Stu says: Seven observations following 0-0 draw with Portsmouth

Cameron Burgess at full stretch to direct the ball towards goal, although the linesman flagged for o

Cameron Burgess at full stretch to direct the ball towards goal, although the linesman flagged for offside against Luke Woolfenden. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town drew 0-0 with Portsmouth at Portman Road yesterday. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.

Macauley Bonne reacts after his late goal was disallowed.

Macauley Bonne reacts after his late goal was disallowed. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

THE OFFSIDE FLAG

One of the good things about being outside the Premier League is not having to deal with weekly VAR nonsense.

This, however, was a rare occasion where those of an Ipswich Town persuasion were left ruing not having video technology to right a wrong.

With 88 minutes of this high stakes game gone, the North Stand had succeeded in collectively sucking the ball into the net. Celebrations were short-lived though. The offside flag was up.

Conor Chaplin, playing with Tasmanian devil energy against his former employers, won yet another free-kick in the middle of the pitch. At the moment Bersant Celina drifts the dead ball towards the far post, Luke Woolfenden had started his run a fraction early. That's what catches the linesman's eye on the opposite side. 

It's Cameron Burgess who touches the ball towards goal with an outstretched boot though. And Macauley Bonne, who subsequently gobbles up the close-range rebound off the keeper, is also clearly onside.

Woolfenden hadn't obstructed or challenged an opponent and he hadn't blocked the keeper's view either. So it's impossible to argue he interfered with play.

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In fairness to the officials, it was difficult to judge who'd got the back post touch in real time. That doesn't make it any less frustrating though.

Kayden Jackson receives attention.

Kayden Jackson could miss the rest of this season with the hamstring injury he suffered in last weekend's 0-0 home draw with Portsmouth. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

MORE INJURIES

There was relief when the teams were announced. Thankfully, it was only George Edmundson out following that injury-hit second half against Lincoln in midweek. 

Eight minutes in, however, Sam Morsy sat down on the turf indicating that the hamstring issue which had forced him off against the Imps had flared up again. Very quickly it became apparent that he wasn't going to be seeing out this game judging by his impaired movement. Finally, 10 minutes later, he conceded defeat and rolled his arms in football's universal 'I need to come off' gesture. 

Then, in first half stoppage time, Kayden Jackson turned on the afterburners to charge away from the Portsmouth defence and test the keeper with an angled shot in the box. He instantly fell to the turf and waved his arms in anguish. The Blues striker soon headed straight down the tunnel, shirt pulled over his face in disappointment. It sounds like he's not going to be back soon.

Town had gone into this game without a key member of their clean sheet keeping defence and had now seen their influential skipper and most in-form front man limp off before the break. 

That left Wes Burns carrying a heavy burden as the man most likely to break the lines with a driving run. Worryingly, he began to start showing signs of wear and tear too. The Welshman's usual forward thrust wasn't quite there. With two enforced subs already made, McKenna delayed replacing Burns with midweek man-of-the-match Sone Aluko until the 86th minute.

The combination of all the above contributed to a spirited Ipswich passing and probing, but never really banging the door down in this game.  

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna puts an arm round Conor Chaplin after the game.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna puts an arm round Conor Chaplin after the game. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

DAMAGING DRAWS

This is the first time I've disagreed with anything McKenna has had to say so far.

The Northern Irishman stated afterwards that it's 'fact, not opinion' that 'we've been the better team in all the draws that we've had'.

Cheltenham and Morecambe - no doubt about it. Town could have won those games 10 times over. 

The goalless draws against MK Dons and Portsmouth? Town were *arguably* the better side in those games, but it's far from an open and shut case.

Limiting a Portsmouth side who had won six of their previous seven, scoring an average of three goals a game during that run, to just a handful of chances was impressive.

But did Ipswich really do enough to win this game?

True, they had more possession (68%), more corners (11) and more shots (14). Yes, only one team was going for it at the end. 

There wasn't enough clear cut chances or enough sustained pressure (mitigating factors having already been acknowledged) to say, with complete conviction, that Town had been robbed though.

Portsmouth manager Danny Cowley speaking to journalists after the match.

