Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 2-1 win against Doncaster
- Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town's upturn in form continued with a 2-1 home victory against Doncaster Rovers yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Town didn’t really get going at the start of this game.
Yet they were able to break the deadlock in the 24th minute when Alan Judge curled a fabulous 25-yard free-kick past the despairing dive of keeper Ellery Balcombe.
It was the first time a Blues player had scored from a direct free-kick since Luke Garbutt’s strike in the 5-3 loss at Lincoln back at the end of 2019.
Everyone remembers Garbutt’s stunning free-kick goal against Tranmere before that. On several occasions his saved free-kicks led to rebounds being snaffled too.
Garbutt’s quality of delivery diminished as the 2019/20 season went on though and, in truth, the Blues haven’t looked dangerous from dead balls – both free-kicks and corners - for some time.
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Hopefully that’s about to change. Before his goal, Judge saw a corner punched away from under the bar and a teasing deep free-kick delivery cause real problems.
And it was Andre Dozzell’s corner which led to Town’s crucial second goal in the 55th minute.
With the high delivery moving deceptively in the air, Balcombe was forced to punch clear inside the six-yard box. Teddy Bishop nodded the ball back into the mix, it took a slight flick off the head of Fejiri Okenabirhie and there was James Norwood to divert the ball home on the stretch from close-range.
This was far from a vintage Ipswich display, but two set-piece goals and some organised/spirited defending ultimately proved enough for another big victory.
QUARTER OF POSSESSION
Ipswich Town had more possession than the opposition in 20 of their opening 26 league games (and one of the six times that didn’t happen was when they played with 10 men for the majority of a game against Sunderland).
Now, for three games in a row they've had less of the ball.
Against Oxford it was a 40% share, against Hull it was 41%, then they ended this match against Doncaster with just 26%.
There’s clearly been a style change. The Blues have gone back to basics. They sit off, get organised and press only when the ball reaches a dangerous area of the field (what coaches will tell you is a ‘mid-block’).
And when they do overturn possession, attacks are now launched quicker - be that a direct pass and players seizing on second balls, or simply players driving up the pitch with the ball at their feet on the counter.
Why the big drop from 40/41% possession to 26% on this occasion?
Well, an unchanged Ipswich side were understandably a little leggy after their huge shift up at Hull four days earlier. Doncaster, having seen their scheduled midweek match postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, were certainly fresher.
And, it has to be said, Doncaster are a decent side. We saw that when Town were beaten 4-1 at the Keepmoat Stadium back in October. They are in the top six for a reason.
Norwood and Troy Parrott, batteries perhaps not fully charged, didn’t defend from the front as well as they had done at the KCOM Stadium. That meant John Bostock was continually able to collect the ball deep and dictate play.
Taylor Richards kept picking up little pockets of space in the No.10 role. Doncaster, for the most part, looked the sharper and more incisive side.
Ipswich generally did a good job of funnelling the visitors wide though, with the twinkle-toed Teddy Bishop and pass-master Andre Dozzell again doing very passable impressions of midfield terriers.
And with Luke Chambers and Myles Kenlock solid at full-back, truly dangerous moments were kept to a minimum.
Town undoubtedly rode their luck at times.
In a small period of action around the 36th minute mark, Tomas Holy kept out Richard’s diverted effort, Toto Nsiala made a big lunging block in the box and Josh Sims dragged a big chance wide.
The Blues really needed Norwood’s second goal. And even then it still didn’t feel like game over.
Richards struck the base of the post from outside the box and Jon Taylor fluffed the rebound.
A goal was coming. Moments later, Flynn Downes’ tackle saw the ball break nicely for Taylor to score.
This was the time Town should have switched back to possession mode and tried to strangle the life out of the game. Instead, with game management lacking, they kept going long and rarely earned a respite.
Thankfully, the rock-solid looking back four of Chambers, James Wilson, Nsiala and Kenlock were able to repel attacks and limit Rovers to half chances.
And encouragingly, even with so little of the ball, Town were still able to make chances themselves.
Judge, who has looked rejuvenated of late, was denied by a last-ditch block in the first half after good work by Norwood and Kenlock.
The Irishman went close to adding a third, moments after Norwood's goal, when firing just over from range too.
Norwood himself had seen a scuffed far post effort cleared off the line just prior to his goal. Keeping him fit is going to be vital. Even when he's not fully at it, the 30-year-old will always get chances.
You wait months for a statement win against a top-six side and then two come along in the space of five days.
The monkey is off the back. It feels like a phycological barrier has been broken.
This is the first time Town have won back-to-back games, of any kind, since the end of October.
The Blues have now lost just one of their last seven, conceding only four goals in the process.
There are plenty of positives to take from the recent performances against Crewe, Blackpool, Oxford, Hull and Doncaster. The Northampton performance is beginning to feel like the anomaly.
Whisper it quietly, but some momentum might just be building at a vital moment.
Only two teams in the top-six won this weekend.
Town are back up to eighth. They are back to within two points of the play-off places. Incredibly, they are only 10 points adrift of second-place Lincoln with a game in hand to come.
Nine wins from the last 17 matches should secure a top-six spot. That’s suddenly feeling a lot more doable.
The Blues head to seventh-place Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night.
And so, to the off-field stuff.
Reports that the club is ‘on the verge’ of being taken over by a group of US investors emerged last Friday afternoon.
Rumours about Brett Johnson, Paul Cook and Mark Ashton have been doing the rounds for weeks. And now The Athletic have gone public with plenty of detail. That's a highly reputable outlet.
There's clearly no smoke without fire. Only a handful of people will know quite how advanced any discussions are though.
What we can tell you is that Lambert and Marcus Evans had a pretty heated exchange last Thursday night. The pair then spoke again, following the takeover report, on Friday night.
It’s therefore hard to believe that Lambert is, as he’s made out, completely in the dark over a potential takeover.
The way he laughed and joked post-match about matters which recently triggered frosty responses suggests a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
And the way he spoke, almost in a reflective mood about his career to date, added to the feeling that it is now a matter of when, not if he leaves.
Lambert was a shell of a man when he was struggling with Covid. Yesterday, he looked a re-energised figure on the touchline.
Meanwhile, assistant Stuart Taylor was absent for a third game due to his father having sadly passed away.
It would take a cold hearted person not to have pang of sympathy for the pair right now. They are human beings with issues away for work who have been under a lot of pressure.
It was fair pressure though. The winter of discontent they faced wasn’t just based on a brief blip in form that coincided with Covid and key injuries.
It came following relegation, an 11th place third-tier finish and another season in League One starting to slip away. Five transfer windows is a fair shot in anyone’s books. Budget and structure are not valid excuses.
A few improved performances – of which first team coach Matt Gill and keeper coach Jimmy Walker seem to have played a big role in – doesn't change the muddled and contradictory road to this point.