Automatics out-of-reach and making the play-offs a real battle? The size of the task now facing Ipswich

Town players ahead of the game.

Ipswich Town currently sit 13th in the League One table - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town have real work to do if they are to force their way into the League One promotion race. Andy Warren looks at the size of the task at hand.

Numbers game 

It’s been a tough week for Ipswich Town, with losses to both Sunderland and Rotherham leaving the Blues on 24 points, 13th in League One. They are eight points from both the final play-off place and the relegation zone, with the automatic promotion places 13 points away. 

The fact the goals are drying up, after a storming start, isn't a good sign either.

To be involved in the shake-up, over the last 10 complete seasons, League One teams have needed an average of 73 points to reach the play-offs, 90 points to finish second and 95 to win the league. 

Macauley Bonne pictured at the final whistle.

Macauley Bonne looks frustrated during Town's loss to Rotherham on Tuesday night - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Over Town’s season so far, they’re averaging 1.26 points-per-game which, extrapolated over 46 games, would have seen them finish 16th in last season’s table. 

Based on the last decade, Town need to up their per-match income to 1.81 from this point to reach the play-offs, to 2.44 to make second and to a huge 2.62 to win the title from their current position.  

We know Ipswich had an extremely slow start to this season, though. So how are Paul Cook’s side looking based on recent form? 

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On the back of losses to Sunderland and Rotherham, Town have taken just four points from their last five games – that's an average of 0.8 per game. From the five games before that, Ipswich took 10 points, hitting the magic two points-per-game. 

Town players after conceding the losing goal at Cheltenham Town.

Defeat at Cheltenham in August formed part of a slow start to the season for Town - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Add those together, though, and the Blues took an average of 1.4 points-per-game. Over the course of a season, that’s good enough for a little over 64 points and a position bang in the middle of the table. That’s where they are right now.  

But if you take the form Ipswich have shown since the disastrous home loss to Bolton in September – 21 points from 13 matches – then you would reach 74 points. That’s been good enough for a play-off place during the last 10 years. 

So Ipswich are, despite a downturn of late, in play-off form since Sam Morsy came into the side at the end of his suspension. 

The problem is, though, Ipswich took just three points from their first six League One games of the season, ensuring a serious case of catch-up is needed. 

Bolton Wanderers' Josh Sheehan (centre) celebrates scoring their side's fourth goal of the game duri

Town have shown play-off form since the loss at home to Bolton in September - Credit: PA

Traffic jam 

It’s not just points Ipswich Town need to make up. It’s places, too. 

A top four of Rotherham, Wycombe, Plymouth and Wigan are stretching away a little as they battle for the two automatic promotion places. Rotherham have a game in hand on Ipswich while Wigan have played two fewer than the Blues. 

Sunderland and Oxford, sitting sixth and seventh, have also played two fewer games than Ipswich. That’s a challenge that could get even harder. 

Portsmouth, in ninth, haven’t lost since being humbled 4-0 at home by the Blues, winning four of their six league matches since. Charlton, a place behind Town in 14th, have the same record as Pompey over their last six matches, coinciding with Johnnie Jackson taking over as caretaker in the wake of Nigel Adkins’ sacking. Both of those are on the outside looking in, just like Ipswich. 

Town are averaging less than a point-per-game against the sides above them, taking just nine from 11 matches, while 15 of their 24 league points have come against the eight sides below them in the table.  

Town manager Paul Cook looks on.

Paul Cook's side must improve quickly in order to have a chance of making the play-offs - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Clearly, that record needs to improve. The best way of moving through traffic is by beating the teams above you. 

Being ruthless, you could say the top nine sides in the division would all have serious designs on a top six spot, with both Charlton and Ipswich hoping to surge from midtable. 

That’s 11 teams for six spots. That maths doesn’t add up. 

Loss-making exercise 

Town have lost seven games already this season. 

Sadly, the historical stats in that column don’t make for particularly good reading either. 

Over the last 10 full seasons, teams winning automatic promotion have lost, on average, eight games on their way to the Championship. League champions lose, on average, seven games, meaning Ipswich have already hit the limit there.  

Teams finishing second lose nine games, leaving Town the smallest of margins when it comes to automatic promotion. 

It can be done, though, with teams winning league titles with both 12 and 11 losses over the last decade. 

The play-offs are a different story, with the side ultimately promoted from them losing an average of 11.6 matches over the course of a 46-game league season.  

Small margins again, but certainly not impossible. 

Blackpool players celebrate winning the trophy after the final whistle during the Sky Bet League One

Blackpool won promotion through the play-offs last season - Credit: PA

It can be done  

The numbers don’t look great for Ipswich Town. But a look back over the last 10 League One seasons does bring with it some heartening examples. 

On this date last season, Blackpool and Oxford were 15th and 18th but recovered to reach the play-offs, with Blackpool winning them to secure promotion to the Championship. 

In 2017, Rotherham were 12th at this point and won the play-offs, while Barnsley miraculously did the same from 22nd place in the 2015/16 season. 

Then, in 2012, Bournemouth and Yeovil both won promotion, despite being 10th and 12th in the table on this date nine years ago. 

It can be done, but it’s a tough job.  

Conclusion 

This conclusion probably doesn’t come as too much of a shock. The numbers back up what the eye can see.  

Ipswich’s poor start to the season is severely hampering them, with Cook’s side in play-off form since their tough opening came to an end but playing catch-up as a result. Is it too much to overcome? 

Automatic promotion appears to be beyond the Blues now, according to history at least, with Town needing to nearly double their per-match points income to reach second place. The margins are small if they want to make the play-offs from this point, too, but they are much more achievable. It would mean, going by the averages, losing no more than five of their 27 remaining matches.

It’s not impossible, but clearly a significant upturn in form and ultra-consistency is required to have a sniff of the top six. 

Victory in a home clash with rock-bottom Crewe on Sunday will be a decent place to start, but much bigger hurdles must be overcome. 

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