Stu says: Six observations following 1-0 loss at Rotherham

James Norwood after miss-hitting a golden early chance at Rotherham

James Norwood reacts after miss-hitting a golden early chance at Rotherham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town lost 1-0 at Rotherham United yesterday. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.

James Norwood miss-hits a golden early chance at Rotherham

James Norwood miss-hits a golden early chance at Rotherham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

A BIG MISS

Goals change games. If James Norwood hadn't spurned a gilt-edge chance in the eighth minute then this afternoon may well have unfolded very differently.

It was brilliant Blues build-up. After playing his way out of a tight spot with a neat exchange of passes, Sone Aluko lifted a well-weighted pass over the top. Wes Burns scampered into space down the right and swept in an inch-perfect cross which eluded two back-tracking defenders. Town fans down that end were on their feet waiting for the net to bulge as Norwood arrived to meet the ball in the middle of the goal six yards out... But he scuffed his left-footed volley into the ground and wide.

Rotherham came into this game under big pressure following three straight defeats. Some of their nervy passing in the frenetic first half reflected that. Going 1-0 down would have exacerbated that turned the atmosphere from encouraging to edgy.

But, in what is becoming a recurring theme, Town weren't able to score during their most dominant period in the match.

GETTING MILLERED

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In the second period, the real Rotherham stepped up. Town, for the fourth successive meeting between these sides in League One, got Millered.

Paul Warne's men did what they do best. They closed down aggressively and were far more accurate with their out balls. Ipswich, penned in, couldn't get their possession game going. Frustrations rose and the foul count started to rise. 

It became a stop-start, niggly game of set-pieces. And that was only going to suit one team.

Michael Smith scores the winner during the second half at Rotherham

Michael Smith scores the winner during the second half at Rotherham - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Christian Walton kept out a Michael Smith header at a corner with his legs. Ball after ball came into the box. A Rotherham breakthrough felt like it was coming. It duly arrived in the 78th minute. 

When Wes Harding launched a long throw into the area, the Blues ket the ball bounce not once, but twice. That's criminal.

First, the physically imposing figure of Tyreeq Bakinson was shoulder-barged out from under the ball far too easily by Rarmani Edmonds-Green. The ball hits Macauley Bonne, Janoi Donacien gets pinned, Jordi Osei-Tutu's shot is blocked and a chaotic phase of play ends with Smith expertly side-footing home his 25th goal of the campaign.

Elkan Baggott on his league debut at Rotherham

Elkan Baggott on his league debut at Rotherham - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

WELL DONE ELKAN

One big positive to take from this game was Elkan Baggott's assured league debut.

The 19-year-old academy graduate stepped in to replace the suspended Cameron Burgess on the left side of a back three. 

Elkan Baggott at Rotherham with his Dad Roland

Elkan Baggott at Rotherham with his proud dad Roland. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Coming up against aerial master Smith had the potential to be a real baptism of fire. But the 6ft 4in teenager passed the test with flying colours, making a series of blocks, clearances and interceptions.

The young Indonesian international looks a player with big potential. The next big step for him, I would imagine, is a loan spell in League Two. That was the making of Luke Woolfenden (Swindon, 18/19) and it's hopefully going to prove the making of Corrie Ndaba (Salford) this season too.


BLOND BOMBER!

The best moment of this game, from an Ipswich perspective, was Luke Woolfenden's marauding run.

He feinted past an opponent in his own box... he powered his way past another... he played a neat give-and-go with Bersant Celina to take three more Millers men out the equation... then, remarkably, he skipped past a lunging defender just over the halfway line.

All of a sudden, the 23-year-old was charging into acres of space down the right wing!

Luke Woolfenden breaks a second challenge as he charges out of defence during the second half at Rot

Luke Woolfenden breaks a second challenge as he charges out of defence during the second half at Rotherham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Even at the end of that Kevin Beattie-esque lung-bursting run, the defender showed trademark composure to get his head up and sweep in a low cross that Celina was so close to converting on the edge of the six-yard box.

Had that gone in we'd have been talking about one of the great Ipswich assists.

Sadly, Town lacked that same sort of forward thrust in other areas of the field though. That chance proved to be their only one in the second period.

SOBERING STATS

They think it's all over... it is now.

Town's 'TV curse' struck again. That's three wins in 35 on the box now. And yes Sky, we know, the Barrow game was on ITV.

Is it just me, or does it feel like out-of-form sides always seem to find their mojo again as soon as Ipswich come along?

The match at Rotherham featured live on TV.

Ipswich Town have now won three of their last 35 games broadcast live on TV. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

It is now mathematically impossible for Ipswich Town to finish in the play-offs. Of course, we all accepted that a fortnight ago following the Cambridge loss. Many even long before then.

There are lots of reasons to be positive about the future. Of course there are. But there are also some uncomfortable truths.

The Blues have dropped to 10th. They are only one place and four points better off than they were at this stage of last season. And that was widely deemed to be a disaster. 

Is it just down to the bad start? Well, the current run can't be completely overlooked.

Ipswich claimed 10 points from their opening 10 games of the campaign. They've claimed 14 from their last 10.

Janoi Doacien leaves the pitch after defeat at Rotherham

Janoi Doacien leaves the pitch after defeat at Rotherham - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

WHAT'S MISSING?

Ipswich are so close to being a very good side at this level. So close simply isn't going to cut it next season though.

Being technically and tactically good is only half the battle. To get out of League One you need to be mentally and physically robust too.

The fact Town's top-scorer remains Macauley Bonne (who's bagged once since early November) says a lot. The Blues will, no doubt, look to sign a new talisman this summer. That's not the sole answer though.

Kieran McKenna watches the warm-up at Rotherham

Kieran McKenna watches the warm-up at Rotherham - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Most strikingly, there's a major imbalance. All of Town's attacks go down the right. An upgrade on left-sided options Dominic Thompson and Matt Penney must be one of the top priorities when the transfer window opens.

There's something lacking in the centre of the pitch at the moment too. Bristol City loanee Bakinson is still inconsistent and raw. Yesterday, with skipper Sam Morsy not at his all-action best, that became more apparent. It was another reminder of how much the team has missed Lee Evans' underrated experience during a 10-game injury absence.

Is having two No.10s - whichever combination of Celina, Aluko and Conor Chaplin that may be - producing occasional moments of brilliance too big a luxury? That's certainly up for debate.

One thing beyond doubt is that major improvements need to be made at set-pieces - both offensively and defensively.