Damning stats that show why Town have turned to Harrop and Thomas
- Credit: Archant/ITFC
Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans has never made a secret of his desire for the team to play 'attractive and exciting' football. That was made clear in the five-point plan he set out four years ago. That was a big factor in the pragmatic Mick McCarthy being let go at the end of his contract. That was, we understand, a big topic of conversation with Paul Lambert off the back of last season's 11th place finish.
Sources close to Evans have suggested he puts a great deal of stock in the club's passing traditions and sees possession-based football as having a higher ceiling for success. He's looked at the teams who have risen from League One to the Premier League - the likes of Southampton, Brighton and Sheffield United - and admired how they've stuck to football philosophies.
Lambert started out down that route, of course. Some of the passing football in a 4-3-3 system gave genuine course for optimism as the Blues sank to relegation in 2019. That's why there was such a perverse feelgood factor about the place back then. You could see a plan in action.
Then all that went out the window last season. Lambert spoke of playing 'rock and roll' front foot football. He chopped and changed systems. Were Town a direct team? A counter-attacking team? A passing one? There was no clear identity.
That's the background behind the Blues boss sticking rigidly to 4-3-3 (or a slight variation of it) this season and the current obsession with possession.
DOMINATING THE BALL
Ipswich are, undoubtedly, having the lion's share of possession in most games.
On average, they have 55% of the ball. Only MK Dons (65%) and Sunderland (57%) better that in League One.
But what are they doing with it?
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POSSESSION WITHOUT A PUNCH
Evans claimed back in early December that 'it’s been very difficult to really get a feel for matches on iFollow and I look forward to fans getting back into Portman Road to see for themselves what I believe are the green shoots of a style that will reap its rewards in the years ahead'.
I can confirm that, from my privileged position in the press box, the build-up play has been every bit as ponderous, pedestrian and predictable as it's looked through a screen.
So much of the possession is on the opposition's terms. Passes between the two centre-halves hurt no-one. Ipswich can work the ball nicely to the final third, but then so often struggle to create a chance at the end of it. Repetitive shape drills have left them looking robotic.
The stats back up what we've all been seeing.
Average shots on target per game (4.1)... Ipswich are ranked 11th in League One by that metric.
Games in which they've failed to score (25%)... Ipswich are ranked 12th.
Quality chances created (a stat known as 'Expected Goals' or xG)... Ipswich are ranked 14th.
Goals actually scored (26 in 20, an average of 1.3 per game)... Ipswich are ranked 15th.
Average shots per game (10.3)... Ipswich are ranked 16th.
Average penalty box entries per 90 minutes (13.74)... Ipswich are ranked 23rd.
The positive, of course, is that when you have the ball the opposition can't score. But, a vulnerability to counter-attacks, means the Blues aren't exactly streets ahead when it comes to defensive stats.
A record of eight clean sheets in 20 league games (40%)... Ipswich are ranked sixth.
Average shots on target conceded per match (3.25)... Ipswich rank seventh best.
Goals actually conceded (22 goals in 20, an average of 1.1 per game)... Ipswich rank eighth best.
And in terms of limiting quality chances - 'Expected Goals Against (xGA) - the Blues are only 12th in the standings.
On average, Town allow the opposition to enter their box (22.54) almost twice as many times as they enter their opponent's box (13.74) per game.
WILL THINGS CHANGE?
Lambert has made it clear that he will not be abandoning his principles in an attempt to halt a worrying spell of form (six far from convincing wins in the last 16 games across all competitions).
The hope is that the both the players coming back from injuries and the new January additions will make a difference.
We know Teddy Bishop is a player that can break the lines with his dribbling skills. And we've seen that Gwion Edwards can dart past someone with a turn of pace.
Flynn Downes and James Norwood will undoubtedly raise the intensity levels when fully fit. The latter is capable of doing something off the cuff in the final third too.
Barnsley loanee Luke Thomas is a direct and tenacious winger that looks capable of being able to beat a full-back with pace and power.
Preston loanee Josh Harrop is an attacking midfielder who could improve set-piece deliveries, score from range and be able to unlock the door with his two-footed technical ability.
And if Town can get Kane Vincent-Young fit again - a big 'if' - then he would add some much-needed dynamism to the full-back roles too.
Only time will tell if Town are right to 'trust the process'.