Norwood has the character to rediscover his mojo... the fact the burden falls so heavily on him is where the real worry is
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town boss Paul Lambert has admitted James Norwood is struggling for confidence. ANDY WARREN looks at the striker’s situation.
You could sense it was going to be a difficult night for James Norwood during the warm-up.
As the 29-year-old prepared for Town's game with AFC Wimbledon he looked a man filled with frustration as shot after shot was either pushed away by young goalkeeper Adam Przybek or ended up in the stand behind the goal.
You could see it on his face as he left the field and, when he returned ready for action, the frustration continued as chances went begging. He hit the bar, scuffed the rebound, had a low shot turned away by Joe Day and, in his final act before being replaced, he won the ball back well but could only dink his shot into the goalkeeper, following a heavy touch as he burst through one-on-one.
It was a similar story at Sunderland with a missed one-on-one and a dragged indirect free-kick, which was heading wide from only eight yards out, before it was turned over the top by Janoi Donacien.
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Manager Paul Lambert admitted after Tuesday night's draw that the former Tranmere man is struggling for confidence and that, in a bid to get his side firing, he had spent much of January looking to bring in added firepower. Former Blue Connor Wickham was one of those targets.
Whether or not making those details public will help Norwood recapture his missing confidence is certainly debatable.
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In many ways the game summed up large parts of the striker's season. He is the first to admit he should have scored more goals in his debut campaign with the Blues, with a succession of chances going missing in games. Many of them one-on-ones.
He's a striker who has relied on a high volume of chances throughout his career, with the frustration coming from the fact he's not hitting the heights he's used to. He netted 32 goals last season, of course, and 24 the year before that as his Tranmere sides won successive promotions.
At the start of the season he was clear in his view he should be reaching 20 goals this season - 'that's only two a month' he said. At the moment that doesn't seem like happening.
He's on 11 right now but it could have been so many more. The reason his total isn't higher is largely down to missed chances, but you can't ignore the fact he's been in-and-out of the side, has undergone groin surgery and is playing at this level for the first time in his career.
A scroll down the Ipswich line-up after it was announced at 6.45pm at Kingsmeadow left you feeling the only way Town would win this game would be through goals from their two strikers. Aside from Norwood, the other nine outfield players have combined for just 14 goals this season, with Kayden Jackson accounting for nine of those.
Only four players have scored three or more goals in the league, with Luke Garbutt (five) and Will Keane (three) the other two. For context, Rotherham and Pererborough, the two sides in the automatic promotion places, each have seven players who have managed that. Coventry in third have six.
You have little confidence the midfield is going to rasp one in from outside the box or arrive late in the area to convert - although Flynn Downes is beginning to add this to his ever-improving game, slowly - and the Ipswich central defenders only scoring a combined two goals isn't going to get the job done. Donacien and Josh Earl provided the full extent of Ipswich's width on Tuesday night - they have one career goal between them.
You have to be fair to Lambert and acknowledge the role injury has played this season, though. Garbutt's absence is obviously a blow and it's fair to wonder whether Town's threat level would be considerably higher if Kane Vincent-Young hadn't got injured, if Freddie Sears had been fit all season and how big a role Jack Lankester, a young man with a real eye for goal, would have played but for a long-term back problem. He's been without winger Gwion Edwards and Danny Rowe for long spells, too.
Maybe, in a side fit and firing, Norwood's profligacy would be well-masked.
But there's the problem in the here and now - Ipswich are relying too heavily on Norwood. He's carrying too much of the goalscoring burden. If the rest of the side were chipping in, seeing your main striker miss chances would be significantly easier to stomach. It certainly didn't do Andy Cole any harm.
There's the age old 'well at least he's getting in the positions to score goals' argument and that, primarily, is why Norwood continues to be a must-starter for Ipswich.
He averages a little more than three shots a game, putting him inside League One's top 10 in that statistical category and making him Ipswich Town's clear leader.
For context, Jackson averages just 1.5 shots a game and Will Keane a disappointing 0.8. Garbutt and Alan Judge both offer more efforts on goal than Jackson on average.
In total Ipswich are slap bang in the middle of the League One back here, averaging 12 shots a game.
Bartosz Bialkowski articulated a similar point recently when discussing his own dip in form during Town's relegation from the Championship, with the Pole admitting he struggled to deal with the pressure being piled on the Ipswich defence due to the lack of potency in attack. Football is a team game, after all.
Confidence may be low but Norwood's character is strong. We can see that. He's a man you would back to battle through a barren spell, to remain upbeat and to not allow the struggles of today eclipse the successes and inner belief he's built in the past. He was bullish at the start of the season as he stated his aims for his first Ipswich campaign. That character doesn't just vanish.
It's clear that if Ipswich are going to get back on track they're going to need Norwood to rediscover his form and, with time running out, the answer is surely to back him and give him the opportunity to play his way into form rather than leave him stewing on the sidelines.
Norwood will know he needs to improve and rediscover his mojo quickly if the dream of 'Promotion 3.0' is materialise, but he's also going to need real help from Ipswich's supporting cast.