Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 0-0 draw at MK Dons
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Ipswich Town moved a point closer to the League One play-off places following a 0-0 draw at MK Dons yesterday. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.
Ok, so Ipswich still haven't won three games in a row this season. And yes, it's another game in which they've failed to beat a top-six rival.
But this was a performance that showed progression.
It was better than the defeats at Bolton and Sheffield Wednesday. The Blues still had long periods of good control. On this occasion, they kept their concentration at the back to keep yet another clean sheet. And though they didn't score, they did at least pose an attacking threat.
If you can't win it, don't lose it. A draw prevents the pattern of win, win, loss repeating for a third time. It keeps the average points-per-game since Kieran McKenna's arrival ticking over at two. And it closes the gap on the top six to five points.
McKenna was keen to stress that he wouldn't have taken a point before kick-off and that he didn't settle for one at any point during the game. That's great to hear. Overall, though, you can't be too unhappy with this draw.
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It keeps the momentum going heading into five successive games against bottom half sides Burton (h), Cheltenham (h), Morecambe (a), Fleetwood (a) and Lincoln (h).
YOU SHALL NOT PASS
Town kept four clean sheets in their opening 23 league games. They've now kept six in nine since McKenna's arrival.
A big part of that is the team's ability to keep the ball so well. This was the first time MK Dons had been beaten in the possession stats (47%) since playing Lincoln back on Boxing Day.
Collective work hard and positional awareness off the ball also limits the chances being conceded. No longer do the Blues look so exposed to the counter-attack threat.
Finally, a settled last line of defence is in-form.
Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson are functioning well as a back three. Woolfenden, in particular, is impressing.
Then, to cap it all off, the Blues have arguably the division's best goalkeeper in Christian Walton to make vital stops when required.
Towards the end of the first half he was at full-stretch to deny Theo Corbeanu, after Tyreeq Bakinson had been dispossessed in a dangerous area, and showed good reactions to keep out an acrobatic Scott Twine effort.
Towards the end of the second half, he did well to push away Hiram Boateng's snap-shot inside the box and then, crucially, sprung to his right to turn Twine's curling free-kick attempt around the post in stoppage-time.
His permanent signing in January is looking better and better by the week.
Town may have won three of the four games Sam Morsy was suspended for, but there's no doubting they missed the skipper's presence during that period. He just gives the team a different dynamic.
For a spell in the first half, Morsy played like a man possessed. Every time he got the ball deep he drove through the middle of the pitch. Bersant Celina was constantly looking to play defence-splitting through balls too. It was so good to see the team have some central thrust again.
In the second half, Morsy's high press led to several turnovers in possession in dangerous areas. Sadly, the Blues couldn't capitalise.
Morsy's midfield partner, Bakinson, had played well at Doncaster in midweek but reverted to looking a little too casual and lightweight in this game.
The quicker Town can get Lee Evans (absent through illness) and Morsy back together the better.
Everyone had a guess at what front three McKenna would go with on the occasion. Very few would have had Kayden Jackson down as the central striker.
Town's meticulous boss studies the opposition intensely though and always comes up with a bespoke game plan.
He explained afterwards that he felt Jackson's aggressive high press would limit MK Dons' ability to play out the back and his pace off the last shoulder would occupy defenders and create more room for deeper-lying attackers Bersant Celina and Conor Chaplin to operate.
Jackson's performance fully justified his inclusion. He did everything that was asked of him. Yes, with limbs flailing, there were some loose touches. But he ran hard, competed well and gave the Dons back three plenty to think about.
McKenna turned to his bench in the 76th minute, introducing the 'Bash Brothers' of Macauley Bonne and James Norwood for Jackson and Chaplin. Bonne headed wide at a corner, but in truth the Blues had looked more of a threat before those changes.
Jackson's rising effort, which was tipped over, was the closest Town came to scoring in this game. Wes Burns saw a low shot shot deflected wide, while Conor Chaplin's chest and volley went just past the post.
It's now been seven games (going back to the 4-0 win at Gillingham) that a central striker has scored. Upping the goal tally is what will really get the Blues motoring.
A TOWN TAKEOVER
What a sight it was to see 6,850 Town fans packed out in the two-tiered away end, an array of inflatables and balloons bouncing atop a sea of blue.
Ipswich supporters, remarkably, made up 45% of the crowd at Stadium MK. There was so many of them that the queues to get in were processed right up to kick-off.
This bumper Blue Army may not have made the same sort of constant noise that the hardy 1,026 did at Doncaster four days earlier, but when the intermittent roars of encouragement went up they reverberated.
McKenna, who described the backing as 'humbling', went over and bowed repeatedly in appreciation at the end.
If the Blues had managed to score a winner up that end in the second we would have witnessed joyous scenes to match those of witnessed for the last-gasp goals at Watford and Charlton back in 2014/15.
Just imagine how many fans would go to Wembley...