Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 1-1 draw at Crewe
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DRAW WAS FAIR
The wind was strong and the pitch was poor, yet both teams stuck to their principles and tried to get the ball down and play.
Crewe had moments of neat interplay, particularly down their left. Ipswich had moments of neat interplay, particularly down their left.
For spells this game was very watchable. At other times the mind began to wander.
Charlie Kirk coolly put Crewe ahead in the 59th minute. Luke Woolfenden's shirt was tugged on the halfway line in the build-up, but he should have been stronger against Mikael Mandron before that.
Ipswich equalised in the 75th minute, substitute Aaron Drinan scoring with a tackle following Olly Lancashire's loose touch.
Myles Kenlock had made a super goal saving tackle in the Ipswich six-yard box at 0-0. Omar Beckles made a goal saving tackle in the Crewe six-yard box at 1-0.
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Including stoppage-time, Ipswich played out the last 12 minutes with 10 men following Teddy Bishop's dismissal.
Ultimately, a draw was a fair result. And, ordinarily, this would probably be viewed as a decent enough away performance and point against a Crewe side that impressed at Portman Road earlier this season and recently went 10 league games unbeaten.
It's all about context though...
Ipswich, somewhat symbolically, have dropped to 11th in the League One table - the place where they finished last season.
Their record against the 10 sides currently above them in the standings now reads: P12 W2 D2 L8 F6 A17.
Their record against the 10 teams that finished above them last season was: P18 W2 D8 L8 F8 A18.
Combined those two sets of figures - and this appalling stat really can't be spelt out enough - Ipswich's record against top 10 sides since dropping into the third-tier of English football is: P30 W4 D10 L16 F14 A35.
And the four wins have come against Fleetwood (who finished sixth last season), Gillingham (who finished 10th last season), Accrington Stanley (who are currently ninth) and Crewe (who are currently 10th).
To reiterate, it's just 22 points from a possible 90 against 'promotion rivals' for a club who have twice started campaigns with the stated aim of gunning for automatic promotion.
Well, at the halfway stage of this campaign, the Blues find themselves 12 points adrift of the top two.
Since beating Accrington 2-0 at Portman Road on October 17, the Blues have picked up 20 points from 17 games. That's an average of 1.2 points per game over a sustained period. That sort of form, extrapolated over the course of a campaign, normally sees you finish somewhere between 15th and 18th.
By every metric, Ipswich look a mid-table side at best.
And guess what? Five of their next eight games are against top 10 sides, with Peterborough, Oxford, Hull, Doncaster and Accrington all on the horizon.
How are Ipswich suddenly going to start winning these games?
New signing Josh Harrop might inject some spark once he's recovered from Covid? A young, untested loan striker signing could light the blue touch paper? Kane Vincent-Young, who has been out for more than a year, will possibly make the difference from right-back? Perhaps there's more to come from Flynn Downes and James Norwood?
It all feels, sadly, like clutching at straws.
LACK OF GOAL THREAT
The crux of the matter is this: Ipswich don't look like keeping clean sheets and they really don't look like scoring twice in a game. That's a real problem when it comes to winning football matches.
What looks to be Ipswich's most likely route to a goal?
It's certainly not set-pieces. They finished the game having had eight corners but never really threatened from any of them. That's been an issue all season.
Long-range strikes? No. Rapid counter-attacks? No. Crosses? No. Through balls? Not really.
Paul Lambert tried to list a few of his team's chances afterwards. He mentioned Gwion Edward's shot (a dipping 25-yard effort which was pushed away), a Freddie Sears effort (a poorer attempt from outside the box) and James Norwood coming in at the back post (Beckles getting to Alan Judge's cut-back first following Andre Dozzell's deep pass).
Town's best spell was between the 10th and 20th minute.
Edwards produced a clever flick tight to the touchline and Kenlock's cross was blocked behind. Edwards intercepted deep, Judge, Sears and Luke Chambers worked the ball well, before Luke Thomas was unable to squeeze a shot past the keeper at his near post. Then Edwards tested the keeper.
Town's purple patches in games just aren't long enough. And even when they are on top, you rarely sense they are battering the door down. It just all feels a bit too passive. Too many players are waiting for things to happen around them rather than making it happen themselves.
OFF THE MARK
After Crewe's goal went in, Lambert responded with a couple of like-for-like changes. Norwood replaced lone striker Sears, while Bishop came on for Thomas (who was a lot quieter than in his first two Town outings).
During a break in play for an injury, Crewe boss David Artell gathered his players is issued animated instructions. Ipswich players, by contrast, milled about as individuals while Lambert and assistant Stuart Taylor leant back against the advertising hoardings. It wasn't a sight which filled you with confidence.
But then, with 15 minutes to go, striker Drinan replaced Edwards, the latter having battled on for half an hour after being left hurt by a strong but fair challenge just before the break.
That meant a switch in formation to the lesser spotted 4-4-2 (a system Lambert has insisted Ipswich are 'useless' with).
And within seconds, Drinan had bundled in his first goal for the club.
This was chance for Town to kick on. Would having two physical front men in Drinan and Norwood create havoc? Sadly, we never got to find out...
RED FOR TED
That's because, for the second time in as many games, Town finished the game with 10 men.
Teddy Bishop came on in the 63rd minute. Twenty minutes after his arrival he was off again after picking up two bookings.
The first was for grappling. The second was for a mis-timed attempt at a recovery tackle down the flank having just been dispossessed in the Crewe box.
Lambert thinks the midfielder should have been more cute in trying to win a spot-kick during that phase in play. Having not done that, he definitely shouldn't have given the referee a decision to make with regards the second booking. It was a needless foul given the lack of danger on and the yellow already hanging over his head.
Drinan subsequently moved wide right. Two up top had lasted just eight minutes.
That's now four red cards this season for Ipswich. And it's 10 in 107 games (one every 11 matches) under Lambert's management.
Let's finish on a positive note.
Pre-match, Lambert hinted heavily that it was time to give fast-fading veteran left-back Stephen Ward a rest and put Myles Kenlock in the team.
The homegrown 24-year-old, he said, never lets the team down and 'does what it says on the tin'.
That description actually does this performance a disservice.
Kenlock was comfortably Town's best player in what was his first league start since October 20.
He made that unbelievable goal-saving tackle in the first half, harassed the opposition and time-and-time again got forwards to provide an attacking outlet.
That's what Ipswich need from their full-backs if 4-3-3 is going to work.