Andy's Angles: Five observations following Ipswich Town's Bolton loss
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Ipswich Town were beaten 2-0 by Bolton Wanderers yesterday. Andy Warren has his say on the game.
Bump in the road
Things had started so well under Kieran McKenna.
Optimism was high heading to a Bolton side on a five-game losing streak, with Town winning their two matches under their new boss without conceding.
The stage was set for McKenna to become the first Town boss to win his first three games in charge since the Blues started playing in the Football League, all the way back in the 1930s.
Sadly, it didn’t happen. A first loss was always going to come eventually, though.
It arrived earlier than we all hoped and was certainly a buzzkill after such an encouraging start.
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This wasn’t the same crushing low as the 5-2 defeat dealt out by the Trotters at Portman Road in September. Nor was it a side completely out-fought as they were at Accrington or Charlton. It wasn’t a comprehensive beating like the one inflicted by Rotherham, either.
But it was maybe a reminder of why Ipswich find themselves in mid-table this season, as well as the realisation that McKenna can’t sort out a season’s worth of problems overnight.
McKenna was right when he said post-match that this game was there for the taking for Ipswich Town.
Yes, the Blues may have failed to hit the heights of their first two matches this season, but to reach the 70-minute mark level at 0-0 in any game away from home is a platform for victory. A platform for a battling point on the road at the very least.
That’s why it’s so disappointing to see them concede two really poor goals and leave with nothing.
The first, on 74 minutes, came after Bolton were given too much room to work on the edge of the box. Aaron Morley’s shot was pushed away by Christian Walton and Kieran Lee gobbled up the rebound.
Yes, Walton could have done more to push the ball clear of danger, but he had planted his left foot and had his weight and momentum heading the other way before throwing himself to his right.
Equally, if not more disappointing, was the fact so many Ipswich defenders were caught napping when the rebound came back into play. There were offside appeals, but Lee was being played on by both Wes Burns and George Edmundson.
The latter won’t be watching the second goal back in a hurry, as he gifted possession to Dapo Afolayan with a criminally under-hit back-pass which was never going to reach Walton.
He quickly apologised to team-mates after the game, but has plenty of credit in the bank following an excellent debut campaign in Ipswich blue. He’ll learn from his mistake brush this one aside.
He wasn’t the only man at fault for the second goal, though, with Janoi Donacien guilty of giving the ball away in the build-up.
From there, there was no way back.
Town came out the blocks quickly in this game, controlling the early possession and using it to work their way up to the Bolton box.
Macauley Bonne and James Norwood were pest-like in attack, closing down every Wanderers man as soon as they got the ball, while Sone Aluko was able to pick up pockets to try and create from a deeper position.
Skipper Sam Morsy and midfield partner Lee Evans were playing on instinct, moving the ball well and pushing Bolton back as they looked to operate on the edge of the home box.
But, as the half went on, they struggled to keep it up and, in the words of McKenna ‘went away from our principles’. They started to force things unnecessarily.
For the second game in a row, McKenna wasn’t happy with the 15-minute period before half-time.
“We definitely lost control of our build-up which is something we have done well over the last couple of games,” the boss admitted. “We’ve built-up from the back well, have managed to find a spare man.
“We weren’t doing that. We ended up getting locked into positions and situations we didn’t want to be and ended up going longer and turning the ball over more cheaply than we wanted to.”
That meant chances dried up.
Ipswich had 65% of the ball in this game and spent much of it in the Bolton half, but produced only three shots on target. The best opportunity was a Luke Woolfenden header straight at James Trafford, while the other two were easily-saved efforts from Aluko and Evans.
Town forced 12 corners to Bolton’s five, but on the flip side strikers Bonne and Norwood barely had a sniff in open play.
Play began to feel clogged up, with Ipswich players on top of each other, not giving team-mates room to work, which led to passes going astray and attacking moves breaking down.
McKenna’s Ipswich have set high standards during their early weeks together, but couldn’t match them in this one.
Will this ultimately end up being Walton’s final appearance for Ipswich Town?
We all certainly hope not, with McKenna making positive noises about the possibility of holding onto the goalkeeper for the rest of the season at least.
As things stand he’s heading back to Brighton on Monday morning, with the seven-day grace period included in the Premier League club’s loan recall now up.
This wasn’t a vintage Walton game, and he’ll not be happy with his efforts to keep the first goal out, but he did serve a real reminder of his ability as he made an outstanding stop to deny Dion Charles in the first-half, flying to his left.
Hopefully discussions can reach a sensible conclusion for all concerned.
Much of McKenna’s post-match debrief focussed on how he and his players will work to put things right after this loss.
And in many ways, the 35-year-old can learn a lot more about his players from this game than he did during their victories over Wycombe and Gillingham.
This was a much different test than in those two opening games, where both opponents took a physical approach and looked to put the ball on top of the Ipswich defence.
Bolton looked to play on the floor a lot more, building up from the back and keeping the ball, trying to pull Ipswich around.
He’ll have seen a different side to his team. Some of it good. Some of it not so.
“It’s very much about needing to watch the game, needing to speak with the players, all be open and understand what we can do better, put things on the training pitch and be ready for Accrington, which again is a different game, a different type of team, a different challenge,” McKenna said.
It’s a challenge Ipswich will need to be perfectly prepared for. We know how tough a nut Stanley can be to crack.
Town could have been just five points off the League One play-off places with a win in this game, but remain eight back, having played more games than many of those above them.
The Blues have taken six points from nine available under McKenna and, if they keep that up over the final 20 matches of the season, the 75 points they will have accrued would give a real chance of a place in the play-offs.
It’s not impossible, we know that, but it’s a real tough task for a team who have struggled for consistency all season.
Stutters like this weekend’s certainly won’t help and the margin for error gets ever smaller. But how quickly McKenna and Town can learn from these mistakes will tell us whether a run at promotion is a possibility or a fantasy.