Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 2-1 loss at Portsmouth

Gwion Edwards covers his face in disbelief at the officials decision leading to the Portsmouth winne

Gwion Edwards covers his face in disbelief at the officials decision leading to the Portsmouth winner - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town slipped back to ninth in the League One table following yesterday's 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth. STUART WATSON reports.


BETTER FOR LONGER

Paul Cook, back at the club he led to a League Two title in 2017, was a bundle of energy on the touchline. He bounced around like Tigger, bellowed at the players to ‘get higher’ and appeared to live every kick. The players fed off that. 

Just like in the first 20 minutes against Plymouth seven days earlier, the Blues pressed high and moved the ball with purpose. And this time the purple patch lasted twice as long. It was certainly in complete contrast to the lifeless midweek showing at Fleetwood. 

Making it past 10 minutes without conceding (something they’d done in the previous three away games) was the first hurdle successfully navigated. 

Then the Blues increasingly got on top. Alan Judge’s curling free-kick forced a flying save out of keeper Craig MacGillivray, before Keanan Bennetts was a whisker away from getting his studs on the ball inside the six-yard box following a sweeping move. 

A deserved breakthrough arrived in the 32nd minute. 

James Norwood opens the scoring at Portsmouth

James Norwood opens the scoring at Portsmouth - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

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Gwion Edwards played a clever, well-weighted reverse ball from an inside right position and James Norwood produced an emphatic finish across the keeper from a tight angle. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Norwood is the best striker at this club by a long shot. His hustle and bustle creates second ball scenarios. This season he’s scored a goal, on average, every 169 minutes. Keeping him fit from here on in going to be crucial.  

Portsmouth, on a five-game losing streak, were working hard for freshly appointed manager Danny Cowley, but they weren’t laying a glove on the Blues at all. Isolated lone striker Jordy Hiwula repeatedly tried to charge down Tomas Holy, but it was all huff and puff from the hosts. 

As half-time approached, Ipswich were firmly in the driver’s seat....  

‘PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE’ 

Some quick thinking by Portsmouth saw them quickly take a deep free-kick and win a corner.  

Ronan Curtis’ subsequent delivery just cleared Toto Nsiala at the near post and was expertly headed in off the post by Tom Naylor after he got the run on Luke Chambers. 

The Blues had been caught napping. And, having controlled the half, they’d been pegged back against the run of play. 

Now was for the test of character. ‘You’ve won it once, now go win it again’, as Sir Alf Ramsey once said. 

James Norwood celebrates opening the scoring at Portsmouth

James Norwood celebrates opening the scoring at Portsmouth - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

This quiet set of players don’t deal with set-backs well though. 

It’s not taken Cook long to work that out.  

He said afterwards that the equaliser did some ‘real psychological damage’. 

Within seconds of that goal going in, Curtis had bent an effort inches wide. 

Keanan Bennetts in action during the defeat at Portsmouth

Keanan Bennetts in action during the defeat at Portsmouth - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

After the restart, Town sunk deeper as a unit. Players, individually, went back into their shells.  

Norwood was close to getting on the end of a ball over the top and saw a glancing header deflected wide, but they were now moments from nowhere rather than the culmination of sustained pressure. 

The game became bitty. Referee Alan Young started to get card happy. When some football did break out, the hosts looked the more energised. 

There was a warning sign when Ryan Williams flashed an angled effort just wide after a driving run from Marcus Harness. 

When Portsmouth took the lead in the 72nd minute, the Blues were again guilty of switching off. 

Too many players stopped to appeal the ball had gone out of play when Lee Brown span tight to the touchline. 

Sub Michael Jacobs found Curtis, his low cross evaded the wafting leg of Stephen Ward and, while Harness’ first shot was well blocked by the lunging Judge, he was able to ram the rebound. 

Town players looked crestfallen. You just knew that was game over.  

Portsmouth, a team without leading marksman John Marquis and fellow striker Ellis Harrison, had scored twice in a game for the first time since early February.  

Alan Judge forces a save from the keeper with this free-kick during the first half at Portsmouth

Alan Judge forces a save from the keeper with this free-kick during the first half at Portsmouth - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

They came close to adding a third late on when Nsiala almost put a low cross into his own net. 

And they really hadn’t been that good. That's what made this result all the more galling.

