Stu says: Five observations following 1-0 win at Doncaster
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Ipswich Town won 1-0 at Doncaster Rovers last night to close the gap on the League One play-off places. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.
WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?
I've seen a few moans and groans on social media about this performance. Quite frankly, I don't understand it.
Town were up against a Doncaster side that had just won 2-1 at Sunderland and, less than three weeks prior, won 1-0 at MK Dons too. Yes, they're bottom for a reason this deep into the campaign, but this match was no gimmie.
Yet the Blues side-stepped another potential banana skin with zero fuss.
Maybe some of the negativity is because of what came before. The 1-0 loss at Sheffield Wednesday (no shots on target, could have conceded more) was undoubtedly a sobering afternoon. The 1-0 home win against Gillingham (huffed and puffed, then rode some luck before scoring out the blue) then added another layer to the growing narrative that results may be masking poor performances.
Years of false dawns and disappointments, naturally, leaves many searching for the cracks, I guess.
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Being objective, I didn't think the win against Gillingham was 'ugly', as some have suggested. For me, it was just an uninspiring off day. None of those descriptions can be applied to last night's display though.
True, it wasn't all-action, 100mph, swashbuckling football that will have had neutrals on the edge of their seats. Don't forget, though, that Paul Cook's wide open 'forget about the opposition' approach saw a staggering 18 points dropped from winning positions earlier in the campaign.
This performance was controlled, professional, focussed and functional from the first to the last minute. A well thought out and well articulated game plan from Kieran McKenna - keep the ball, nullify the counter threat, try and play with a bit more forward thrust - was executed to a tee.
Another win, another clean sheet. What's not to like?
Town made 594 passes in this game - their exact average, as it so happens, since McKenna took charge. For context, only Manchester City (680), Liverpool (606) and Swansea (603) have bettered that average over the course of this season when looking across the top four divisions.
Football, in many ways, is a simple game. If you've got the ball then the opposition can't score.
Town have had the lion's share of possession in all eight of McKenna's games at the helm (ranging between 59% to 75%). That's a major factor behind the record of five clean sheets and only four goals conceded.
Going behind against this Blues side must be so demoralising.
Doncaster never looked like getting back into the match. The only minor scare was when goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell went up to attack a stoppage-time corner. Had they managed to force the ball in then it would have been a real travesty.
KILL THEM OFF!
'Possession with a punch' was a label that was applied to Paul Lambert's side and it was phrase that was beginning to creep back in over recent weeks.
Since that 4-0 demolition of Gillingham back on January 8, teams have started to show Ipswich a lot more respect. Doncaster, like Gillingham, were content to sit in and defend their penalty box in numbers and wait for a counter opportunity.
This time, however, there was an uptick in forward thrust and penetration. Conor Chaplin worked his socks off, Bersant Celina provided drive and positivity, while there was the usual stepping out from the back by Janoi Donacien and George Edmundson.
Town created plenty of chances. Really, this game should have been put to bed a lot earlier.
Macauley Bonne could have bagged a hat-trick of headers from golden positions. He's now scored just one goal in his last 17 games.
Chaplin twice tested the keeper with snap shots, Luke Woolfenden twice headed over at corners, Donacien looped a header onto the roof of the net, while James Norwood snatched at a couple of late chances after stepping off the bench.
The only thing missing from this display was a clinical touch. At least the goalscoring opportunities were created though.
FINDING THEIR FEET
It's fair to say that January recruits Tyreeq Bakinson and Dominic Thompson didn't immediately capture the imagination.
The two loanees both played key roles in this win though and are seemingly beginning to find their feet.
Lee Evans constantly showing for the ball off the back three and sweeping passes left and right afforded Bakinson the freedom to get forwards more. Not only did he pop up with the goal, but his physical game improved too. It's highly likely that he'll be the one replaced by Sam Morsy at the weekend, now that the skipper's four-game ban has been served, but the unflustered 23-year-old could have an important role to play over the coming weeks.
Thompson, meanwhile, had more touches of the ball than any other player on the pitch. He and Celina struck up a nice understanding. It was his cross that led to the goal. For once, the Blues attacked more down the left than down the right. Reducing that reliance on Wes Burns to be the creator in chief can only be healthy.
SETS IT UP NICELY
Hands up who's excited for Saturday.
With the top of the table starting to bunch up, it's fourth-place MK Dons (five wins in eight) against ninth-place Ipswich Town (six wins in eight). Nine points separates the sides.
Both teams will be looking to get the ball down and play.
The hosts are managed by former Town coaches Liam Manning and Chris Hogg and have ex-Blues striker Connor Wickham in their ranks.
The Blues will be backed by around 7,200 travelling fans at Stadium MK - an incredible number for a third-tier game.
Win, win, loss, win, win, loss, win, win... Can the Blues break the pattern and finally secure that elusive third straight victory? Let's find out.