'Mentally we are not as strong as we should be' - Cook on 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth
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Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook admitted his side are 'mentally not as strong as they should be' after this lunchtime's 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth.
In what was a much-improved display following the lifeless 2-0 midweek loss at Fleetwood, the Blues started with real energy and fully deserved to take the lead when James Norwood smashed home a fine angled finish in the 32nd minute.
Tom Naylor headed in from a corner completely against the run of play leading up to half-time though and Ipswich went into their shells from there.
In a stop-start second half, Pompey increasingly looked the more likely to win it and did so when Marcus Harness rammed the ball at the second attempt.
Defeat, the third of Cook's first five matches in charge, sees the Blues slip back out of the League One play-off places heading into the final 11 games.
Asked if Portsmouth appointing Danny Cowley as manager yesterday had lifted the home side, ex Pompey boss Cook said: "I don't know. I think we make our own problems as a team at the minute to be truthful. For 42/43 minutes I think we were by far the better team, we were comfortably in the ascendancy and I don't think, and I might be wrong, that Portsmouth had been in our penalty box. There was no threat.
"But goals change games in football and that one just before half-time done some real psychological damage. Mentally we are not as strong as we should be. You always feel at the minute that there might be something in us that can go wrong the wrong way. That certainly came to the fore again today."
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Asked how that's going to change, Cook said: "It doesn't, does it, not before the end of the season. We just keep working hard. I just said to the players, if you have a 42 minute performance like that, and you've had a game in the palm of your hand, the reality is we'll have that game again in the palm of our hand going forward again.
"It's hard as a manager. All the Ipswich fans will be listening to this now. We're in a promotion campaign that we don't really look like we're in at the minute. But results can change that.
"We've got to take the positives out of it, we've got to stop giving goals away and we've got to score more. The challenges are all there.
"You just keep going. If you want to be successful you have to win games. If you don't win games then you will not be successful."
On his return to Fratton Park, Cook, who guided Portsmouth to the League Two title in 2017, said: "I had great times at the club. I've been back twice now and I've been beat 2-1 twice. Listen, good luck to Danny and Nicky, they are good guys in charge of a great club and I wish them well.
"Today we should have taken something out of that game though, we really should. Not on our second half performance, but certainly on that first half. Unfortunately we haven't."
Speaking in a later interview for radio, he said: "We were so much better than we have offered up away from home. I thought we played off our front foot, I thought we created chances, I thought we looked a threat and then we find ourselves 1-1 sat in the dressing room at half-time against a team who really hadn't threatened at all. That's the disappointing thing.
"There's so much work to do, as people know. Our supporters will be so disappointed. But we've got to make sure now we react to results. My job now is to find out about the character of the players. I've just said to them there that we're a club with great stature and we've all got to make sure, myself included, that we're good enough to be here. Because if we're not good enough to be here then the reality is someone will take our place one day. That includes myself and the players"
He continued: "We don't score enough goals, that's there for everyone to see. And latterly, certainly we've given a couple away.
"I'm a great believer that you work harder. You trust your players. I asked for certain things today and I felt, for 42 minutes, they gave me everything I asked for.
"We're away from home to a good club, a big club, and we never came under any pressure. We never kicked them off the line, there were never any big goalkeeper saves, but we then find the ability to concede a goal from a basic corner into the box. The lad has a free header within six yards of our goal.
"With the greatest respect to coaching and managing, it's not really that hard to defend is it? You've got to be aggressive and you've got to want to defend it. Unfortunately at the minute we're just in that little position as a group of people where everyone is waiting for someone else to do it.
"That won't be us going forward. We'll be making sure we have men and character in the team, something that's just a little bit lacking at the minute."
Asked if confidence was an issue with the players, Cook said: "Was it a week ago that we beat Plymouth 1-0? Seven days? How can you lack confidence in seven days? You've got to have a maturity, a mental strength and a mental toughness that unfortunately, as a team at the minute, and I include myself and all my staff in team, as a group of people we don't have that enough.
"When we come to away grounds we've only got each other. We really have. And unfortunately today, when we looked for the back five/six to get us to half-time winning 1-0, we couldn't do it and the reality is the momentum of the game then changed.
"Second half it just petered out into a poor League One game in my opinion that looked like it was going to be 1-1. Unfortunately for us, we found a way to get beat."S
Does that mean that character is going to be high on the list of attributes he is looking for in players when he rebuilds the squad this summer?
"I don't want to get into those conversations," said Cook. "As I told the players, I don't want to be a manager who threatens people.
"We've all got a real privilege at the minute. We represent our club and the reality is we have 11 games in which we can totally turn everyone's opinions on us right around. We do that by speaking on radios or talk shows, we'll get it by working on the training ground and seeing out games resolutely. At that point then we'll be able to take steps forwards.
"I think one day soon we'll be able to speak about the whole game with a different outlook. At the minute you watch us nervously waiting for something wrong to happen. That's got to change hasn't it?"
Armando Dobra stepped off the bench in the second half, making his first appearance since early January.
"We lack goals in the team and we've got flair players at the club," explained Cook. "I'm trying to be as fair as best I can to all of them without being too disruptive to team.
"I think it would be nice to see (Kayden) Jackson and Norwood together as a front two, but the reality with a front two is that you give up midfield. There are so many debates in football today.
"For 42/43 minutes today we looked a good side. I enjoyed watching us play. Yet that goal just changes the momentum and that's something we've got to seriously look at and be better with."
Asked if that means he is now tempted to look at a Norwood-Jackson strike partnership, Cook said: "Without a shadow of a doubt. It's a front two that offers everything you want - it' got pace, it's got energy. I'm a great believer that you defend from the front. I think the energy in a our front men lacked a bit today.
"Listen, I don't want to start debating the game. I'm sure our supporters don't want to hear me do that. The only thing they want to hear is that we're not happy and we're hurting bad.
"We still have an opportunity to get out this league this season. If we can grasp that opportunity then we'll do it."
And on Kane Vincent-Young stepping off the bench in the second half to make his first competitive appearance since October 2019, Cook added: "That was a great moment. In the modern day game you need ammunition all over the pitch and when it comes to full-backs who can penetrate there is none better than Kane, so it's a real big plus that's he's back on the pitch today."