'We're still in pre-season mode' - Cook on 2-2 draw with AFC Wimbledon

Town manager Paul Cook retrieves the ball during the game.

Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook, pictured during this afternoon's 2-2 home draw with AFC Wimbledon. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller

Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook said his new-look squad are 'still in pre-season mode' after they surrendered a two-goal lead to draw with AFC Wimbledon this afternoon.

The Blues' wait for their first win of the campaign goes on after Jack Rudoni scored in stoppage-time to make it three successive 2-2 draws at Portman Road at the start of this new League One campaign.

Joe Pigott's cool penalty against his former club (52) was soon followed by a fine Wes Burns finish (54) early in the second half, but centre-back Ben Heneghan quickly halved the deficit with a header from a poorly defended free-kick delivery (58).

And it was an unmarked Heneghan who met a late corner with his head, Vaclav Hladky spilling the ball for substitute Rudoni to score. 

"It's just us, isn't it?" rued Cook afterwards, the Blues now in the relegation zone after five games and already nine points adrift of leaders Sunderland.

"I never try and kid supporters. I understand why people are getting agitated that we're not winning. 

"I keep saying to the lads 'what we've done we'll do again'. It's football. We have to learn from what we've done. Unfortunately, at the minute, we're not! For whatever reason.

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"People will always point different fingers of blame. I'm not like that. I'm not about lambasting players. 

"I think you could feel in the stadium, at 2-0, it was a lovely atmosphere, it was jovial and everyone was euphoric. Unfortunately, when Wimbledon get the goal, you feel the tension in the stadium come and you also feel the tension in the players' decision-making.

"The best way to relieve pressure is to keep the ball. Unfortunately at the minute, for a variety of reasons, we're probably not doing that as well as we should be.

"We don't give our crowd enough time to enjoy the moment, do we? The reality is, when you're 2-0 up at home, you want to go on and win three or four nil. We don't want to sit back.

"The third goal in the game was always going to be everything. Credit to Wimbledon. They scored it.

"They were always going to put us under pressure with the balls in and the set-pieces. The reality is, we've succumbed. We go away and we have to work harder."

With Ben Heneghan repeatedly left unmarked at set-pieces in the nervy latter stages, Cook said: "He's big, Heneghan. They've also got (Ollie) Palmer, (Will) Nightingale. They've got some really big lads in there.

"I'm not going to make excuses for our lads though because you have to see games out. You have to be a streetwise team that can do one thing at one end and one thing at the other. At the minute, it's quite clear we're not good at both ends."

He continued: "Guys, we're five games in. We've scored two goals at home and we haven't won. We've had a lot of chances and had a lot of great situations. Wimbledon were always going to put us under pressure late on. We succumbed to what we succumbed to.

"As a manager you go away, you analyse and we try and come back and be better. 

"I think everyone has seen the quality of Hayden Coulson today, but he's still not match fit. These are the little things. We've got to get our players up and running.

"I don't know what's going to happen with next weekend's game against Wycombe (a potential international call-off), but we're still in pre-season mode. We still need lads back fit. We need to train very, very hard in our pursuit of getting to where we want to be."

The Blues boss added: "If you could have written a script today to go 2-0 up in front of a fantastic home crowd... We have to go on and dominate the game. I don't know the minute we conceded, but it wasn't long after we'd just scored our second.

"Confidence in football is key, especially in stadiums like this when you play for big clubs. The reality is, our fans want to transmit positive energy. Unfortunately, if we don't give them that energy to transmit then people turn the opposite way - and correctly so, 100% rightly so. That's something we're looking to manage.

"I just keep going. This is probably the toughest period of my football management career in terms of wins. 

"It's a new team. I look at the subs we're making, taking off both full-backs in the game. I don't take full-backs off! My substitutions are the front four because they're knackered and we want to score more goals. At the minute we can't do that because of the fitness levels in the team. That's due to Covid, players arriving late... the list of excuses is there. It's just the reality.

"We just need to get weeks in and train very, very hard."

Cook, whose record in charge of Ipswich now reads W4 D10 L8, continued: "If the game had finished a minute earlier then everyone would have been delighted and happy. A minute is a long time in football.

"I understand what the supporters think, I understand the frustrations and that people think, after five games, the league is over and done with. There's no such thing in football.

"You've got to make small strides and small steps. Our small steps are very small at the minute, but we do look like we can score goals. The unfortunate thing is we also look like we can concede them. So we know what we have to work on."

Macauley Bonne wasn't involved in the squad today having scored twice against MK Dons the previous weekend.

"He tweaked his hamstring in training on Tuesday and was very, very much touch and go," said Cook. 

"It was a similar one to Conor Chaplin at the start of the season and we haven't seen Conor Chaplin for four weeks. So we made the decision not to play Macauley because of that. He should be back very, very quick. He's had a scan, it's nothing, it's a very, very small issue. Obviously that was a big blow today though."

Goalscorer Wes Burns also limped off in the second half, with the impressive Coulson signalling he needed to come off late on.

"Wes has been carrying a knock," said Cook. "Wes doesn't train for large parts of the week. It's an Achilles problem that he's carrying. It's an ongoing problem and, as you can see, it's not helping us because we're making substitutions we don't want to make.

"That's not an excuse. But I know fans will go 'what's he doing taking him off?' We're taking people off because they can't last a game. That's not tactical, that's just purely physical.

"We're a brand new team. We're five games in. I get football. I've been managing long enough. I get what everybody wants. No-one wanted more than me and the staff for us to see the game out.

"You can imagine how flat the dressing room is. But don't make excuses, don't be weak! We're not those types of people. We have to work harder, we have to get results and we have start getting them a little bit quicker. That's football."


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