Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 3-1 loss at Gillingham
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Paul Cook's first game in charge of Ipswich Town ended with a 3-1 defeat at Gillingham yesterday. STUART WATSON reports.
Well, that was an anti-climax.
With three straight wins against high-flying opposition and a 'new manager bounce', there was so much optimism surrounding Town heading into this game.
It was a surprise, therefore, that the Blues produced one of their flattest displays of the season.
Gillingham produced a typically direct, physical and highly-competitive display. Manager Steven Evans and his assistant Paul Rayor carried out their usual odious antics of snarling and snapping from the sidelines.
Ipswich wilted in the face of that. They lost too many duels all over the pitch. They were slowest to second balls. They looked lightweight. They never earnt the right to play.
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The three goals conceded were poor. And Town deservedly made the short trip back from Kent with zero points.
Why so bad?
Maybe, both physically and mentally, the players had hit a wall after a crazy few weeks.
This was game number six in 19 days. Two of those matches were long midweek trips to Hull and Accrington. The latter match, just four days earlier, had also been a battle. There had already been signs up at the Wham Stadium of a few weary legs.
In amongst that, there's been off-field drama galore. From training ground protests, to takeover talk and then a change of boss. It's all been going on.
Alan Judge was a miss too. The Irishman, who has arguably been the Blues' best player of 2021 so far, was missing due to his mother losing her battle with cancer. His team-mates wore black armbands as a show of respect and support.
Paul Cook, remember, had only had two training sessions with the players too.
All of the above only part excuses a really disappointing day at the office though.
It's going to need to be much, much better than this if a promotion charge is to occur.
BOYS, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?
For the second game in a row, Town fell behind with less than five minutes on the clock.
Josh Harrop was beaten in air by Ryan Jackson, then Andre Dozzell clumsily barged into the back of Jordan Graham in a dangerous area. From the resulting free-kick delivery, Toto Nsiala couldn't get a clean connection on his clearing header and Jack Tucker rifled home.
The centre-back probably couldn't believe how much space he was given to score his long-awaited first ever league goal.
And so the tone was set.
Gillingham looked to have good shouts for a penalty in the 15th minute when ex Town flop Graham out-muscled Myles Kenlock along the byline before being dragged down. The referee deemed initially contact had started just outside the box.
Not long afterwards, Town failed to clear their lines and Oliver Lee was allowed to spin and fire against the base of a post from the edge of a crowded box.
As half-time approached, Cook tried to gee up his players with critical words delivered in a positive tone. It was: "Andre (Dozzell), I can't see you; Josh (Harrop), I can't see you; Troy (Parrott), I can't see you."
Town's players just couldn't get going though.
A moment which rather summed things up was when Kenlock gave away a foul and, during a lull in proceedings, Chambers said in a rather exasperated tone: "Boys, are you alright?"
Gillingham started the second half with similar intensity. Within seconds, powerful front man Oliver, who rag-dolled Nsiala at times, dragged an effort wide. Not long afterwards, it required a last-ditch tackle from James Wilson to deny the striker.
Lee then produced a tame headed effort after a long throw had been flicked on. That could have killed the game.
At the other end, Chambers showed Lee how it's done when powering home a fine arching effort from a Harrop dead ball delivery.
It was a great finish to mark the skipper moving outright into the club's top 10 all-time appearances makers list.
A goal against the run of play. Perhaps the tide would turn? The goal did liven Town up for a few minutes, but then they shot themselves in the foot... twice.
Immediately after the equaliser went in, Cook made a triple substitution.
Off went Harrop, Keanen Bennetts and Troy Parrott and on came Flynn Downes, Gwion Edwards and Freddie Sears.
Sadly, Sears had the impact of a negative kind.
In the 73rd minute it was his sloppy backwards pass which led to Gillingham reclaiming the lead. Kyle Dempsey exchanged passes with Graham and swept in a cross for Oliver to expertly convert on the run.
Downes had been drawn to the ball rather than covering the space. Nsiala had stumbled when trying to cut out the delivery.
Then, seven minutes later, there was another catalogue of errors.
Ring-rusty Sears gave the ball away cheaply again, his blind back pass leading to Tomas Holy rushing out to deny Oliver on the edge of the box.
When John Akinde fluffed his attempted lob, Holy should have just put his boot through it. Instead, he tried to play out, Town lost possession and Oliver produced a stunning angled finish.
Good goals from a Gillingham perspective, but very preventable ones from an Ipswich viewpoint.
HE WHO DARES
Cook kept telling the players to be 'stay up', 'get high' and 'be brave'.
He called upon Nsiala to hold a high defensive line and urged Parrott to play right up alongside Norwood.
As mentioned, a triple sub came straight after the score had gone to 1-1.
Then, as soon as the Blues fell behind again, Cook quickly introduced striker Kayden Jackson for below-par midfielder Dozzell.
Those were the moves of a manager who is prepared to roll the dice and take risks.
If you're looking another positive, and I'm probably clutching at straws here, it's that Town still managed to have some good goalscoring chances despite not playing well.
Chambers' goal was the fifth the Blues have scored from a set-piece situation in three matches.
Parrott struck the post with a fabulous overhead kick attempt following decent build-up, while Norwood raced through one-on-one only to be denied by a fine saving challenge.
Both those chances were when the score was 1-0.
Jackson glanced a header, from a corner, against the bar at 2-1 too (and Town perhaps had good shouts for a handball waved away when Norwood attacked the rebound).
Jackson, back in the picture following his period of exile under Paul Lambert, looked sharp during his time on the field. That was a little plus.
KEEPING IT REAL
Paul Cook made sure he gave every Gillingham player a fist-bump as they left the pitch.
And following that sportsmanlike gesture, the new Town boss then gave a refreshingly honest post-match assessment.
He conceded that his team hadn't stood up to the physical test. He admitted there hadn't been enough creative spark. He congratulated Gillingham on being the better team.
It's an interview which, in a strange way, may have made the thousands of fans who watched on iFollow feel a little better.
Before, it felt like an insult when Lambert routinely tried to us that the players had been 'incredible' and 'had given everything in their bodies'.
At least Cook had seen what we'd all seen. Now, given time, let's see if he can fix it.