Stu says: Five observations following 1-0 win v Gillingham

Conor Chaplin celebrates after scoring to give Town a 1-0 lead.

Conor Chaplin celebrates after scoring to give Town a 1-0 lead. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town beat Gillingham 1-0 at Portman Road yesterday. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.

George Edmundson applauding fans after the game.

George Edmundson applauding fans after the game. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

A WIN'S A WIN

This was a far from convincing display. In fact, arguably, it was the worst performance of the Kieran McKenna era so far.

Town controlled possession in the first half but didn't have any sort of cutting edge. They then rode their luck at the start of the second half before Conor Chaplin popped up with the 74th minute clincher.

How often do you hear that finding a way to win when not at your best is the sign of a good side though?

Just like against Accrington and AFC Wimbledon, the Blues managed to get the job done on a day where not everything went to plan.

With Gillingham a much more stubborn, resilient and competitive side under new boss Neil Harris, this was a game that had 'banana skin' written all over it. But the Blues avoided the slip. 

Conor Chaplin wheels away after scoring the only goal of the game.

Conor Chaplin wheels away after scoring the only goal of the game. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

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THE MATCH WINNER

One touch in the box and then an unerring low finish into the bottom corner.

That's nine goals for the season now for Chaplin - a pretty impressive return for a faux forward who has started just 17 games.

The passion in his celebration was evident. The frustration when he was substituted in the 84th minute was also clear. 

This is a man who is desperate to play.

ANOTHER SHUT OUT

"That's our fourth clean sheet in seven games - I'm not sure how many there were before that," said McKenna afterwards.

The answer is that Town shut out the opposition just seven times in 32 games before the Northern Irishman's arrival.

There was a touch of fortune when Vadaine Oliver hit the post. Christian Walton then came to the rescue early when making a fine reaction stop following a penalty box scramble. George Edmundson also made a couple of vital last-ditch interventions, one atoning for his own initial error.

After the Blues took the lead they never really looked like losing it.

So often, the wide open football played under Cook led to points being squandered. Town's greater control of the ball under McKenna means they are able to slow down and strangle matches now.

Dominic Thompson fires in the ball.

Dominic Thompson fires in the ball. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

AN IMBALANCE

Town are missing the suspended Sam Morsy's forward thrust through the middle of the pitch.

Lee Evans, back in the side after a three-game injury absence, started well before his long-range passing radar increasingly began to misfire. His midfield partner Tom Carroll was a little safe when in possession.

The Blues looked even more one-paced when Wes Burns limped off early in the second half. On the other side, new left wing-back Dominic Thompson hasn't quite got his attacking game firing on all cylinders just yet.

Town's latest front three combination didn't really click either.

Lee Evans battles to clear the ball.

Lee Evans battles to clear the ball. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

James Norwood playing off the left always feels like a waste of his key attributes. Joe Pigott, handed a rare start, had moments of good link play, but ultimately was outshone by his more mobile late replacement Macauley Bonne. Chaplin, playing to the right, was energetic but often wasteful. 

McKenna switched to a 4-4-2 in the second half. In the end, it took a forward run and positive pass from Edmundson to unlock the door.

Town certainly need to find ways to test the keeper more.

All that said, had Pigott or Edmundson scored from early set-piece chances then this match could have gone down a completely different path.

'TRUST THE PROCESS'


Fifteen points from a possible 21 is automatic promotion form. It represents Town's best return over a seven-game run of league games in almost 15 months. 

McKenna has won his opening three home games in charge. A reminder that Town won just seven of the 23 games played at Portman Road under predecessor Paul Cook.

If the Blues keep this up then, chances are, they'll make the play-offs. The million dollar question, of course, is does that really look like happening?

Well that depends on whether your glass is half full or half empty, I guess.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna speaks with James Norwood doing a break and play.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna speaks with James Norwood doing a break and play. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

No doubt about it, Town have got nowhere near replicating the same scintillating football seen in that 4-0 win at Gillingham four weeks ago.

Some of that is down to the opposition showing a lot more respect. Some of it is down to the players still getting fully to grips with what McKenna wants.

'Work in progress' and 'trust the process' were two phrases used by the considered Northern Irishman post-match.

He's right. The ceiling for success is far higher if this approach can be mastered.