at Villa Park

The Ipswich team hug before kick-off at Villa Park

It was dubbed ‘Fearsome February’, but Ipswich Town got through the month undefeated. Stuart Watson takes a look at the factors behind the turnaround.

Myles Kenlock tries to close down Jacob Murphy Picture Pagepix

Myles Kenlock tries to close down Jacob Murphy Picture Pagepix

When Ipswich Town fans woke up on February 1 they recalled the events of the previous evening, glanced at the upcoming fixtures and feared the worst.

Thrashed 3-0 at home by Derby, skipper Luke Chambers left the field with his head in his hands following a blocked deadline day move to Nottingham Forest and no multi-million pound replacement for striker Daryl Murphy had been landed.

Next up was Reading (h), Aston Villa (a), Brighton (a), Leeds (h) and Norwich (a). Gulp. Many questioned where the next points were coming from. Getting dragged into a relegation scrap suddenly looked a very real possibility.

Fast-forward 27 days and the picture is a whole lot brighter.

New Ipswich signing Jordan Spence plays the ball forward at Huddersfield

New Ipswich signing Jordan Spence plays the ball forward at Huddersfield


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Town out-played Jaap Stam’s so-called pass-masters and were unfortunate to only draw 2-2 at Portman Road, then deserved their late winner at Villa Park (1-0) after a gutsy away display against a club that had splashed the cash in January.

Brighton were looking to go top of the Championship table when Town rocked up at The Amex Stadium, but Mick McCarthy’s men were good value for a 1-1 draw. Leeds, also pushing for promotion, were played off the park in the first half and Town will feel they deserved more than their 1-1 draw.

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The Blues then weathered a bit of a storm at the play-off chasing Canaries and required some heroics from keeper Bartosz Bialkowski to secure a share of the spoils (1-1). Seven points from a possible 15 could easily have been more.

So what’s changed?

Emyr Huws is sent flying by Jacob Murphy Picture Pagepix

Emyr Huws is sent flying by Jacob Murphy Picture Pagepix

WING-BACKS WORK

For years, Town fans have pondered whether a wing-back system would suit the personnel at McCarthy’s disposal and now the Blues boss has finally stuck with it for a prolonged period.

It’s bringing the best out of players. For a start, it has solved the Luke Chambers conundrum. Town’s skipper is so much more comfortable in his favoured central role.

Jonas Knudsen was enduring a difficult second season at left-back, but looks far more suited to playing on the left side of a back three. Grant Ward had gone a little stale after his debut hat-trick display, but has been rejuvenated by playing in a central three.

Freddie Sears celebrates after scoring the opening goal to take Ipswich 1-0 up in the Ipswich Town v

Freddie Sears celebrates after scoring the opening goal to take Ipswich 1-0 up in the Ipswich Town v Leeds United (Sky Bet Championship) match at Portman Road, Ipswich, on 18 February 2017. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

And the wing-back roles have allowed homegrown duo Josh Emmanuel and Myles Kenlock to develop.

MIDFIELD POSITIVITY

The midfield make-up has topped the list of fans’ gripes for some time. McCarthy’s penchant for playing Cole Skuse and Jonathan Douglas alongside each other has meant the Blues have lacked a creative spark or goal threat from the middle of the park.

January loan signings Emyr Huws and Toumani Diagouraga have therefore been a breath of fresh air. Huws has genuine box-to-box energy, is not afraid to beat a man to open up space and, as his goal at Villa showed, will gamble on getting on the end of a cross. Diagouraga sits a little deeper, but always wants the ball and always looks to pass forwards. It’s added some much-needed dynamism to Town’s play.

Kieffer Moore comes on as a substitute during the second half of the Ipswich Town v Leeds United (Sk

Kieffer Moore made just 11 sub appearances for Ipswich Town. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

SHACKLES OFF

It’s not just about the players McCarthy picks, but also about the instructions he gives them.

At times it’s looked as though free spirits have been stifled. The likes of Ward, Teddy Bishop and Freddie Sears have slowly but surely been converted from crafters to grafters.

Recently it has appeared as though McCarthy has taken the tactical shackles off. His players are finally expressing themselves and being brave on the ball. It’s so much more fun to watch.

David McGoldrick fires a shot at the Norwich goal late in the first half despite the attentions of t

David McGoldrick fires a shot at the Norwich goal late in the first half despite the attentions of three home defenders

COMPETITION FOR PLACES

McCarthy had just 11 senior outfield players at his disposal for the FA Cup visit of Lincoln back on January 7. Subconsciously, perhaps a few players had got a little comfortable in the team.

Seven players were signed in the January transfer window, plenty more have returned from the treatment room and now McCarthy is having to leave first-team players in the stands. As the Blues boss says, ‘a little bit of insecurity makes you work harder’.

MCGOLDRICK’S BACK AT IT

It’s easy to forget just how talismanic a figure David McGoldrick was. Following two years of injury frustration, he finally is fully-fit and firing again. The silky forward is a joy to watch when then ball is stuck to his feet.

It’s no coincidence that Town’s upturn has coincided with his return from the treatment room.

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