Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 1-0 win at Hull City
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Ipswich Town won 1-0 at Hull City last night to close the gap on the League One play-off places. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
BEST OF THE SEASON
What a difference a week makes.
Last Tuesday's utterly lifeless goalless home draw with struggling Northampton felt like a new low.
Then came a much-improved back-to-basics display against in-form outfit Oxford United. Yes, it may have also ended 0-0, but the Blues had created chances and been the better side.
Can they back it up? That's what we asked, somewhat sceptically, given what's felt like a lifetime of false dawns and one step forwards, two steps back decline.
Well back it up they did.
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This, for me, was Ipswich's best performance of the season. Comfortably.
Not as clinical and incisive as the 4-1 win at Blackpool back in October, but more impressive for lots of reasons.
It's all too easy to dismiss Hull as having been poor. Let's give Ipswich credit for making them look poor.
Out of possession, the Blues were full of energy and fight. In possession, they moved the ball quickly and with intent.
James Norwood gave Town a 15th minute lead and, bar one let off at a corner and a brief spell on the back foot at the start of the second half, the Blues were firmly in control.
If we're being ultra critical, this game should have been killed off. That made for a nervy finish, but even then the team defended like lions against the Tigers.
You have to go way back to the 1-0 victory at Fleetwod in October 2019 for Ipswich's last 'statement' win like this. Finally, the 'can't beat the best teams in the division' monkey is off the back. Don't underestimate the psychological boost that will give.
Given the backdrop of the current unrest surrounding the club, this was probably the biggest win of Paul Lambert's two-and-a-half years in charge.
The gap to the play-off places has been cut to four points and there are some games in hand to come on many. Could this win prove a launchpad for some real momentum to be built?
Town host fifth-place Doncaster on Saturday and then travel to seventh-place Accrington Stanley next Tuesday.
Quite rightly, it will take more than this for long-suffering Blues fans to be dancing in the streets of IP1. The scars run deep. Lambert is right though, it is a step in the right direction. A pretty big one at that.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
For so long, Ipswich looked painfully predictable. Their obsession with possession made them so easy to defend against. Ponderous passing got them nowhere.
All of a sudden, it seems to have dawned on Lambert that a little bit of crash, bang, wallop is what's required in the third-tier of English football.
The Blues boss might argue that this is still a 4-3-3 system, but it's much closer to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 than a 4-1-4-1 or 4-5-1.
No-nonsense centre-halves James Wilson and Toto Nsiala are no longer being told to try and be something they are not. Instead, they being allowed to concentrate on what they are good at - defending.
There was no designated deep-lying midfielder trying to continually take the ball off the centre-backs.
Instead, the Blues often looked to cut out the midfield and hit the front quickly. In windy conditions, they played a purposeful direct ball into James Norwood's head or feet, or stuck a pass in behind to get the opposition defence facing their own goal.
Troy Parrott, playing as the No.10, was never far away from his strike partner. He's a proper 'support striker', rather than a creative midfielder whose instinct is drop too deep and link with those behind.
This style of play drags the whole midfield unit further up the field. Wide men Alan Judge and Keanan Bennetts, as well as central duo Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop, were so often quickest to the second balls.
That all meant that Town were able to regularly play in the final third and discombobulate the opposition, rather than letting them get organised.
NORWOOD'S THE DIFFERENCE
Of course, to play this way you need a striker capable of doing it. With Norwood fit again, the Blues have that.
The 30-year-old was outstanding.
He made the ball stick and bought time for team-mates to get up and around him. He was a master of the dark arts, winning free-kicks or at least preventing centre-backs from clearing the ball cleanly. He also kickstarted the press, defending from the very front.
He can run the channels, get in behind and play off the cuff. And you always feel there's a goal in him too. In short, he's the best all-round striker at the club by a long chalk.
The movement and finish was harder than it looked, charging into the box from deep before allowing the ball to bounce and providing a cool finish.
He went close with a low one-on-one effort in the second half too.
It also certainly helps that he's got a partner in Parrott who also plays with energy and edge.
Subbed in the 82nd minute, Norwood departed having left absolutely everything out on the field.
Starting him again for the second time in four days was a massive risk given his injury problems over the last 14 months. And there was a moment of concern when he needed treatment in the second half.
But it was a risk that paid off.
Ipswich have definitely not seen the best of Norwood since his much heralded arrival from Tranmere. If they can finally get him fit and firing, then he really could transform this team.
LEAD MAN AT LAST
Myles Kenlock has spent his entire Ipswich Town career as the understudy.
First to Tyrone Mings, then to Jonas Knudsen, then to Stephen Ward.
Even with 80+ sporadic starts to his name over the past six years, the jury was still very much out on whether he would ultimately cut the mustard at his boyhood club.
The 24-year-old might just now be starting to show it's his time in the sun though.
He's started five of the last six games and Ipswich haven't lost a single one of them (W2 D3, conceded one).
Since a very impressive showing at Crewe at the end of January, he's grown and grown in confidence.
The low flighted raking pass from deep which set up Norwood's goal was superb. There were plenty more Hollywood passes after that too.
The trademark chop inside often brought joy. The moment in the second half where he cleverly dummied the ball in the attacking third just summed up how much he's enjoying his football.
At last, he might be able to make the left-back slot his own.
Troy Parrott and Keanan Bennetts were both guilty of not pulling the trigger in golden positions inside the penalty box during the first half.
There were times, also, when the final ball was lacking from that lively young duo. Bennetts, who was constantly coached from the sidelines, can dazzle with trickery but then over-hit a cross. Parrott's swagger can, sometimes, look like complacency.
The main thing is, though, that Ipswich are actually creating a decent number of chances in games at last.
Combine that with clean sheets and you are on to a winner. Ipswich have now had four shut outs in their last five.
A few moments summed up Ipswich's fighting spirit in the closing stages of this game.
Parrott charged back the length of the field to win the ball back near the edge of the Town box in the 76th minute.
Later, Toto Nsiala bravely cleared a cross when putting his head where the boots were flying, while Teddy Bishop produced a perfectly-timed tackle on the edge of the area.
To a man, this was a performance of real character. And that's all we've ever been asking for.