Stu says: Ipswich Town 1 Preston North End 1 – Five observations
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town drew 1-1 with Preston North End, at Portman Road, in what was Paul Lambert’s first game in charge yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his observations.
This was a much improved performance under new boss Paul Lambert.
Town played with more organisation, more fight, more tempo, had more threat and more identity than they have for a long time.
They deservedly led at the break through Freddie Sears’ coolly converted penalty right on the half-time whistle.
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And yet they still only came away with only a point to show for their efforts.
That’s because of a mad afternoon for veteran midfielder Paul Gallagher. The 34-year-old stepped off the bench in the 71st minute and scored with his first touch when firing a low free-kick past a poorly positioned wall and into the bottom corner.
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Moments later, the Scot found himself taking the gloves after keeper Chris Maxwell was shown his marching orders for racing off his line and fouling Kayden Jackson near the touchline (he’d already been booked for the penalty). Alex Neil had used his third and final substitute seconds earlier.
There was still 15 minutes to go at that stage. And there were seven minutes stoppage time added on top of that. Yet the Blues failed to really test the stand-in keeper. His only save was tip over a self-set Danny Rowe volley that was superbly struck, but pretty central.
We all guessed at what sort of team Lambert would pick. No-one would have predicted Jordan Roberts to start though – certainly not as the lone striker.
The 24-year-old was signed on a Bosman free transfer from League Two side Crawley Town in the summer and described as a long-term left-wing project in the making by then manager Paul Hurst.
Up until this weekend he had been limited to a combined total of 23 minutes in the first team spread over two substitute appearances back in August (at Rotherham and Derby).
Town are short of striker options though and Lambert, after quickly assessing his options, felt Roberts could provide something different up top. He was right.
Roberts provided a focal point to the attack that Town have so badly lacked in the absence of injured duo Jon Walters and Ellis Harrison.
He may not be the biggest, but he won more than his fair share of headers – often direct from Bartosz Bialkowski’s long kicks. He also showed strength to hold off his marker and provide neat little lay-offs.
Ok, so he lacked killer instinct at crucial moments – there was stumble hen looking to attack a dangerous cross, a moment where the ball got stuck under his feet and another where he dragged a shot wide – but his presence allowed Town to actually get moves going.
It was fitting that it was a combination of him and the tireless Sears who forced the spot-kick right on half-time. Sears chased down a short back pass and, after keeper Chris Maxwell turned out of danger, Roberts was there in a flash to toe the ball away and be brought down.
The Scot had a sideline presence that Paul Hurst lacked. He never stopped prowling the edge of the technical area. It was noticeable how much praise he was giving his players throughout.
Out of possession it was almost a 5-4-1 as system as Cole Skuse dropped into defence and the two wingers, Sears and Gwion Edwards, both tucked in. Once possession got turned over via an energetic press – something we saw far more evidence of than under Hurst – it quickly became more of a 4-3-3.
It was clear to see that the Town players were all comfortable with their individual roles. No-one was being asked to do anything out of their comfort zones.
Skuse sat deep and focussed on his forte of snuffing out danger. Downes crashed into tackles. Sears scampered up and down. Roberts, as mentioned, looked to bring others into play. Town just looked a much more cohesive unit.
The set-piece equaliser wasn’t great; a cleverly disguised strike, but a poorly positioned wall. That means half of the 26 goals conceded this season have come either directly or indirectly from dead ball situations.
In general Town did deal with those situations much better though.
Lambert clearly instructed all 10 of his outfield players to get back in the box when defending corners. Town repelled six of them.
In terms of offensive set-plays it was young Flynn Downes on free-kick and corner duty. That shows how much the new boss rates him.
The concern is that Lambert may struggle to get much more out of this group of players.
And they still didn’t win. At home. Against fellow strugglers. With an extra man advantage for more than 20 minutes (just like against Bolton).
Ultimately, for all the positives today, the wait for a home victory – which stretches back to Mick McCarthy’s last game in charge last April – goes on.
Rotherham, Reading and Hull all picked up three points today. It leaves the Blues five points adrift of everyone else at the bottom of the Championship standings. Seeing Norwich at the top of the pile doesn’t help either.
Mind you, there’s still a lot of football to play, the table is looking pretty congested and the picture could change pretty quickly.
Draws aren’t enough though. And there won’t be many better opportunities to win than today.