Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 3-0 home loss to Hull City
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town’s 100 per cent home record in League One came to a shuddering halt courtesy of a 3-0 loss to Hull City last night. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
I’m getting a horrible sense of deja vu.
Continually coming up short against so-called ‘promotion rivals’ – yep, last season’s theme is back.
Talk of playing nice football between the thirds buts not being ruthless enough in both boxes – that transports me back to the relegation season.
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A 3-0 home loss to Hull in which the writing was on the wall by half-time – now I’m getting flashbacks of March 2018 and the end of Mick McCarthy’s reign.
Let’s start with the first point.
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Last season, Town’s record against the 10 teams that ultimately finished above them was W2 D8 L8. So far this season there have been defeats to Hull (1st), Lincoln (3rd), Sunderland (8th) and Doncaster (10th), as well as an FA Cup loss to Portsmouth (4th).
Forget injuries, bad refereeing decisions or any other sob stories. Just three wins in 23 games against sides who finished in the top l0 (Fleetwood and Gillingham) last season and sides currently in the top 10 (Accrington Stanley) is simply not good enough. In fact, it’s pretty damn abysmal for a team with designs on promotion.
SLUGGISH AND SLOPPY
Town have ridden their luck at times this season. We kept saying that better sides would punish them.
The unopposed manner in which Hull were able to simply work the ball inside from the right for their second minute opener was staggering. George Honeyman doesn’t have a player within 10 yards of him when he receives the ball inside the box. Mallik Wilks then has an age to take a touch and rifle home.
Further warning signs were to come. After Hakeeb Adelakun had driven across the edge of the box, Woolfenden just about toed the ball away. Not long afterwards, the way Adelakun was able to ghost between Stephen Ward and Emyr Huws in the box was not good at all. Thankfully for Town, he didn’t get hold of his shot.
Then, in first half stoppage-time, advanced defender Reece Burke curved a deep pass into the box. Both Woolfenden and Luke Chambers were guilty of not being ball side of their men. That allowed Adelakun to shield/help the ball on its way and Josh Magennis to take a touch and finish from six-yards out.
Ipswich continued to create their own problems after the restart.
Mark McGuinness mis-judged a leaping header and Josh Emmanuel, who was a constant threat down the right on his return to Portman Road, crossed for an unmarked Magennis to volley over from 12 yards out.
Four minutes later, Bennetts gave the ball away poorly on halfway, Wilks blazed past a lunging Woolfenden and forced a decent near post stop out of Tomas Holy.
For all the clamour to see Woolfenden in the side, he had a poor game.
Hull finally added a third after Lankester gave the ball away cheaply on halfway. Regan Slater found Tom Eaves with a quick forward pass and the substitute coolly tucked the ball in the bottom corner.
Unforced errors were a theme. The over-eager Bennetts often ran into traffic and over-hit one wild cross. Alan Judge couldn’t wrap his foot around a cross in a dangerous position. McGavin drifted a free-kick over everyone and out of play. It was that sort of night.
The Tigers are top for a reason. They were organised and ruthless. Nevertheless, they were given a pretty big helping hand in this game. They’ll have left Portman Road perhaps a little surprised that they didn’t really have to get out of second or third gear for such a comfortable win.
Paul Lambert is either gas lighting us all or completely delusional. And I don’t know which is worse.
Always we hear about how ‘football wise’ he is pleased with how the team ‘dominates the ball’ and that he ‘can’t ask for anything more’.
At times, you begin to question your own sanity. Maybe it’s not been that bad? But then you trust your own judgement again.
It’s clear to anyone who has been watching that Ipswich’s unhealthy obsession with possession has made them painfully predictable. Opponents have wised up to the fact that you can sit off and let the Blues knock it about in their own third.
Yes, compared to the Shrewsbury game, the Blues did move the ball quicker and with more purpose in this game. Yes, compared to the Shrewsbury game, they played with the ball higher up the pitch.
The bar for what constitutes good does feel like it’s dropped pretty low though.
