Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 1-0 loss to Fulham in the Carabao Cup
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town lost to 1-0 to Premier League side Fulham at Portman Road last night to exit the Carabao Cup at the second round stage. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts on the action.
ANOTHER SOBERING REMINDER
You can understand why Blues boss Paul Lambert was keen to stress pride and positives.
This was a far from full-strength League One outfit putting in a valiant effort against a strong Premier League team.
Scott Parker’s starting XI contained 10 internationals with 146 caps between them. Their players have represented European giants such as PSG, Ajax, Juventus and Villarreal.
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Town’s team, by contrast, contained players recruited from the likes of Northampton, Accrington Stanley, Shrewsbury and Lincoln.
A good learning experience, not disgraced, more minutes in the legs, time to move on and focus on the main goal of a promotion push. Few tears should be shed about exiting the Carabao Cup given the most hectic of schedules ahead.
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Yes, realistically, this was probably the best outcome of the evening. And that’s a rather sad sentence to write.
The plucky underdog coming up just short narrative was another sobering and uncomfortable reminder of just how quickly this football has fallen.
In 2014/15, Ipswich did a Championship double over Fulham on their way to a play-off finish. The following season, Town finished seventh and Fulham 20th in the second-tier.
So how on earth has such a chasm between the two clubs opened so quickly?
COMPACT AND ORGANISED
Right, turn that frown upside down. The past is in the past. Let’s look forwards and focus on some positives.
This was a solid, compact and organised defensive display.
Following a nervy start, in which the lively Anthony Knockaert twice fired over, the Blues settled.
Wide men Gwion Edwards and Armando Dobra tucked in and made this more of a 4-1-4-1 than a 4-3-3. Full-backs Janoi Donacien and Myles Kenlock stayed narrow to squeeze the space. And when the ball came into the box, James Wilson and captain for the night Toto Nsiala made some important interventions.
It took some Premier League class to unlock the door.
Town seemingly had Fulham penned in up by the corner flag with a team press, but a superb switch set up a swift counter-attack. Dutch international right-back Kenny Tete whipped in a David Beckham-esque cross from deep right and, with the Ipswich back line out of shape, Aleksander Mitrovic steamed in to emphatically head home.
‘World class’, purred Lambert, though that does overlook the lack of pressure his players put on the cross.
Fulham, for all their possession, were limited largely to shots from long-range.
And when they did find a way through, they were denied by goalkeeper David Cornell. The Welshman, back between the sticks for a cup game, produced a breathtaking double stop on the hour to deny Mitrovic and Bobby Reid from close-range. Later, he also did well to tip over a Tom Cairney effort following a well-worked short corner.
ONE SHOT ON TARGET
There’s no getting away from the fact that Ipswich never really looked like scoring.
Oli Hawkins stabbed Town’s best chance of the game wide from the edge of the six-yard box in the 27th minute following good work up the right by Edwards.
Either side of the break, Emyr Huws dragged a shot wide and Hawkins glanced a difficult header over.
The Blues had some nice bits of plays, but their first and only shot on target didn’t arrive until stoppage-time and, to be honest, it looked like Edwards was trying to cross when the ball ended up in the keeper’s arms.
However, having created plenty of openings in the previous games against Bristol Rovers, Arsenal U21s and Wigan, this shouldn’t ring too many alarm bells.
Ally last night’s defensive organisation with the new-found creativity we’ve seen at the start of this season and Ipswich, touch wood, should be in business against sides at their level.
Flynn Downes stepped off the bench in the second half to make his first appearance since handing in a transfer request three weeks ago.
We’ll never know what sort of reaction he’d have got had there been supporters inside Portman Road. A smattering of boos mixed with plenty of hearty encouragement would be my guess.
The 21-year-old didn’t look like a player distracted by off-field issues during his half hour cameo.
He pressed quickly, clattered into tackles and kept the ball well. It was a reminder that Town are, without doubt, a better team with him in it.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Considering he started this game off the back of limited action – a combined 66 minutes against Cambridge United and Bristol Rovers due to a foot problem – this was an encouraging full debut for Hawkins. The 6ft 6in striker has a great leap, is strong, looks to have a good turn of pace and a decent touch. If this is him half-fit, then that bodes well.
Nsiala and Wilson may have made their blocks and won their headers, but Town are noticeably more direct without the composed Luke Woolfenden in the heart of defence.
The energetic Dobra was well-marshalled by the classy Tete. This game is unlikely to have changed Lambert’s view that the talented attacker’s raw edges would be best smoothed off with a loan spell.
Andre Dozzell again put his laser-assisted left-foot into action. You can see his confidence growing during what is an unprecedented run of starts. Long may that continue.
Donancien and Kenlock did little to suggest they will be anything more than stand-in full-backs. Donacien made an error early on which could have been costly and produced a poor cross when Ipswich had men streaming into the box on an overload, while Kenlock made some unforced errors and never really looked entirely comfortable.