Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 2-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest
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Ipswich Town lost 2-0 at Nottingham Forest this afternoon. STUART WATSON gives his five observations.
And then it was seven…
Town started well enough. Then a Bartosz Bialkowski error led to Lewis Grabban breaking the deadlock after nine minutes.
Grabban finished off a slick move in the 38th minute and the high-flying hosts would go on to hit the woodwork three times. If this was a boxing bout the referee would have put a stop to things far earlier.
Just like against West Brom last Friday, the gulf in class showed. The positives taken from the performances against lowly Preston, Reading and an out-of-form Bristol City are becoming harder to cling on to.
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All of the positivity that Paul Lambert breathed into the club since arriving more than a month ago is, sadly, rapidly dissipating.
Rotherham and Preston lost, but Hull won, while Reading and Bolton drew. The gap to safety has widened to seven as the halfway stage of the campaign fast approaches. It could become nine if Millwall win at Bristol City tomorrow.
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Town require promotion form now if they are to avoid dropping into third-tier for the first time since 1958. It’s becoming increasingly hard to see that happening. Up next is a trip to upwardly mobile Stoke.
Forest had a £6m striker in red-hot form in the shape of Lewis Grabban. Town took out jaded makeshift front man Jordan Roberts and replaced him with Kayden Jackson, who was making only his 10th Championship start after stepping up from League Two champions Accrington Stanley in the summer. It showed.
Jackson may well come good in time. Grabban himself started out in the lower leagues. The two are worlds apart at the moment though.
Former Norwich man Grabban made it 16 goals in 15 games with his first half brace. His movement was clever and considered. Twice he was in the right place at the right time to convert in the box.
Jackson, by contrast, huffed and puffed. He teared about in the final third, but committed cheap fouls. And when his chances came he snatched at them.
One attempt inside the box was badly skewed wide. A glancing near post header lacked conviction and went wide.
It’s been a strange few months for Bartosz Bialkowski.
He was named the club’s Supporters’ Player of the Year for the third successive season, achieved a life-long dream (and thus fulfilled a promise to his late father) by going to the World Cup with Poland and then signed a bumper new contract with the Blues.
He seemed unbeatable. He was the darling of the fans. Few predicted what has followed.
Bart was dropped by Paul Hurst just six games into the season, for the East Anglian derby no less, and then sat out eight games as the new Blues boss made a statement to the rest of the squad regarding no-one being able to take their places for granted.
The 31-year-old has been back in the team for seven games now, but is in worse form than he was at the start of the campaign.
Paul Lambert insisted he would stick by his man following Bialkowski’s errors in Wednesday night’s 3-2 home defeat to Bristol City, but you can see confidence remains fragile.
Nine minutes into this game Bialkowski spilled a well-hit, but ambitious low, long-range shot from Tendayi Darikwa and Lewis Grabban gobbled up the rebound.
Did Hurst’s man-management damage his belief? Has long-serving keeper coach Malcolm Webster’s retirement played a part? Has signing a new contract and achieving international ambitions, sub-consciously at least, seen him lose an edge?
Who knows. It was, however, not healthy to have the keeper winning the end-of-season awards year-after-year though.
Young heart, run free
There has been a youthful look about Town’s central midfield under Paul Lambert.
England U19 internationals Flynn Downes and Trevoh Chalobah were rested after started all of the new Blues boss’ first four games in charge. In came homegrown 18-year-old Jack Lankester and fellow academy graduate Teddy Bishop.
To see Lankester play that role on his full debut was a surprise given his previous four cameos have come drifting inside from the right wing. Bishop, meanwhile, was making his first league start since rupturing his hamstring on Boxing Day last year.
Yes, they may have had Cole Skuse sitting behind them, but talk about a big ask for those two against an experienced Forest duo of Jack Colback and Adlene Guedioura.
Lankester didn’t lack for effort and when he was able to get on the ball he showed some calm and classy touches. One lovely curling effort in the second half zipped just past the post.
There were some encouraging signs in difficult circumstances from Bishop too. The 22-year-old set off on driving runs whenever possible. His quick footwork often broke the lines, but unfortunately others weren’t always on his wavelength.
How easy it will be for Town’s young guns to develop in a struggling side we will see.
Will owner Marcus Evans back Lambert in the January transfer window if he feels the damage has been done? Will Town look for quick fixes or keep some cash back for longer-term building?
Will Lambert stay on if Town do go down? He’s signed a contract until 2020, but there may well be a relegation clause. Can he afford to leave a fourth successive club after less than a year in charge?
Dropping into League One would certainly seem a little more palatable if the man who led a certain club up the road from the third tier to a mid-table Premier League finish was at the helm. He’s made all the right noises about looking to the future.
A repeat of the ‘will he, won’t he stay’ saga that surrounded Mick McCarthy throughout the entirety of the second half of last season would be draining for all involved.