Andy's Angles: Five observations after Ipswich Town's loss at Plymouth
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Ipswich Town lost 2-1 to leaders Plymouth Argyle on Saturday. Andy Warren gives his thoughts on the game.
Paul Cook had already told us changes would be needed for this game as injuries hit but, speaking during his pre-match press conference on Friday, even he wasn’t expecting to name this side.
Whichever way you look at it, losing the entire right side of a team, just a few hours before a game against the leaders, is a real blow.
Sone Aluko didn’t make the trip, missing out with a groin injury. Then, on Saturday morning, Janoi Donacien and Wes Burns were both ruled out with a sickness bug.
That forced a reshuffle which ultimately saw Luke Woolfenden start at right-back and Hayden Coulson come in on the right of midfield. The slick partnership of Burns and Donacien, who cover each other well, would have surely been what Cook wanted to field in key positions.
The incoming duo hadn’t started League One games since the end of August and middle of September respectively. Not an easy task, given Plymouth’s left side has been a real strength in each of the last two seasons. Paul Lambert’s Town found that out the hard way at Home Park last December and Cook’s did again in this one, with both goals ultimately born down Plymouth’s left.
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So, while you could certainly argue Bersant Celina deserved to start, or that Kayden Jackson or even Louie Barry would have been more suitable right-sided attacking options, you can see the logic in Coulson’s selection. He’s a left-back but has previously played in more attacking roles for Middlesbrough. Cook likes his wide players to cut in on their wrong foot, too.
Coulson didn’t look entirely comfortable in this game, though. Understandable, given how long he has been out.
Would either of the three alternatives listed above have been too attacking, when paired with Kyle Edwards on the left, for an away game at an in-form side who attack down the flanks? We’ll never know. A switch in formation was never really likely, either.
Cook changed things on the hour, with his side 2-1 down, having Celina in reserve and giving him 30 minutes to make things happen. Town created chances during that period but they couldn’t take them.
The Town boss insisted he wouldn’t use the absentees as an excuse for defeat in this game, but you have to acknowledge how difficult it made the preparation.
Had Ipswich been able to nurse the lead given to them by George Edmundson’s early header to the interval, the outcome of this game may well have been a totally different one.
The defender’s goal had given the Blues the edge in a frenetic first half which burst into life from the first whistle, hushing a big home crowd which turned up to support a side motoring at the top of the table.
Weather the storm for just a couple more minutes and the Blues would have been halfway home.
Conceding, though, just a minute before the break, put home tails up as they headed to the dressing rooms, carrying the momentum into the second half.
Ok. Fine. The league leaders are a good side who were always likely to score in this game and deserve credit for their own performance. The next job was to take the sting out of the hosts at the start of the second period. Stay solid. Frustrate. Give yourself a platform to play from after the break and stay in the game.
Sadly, though, the defence was breached just five minutes into the half, giving the Blues an uphill task against a side who clearly have full belief in themselves. There’s a reason they’ve not lost in the league since the opening day of the season.
Both were poor goals to concede. And not just because of their timing.
Matt Penney had a difficult afternoon, highlighted by a costly moment where he was too casual while defending a ball at the back post from the left wing. Joe Edwards got there ahead of him and, while Christian Walton was able to pull off an excellent save, Luke Jephcott was on hand to turn home the rebound.
The second was the result of some clever Plymouth inter-play, which ultimately saw the Ipswich line broken for Connor Grant to finish well. But it came from a throw-in and the Blues were maybe a little flat-footed.
Cook said after the game: “Our problems at 3pm are still our problems at 5pm.”
He’s right. Ipswich shoot themselves in the foot in big moments, undoing hard work which looks to be setting them on their way to good results.
Every team loses leads but Town have let advantages slip on 11 individual occasions in League One games this season. Most of them ultimately cost Ipswich points which have left Cook’s men looking upwards at the promotion places.
But yet, despite those two poor goals conceded at even poorer points of the game, Cook’s right again when he says Ipswich were probably worth a point from this game. It must be said, he assessed this game perfectly, with an air of calm despite his disappointment.
Town gave as good as they got for much of this game and created some excellent chances which, on this occasion, they weren’t able to take.
Scoring goals has been Town’s strength this season. They’ve scored in every league game and are still League One’s leading scorers. But chances went begging here.
Had a more confident attacking player than Coulson been put through one-on-one after just two minutes, he surely would have shot, rather than square to Macauley Bonne. And, on another day, Town’s top scorer would have finished with the goal gaping, after collecting what was ultimately a well-placed square ball from the left-back turned right-winger. Joe Edwards deserves great credit for an excellent piece of defending, there.
Kyle Edwards shot wide from a good position, when he should really have hit the target at the very least. Penney made the box well in the second-half but his shot was tame.
The best opportunities of the second half came in the final minutes. First, Woolfenden’s low cross found Bonne in space, but the striker shot straight at the goalkeeper. Again, he’s the man you would want that to fall to and again he should probably have scored. In his defence, he probably wasn’t expecting Woolfenden’s cross to reach him.
Then the final chance saw Rekeem Harper slipped through one-on-one. He shot too close to the goalkeeper before penalty appeals as the ball bounced around in the box and possibly hit a hand were waved away. There were clear frustrations with the performance of referee Robert Lewis.
There was enough there for Ipswich to take a point from this game. On another day they might have.
Town’s slow start and the ground they must make up (seven points to play-offs, 11 to the top two) frames things at the moment.
Town are 11th, with an even five wins, draws and losses from 15 matches. That’s mid-table form and that’s where they are.
So, what next for Town?
It’s another clash against a top League One side, with a visit to now third-placed Wycombe on Tuesday night.
The result of the next game, as it so often does, may well shape how we view the last.
A win at Adams Park may mean we can see the positives of a performance at Home Park which saw Town well in the game and creating chances against the league leaders.
That would mean a return of three points from two games against the sides sitting first and second, heading into the weekend. That, obviously, is a better return than securing draws against both of those sides, results many would have taken heading into two tough away games.
Lose against the Chairboys, though, and Town will have failed to take any points from the division’s best, at a time when games with Rotherham, Sunderland and Oxford (4th, 5th and 6th) are all on the horizon. They’ve yet to beat a side currently above them in the table, a trait so costly in the last two seasons. Lambert’s teams couldn’t lay a glove on the promotion-chasers, not something which can be levelled at this side.
The beauty of football is that the next rise and fall of the rollercoaster is only ever a few days away.
But Ipswich’s slow start to the campaign means there needs to be a significantly greater number of rises than falls if Cook’s men are to get where they want to go.
Tributes to a legend
As well as being a big League One clash, this game was all about remembering a true legend of both clubs.
Paul Mariner moved from Devon to Suffolk in 1976, making his Ipswich debut exactly 45 years to the day of this meeting between his two former clubs. This was the perfect opportunity to celebrate the career and life of the former striker, following his sad passing in the summer.
As the two sides entered the field, three sides of Home Park revealed tributes to one of their favourite sons. A green-and-white No.9 in the home end, a blue-and-white one in the away end and the striker’s last name down one of the side stands.
It looked superb.
Both sides sang Mariner’s name, to slightly different tunes, as the two sets of supporters came together to remember a player who made a permanent mark at both clubs.