Ipswich Town 1-0 Wycombe Wanderers: Norwood wins it on McKenna's big night
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Kieran McKenna’s reign as Ipswich Town manager has begun with a win, as the Blues came out on top against Wycombe.
James Norwood scored the only goal of the game, just before half-time, as the striker followed up well to turn the ball into the net after Sam Morsy’s move forward had been helped on by the hand of Wanderers keeper David Stockdale.
That was enough to earn three points, making McKenna the first Ipswich manager to achieve a winning start since Mick McCarthy at Birmingham in 2012.
The Northern Irishman will have been pleased with much of what he saw, with the Ipswich defence restricting their hosts to very few openings, the midfield giving the team a good platform from which to play and the attackers testing their visitors when possible.
Speaking ahead of this game, McKenna had hinted he wouldn’t stray too far from the football the Blues have been asked to play so far this season. He was true to his word in many ways.
But there were notable differences, with central defenders given the chance to move out with the ball at their feet and the midfield duo of Lee Evans and Sam Morsy operating higher up the pitch.
Work rate, hunger and desire are characteristics McKenna sees as the base level of his teams’ performances and the incoming boss will have been pleased with what he saw in this department, with Town managing to see the game out in the closing stages even when they began to tire and Wycombe got on top.
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It wasn’t perfect, but Town’s new start is a positive one.
They remain 11th, though and are still 10 points off the final play-off place, heading into 2022.
McKenna made only one change to the Ipswich side he watched draw with Sunderland from the stands on December 18, with Christian Walton dropping out of the team due to a positive Covid test and being replaced by Vaclav Hladky.
Otherwise, the same XI players were sent into battle with Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson lining up as a defensive trio in front of Hladky and Wes Burns and Matt Penney deployed as wing-backs.
Morsy and Evans were in the centre of midfield behind an attacking trio of Sone Aluko, Norwood and Macauley Bonne.
The Blues, unusually, attacked the North Stand in the first half, operating in a 3-4-3 system, with skipper Morsy having the first shot in anger as he took aim and fired over the top after Woolfenden had taken an exploratory run into Wycombe territory.
Morsy’s next action was to enter referee Samuel Barrott’s notebook, after stretching to reach a 50/50 but instead left one late on Wycombe defender Anthony Stewart.
Joe Jacobson’s free-kick, awarded after Penney had caught Jason McCarthy late, was headed away by Woolfenden in the wall, before the Town centre-half was lucky to get away with a slip as he tangled with Brandon Hanlon. He was the last man but was fortunate to see the ball clip the Wycombe man’s heel when it looked like he might be clean through.
Town did have the ball in the net on 17 minutes, only for the flag to go up for offside when Bonne tapped home Aluko’s cross.
It looked for all the world that the striker had opened the scoring just a couple of minutes later, when he connected well with Burns’ cross, but the outstretched hand of former Town loanee David Stockdale beat the ball away as the Wycombe stopper made an outstanding save to keep the scores level.
Ipswich pushed and probed the Wycombe defence, with runners stepping up from deep to try and open up gaps, while the visitors’ best hope of an opening looked to be putting high balls on top of goalkeeper Hladky.
Town’s dominance deserved a half-time lead and that’s exactly what they got, courtesy of Norwood, as Bonne laid a throw-in off for Morsy, who helped the ball on along with a glove from Stockdale, leaving the Ipswich striker the simple task of tapping home the opener.
The same 11 players emerged for the second period and Norwood was quickly involved again, fighting to win a flick-on which set Bonne away towards goal. Sadly, though, Town’s No.18 could only drag his shot wide.
Evans then split the Wycombe defence with a sublime cross-field pass which landed perfectly on Norwood’s foot. The striker couldn’t hit the target this time, though, as he turned the ball wide under pressure.
Town were in control of this game but you could sense the need for a second, with Hanlan firing over the top after working his way across the Ipswich box before shaping to shoot.
McKenna’s first change as Ipswich boss saw Conor Chaplin introduced in place of Aluko, at a time when Wycombe had worked their way into the ascendancy.
There was a let-off in the closing stages as Anthony Stewart lashed a shot over the bar from just eight yards out, but the Blues were able to hang on to win on McKenna’s big night.
They should have raised the roof in stoppage time, though, when Morsy’s run through the middle of the pitch saw the skipper lay the ball off to Chaplin, only for the attacker to hit the post.
Ipswich Town (3-4-3): Hladky; Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson; Burns, Morsy, Evans, Penney; Aluko (Chaplin, 72), Norwood (Carroll, 80), Bonne (Pigott, 88)
Subs: Holy, Nsiala, Fraser, Jackson
Wycombe Wanderers (3-4-1-2): Stockdale; Forino (Akinfenwa, 80), Stewart, Jacobson; McCarthy, McCleary, Thompson (Scown, 70), Obita; Wheeler (Mehmeti, 70); Hanlan, Vokes
Subs: Przybek, Grimmer, Horgan, Barr
Att: 26,456 (634 Wycombe fans)