Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 2-0 defeat at Leeds United
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Ipswich Town lost 2-0 at Leeds United tonight. Stuart Watson gives his snap verdict.
Paul Hurst named an unchanged team for only the second time at the weekend. Following that limp 2-0 home loss to QPR he sharpened the axe once more and made seven alterations to the starting line-up for what was the second game of a three-game week (Millwall away on Saturday).
Toto Nsiala dropped out of the squad entirely after his poor display at Portman Road, while Dean Gerken, Janoi Donacien, Trevoh Chalobah, Andre Dozzell, Grant Ward and Gwion Edwards were relegated to the bench.
Bartosz Bialkowski and Jonas Knudsen, the two players who represented Town at the World Cup back in the summer, returned to the team, as did Jordan Spence, who was handed his first start since being subbed at half-time of the home draw with Brentford.
Flynn Downes and Tayo Edun started a league game for only the third time this season. Jon Nolan and Kayden Jackson also came into the team.
There was a change of formation too as Hurst, for the first time since the East Anglian derby, went with two up top and 4-4-2.
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It meant there was a better balance about the back four with Matthew Pennington moving inside to centre-back, though the midfield four was made up of players who all identify themselves as being best through the middle. Nolan played wide right, with Edun on the left.
The plan, it seemed, was to go back to basics.
There’s been a lot of hype about Leeds this season, but the Yorkshire side came into this match off the back of a 2-1 defeat at Blackburn and with just two wins to their name in the previous nine games across all competitions.
Manager Marcelo Bielsa gave an interrupted 15 minute explanation about his team’s downturn in form in the build-up. He subsequently switched to a unique 3-3-3-1 formation which had midfielder Kalvin Phillips at the heart of a back three and flying winger Ezgjan Alioski at left wing-back.
Hurst and assistant Chris Doig spent the first few minutes deep in discussion over the surprise system but, after witnessing a decent enough start from the Blues, decided to leave things as they were.
Town certainly played with a lot more energy and endeavour than they had at the weekend. In fact, come the half-time whistle, you’d have to say it had been a pretty even affair.
Bialkowski spilled a low cross early on, but Town gave as good as they got and created a couple of decent openings of their own. Pennington headed an Edun dead ball delivery at keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Nolan saw a dangerous cross fly across the face of goal and then dragged an attempt wide from the edge of the box.
Another poor goal
It was Leeds who got the breakthrough though in the 22nd minute.
This one certainly doesn’t go into the bracket of glaring individual error, as so many have done this season, but it still wasn’t great.
Knudsen, always keen to push on, gave the ball away high up the pitch and left a gap for the hosts to exploit. The livewire Pablo Hernandez, back in the side following a lengthy lay-off, whipped in a dangerous ball from deep right and Kemar Roofe headed home from six yards out right in the middle of the goal. Watching it back, Luke Chambers was slow to react and let his runner get goal side.
The goal did appear to knock Town’s fragile confidence and, for a while, they rode their luck as Leeds sent several dangerous crosses into the area. On the whole though you’d have to say the first half had been a pretty even affair.
After the break, Leeds, keen to get back to winning ways, didn’t take too many risks and were happy to treat the ball with care.
There remained little between the sides, but you always sensed the hosts had the ability to step things up a gear. They did that not long after the hour mark and, after a short spell of pressure, scored the killer second.
Twice Town were slow to react. First, Hernandez was able to collect a short corner too easily and pick out a team-mate on the edge of the box. Then the Blues didn’t close down Liam Cooper quick enough and the defender was able to slam the ball high into the net.
The Elland Road faithful crowd turned up the volume and the home players began to enjoy themselves. Alioski hit the inside of the post with a stunning angled strike, while Bialkowski made good saves from both Adam Forshaw and Alioski.
Nolan did force Peacock-Farrell into a smart stop late on, but by then the damage had been well and truly done.
This was a familiar tale. Town, as has often been the case this season, fell short in what was often a fine margins affair.
There are spells in games that are good, they have rarely been played off the park, but ultimately it’s not been good enough at the business ends of the pitch.
You always sense there is going to be a costly defensive mistake. You rarely feel a goal is coming. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that’s not a good recipe for success.
Hurst quibbled with the definition of ‘rock-bottom’ being used earlier this week given they were level on points with Hull. Bristol City’s late goal against the Tigers means that argument can still be made. Preston’s shock home win against Brentford does mean the gap to safety has widened to four points though.
Boy do these next three games – against Millwall (a), Preston (h) and Reading (a) – look massive.
By coincidence this defeat came six years to the day that Paul Jewell was sacked less than 24 hours after a midweek defeat to Derby.
Owner Marcus Evans has, once again, got some serious risk assessment to do now. Change would be costly. Relegation would be even costlier.