Portsmouth manager Danny Cowley says Ipswich Town are a 'super heavyweight' of League One. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com


THE FLASHPOINT

"The last time I was here was in the FA Cup with Lincoln," said Danny Cowley, with a knowing smile, as he stepped up to the press room podium afterwards.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Essex boy with Town fans in the family had been the pantomime villain at the heart of a touchline fraca.

Dominic Thompson lost his head after being prevented by the Pompey boss from taking a quick throw. Cowley was then very much in the ear of the fourth official and the Town left-back. Both were booked.

Asked for his version of events, Cowley said: "I was just standing in my box, he was trying to take a quick throw-in, came round the outside of me and I was in his way! He reacted poorly. Kieran McKenna said the behaviour of the player was well out of order. You can ask him."

McKenna said: "It was no big drama. It was a game between two competitive teams. It's an incident that happens. Dominic was trying get the ball back in play quick. I thought Danny handled that situation well and the players diffused the situation. Thankfully order was restored and the game carried on."

Fans react after Tyreeq Bakinson had headed into the side netting.

Fans react after Tyreeq Bakinson had headed into the side netting. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

THE CROWD

It's clear the #PackOutPortmanRoad ticket offers have had the desired effect.

Sufficiently impressed by what they'd seen against Sunderland, Wycombe and Lincoln at a reduced rate, thousands of non season ticket holders have kept coming back for more.

If the slow and steady decline of attendances was shorthand for the club's death by a thousand cuts, this season's impressive attendances are a clear indicator that the tanker is turning.

It took a while for a bumper 25,500 crowd to get going yesterday though, it has to be said. During the first half, the travelling 1,986 supporters were often the loudest.

Chantry boy Bonne, who knows what it's like to be a fan, whipped up the North Stand with a frantic wheel of the arms when Town forced an early second half corner. That drew a roar of encouragement. The Cowley flashpoint, in the 77th minute, then turned the volume up another few notches. The players clearly reacted to the positive atmosphere.

Before the game it was great to see a vibrant FanZone filled with people of all ages enjoying the various activities laid on as part of 'Community Day'. Older generations are falling back in love with the club. Younger ones are catching the bug. It's great to see.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna with Tom Carrol following the 0-0 draw.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna with Tom Carrol following the 0-0 draw. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

THE STAND-INS

A quick word on those who had to fill some sizeable shoes.

Cameron Burgess was the man to step in for Edmundson. McKenna was adamant the big centre-half was ready and raring to go. He was right.

The 26-year-old slotted seamlessly into the left-side of the back three, making several timely interventions and using the ball well. He levelled up Town's offensive set-piece threat too.

Tom Carroll was the man to replace Morsy. It took him a while to get up to going, but one he'd found the rhythm of the game he really began to influence things with some close control and passing. It was a performance made even more impressive by the subsequent discovery that he had been in bed ill all week.

Bonne came on for Jackson. Within seconds of the restart he had barged an opponent to the ground. His passion was clear. It's such a shame he was denied that late winner on such a big occasion. Instead, his wait for a goal goes on. 

Bersant Celina with a second half strike.

Bersant Celina with a second half strike. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

CHANCES FADING

Town are unbeaten in nine. Under McKenna they've kept 11 clean sheets in 15 (an incredible stat) and claimed 31 points from a possible 45.

Two points per game is automatic promotion form. Sustaining that to the finish would take the Blues to the 74-point marker. The problem is, this year that might not be enough.

That's because everyone in this play-off race else keeps winning. Oxford, Sunderland, Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday were all victorious this weekend.

The gap to sixth has grown to five points. Town have just eight games left now. Plymouth, Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth all have two games in hand to come. Wycombe have a game in hand too.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna pictured ahead of the game.

Kieran McKenna, along with the club's ambitious new owners, has helped bring some feelgood factor back to Ipswich Town over recent months. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

No doubt about it, that stuttering six-game winless start, when the squad was still being built and bedded in, did the biggest damage.

It must also be acknowledged that Ipswich have failed to beat (or score against) top-six rivals Bolton, Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons or Portsmouth since McKenna arrived.

The next two games - at Oxford this Saturday and home to Plymouth the following one - are a chance to change that narrative. This really is now make-or-break.

Tyreeq Bakinson, Cameron Burgess and Luke Woolfenden in the thick of the action against Portsmouth.

Tyreeq Bakinson, Cameron Burgess and Luke Woolfenden in the thick of the action against Portsmouth. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com