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Rarely do you get a sense with Ipswich that they are applying sustained pressure and that it’s only a matter of time before a certain pattern of play is going to come off.
Town had a reasonable little five minute spell midway through the first half when James Norwood saw a header blocked at close quarters and Bennetts floored Greaves with a powerful shot having nut-megged Richie Smallwood.
Their best period in this game was then in the moments leading up to half-time. Huws forced a save out of the keeper with a header at a corner, Chambers headed at the keeper from a Bennetts cross, then Stephen Ward’s deep cross just evaded Norwood at the far post.
And that was the sum total of Ipswich’s most threatening two spells on top.
The only real moment of cutting edge quality was when McGavin dissected the Hull defence with a deep through pass in the 74th minute.
By no definition is that ‘domination’.
Back to Lambert’s assessment. He says at half-time he told the players to take more risks, but went on to say they can’t just say ‘I made a bad pass’. It’s as confusing as one of Boris Johnson’s press conference. Goodness knows what the players make of it.
NO PLAN B
We’ve gone from one extreme to another.
Last season, we bemoaned Lambert’s chopping and changing of systems and the fact that Town had no clear identity. Now he’s become so wedded to 4-3-3, playing out from the back and dominating possession that there is no Plan B.
Lambert had three strikers on the bench. Yet Town still finished the game playing with a lone front man.
Asked why he didn’t switch to two up top in an attempt to chase the game, the Blues boss replied ‘because we’re hopeless with two up top’ and ‘we don’t dominate the ball’ (with fewer players in midfield).
At 2-0 down the Blues didn’t need to control the game though, they needed to find a route back into it.
Lambert revealing he never considered switching systems makes the long drawn out second half conflab between him and the coaching staff – Stuart Taylor studying his notepad and Matt Gill tapping away at an electronic device – seem pretty strange. What were they discussing if it was only ever going to be like-for-like swaps?
The dangerous Norwood was cautiously withdrawn to avoid injury, while Bennetts, whose head down dribbling and loose positional play looked like it could lead to a goal at either end, was the other player to make way. Oli Hawkins went up top and Kayden Jackson was put out wide.
That left the fit-again Aaron Drinan, who was always unlikely to get any game time in this one, as an unused sub. Including him on the bench and sending Armando Dobra to Bristol to play for the Under-23s is a strange one. When Freddie Sears limped off with a hamstring injury in the first half to be replaced by Lankester, it left Lambert with no more midfielders or wingers to call upon.
It’s only fair at this point to provide the fairly major caveat that Town went into this game with, arguably, five of their best players sidelined in Kane Vincent-Young, Andre Dozzell, Teddy Bishop, Flynn Downes and Gwion Edwards. Then again, that’s what squads are for.
What is it about Hull putting Ipswich Town managers under pressure?
It was after a 2-1 loss at Hull in October 2012 that a downcast Paul Jewell admitted he would be considering if he was the right man to take the club forwards. He was sacked three days later.
The aforementioned 3-0 home loss to Hull in March 2018 was a horrible night at Portman Road. The mood really turned inside the ground and McCarthy’s on-pitch ‘them and us’ huddle with the players at the end felt like the beginning of the end for him. He walked a month later.
And it was a depressing 2-0 loss at Hull, in September 2018, which put the wheels in motion for Paul Hurst’s sacking too.
Whether Lambert, who signed a five-year deal in January, is under any pressure is hard to tell.
Judging by the mood music on social media, which is not an exact science of course, many have lost faith in him. That virtual noise has certainly gone up a notch or two over the last week or so.
It’s real life noise, that made by paying fans inside stadiums, that owner Marcus Evans has always put most stock in by all accounts though. But right now, there’s no-one inside stadiums.
It’s now six defeats in the last nine games across all competitions and the three wins – against bottom half sides Gillingham, Crewe and Shrewsbury – have been far from convincing.
Up next is another top-six clash with Charlton at Portman Road on Saturday.