Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 2-1 win against Bristol Rovers
- Credit: www.stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town made hard work of a 2-1 home win against struggling Bristol Rovers yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
IT STARTED WITH A GIFT
Town were ahead with less than a minute on the clock and it’s fair to say goals don’t come much scrappier.
Phase one: A big Tomas Holy punt, the ball flicked off Jack Baldwin’s head, was helped on further as James Norwood contested aerially and then Kayden Jackson appeared to simply slip as he attempted to burst into the area.
Phase two: David Tutonda fired a panicked clearance straight into Gwion Edwards, the ball ricocheted back towards goal and, with keeper Anssi Jaakkola well set to save, Luke Leahy sliced the ball over him for an OG.
There a big element of fortune about the Blues’ second goal too.
Phase one: After Teddy Bishop’s dart and cross down the right was half-cleared, Andre Dozzell completely mis-hit his first time shot from outside the box only for the ball to fall nicely at the feet of Alan Judge at the back post.
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Phase two: Judge’s first shot is poor. The ball bounces down into the ground and hits George Williams, allowing Judge to convert at the second attempt. Granted that was a decent finish.
And so, Ipswich, a team that really struggle to create or score goals, find themselves 2-0 up inside 11 minutes.
This, against a Bristol Rovers side who don’t score many and came into the game having lost 16 of their previous 22 games.
It should have been a cruise to the finish line from there. Sadly, it wasn’t.
When Dozzell received the short ball from keeper Holy in a deep central position he was put under immediate pressure by Luke McCormick.
The Blues midfielder, unaware of what was around him, turned straight into trouble and was dispossessed by Jonah Ayunga. McCormick seized on the loose ball and chipped over the advanced keeper.
An error, no doubt, but it happens.
Town should be more capable of shrugging off such set-backs and sticking to the task.
Instead, any little bumps in the road like this seem to cause cracks to quickly appear.
As Cook has so astutely pointed out, you watch this team just waiting for something to go wrong. There’s always an edginess in the air.
Holy charged off his line and clattered into Ayunga outside the box. He was perhaps fortunate to escape with just a booking.
Moments later, McCormick lashed over after a neat cushioned header down in the box from Baldwin as Town increasingly looked ragged.
Then, with 38 minutes on the clock, McCormick was inches away from an equaliser when meeting a cross from the right on the run.
The Blues could count themselves lucky to be ahead at the break.
And they rode their luck a little after the restart before the game drifted slowly and boringly towards its final conclusion.
Cook's right, it is painful to watch. More and more people will be deciding their £10 could be better spent elsewhere.
Paul Cook, a staunch 4-2-3-1 man throughout his managerial career, decided that it was time to try something different in the search for goals.
That meant, for the first time since February 2020, strike duo James Norwood and Kayden Jackson started a game together (more on them in a minute).
Keen for his team not be out-numbered in the centre of the pitch, Cook went with a 3-5-2 system. Gwion Edwards and Stephen Ward operated as the wing-backs, with a midfield three of Dozzell, Bishop and Judge.
The latter three all have great attributes (Bishop had a really good game on the ball), but together the blend is just not right. All of them would benefit from an enforcer. The quicker Flynn Downes is back the better (and it sounds like he’s not far off judging by Cook’s post-match comments).
Joey Barton had started with a 4-2-2-2 ‘box midfield’ system, but switched to 3-4-3 as soon as Town’s second goal went in. That proved to be a masterstroke.
All of a sudden Ipswich’s back three of Luke Woolfenden, Toto Nsiala and Luke Chambers were going man-to-man with a front three of Ayunga, Brandon Hanlan and Zain Walker. That caused issues.
Cook didn’t respond until the 75th minute, switching to a 4-4-2. Edwards came across to the left and Judge went right.
The fact so many of these players have played in so many different positions says a lot.
Edwards has played full-back, wing-back and both wings.
Judge has played wide and central.
Chambers has been centre-back and right-back.
Dozzell’s been tried deeper and more advanced.
Jackson’s been used as a lone front man, as a strike partner and down the flank.
Going forwards, that has to change.
If the search for the right recipe within this squad is still happening after two years then it’s probably time for new ingredients.
Cook’s going to have to live up to his name this summer.
A DISAPPOINTING REUNION
As previously mentioned, it’s been a while since we saw Norwood and Jackson paired in attack from the start.
The hope was that the duo would hit it off like they did during Town’s flying start to the 2019/20 campaign.
That didn’t happen.
Norwood spent most of the first half aiming expletives at the referee and being told to calm down by his team-mates. He was withdrawn at the break with a thigh problem.
Aaron Drinan came on and looked, if I’m being brutally honest, like a poor man’s version of the striker he replaced. One robust all-elbows-leap earned him a yellow. Another similar aerial contest moments later earned him a long talking to.
Jackson was withdrawn after a wholly ineffective 66 minutes during which he touched the ball just 14 times.
His replacement, Troy Parrott, curled wide after a piece of close ball control in a tight spot that Jackson hadn’t managed all match.
This may not have felt like a win. But a win it was.
Right now, with the games running out, it’s all about points rather than performances.
Victory moves Town up to ninth. They remain just two points adrift of the play-off places with nine games to go.
And next up, on Easter Monday, they take on rock-bottom side Rochdale at Spotland.
I know, I know. Why do we torture ourselves? This team is not performing like one that’s anywhere near capable of a promotion charge.
The quality isn’t there, the blend isn’t there, the character isn’t there.
Unconvincing wins like this one just seem to be delaying the inevitable. Bring on the summer rebuild.
Mind you, spots four, five and six are wide open though...