Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 2-1 loss at Peterborough United
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Ipswich Town slipped back to 11th in the League One table following last night's 2-1 defeat at Peterborough United. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Town fans have been calling out for two up front for weeks. Paul Lambert, having insisted his team were ‘hopeless’ with that approach, dug his heels in.
Then the Blues beat Blackpool 2-0 and finally looked a threat playing 4-3-3. They had looked a more energised and mobile side with Luke Matheson and Myles Kenlock in the full-back roles. For the first time in a while, there were calls of ‘more of the same please’.
Cue Lambert completely mixing things up, both in terms of personnel and formation.
Out went Matheson and Kenlock, plus wing duo Luke Thomas and Freddie Sears. In came veteran full-backs Luke Chambers and Stephen Ward, along with Teddy Bishop (available again after suspension), plus striker James Norwood.
They lined up in a 4-4-2 system with a narrow diamond midfield. The message was to play direct and attack.
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You could kind of see the logic. On a hard, muddy pitch, it was perhaps prudent to temporarily abandon passing principles. And, expecting the same in return, the feeling was that the experience and physicality of Chambers and Ward would handle that threat better.
However, anyone who’s watched Posh of late will tell you that, despite the state of the London Road surface, they still try and play. Chambers and Ward certainly didn’t spend all game heading away ball after ball.
It just seemed like a case of over-thinking things at a time when the simplest thing to do would be to tell a winning team to go again.
At the start of 2019/20, Lambert defended his squad rotation policy by stating it was ‘dangerous’ to expect players to potentially play 60 games in a season.
A year on, a complete 180 saw him proclaim: “If you’re in the shirt and play well then it’s yours to lose. Get in the team and play well, that’s the answer. Players will become robust. If you are winning games then they won’t be tired. That’s the secret to it. There are lads who play 60-odd games throughout the country. They are more than capable of it.”
Now it looks like we've gone full circle.
I get that this is a season like no other. I get that 13 games in 43 days is a lot.
Could fit as a flea Matheson, at the age of 18, really not have played a second game of football in four days though? Could Kenlock, at the age of 24, really not have gone again too? The latter had been among Town’s best players for two games in a row.
Granted, neither has played loads of football this season and aren't exactly 'match hardened', but surely adrenaline carries two young men feeling good about themselves through?
So much for ‘play well and keep the shirt’. If such mixed messages are confusing supporters, goodness knows what the players think.
PROS AND CONS
There was always going to be an element of risk versus reward with the diamond system.
Going direct to two pest strikers like Norwood and Troy Parrott always had the potential to ruffle the feathers of Peterborough’s back three.
Playing so narrow also had the potential to leave Town’s ageing full-backs overloaded down the sides though.
For the opening half hour, we saw evidence of the former.
Ipswich’s sixth minute opener originated from a giant Tomas Holy kick down field. Norwood’s presence unsettled Nathan Thompson, then Parrott then sent Frankie Kent spinning into team-mate Mark Beevers. Bishop quickly hooked the loose ball on and the alert Norwood rifled a fine left-footed finish inside Christy Pym’s near post.
Five minutes later, Chambers went long and Parrott very nearly bustled his way onto the bouncing ball. Ipswich were hunting in packs and the game plan was working.
But it didn’t take long for the tide to turn.
A giant Pym kick upfield almost led to a route one response. Luke Woolfenden, Mark McGuinness and Chambers made a real hash of things, before Holy kept out Mo Eisa’s shot.
Posh then started to mix things up a bit. In addition to the odd long ball, they were also working it wide – to the left in particular – and playing little passes into the pockets of space on the edge of the Town box.
It felt like a goal was coming. And it duly arrived when Jonson Clarke-Harris headed home in the 38th minute.
Yes, Chambers was the one who lost the ball on halfway, but he shouldn’t be the one scapegoated for the equaliser. The Blues skipper had won one tackle and had no choice but to try and attack the subsequent loose ball a few yards higher.
After that it’s a catalogue of errors.
First, Alan Judge doesn’t do enough to stop Dan Butler’s cross.
Then, for a lofted deep delivery that travelled a long way, 6ft 9in keeper Holy should really be coming and clearing everyone out on the edge of the six yard box rather than retreating to his line.
Even so, the defence should do much, much better.
McGuinness mis-times his jump and Clarke-Harris just eases Ward out of position.
A striker – double marked – didn’t even need a run and jump to score with a header from six yards out. That’s not good enough. So much for picking players to cope with the physical battle better.
Posh’s second, which arrived five minutes after the restart, was avoidable too.
First, McGuinness and Flynn Downes combined to give away a soft free-kick in a dangerous position.
Then, as good as Joe Ward’s whipped free-kick around the wall was, you have to question Holy again. He was stood a couple of yards in from that side of the goal and just seemed to a stumble a couple of steps towards the ball as it flashed in.
The big Czech may have made some solid saves in this game, but there were plenty of erratic moments too.
Ipswich, having been the team to deliver a devastating one-two either side of half-time against Blackpool three days prior, were now on the end of a similar morale-breaking combo.
DITCHING THE DIAMOND
The direct, diamond directive went out the window at the break.
Norwood went off. Assistant boss Stuart Taylor said afterwards that the striker, who’s had a stop-start time with injuries, was only ever going to have 45 minutes in him on such a testing surface. Anything else would be too risky. Fair enough.
Aaron Drinan would have been a more like-for-like physical replacement. Or Sears would have been a player who could have scampered off the shoulder.
Instead, Gwion Edwards came on and Town reverted to 4-3-3. Bishop was shunted wide. Parrott was left toiling up top alone.
The Blues never looked liked getting back into this game.
Their only real chance of the second half arrived in the 89th minute when a corner fell loose and Parrott’s snapshot through a crowded box was superbly kept out by Pym.
Posh could and should have put the game to bed before then.
Szmodics and Eisa were both a whisker away from converting a drilled Clarke-Harris cross, while the former twice tested Holy and also forced a last-ditch block out of Ward.
Taylor, standing in once again as Lambert dodged press duties, is really clutching at straws when he says that Town deserved a point.
Forget 4-4-2 versus 4-3-3. Ipswich, as has been the case in far too many games this season, hadn't carried enough goal threat throughout.
NIL FROM NINE
Ipswich could have closed the gap on Peterborough to four points. Instead, the gap widens to 10.
Ipswich could have risen to seventh and within a point of the play-off places. Instead, they slip back to 11th and find themselves closer to 17th place Shrewsbury (who they visit on Saturday) than fifth-place Doncaster.
Ipswich simply cannot beat the top sides in this very average division. That’s a long-running theme. Now they can’t even draw against them.
They’ve played the current top seven – Lincoln, Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Doncaster, Charlton and Sunderland – nine times in total this season and not claimed a single point.
Yep, not one. Zilch, zip, zero. Nada, naught, none.
We’re 61 games deep into League One football now. How big a sample size does owner Marcus Evans want?