Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 0-0 draw at Rochdale
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Ipswich Town played out a drab goalless draw at rock-bottom Rochdale yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Wake me up when the season ends.
This was the recent 0-0 draw at struggling Wigan all over again.
Actually, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, it was worse.
Not only did neither team score, but neither produced a shot on target either.
This was Town’s fifth goalless draw of the season.
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It was the 14th time they’ve drawn a blank.
They didn’t lay a glove on a Rochdale team that is rock-bottom of the league with 69 goals and 24 defeats against their name.
Solid enough in defence, but nowhere near good enough as an attacking unit. It’s all been written before.
Too quiet, too passive, too fearful. No cohesion, no passion, no quality. They didn’t hunt in packs well enough. They didn’t get on second balls quick enough. Nothing is done with any real conviction or belief.
Paul Cook is bang on. These players wait for something to happen rather than make it so.
Alan Judge fired narrowly wide from outside the box in the first half after his initial free-kick delivery from the right had failed to beat the first man.
The penalty appeals when Troy Parrott tried to bundle his way into a crowded box during the second period were half-hearted at best.
Later, the ball just wouldn’t fall right for Josh Harrop on the edge of the six-yard box following on from substitute Armando Dobra’s driving run and Kayden Jackson’s cross.
That really was it in terms of attacking moments.
There were no big blocks, no crosses fizzing across the face of goal, very few penalty box entries, no shots thumping the woodwork and no through balls which were just a fraction over-cooked.
There was just... nothing.
Paul Cook did promise he’d leave no stone unturned in the search for goals and wins.
He tried various combinations of players in the three attacking support roles before abandoning 4-2-3-1 after six games.
Now he’s tried 3-5-2 in two successive games (switching to 4-4-2 mid-match) and that’s done nothing to boost the goal threat.
With James Norwood out injured, the Blues boss started with Jackson and Parrott as the front two and ended the match with Oli Hawkins and Aaron Drinan up top.
Those four have scored just one goal each this season from a combined 33 starts.
Hawkins, stepping off the bench to make his first senior appearance since undergoing knee surgery in January, looked a handful during his late cameo to be fair.
Armando Dobra, another of the five subs used, came on and at least tried to make something happen down the right. The diminutive attacker may be raw, but at least he’s got a bit of edge and unpredictability about him.
A target man just back from a long-term absence and a youngster with just four league starts to his name shouldn’t be asked to go and rescue this sort of game though.
Desperately looking for a late winner at the division’s worst side, the Blues finished the match with Myles Kenlock at left-midfield and a team with just five league goals between them this season.
That rather sums things up.
PENNY FOR HIS THOUGHTS
Marcus Evans was at Spotland, just like he’d been at the DW Stadium.
Are these the sort of journeys the multi-millionaire would be making were he on the verge of selling the club?
The Blues owner, sat just a row behind the press box, encouraged and groaned his way through the frustrating 90 minutes just like a fan.
Afterwards, he and Lee O’Neill went for a post-match debrief with manager Cook, as they so often do. You’d love to be a fly on the wall for that exchange.
It was back in early December that Evans released a statement of support for former boss Paul Lambert saying that he could see ‘green shoots of a style that will reap its rewards in the years ahead’.
Well, we’re into spring time now and there’s still no evidence of that mythical fresh growth.
Just break down the paltry 41 goals that Town have scored over 38 league games.
That total includes 10 from set-pieces, four own goals (the team’s third top-scorer), Plymouth’s gift for Parrott, Drinan’s tackle finish at Crewe...
There have been alarmingly few really well-worked goals (or chances) created from open play over recent months.
COOK’S CLEAR OUT
Cook is trying desperately hard to stay positive because he knows that’s what will give this group the best possible chance of success over the coming weeks.
To use one of his phrases though, the ‘brutal truth’ is that he has almost certainly come to the conclusion that most of this squad just don’t have what it takes to play for Ipswich Town or have become too mentally scarred along the way.
There are 13 first teamers due to be out of contract in just a few weeks times and, right now, very few tears would be shed over any of them getting released.
The gap to the play-off places is still ‘only’ three points.
Oxford and Accrington are probably too far back, Doncaster look done, while Gillingham are rapidly running out of games.
Yes Ipswich, remarkably, look like they could be in a five-way fight for positions four to six.
Portsmouth and Blackpool may be in form, but injury-hit Lincoln were stuttering (and who knows how they’ll return after a Covid break), while Town still have to go to Charlton.
We really must stop torturing ourselves with such thoughts.
All of the above means nothing if you can’t score goals and win games with any regularity.
But there is a small glimmer of hope...
Kane Vincent-Young, Flynn Downes and Norwood – the squad’s three most influential players in my opinion – could all be available very soon, from what Cook’s saying.
A trio that could change the whole dynamic with a sprinkling of pace, grit and goals? Knowing Ipswich they’ll all end up injured again!
If you’re reading this Paul, sorry for the cynicism. But that’s what years of being invested in this club has done to even the most optimistic of souls.
It’s your job to break down those emotional barriers we’ve all put up to stop the hurt. Please make this is a club to be proud of again.