Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 3-0 win against Bristol Rovers
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town eased into the second round of the EFL Cup with a 3-0 home victory against fellow League One side Bristol Rovers yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts on the action.
Ipswich Town eased their way into the next round of the cup... There’s a sentence that hasn’t been written for some time.
Following 181 days without competitive action, the Blues started the 2020/21 campaign with a bang. This was a performance which can hopefully start moving on the narrative following a near six-month post-mortem of last season’s collapse.
Let’s start with the goals. All three were of the highest quality.
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First the 29th minute opener, which you sensed was coming as the Blues increasingly got on top.
Toto Nsiala provided a defence-splitting ground pass from deep, Aaron Drinan swept the ball across the box and Freddie Sears was there to slam the ball home at the far post.
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Tomas Holy denied Sam Nicholson one-on-one, then Town’s killer second arrived right on half-time. Andre Dozzell’s first time pass over the top for the forward-running Stephen Ward was sublime, his shot was pushed behind and Alan Judge’s subsequent inswinging corner from the left was glanced in expertly by Luke Chambers.
It’s often said that 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline. Not on this occasion. Ipswich always looked in control.
Visiting keeper Jordi Van Stappershoef made smart stops from Jon Nolan, Sears and Drinan before the game was finally put out of Rovers’ reach.
Chambers’ incisive pass up the line started this move, Bishop provided the pin-point low cross and Sears, again timing his run off the left to perfection, squeezed a clever finish inside the near post.
This was as comfortable as I’ve felt watching Ipswich for some time. Paul Lambert was right in his post-match assessment of there being ‘not one failure’ among his 11 players. Individuals playing well in a team with a clear identity. Long may that continue.
WORTH THE WAIT
Aaron Drinan finally made his debut for Ipswich a full 32 months after joining the club.
The writing looked on the wall for the 22-year-old when, as part of new salary cap rules, it was announced that League One clubs would be limited to 22 players aged 21 or over.
James Norwood’s injury rehab and Oli Hawkins playing catch-up on fitness has left the door open for him though.
And he’s certainly made the most of the opportunity, following up some decent pre-season with an impressive display.
The Irishman’s all-round skill-set makes him suited to leading the line in a 4-3-3. He battled centre-backs, threw himself at crosses, ran in behind on occasions and, most importantly, often acted as a back-to-goal link-up man.
It’s such a shame he couldn’t finish off Judge’s superb cross from close-range in the 65th minute. That would have been the icing on the cake.
If Lambert is true to his word about players ‘keeping the shirt’, then Drinan is the man very much in possession of the striker spot.
ANSWERING HIS CRITICS
Chambers put fingers in each of his ears after scoring. He later posted the image of that celebration on Instagram accompanied by the caption ‘More love, less hate’. The message was clear, he’s blocking out the noise of his and the team’s critics.
Whatever fuel he used as self-motivation it worked. The soon-to-be 35-year-old rolled back the years with a fine display at right-back which was a throwback to Town’s Championship play-off campaign of 2014/15.
He scored, had a major hand in the third and provided plenty of dangerous crosses from the right. In the end the skipper limped off with cramp in his hamstring, such were his exertions.
The need to rush Kane Vincent-Young back from an Achilles problem suddenly doesn’t seem quite as pressing, with the faultless Nsiala and cool Luke Woolfenden having worked well as a central defensive pair.
PATTERNS PAY OFF
Lambert says he had an epiphany during lockdown.
“As I sat looking back over the season I had things in my head and I just thought ‘we’re going to play this way’,” he revealed last week.
That way, after all the chopping and changing of systems last season, is a return to the 4-3-3 system he implemented when first arriving at Portman Road.
Players have spoken of the monotony of pattern play being drummed into them during pre-season. You can see evidence of such repetitive shape work during the warm ups.
Defenders get the ball into the deep midfielder’s feet, he gets it wide, with the ultimate goal being to get crosses into the box. There’s a lot of crossover runs to pull the opposition out of shape. The emphasis is about moving the ball quickly and always having players on the move.
Full-backs Chambers and the vocal Steven Ward, who looks a really astute addition, took high starting positions to keep the opposition wing-backs pinned.
Ipswich basically did to Bristol Rovers what many teams did to them last season.
NO DOWNES, NO PROBLEM?
With wantaway midfielder Flynn Downes given time off to clear his head, Jon Nolan was able to retain his place in a midfield three.
Unlike in the Cambridge friendly defeat the previous weekend, his one and two-touch neat recycling of the ball came much further up the field. And that provided more breathing room for Dozzell to get moves going from deeper.
Bishop, meanwhile, provided the dynamism. At every occasion he got he drove with the ball glued to his dancing feet. Rub every lucky charm you’ve got in the hope that this is the year he finally stays injury free.
Against more rugged opposition, will Town miss Downes’ bite and spite? Undoubtedly. Nolan possibly provides more of a scoring threat though. He looked to have good shouts for a penalty turned down early on when nudged from behind and also saw a low shot saved. Goals from midfield are going to be vital in this system and the former Shrewsbury man does get in the box.