The failings Lambert must fix if he's going to get Ipswich Town's promotion push back on track
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller www.ste
Ipswich Town are losing ground in their bid to win promotion from League One. Andy Warren looks at the areas where Paul Lambert's men need to improve.
Ponderous and predictable
During the opening few months of this season Ipswich Town warmed up for every game with a drill which saw the 10 starting outfield players take up their shape in a 4-3-3 and pass the ball around, before a striker ultimately took the ball from wide and turned it into an empty net.
It was certainly repetitive (a string of players admitted as much) but you could also see why, as a new system was being installed, a new drill like that would benefit players as they learnt where team-mates would be and options they may have when looking to pass.
The only problem with it was a lack of opposition who, when the referee’s whistle blows, have often found it easy to sit in, let Ipswich play around at the back before then struggling to work it from midfield into the final third to create chances.
That’s been an issue for Ipswich against the best sides in the league and, as evidenced in the first-half of Saturday’s loss to Swindon in particular, the teams in the lower reaches of the league as well.
Owner Marcus Evans has spoken of playing an ‘attractive and technical’ style of play and, while Ipswich’s brand of passing football at the moment does cover some of modern football’s ideals, it lacks punch and purpose. At times it feels dull.
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While possession is plentiful, build-up play is too slow, there’s little spark and, while Andre Dozzell is the most likely player to come up with a creative moment of magic from deep, all too often he doesn’t find players on the same wavelength to him.
There’s a confusion about Town’s play and a lack of problem-solving ability, while Luke Woolfenden suggested after Saturday’s loss that the Blues need to start playing to the strengths of individuals rather than sticking rigidly to a gameplan which isn’t working.
That’s where Plan B is needed.
Lack of goals
Only seven teams have scored fewer than Ipswich Town’s 25 League One goals this season.
Admittedly, some sides have played two games more than Lambert’s men but that’s not a statistic any true promotion chaser should be proud of.
It’s an issue which has dogged Lambert’s teams throughout their time in League One, given they scored more than a single goal in just three of their final 24 matches of last season. They’ve done it just five times in their last 15 games this season, too.
Only five teams have had fewer shots than Ipswich this season - a statistical sign of what you can see with your eyes as Town struggle to threaten in the final third.
That comes down to creativity, too. Something Ipswich are desperately trying to add in the January transfer window as they bid to find players who can unpick defences.
At one stage this season you would have described Ipswich Town’s full-backs as one of their major strengths. That’s not the case now.
Luke Chambers’ Indian Summer in September and October saw the skipper maraud up and down the right flank, crossing at will, linking with attackers and getting in the box to score his Blackpool stunner.
On the other flank Stephen Ward showed early signs that his veteran leadership, comfort on the ball and big-game experience was exactly what Town needed.
Sadly, though, they’ve regressed in recent weeks and no longer get forward as often as the Blues need them to. Not many sides would be relying on two full-backs with a combined age of 70.
It's not all their fault, either. Using Saturday as an example, they aren’t helped by the fact they were playing behind Kayden Jackson and Armando Dobra, two players with talent but not an awful lot of wing experience in the professional game.
This has also left Ipswich vulnerable to the counter attack, with a stream of recent goals conceded being born in the Town full-back positions.
Start the way you mean to go on
Assistant manager Stuart Taylor suggested on Saturday that his side need to start games quicker and with more intensity. He’s right.
Ipswich have only scored a game’s first goal once in their last 11 matches, giving themselves an uphill task in nine of the other 10 (the game at Oxford ended 0-0).
That, coupled with Town’s lack of scoring power, has made it incredibly difficult for Lambert’s men to come from behind.
They managed it at Plymouth, after the home side were reduced to 10 men, and fortuitously at home to Shrewsbury, but have lost the other seven.
Perhaps the most worrying thing about Ipswich Town right now is the lack of progression.
Lambert has been in charge for 103 games now (winning 33 of them) and for a philosophy not to be embedded by this stage is concerning. You recruit players who fit your philosophy, train to your way of playing and bring players through who have been schooled in a certain way of doing things since a young age. It doesn’t feel like those considerations have all been aligned.
What Lambert and his coaches are attempting to utilise now is a similar approach to the one which showed a few green shoots (and a run of six Championship draws in seven games) during February and March of 2019, but the fact things became so muddled during the course of last season, as systems and personnel changed regularly, meant Lambert and his team had to start again in the summer.
Things started well as Town’s midfield energy and drive, as well as those marauding full-backs, ensured they got off to a flying start once again, but as the weeks and months have gone on Town have regressed while opposition sides have figured out how to play against a side lacking invention.
We’re now 19 games into the new campaign, you would expect them to be further along the road by now.
The fact Town were out-foxed by a Swindon side including two new signings (Dominic Thompson and Mark Travers), two players freshly recalled from loans (Matt Palmer and Scott Twine) and another making a first league start of the season following a nasty injury (Jordan Lyden) should be a real cause for concern.
There’s one major caveat at play here – injuries.
Lambert has been without more than a dozen of his first-team regulars for significant periods this season, with many surely certain starters.
Town have missed Kane Vincent-Young's dynamism from right back, Flynn Downes’ bite in midfield, the dribbling ability of Teddy Bishop, the direct running of Gwion Edwards and the tenacity, guile and natural finishing ability of James Norwood. There’s more, too.
All being well, all of those players and more will be back in training this week and pushing towards competitive returns. Only Cole Skuse and James Wilson remain absent after knee operations.
There’s no doubting they will make a difference to an Ipswich side which has badly missed them. If you’re feeling generous, their absence could help explain why the deficiencies mentioned above have held Town back so much given Lambert has never been able to field his first-choice side.
But such is the depth of this Town squad, they should have been able to deal with absences better than they have.
What’s clear now though is, once the cavalry are back, all excuses are off the table.