Stu says: Five observations following 2-0 Lincoln win
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town beat Lincoln City 2-0 at Portman Road last night. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.
How about these for some stats...
Ipswich Town have now taken more points from Kieran McKenna's first 14 games in charge (30) than they did from their opening 23 matches of the campaign under Paul Cook and John McGreal (29).
Last night's 2-0 home win against Lincoln made it 10 cleans sheets under his management. The Blues are unbeaten in eight. The Northern Irishman's incredible record so far now reads: W9 D3 L2 F19 A5.
That's 2.14 points per game. Extrapolate that over a 46-game season and you'd have 99 points. That's title-winning form.
And the truth is, we're still talking about a couple of points being left out there too. Yes, the 1-0 home win against Gillingham was a little fortunate, but the draws against Cheltenham and Morecambe deserved to be wins.
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McKenna quickly got Town dominating possession and limiting chances against. What took a little longer was to improve the attacking penetration.
We've seen major progress on that front over the last few games.
It's clear that the Blues have been working on sharp one-twos, overlaps and channel runs to work dangerous byline positions. Crucially, players are now steadying themselves and attempting to pick out late arriving team-mates in the box with measured cut-backs rather than whipping in more hopeful first-time crosses.
That's how Sam Morsy's opener at Fleetwood came about last weekend. And that's how both goals in this game came about too.
Celina's fine footwork and forward pass on halfway started the move for the 22nd minute opener. Kayden Jackson, running the inside left, coolly pulled the ball behind the back-tracking defence (and Morsy) for Wes Burn to net his 11th of the campaign.
It was then Burns' give-and-go exchange with Celina which got Town down the right side for the killer second 10 minutes later. The Welshman initially showed strength and pace to leave Morgan Whittaker eating grass and then great composure to cut the ball back just as defender Adam Jackson had committed himself to a lunging block.
Did Morsy mean to rapidly shift the ball onto Jackson at the far post for a tap-in or was it a complete miscue from eight yards out? The skipper's sheepish celebrations afterwards appeared to confirm the latter. Thankfully, the offside flag stayed down (a close but correct call looking at the replays) and another training ground move had come off.
Lincoln, having beaten Sheffield Wednesday three days earlier, had come to Portman Road to go toe-to-toe with Town in a game of football only to have their spirits crushed. Given Town's defensive record, it felt like job done with two thirds of the game still to go. Feeling so comfortable watching an Ipswich side just 2-0 up is a strange sensation we're still all getting used to.
This was the eighth different combination of front three players started by McKenna.
Following the 2-0 win at Fleetwood, Joe Pigott and Conor Chaplin dropped to the bench. For the first time since a 2-1 home win against Crewe back on November 28, Celina and Sone Aluko both were in the starting XI.
Those two playing as dual No.10s in behind Jackson worked a treat. Lincoln's holding midfielder Conor McGrandles was over-run. And if any of the Imps' back three stepped out to deal with the problem, space was left in behind for Jackson to exploit.
Celina, off the back of a lively sub display at Morecambe, has now had a hand in four goals in four days.
It was Aluko who really stole the show though. He was silky smooth throughout. Some of his deft touches in tight areas were a joy to behold. Not only that, the 33-year-old worked tirelessly off the ball as well and won back possession several times high up the field.
After a slow start to his Town career, the former Premier League player is becoming a real fans' favourite. He left the field to a standing ovation late on.
Sadly, these latest three points came at a cost.
During the final half hour of this match, Town players started going down like flies. Perhaps it was the long trips to Morecambe and Fleetwood, to play on very heavy pitches, that had caught up on the players.
What we hoped would be a fun second half full of more goals given the attacking options McKenna had on the bench became a stop-start affair. A bumper crowd of almost 25,000 went flat as they contemplated the prospect of big players being unavailable for some big games ahead.
First, in the 61st minute, George Edmundson was forced off with ankle damage after he had attacked a corner at the near post. He was replaced by Cameron Burgess.
Moments later, fellow defender Luke Woolfenden appeared to be moving gingerly. He ultimately saw out the game, but his struggles to freely accelerate were a concern.
Not long after that, Dominic Thompson was left limping after he tried to keep pace with dangerous right wing-back Brook Norton-Cuffy. Again, he managed to see out the match.
Then, in the 77th minute, Morsy sat down on the turf for a second time and indicated he had to come off with a hamstring problem. He was replaced by Tom Carroll.
To cap things off, Burns required lengthy treatment following a coming together and was left limping for a spell.
It looks almost certain that Edmundson and Morsy will now be unavailable for Saturday's crunch home game with Portsmouth. We just have to keep our fingers crossed they won't be out too long and that the others can recover quickly.
Town's squad depth is going to tested now. Yes, there are good players ready to step in. But there's also no dressing this up - losing these key men at such a big moment is a blow.
This was a crucial win given that MK Dons, Sunderland, Plymouth and Portsmouth also picked up maximum points last night.
The Blues have moved to within three points of the play-off places with nine games to go.
The problem is that Portsmouth (two points behind in 10th) have two games in hand, Sheffield Wednesday (two points ahead in eighth) have two games in hand, Wycombe (two points ahead in seventh) have one game in hand and Plymouth (three points ahead in sixth) have two games in hand.
Realistically, Town are going to need to win at least six of their remaining nine matches to stand a chance of gatecrashing the top-six.
The next three - Portsmouth (h), Oxford (a) and Plymouth (h) - look make-or-break. Can the in-form Blues, without some key men, win at least two of these 'six-pointers'?