Stu says: Six observations following Town's 4-0 win at Gillingham

Macauley Bonne celebrates scoring the third goal at Gillingham.

Macauley Bonne celebrates scoring the third goal at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town won 4-0 at Gillingham yesterday to close the gap on the League One play-off places. STUART WATSON reflects. 

Ipswich Manager Kieran McKenna at Gillingham.

Ipswich Manager Kieran McKenna at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

BACKING IT UP 

Kieran McKenna becomes the first Ipswich Town manager since Roy Keane to win his opening two games in charge. But we won’t dwell on that comparison. 

Here’s a more contemporary one. Straight off the bat, the Northern Irishman has achieved something that predecessor Paul Cook managed just once during his nine months in charge – back-to-back league wins. 

Two festive postponements gave the new Blues boss extra time on the training pitch with his players. Whatever he did, it worked wonders. This was the most complete display seen by a Town team in quite some time. 

Intense, aggressive and organised out of possession. Fluid, confident and clinical in possession. Gillingham were put to the sword within 23 minutes... 

LIQUID FOOTBALL 

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McKenna asked his players to keep the ball better than they had in the previous 1-0 home win against Wycombe. They certainly did that. 

The Blues ended this game with a 76% share of possession. Sam Morsy and Lee Evans both made more than 100 passes each in midfield. 

This wasn’t just possession for possession’s sake either. It was crisp, pass-and-move, one and two-touch football with a purpose. 

All three of Town’s first half goals were beautifully worked. 

Goal one. A George Edmundson raking crossfield pass. Janoi Donacien plays a neat one-two with Wes Burns down the right before zipping a pass into the box. Macauley Bonne lays the ball off neatly first time. Sam Morsy controls and drills in a low cross. James Norwood gets across his marker to convert his fourth goal in as many league games.

James Norwood celebrates at Gillingham.

James Norwood celebrates at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Six different players involved and not one of them touched the ball more than twice before finding a team-mate.  

Goal two. Morsy picks a ground pass from deep midfield. Bonne drops deep, rolls his man, charges towards the box before having the vision to slip a pass to an unmarked Burns to his right. A thumping angled shot beats Jamie Cummings at the near post via the aid of a slight deflection. 

Goal three. The pick of the bunch. Eight different players involved in the slick back-to-front move this time. There were just 15 touches of the ball between them as Gillingham were pulled out of shape once more.  

Morsy and Burns are heavily involved. Aluko’s slide pass is exceptional. The much-improved Matt Penney then shows great composure to square and leave Bonne with a tap-in. 

Simply lovely. 

Macauley Bonne celebrates scoring the third goal at Gillingham.

Macauley Bonne celebrates scoring the third goal at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

ENDING THE DROUGHT 

Bonne screamed ‘this is my club!’ after finally ending his 10-game goal drought. 

When substituted in the second half, he left the field on the far side and walked past the scaffold-erected, uncovered away end on his way back to the bench, slapping hands with rain-soaked fans and even stopping to pose for a selfie. 

‘Sign him up’ chanted the Blues faithful. 

Macauley Bonne interacts with the fans after being subbed at Gillingham.

Macauley Bonne interacts with the fans after being subbed at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ending that long wait for his 12th goal of the season will feel like a weight off the shoulders, but Bonne’s display was about much more than finding the net again. 

“For me, I never judge my forwards with just goals,” said McKenna. “I think in the game today, in the game against Wycombe, even in the game against Sunderland, his work-rate has been fantastic, his hold-up play has been really good. He’s given the team an outlet, he’s working for the team. 

“If he hadn’t have scored today I would have been delighted with his performance.” 


SUBTLE TWEAK 

Against high-flying Wycombe, it had been a highly-disciplined 3-4-3 in which Aluko and Norwood had played very much as wide men in support of central striker Bonne. 

Against struggling Gillingham (who have now gone 13 games without a win), things were a lot more fluid.  

Sone Aluko takes on a defender at Gillingham.

Sone Aluko takes on a defender at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Aluko returned to being the floating No.10 as he had been against Sunderland back in John McGreal’s final match as interim boss. His clever movement and elegant play was a joy to watch. 

Bonne, instead of lurking on the last shoulder and often getting caught offside, constantly dropped into little pockets of space too. 

Morsy had the freedom to join the attack from deep, while Edmundson strode out with the ball out from the back on more than one occasion. 

Earlier this season, Town were looking far too predictable in Cook’s rigid 4-2-3-1. Not any more. 

Lee Evans wins a header at Gillingham.

Lee Evans wins a header at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

SHUTTING THE DOOR

We’ve always known that this Ipswich Town team has the capability to score goals. The question mark has been whether they are able to keep them out. 

A second successive clean sheet is, therefore, a major confidence boost. 

The Blues had to fight for the right to play in this game.  

Gillingham wanted to play direct to big striker Vadaine Oliver and create openings from long throw-ins and set-pieces. 

Sam Morsy challenges at Gillingham.

Sam Morsy challenges at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich kept a high backline and managed that threat as far from goal as possible. Bonne and Norwood defended from the front. Morsy and Evans competed strongly in midfield. Whenever those two lines were breached, George Edmundson was a tower of strength at the back.  

After going 3-0 up, the Blues were guilty of dropping their standards for a 10-15 minute spell leading up to half-time. 

McKenna voiced his displeasure at that come the break though and Town got right back on it after the restart and didn’t let up until the final whistle. 

Gillingham were reduced to 10 men in the 73rd minute when Daniel Phillips was dismissed for a couple of silly bookings. 

Town’s deserved fourth goal came when Joe Pigott was grappled at a corner and fellow sub Conor Chaplin slammed home the spot-kick. 

CLOSING THE GAP 

A month is a lifetime in football.   

Four weeks on from winning 4-1 at Wycombe, Paul Cook had been sacked. 

Four weeks on from being booed off the pitch after a lifeless 2-0 loss at Charlton, Town had an away end bouncing with joy again. 

Wes Burns and Janoi Donacien celebrate at Gillingham.

Wes Burns and Janoi Donacien celebrate at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

It won’t all be plain sailing from here, of course, but hopefully things won’t be lurching from one extreme to another quite so much going forwards. 

Already under McKenna we’ve seen more consistency from game-to-game and more consistency from half-to-half.   

The gap to the play-off places has been reduced to eight points.  

Town go to Bolton next weekend and then face Accrington, AFC Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, Gillingham again and Doncaster. 

Maybe there’s life in this season yet... It’s the hope that kills you. 

Ipswich celebrate Wes BurnsÕ goal at Gillingham.

Ipswich celebrate Wes BurnsÕ goal at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd


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