Cook didn’t mince his words afterwards, saying the players and staff at the club ‘aren’t as mentally strong as we should be’. 

You get the feeling what he said inside the dressing room was even stronger given the ashen faced looks on the players’ faces as they trudged towards the coach. 


BENNETTS’ SPECIAL DISPENSATION 

Ipswich started with Edwards on the right, Bennetts on the left and Judge playing in behind Norwood. 

However, when Ipswich didn’t have the ball it looked like the instruction was for Judge to get left and do Bennetts’ defensive work. 

Sadly, Bennetts isn’t good enough to be given special flair player dispensation. For all his trickery, the decision making and end product at the vital moment just isn’t there. 

Armando Dobra, back in the squad for the first time since early January, replaced Bennetts on the hour. He had a brief shot playing as the No.10, before later being pushed wide left. The young Albanian international wasn’t able to make any real mark. 

Armando Dobra on as a sub at Portsmouth

Armando Dobra on as a sub at Portsmouth - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Cook’s now had a look at Bishop, Troy Parrott, Bennetts, Judge, Edwards, Jack Lankester, Josh Harrop and Freddie Sears in those three positions behind the central striker.  

No combination has really clicked. 

So what next? Ask any Wigan and Portsmouth fan and they’ll tell you that Cook simply doesn’t do two up top. He’s very much a 4-2-3-1 man. 

It sounds like he might be tempted to soften on that stance now though, the Blues boss admitting he is seriously considering giving the strike partnership of Norwood and Kayden Jackson a go. 

Those two finished the game together after Jackson came on in the 79th minute. 

Yes, the Blues would lose a man in midfield, but it’s not exactly like they’re bossing that area of the pitch as it is. 

Attack might just be the best form of defence going forwards. If Ipswich are going to make a habit of conceding soft goals, then they sure need to find a way of scoring more. 

Marcus Harness celebrates against Ipswich

Marcus Harness celebrates against Ipswich - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

GUESS WHO’S BACK... 

Kane Vincent-Young covered his face with his hands for a prolonged period of time as he waited for the fourth official to raise his board in the 79th minute. 

It’s been a long road back to first team action for the 25-year-old and, understandably, the seconds which preceded his return were emotional. 

Those dynamic displays he gave at right-back – just nine of them in total – seem like a very long time ago.  

Indeed, when the former Colchester man was helping the Blues to a flying start to life in League One back in August-October, none of us had even heard of Covid-19. 

Ipswich Manager Paul Cook gives an emotional Kane Vincent-Young some support as he makes a substitut

Ipswich Manager Paul Cook gives an emotional Kane Vincent-Young some support as he makes a substitute appearance at Portsmouth - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

One of the most optimistic and grounded footballers you’ll meet, even he will have faced some dark days during a prolonged rehab period which contained set-back after set-back. Not being physically able to do the job you know and love must be heart breaking. 

He’s back now though. And while it’s important not to expect too much too soon, it also right to be excited about how much Vincent-Young could change the whole feel of this team. 

There were glimpses, during his cameo, of that attack-minded nature. Hopefully all of that previous pace is still there. 

Chambers moved inside to play as the left-sided centre-back alongside Nsiala. Expect that to happen more going forwards. 

Ipswich Manager Paul Cook gesticulating during the defeat at Portsmouth

Ipswich Manager Paul Cook gesticulating during the defeat at Portsmouth - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

STILL THERE FOR THE TAKING 

It says much about this division that Ipswich have lost 13 games and are still right in the promotion mix as we head towards the final straight. 

Just nine points separates fifth-place Doncaster and 16th place Plymouth. 

Ipswich, currently in the midst of that 12 team pack, could quite easily finish at either end of that spectrum. 

The fear is that this squad is too flaky and inconsistent.  

Ipswich Manager Paul Cook at Portsmouth

Ipswich Manager Paul Cook at Portsmouth - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

The hope is that Cook, who will now finally get his first full week on the training pitch with the team, will now be able to get more of his ideals across. The good stuff we have seen since his arrival, while patchy, has certainly been encouraging.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of performances means it's hard to see powerful momentum being built. 

Then again, the fixtures do look good on paper. 

Eight of the last 11 are against teams currently in the bottom third. Win the majority of them and a play-off place beckons. 

It’s time to step up lads.  

Cook’s revolution could be fun. Prove you deserve to be part of it.

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