Reasons why Town's season looks to be over with five games still remaining
- Credit: Steve Waller/Pagepix
There is an acceptance that Ipswich Town's season is over following the 1-0 home loss to Cambridge United. Andy Warren looks at the reason why the Blues will likely fall short.
Ipswich Town’s season appears to be over following Saturday’s 1-0 home loss to Cambridge.
The play-offs are not mathematically out of reach. Five wins from the final five games could get the Blues into the shoot-out, with number-crunching simulators giving Kieran McKenna’s side a 39% chance of reaching the post-season if they are perfect from this point.
Dropping points just once takes that chance down to just 9%, though. Not good odds at all.
The gap is six points right now, with the four teams above the Blues all holding a game in hand. The traffic is surely too difficult to overcome, even if Town have undoubtedly improved under McKenna.
Here we take a look at the reasons why the Blues will almost certainly be facing a fourth season in League One when the new campaign rolls around.
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You can’t talk about Ipswich Town’s 2021/22 season without first discussing the Blues’ dramatic summer overhaul and the slow start which followed.
More than 20 players out, 19 in as part of a complete summer rebuild. It’s hard to argue the great refresh wasn’t necessary, but you also have to acknowledge Paul Cook wasn’t able to give Sam Morsy, Christian Walton, George Edmundson or Bersant Celina their Town debuts until September due to late arrivals and injury issues. That is, in many ways, the core of the Ipswich team.
Results were poor. A draw needed to be rescued against Morecambe on the opening day before points were dropped from good positions against Burton, Cheltenham, MK Dons, Wimbledon and Bolton.
It took until the seventh league game before a win finally arrived.
On the morning of what proved to be Town’s first victory of the season, at Lincoln on September 18, Ipswich were 22nd in the table on just three points. Nine of the teams currently in the top half of the League One table were already there at this point. The table takes shape early.
Town had left themselves a mountain to climb, though there were certainly moments where it looked like Cook was the man to climb it. The big wins at Portsmouth (4-0) and Wycombe (4-1) remain high points of the season.
It didn’t last, though, with Cook eventually losing his job with Ipswich 11th in the table at the beginning of December.
A tough starting point
When Kieran McKenna woke up on the morning of his first game in charge of the Blues, at home to Wycombe on December 29, his team sat 11th in the table and were 10 points off the top six while almost every side above had games in hand.
A tall order and plenty to make up, with the season exactly at the halfway point at this stage. The feeling at the time was that the play-offs were not impossible (the automatic places were 17 points away) and things began positively with a 1-0 win over the Chairboys in front of a big Portman Road crowd.
There’s been plenty to be positive about since, of course. Most of it related to the defence, with the Blues only conceding seven goals in McKenna’s 18 games to date and keeping a remarkable 12 clean sheets across those matches. That’s particularly impressive, given the team he inherited had conceded 34 in the matches played under Cook and caretaker John McGreal, at an average of nearly 1.5 a game. Now that average sees Ipswich concede once in every three games.
McKenna has taken the shackles off of skipper Morsy and allowed him to show why he’s surely the best midfielder in this division. He’s rejuvenated Luke Woolfenden and Kayden Jackson while also implementing a hybrid system which continues to get the best out of Wes Burns. His players love playing for him.
The fans like what they see as well as what they hear from their new boss and their form from McKenna’s first game onwards would have them firmly in the automatic promotion hunt, had the season started with that victory over Wycombe.
But, for all of those positives, McKenna’s good work and record has only managed to close the gap to the play-offs by four points over the course of 18 largely positive games.
Town have jumped above only Accrington and Portsmouth (who now sit a place and five points back but hold three games in hand) during that time, but the top eight in League One remain the same as on the morning of December 29. Only in a slightly different order.
That’s because the promotion-chasers, largely, have been in form equally as impressive as Ipswich’s.
A total well above the norm is going to be needed to make the play-offs this season and it’s looking likely Ipswich will fall short.
When any season reaches the point of no return, or even before, the obvious thing to do is look back through the campaign and look for lost points.
There’s so many to choose from this time around.
Under Cook, the poor start saw a lead turn into a loss at Cheltenham, two leads vanish in the 2-2 draw with MK Dons and a two-goal advantage fall away at home to AFC Wimbledon and a one-goal start against Bolton turn into a home thumping. Another two-goal lead was lost at Cambridge, while Town’s 2-1 loss at Accrington came after Macauley Bonne had put the Blues ahead.
There have been plenty of punishing moments under McKenna, too. You could easily argue the performances against Cheltenham, Morecambe, Portsmouth and Oxford were good enough to secure victory. Yet they all ended in draws.
It wouldn’t have taken too many of the listed games to end differently for the picture to look much more positive right now.
But they didn’t. That’s why Ipswich are where they are.
Town were free-scoring under Cook, sitting top of the division’s goal charts for much of the first half of the season but also possessing a porous defence which made it very difficult to win games.
No team in the top half of the table had conceded more than Town at the time of Cook’s sacking in December.
It couldn’t be any more different now, with no team in the entire EFL conceding fewer since McKenna took over at Ipswich. Only Premier League title contenders Manchester City (six) and Liverpool (four) have conceded fewer than Town’s seven during McKenna’s reign, having played seven matches less.
Goals have been much tougher to come by, though, with only 21 scored. None of the promotion-chaser have managed fewer in League One during McKenna’s reign.
Town’s strikers have found things extremely tough in 2022. Joe Pigott hasn’t scored, James Norwood and Macauley Bonne have netted once each (at Gillingham) and Jackson scored three before injury ended his season in such a cruel manner.
Bonne’s season is particularly puzzling, with a run of 11 goals in his first 15 league matches making way for a slate of just one strike in his last 25 games. His season has fallen off a cliff.
There’s every chance Town’s striking department will look completely different come July and August.
McKenna has also discussed Town’s lack of set-piece threat in recent days, admitting it’s ‘borderline impossible’ to get out of the division.
The stats show Ipswich have scored just eight goals from dead ball situations this season, leaving them 21st in a statistical category headed up by automatic promotion hopefuls Rotherham and Wigan on 19 and 18.
A tale of two records
We know Town’s record against League One’s big hitters has been consistently poor during their time in the third tier.
In their first two attempts at winning promotion, Ipswich claimed just 19 out of a possible 69 points against teams who ultimately finished in the top six.
Clearly that wasn’t good enough.
It’s not been great during season three, either, with the Blues taking only 16 points of the 42 which have so far been on offer against the eight teams now sitting above them.
Their average of 1.14 points per game from those matches is, though, better than Plymouth, Oxford and Wycombe have managed during the course of the season. Sunderland stand top of this particular list on 1.84 per game, ahead of Rotherham’s 1.76 and Sheffield Wednesday’s 1.53.
So, Town haven’t been great against the big guns but have a record which is competitive enough to allow them into the top six.
But the spotlight this weekend, in the wake of Ipswich’s loss to Cambridge, has been shone on the Blues’ record against the four teams promoted from League Two last season.
Town have taken just four points from a possible 24 against Bolton, Cheltenham, Cambridge and Morecambe – firmly the worst among League One’s top eight at 0.5 points per game. Granted, Bolton, Cheltenham and Cambridge are 11th, 12th and 13th respectively, but much, much more is needed.
Rotherham have taken a perfect 24 points from their eight matches, while all other members of the top eight (aside from Oxford) average more than two points per match from their clashes with the promoted sides.
This stat is a good snapshot of the standard required. Ipswich haven’t met it.
It must be noted at this point that both Cook and McKenna’s versions of Town have contributed to this, with both managers facing the four promoted teams once and claiming just two points each.