Stu says: Five observations after Ipswich Town’s 1-0 Plymouth win

Flynn Downes receiving attention, ahead of going off with an injury.

Flynn Downes receiving attention, ahead of going off with an injury. - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

Ipswich Town moved back into the League One play-off places with a 1-0 home win against Plymouth Argyle yesterday. STUART WATSON reports.


FINISH THEM! 

This game, quite frankly, should have put this game to bed inside the opening 20 minutes. 

Ipswich started fast. Out of possession they pressed high. In possession, they moved the ball quickly and positively. Paul Cook’s ‘higher and braver’ ideals were clearly on show.  

Plymouth, meanwhile, were rank bad. Maybe it was because this was their third long away trip in the space of a fortnight. Or maybe it was simply because confidence was low following three straight defeats.  

Time after time they presented the ball straight to Town players or simply put it straight into touch. Some of those errors were forced. Many of them weren’t. 

Troy Parrott rounds Plymouth keeper Mike Cooper to give Town a first half lead.

Troy Parrott rounds Plymouth keeper Mike Cooper to give Town a first half lead. - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

The deadlock was quickly broken when Adam Lewis played a slack square pass into his own box from the left-back position. Troy Parrott seized on the loose ball, coolly rounding the keeper to score.

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Finally the Tottenham loanee had a goal to go with a succession of hard-graft displays in the No.10 role.

Slow out the corner and hit by a big early punch, the Pilgrims were wobbly kneed and starry eyed. Ipswich couldn’t finish them off though. 

Kayden Jackson raced onto a ball over the top, but was denied by on-rushing keeper Michael Cooper. 

Other than that, it was a case of working great positions but having no end product. 

Town players celebrate with Troy Parrott after he had given them a first half lead.

Town players celebrate with Troy Parrott after he had given them a first half lead. - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

STOP THE CROSS! 

That’s a subheading that’s been used a fair few times when reporting on Ipswich Town over recent months. 

As Plymouth started to get a foothold in the game, it was clear their threat was down the left side. 

Twice, Myles Kenlock did superbly to head away dangerous Danny Mayor deliveries. 

Twice, Lewis bent in wicked deep balls that were begging to be converted at the far post. 

And twice, Toto Nsiala had to produce some strong defending up against Niall Ennis. 

During the second half, Plymouth’s big moment also came following a cross from deep left. Panutche Camara glanced Kelland Watts’ delivery wide. 

Yes, Ipswich defended well when the ball hit their box. But they need to start snuffing out these chances at source. 


THE ENGINE ROOM 

The dynamic of this game really started to change when Flynn Downes limped off clutching his hamstring in the 37th minute. 

For the first time since his injury comeback in January, he had really looked like the all action player of old. 

He snapped at heels, turned over the ball and then used it efficiently. Just prior to his withdrawal, it was his driving run and pass which led to Parrott being denied by a last-ditch block. 

Plymouths Niall Ennis cuts out the run of Flynn Downes, with Toto Nsiala closing in.

Plymouths Niall Ennis cuts out the run of Flynn Downes, with Toto Nsiala closing in. - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

When Teddy Bishop replaced him alongside Andre Dozzell, the Blues went back to looking a bit lightweight in the middle of the park. 

Both, technically, are lovely players to watch when on song. But together they aren’t going to provide the solidity and steel that the engine room of Cook sides have tended to have. 

One player who might be able to address that imbalance is Cole Skuse. The 34-year-old stepped off the bench just after the hour to make his first competitive appearance in just over a year. 

He may not be the future of the club, and he may not set pulses racing, but his experience and understated defensive qualities might just give others a better platform to shine during the run-in. 

Cole Skuse comes on the pitch as a second half substitute.

Ipswich Town midfielder Cole Skuse makes his injury comeback as a substitute against Plymouth. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

LACK OF GOALS 

Ipswich’s energy and intent had markedly dropped off, but even so they still had four good opportunities to double their lead in the second period. 

James Wilson showed good composure playing out from the back, Alan Judge slipped in Kenlock on the underlap... but his cross-cum-shot flew wide. 

Gwion Edwards raced back to win the ball deep, Dozzell played a fine chipped pass up the line and Jackson coolly pulled the ball into the box... but Judge fired over from a golden position. 

Jackson then ran the channel and held the ball up waiting for reinforcements... but this time he was unable to pick out either Judge or Bishop attacking the area.    

Myles Kenlock wins the ball in this battle with Panutche Camara.

Myles Kenlock wins the ball in this battle with Panutche Camara. - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

Later, there was fine hold up and link play by hard-working substitute Aaron Drinan... but Judge wasn’t quite sharp enough in the box and Will Aimson was able to make the block. 

Those chances make it sound like Ipswich were on top. They weren’t. Those were just moments for a team that has a nervous habit of getting deeper and deeper. Effective attacking patterns of play just haven't been ingrained.

It speaks volumes that the pick of Town’s players, once again, were in defence. 

It speaks volumes that the only time they’ve scored a goal of their own creation from open play over the last eight matches was that fine Kenlock assist for James Norwood at Hull. 

And it speaks volumes that Ipswich have scored just 38 league goals, while the average for the five sides both immediately above and below them is 51. 

Norwood was absent due to reporting back spasms. He’ll miss Tuesday night’s game at Fleetwood too due to the fact he’s in court to defend a drink-driving charge. 

Without him, the attack certainly lacks something.  

Myles Kenlock heads the ball.

Myles Kenlock heads the ball. - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

PLATFORM TO BUILD 

On the flip side of that, it’s now 13 clean sheet in 33 league games. 

And while Town did have to dig in to see out this win, they weren’t exactly clinging on by their finger nails. 

That defensive solidity always gives you a chance in games.  

A late chance for Plymouth.

A late chance for Plymouth. - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

Performance levels are undoubtedly going to have to improve though. 

Town had 26% possession in the win against Doncaster, they made hard work of victory at 10-man Accrington, were really poor at Gillingham and were just about value for a point against Lincoln. 

It’s not form that screams promotion charge.  

Cook is well aware of that though. His interviews have always been delivered in a refreshingly bright and upbeat tone, but they've also been full of realism, honesty and an unprompted acknowledgement that the offensive side of Town's play has to be better. 

Town manager Paul Cook with instructions for Aaron Drinan.

Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook gives instructions to substitute Aaron Drinan during Saturday's 1-0 home win against Plymouth. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Steve Waller www.stephenwa

The Liverpudlian's talk of open, risky, exciting football is certainly intoxicating. It's hard not to get swept up in his almost schoolboy like enthusiasm for a game he seemingly still sees as much through the eyes of a supporter as he does a manager. 

Medium to long-term it could be great. Short-term there is still a big opportunity.

Right now, with the games coming thick and fast, it’s just about staying in the mix by hook or by crook as Town's new boss tries to learn about this squad on the job and impose ideals on the fly.

Moving back into the play-off places for the first time since the middle of December is a big psychological boost.  

Now comes two big away games – at Fleetwood and Portsmouth – before Cook finally gets a proper week on the training field with his players. 

Keep up the baby steps in the short-term and perhaps bigger strides can be made at the vital moment. 

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