Stu says: Six observations following Town's 2-2 draw at Cambridge

Paul Cook talks to Mike Ashton, Ian Craney and Michael O'Leary after the draw at Cambridge United.

Ipswich Town boss Paul Cook (second right) talks to first team coach Ian Craney (left), chief executive Mark Ashton (second left) and chairman Michael O'Leary (right) after the draw at Cambridge United. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town let a two-goal lead slip to draw 2-2 at Cambridge United yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.


WHAT A START!

Paul Cook insisted his team had learned lessons from their 2-1 defeat at Accrington. He insisted they would be up for the fight as well as up for the football at a packed Abbey Stadium. And he was right. First half away performances don't get much better than this.

From the very off, the Blues played on the front foot, with desire, aggression, tempo and intensity.

Conor Chaplin had fired over on the run and narrowly wide from the edge of the box with less than three minutes on the clock.

Town weathered a mini response, in was a frenetic start, and duly took the lead when surprise starter Sone Aluko nicked the ball ahead of Conor Masterson before taking advantage of keeper Dimitar Mitov's slip with a cool lobbed finish.

Backed by the vocal support of 2,513 travelling fans (plus a few more who may have sneaked in the home sections), the Blues looked to turn the screw.

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Mitov collected bravely just ahead of Macauley Bonne following Sam Morsy's clipped pass and Matt Penney's low cross. And when Idris El Mizouni gave the ball away in a dangerous area, Janoi Donacien flew across to make a crunching slide tackle. Town looked bang up for this.

Sone Aluko scores his first goal at Cambridge.

Sone Aluko scores his first goal at Cambridge. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

The chances continued to come. Chaplin fired wide on the run following another Penney low delivery. Bonne headed the wrong side of the near post from an Aluko cross. Morsy was off target after a fine touch by Chaplin and a neat Scott Fraser lay-off. Then Aluko fluffed another opportunity to lob Mitov, this time from near the halfway line, after the Bulgarian's scuffed clearance outside his box.

It was, therefore, no surprise when Town scored a second in the 36th minute. The lively Chaplin's high interception helped force a corner and, after Mitov flapped poorly at Fraser's dead ball delivery, the ball hit Adam May on the thigh and was swept in from close-range by that man Aluko again.

Tone set. Jubilant away fans chanting '2-0 up on your big day out'. Deflated home fans heading to the bars to beat the half-time queues. What could possibly go wrong?

Sone Aluko celebrates scoring his second goal at Cambridge.

Sone Aluko celebrates scoring his second goal at Cambridge. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

NOT AGAIN!

This is the section I can cut and paste from previous reports.

Town, once again, looked at their most vulnerable right after scoring themselves.

As a long ball dropped just over the halfway line, Cameron Burgess was eased away from under it far too easily by striker Joe Ironside. Town, all of a sudden, were pulled out of shape.

Collectively, the defence charged across to swarm Wes Hoolahan. It meant that once the Irishman played a simple lay-off, Shilow Tracey was able to pick out James Brophy in acres of space at the back post to lift the ball over the advancing Vaclav Hladky and in off the underside of the bar.

Town's two-goal lead had lasted just four minutes. Cambridge had scored real with their first real attempt on goal and the whole dynamic of the game had changed.


KILL IT OFF!

Now we come to Town's second failure in the game - their inability to kill this game off when on top again.

Macauley Bonne vents his frustration on the final whistle at Cambridge.

Macauley Bonne vents his frustration on the final whistle at Cambridge. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

After coming through a slightly dodgy start to the second period, the Blues reasserted their authority.

The energy and intent of the opening period was replaced by patience and probing. From 60 to 75 minutes, the Blues looked calm and in complete control. But they didn't do enough to score a killer third.

Several great positions were worked, but the final ball wasn't there. Twice, crosses from the left flashed through the box.

And it was always going to be dangerous going into the last knockings with just a single goal advantage...

Scott Fraser bursts between two opponents at Cambridge.

Scott Fraser bursts between two opponents at Cambridge. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

THE RIGHT SUBS?

Cook's first change was to replace Aluko with Wes Burns on 69 minutes. Aluko had worked his socks off in what was his first start in more than a month. Burns, meanwhile, has pace for the counter and the work-rate to help his full-back. It was a logical switch. 

It was the next two subs which were more questionable.

First, on 75 minutes, Bersant Celina came on for Chaplin to play as the No.10. Then, after Cambridge had chucked on another striker for an Alamo effort, Cook responded with another like-for-like swap in an attacking area. This time, Kyle Edwards replaced Scott Fraser on the left. 

Paul Cook after the draw at Cambridge United.

Paul Cook after the draw at Cambridge United. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

"Our intent was to score again," said Cook. "As a manager I've never believed in shutting up shop."

Celina and Edwards barely touched the ball in those closing stages though. They're both talented players, of course, but was this really the scenario for them? 

It was clear that the U's were going to go direct in a last-gasp effort. And there'd been enough signs of the Town defence looking far from watertight.

Arguably, bringing on someone like Toto Nsiala for the final 10 minutes would have been the more sensible move. A case of hindsight being a wonderful thing? Maybe.  

After years of us all complaining that Mick McCarthy was boring and ultra-cautious, the irony of calling upon a Blues boss to be less reckless and more pragmatic is certainly not lost on me.

Ipswich concede a late equaliser at Cambridge.

Ipswich concede a late equaliser at Cambridge. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

DEFEND STRONGER!

Cambridge striker Joe Ironside had the beating of Cameron Burgess in this game.

Town's Scottish centre-back got dragged into dangerous areas, was slow on the turn and was beaten in physical duels too many times for a man of his size.

It's not the first time he's had an afternoon with too many uncomfortable moments.

Central defensive partner George Edmundson looks a cooler customer in possession, but he was far from faultless. His poor clearing header presented Brophy with a big chance as the late onslaught began to hot up. And, like Burgess, he was beaten in the air as Ironside headed home the 88th equaliser at a corner.

Behind them, keeper Hladky was back to his early season shaky form. Okay, the Czech made one solid stop with his legs, but he was all at sea when the ball was in the air during the latter stages, including for the goal.

To pin it all on those three would be unfair though. Others, including skipper Morsy, were guilty of lapses in concentration too. 

Town fans at Cambridge.

Town fans at Cambridge. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

WHAT IT MEANS

Topscorers in the division, but no-one has conceded more...

Just one defeat in the last seven, but have failed to beat all four newly-promoted sides now...

Town are so close, but also seemingly still so far from being a real force in this league.

The Blues have scored the first goal in 11 of their 15 games played across all competitions this season. And their record across those matches reads W4 D3 L4.

You can accept the odd bad day at the office, like at Accrington, but repeatedly doing the hard work only to let points slip through the fingers is infuriating.

Sone Aluko at Cambridge.

Two-goal Sone Aluko applauds the travelling Ipswich fans. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

You simply can't be 2-0 up against both AFC Wimbledon and Cambridge United and have just two points to show for it.

Lessons simply aren't being learnt.

Is it fitness? Is it mentality? Is it chemistry? Is it game management? Cook has to find the answer to all those questions and quickly.

A draw actually cuts the gap to the play-off places to five points.

Town don't want to be left in a big mid-table scrap for sixth-spot though. Already they are 12 points off the top two, 11 adrift of both third and fourth and nine away from fifth.


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