Stu says – Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 2-0 home defeat to QPR
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town returned to the foot of the Championship table following a 2-0 home defeat to QPR this afternoon. STUART WATSON gives his snap verdict.
BUBBLE QUICKLY BURST
The hope was that Town would kick on after that entertaining 3-2 win at Swansea. Yet again, however, they produced a dreadful display after an international break. This performance, you have to say, was probably worse than that limp 2-0 defeat at Hull back in September.
Two poor goals conceded in the first half, confidence quickly draining, zero attacking threat and no real sign of identity.
Perhaps the illness bug which has swept through the camp contributed to the levels of lethargy. Perhaps that’s being kind.
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There were too many unforced errors, not enough urgency or desire shown to get back into the game, while too often the ball went aimlessly long towards a diminutive front line. The game slowly drifted painfully towards its inevitable conclusion.
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If you’re not good enough to outplay and outscore opposition, then you certainly have to make sure you don’t gift goals and leave yourself an uphill battle. That’s what happened again here.
The tone was set when keeper Dean Gerken, caught in a crowded six-yard box, clawed Luke Freeman’s inswinging corner into his own net in the 13th minute.
Then, in what was the last action of the first half, Toto Nsiala dived in recklessly on Eberechi Eze in the box to concede a stonewall penalty which Tomer Hemed converted.
QPR – a team who had scored just nine goals in their opening 12 league games – must have thought Christmas had come early.
Town have kept a clean sheet just once in 14 games this season – and that was the goalless home draw against a Bolton side who showed little attacking ambition after going down to 10 men in the first half.
Many will call for Bartosz Bialkowski to return between the sticks after Gerken’s error. He did make a couple of smart stops in the second period though and, a costly flap at Birmingham aside, has justified his inclusion over the last eight matches.
Bialkowski was dropped after six games though, playing his part in a defence that looked vulnerable at set-pieces, and a precedent has been set.
Since back-to-back home wins against Nottingham Forest and Reading in December 2017, there have been just two victories in 20 for Town at Portman Road – 1-0 v Leeds way back in January and 1-0 v Barnsley in April (Mick McCarthy’s last game in charge).
There was a huge amount of goodwill when Paul Hurst was appointed this summer. And you always sensed that the majority were sticking with him during the long winless start, willing the new era to lift off.
Today, for the real first time, the mood seemed to turn.
Moans, groans and grumbles increased in noise during an error-strewn first half. Sarcastic cheers greeting a shot on target were then back in fashion as Grant Ward headed tamely at the keeper just after the hour mark (Ward fluffed Town’s only other chance in the first half). Jeers greeted the decision to take off Gwion Edwards. Angry boos greeted the final whistle.
This had the frustrated feel of many of the games witnessed during the final two years of the increasingly stagnant McCarthy reign.
JACK THE LAD
The one minor positive to take from this game was the bright cameo of debutant Jack Lankester.
The 18-year-old homegrown attacker stepped off the bench in the 66th minute and, playing off the right, immediately caught the eye with his clever movement, constant desire for the ball and neat footwork.
His involvement means that Hurst has used 27 players in his 13 league games thus far – the most in the Championship.
Today, for only the second time, he named an unchanged starting line-up. Any thoughts that a winning formula and settled side had been found soon dissipated. In particular there looks a lack of balance with Janoi Donacien and Matthew Pennington both out of position at left-back and right-back respectively.
Full-backs are a big part of the modern game and they were meant to be a big part of the 4-1-4-1, high-press system that Hurst favours. We saw a lot of that in pre-season, but have sadly seen precious little since.
The worry is that this display sets the tone at the start of a crucial looking run of fixtures.
Hull’s 1-1 home draw with Preston means the Blues are back at the foot of the table with nine points from 13 games.
Town now head to Leeds on Wednesday night – a team whose form has taken a downturn following a flying start. They lost at Blackburn this afternoon.
After that it’s Millwall (a), Preston (h) and Reading (a) – three teams also in the bottom six – followed by the third international break.
Marcus Evans would be reluctant to call time on Hurst so early after his appointment. But he will be even more reluctant to risk relegation to League One and the financial damage that would cause.
It will be very interesting to see where his tipping point is. Paul Jewell, remember, was axed after claiming seven points from the opening 12 games of 2012/13. Mind you, he was nearly two years into the job.