Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 1-0 loss at Lincoln City
Ipswich Town lost 1-0 at Lincoln City yesterday to drop to fourth in the League One table. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts on the action.
AVERAGE AT BEST
‘Brilliant’, ‘unbelievable football’, ‘we dominated’, ‘I can’t ask for any more’.
Paul Lambert’s post-match assessment of this performance was both worrying and delusional. As a follow-up display to the error-strewn midweek 4-1 loss at Doncaster it was average at best.
We’ll come on to the match-winning penalty, late red cards and referee in due course. Let’s put that aside and objectively break down this Ipswich Town effort.
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First half; plenty of possession but always in deep, non-dangerous positions. Lincoln were more than happy to allow that to happen.
Oli Hawkins saw an excellent header at a corner cleared off the line, but the Blues created next to nothing from open play. So many times, after spells of knocking the ball around at the back, the attempt at a final pass was over-hit or intercepted.
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The Imps, by contrast, had four good chances. Jorge Grant fired over from close-range and saw a deflected volley come back off the post inside the opening 10 minutes. Harry Anderson dragged a shot wide from inside the box and saw a similar attempt turned round the post by the trailing leg of Tomas Holy.
Town, who repeatedly failed to stop crosses down their left, were fortunate to be level at the break.
The second half was an improvement. Ipswich played with more energy, higher up the pitch and Lincoln’s goal threat disappeared. Again though, no chances created from open play by the Blues.
Gwion Edwards could and should have headed in Jack Lankester’s free-kick delivery from close-range. If that goes in after 56 minutes then it could have been a different story.
We’ve been here before with ifs, buts and maybes though. Possession without a punch is, sadly, a familiar tale.
Town can’t afford to fall back into bad old habits.
Ipswich can rightly feel aggrieved that two attempts to foul Teddy Bishop were not punished in the seconds leading up to the game’s decisive moment.
And there is certainly a case that the penalty award against Toto Nsiala was soft.
For me though, there can’t be too many complaints.
Once Brennan Johnson got goal side in the box, Nsiala needed to engage risk management mode.
He needed to accept that any attempt to win the ball was fraught with danger and instead focus on simply funnelling the forward away from goal.
The first couple of nibbles and nudges had done that job. Johnson was running out of pitch and Town had men covering. Nsiala couldn’t help but apply one last hefty shove though. That provided Johnson with the chance to go down and gave the referee a decision to make.
Sadly, giving away a clumsy spot-kick isn’t out of character for Town’s no-nonsense defender. That’s two in two games now. He did exactly the same in successive games against Accrington and Lincoln last season too.
Any credit he built up in the early stages of the season may have just run out with Luke Woolfenden and Mark McGuinness waiting patiently in reserve.
What also wasn’t out of character was Jon Nolan’s poor challenge for his stoppage-time red card.
Frustrated that a foul hadn’t been awarded against him moments earlier, the midfielder scythed down the in-flight Anderson with a horrible, late lunge.
A bit like fellow red-head Paul Scholes, he’s always looked like he’s got one or two of those moments in him a season. Remember the tackle that sparked the Carrow Road fracas?
The game was lost. And now Nolan finds himself suspended for three matches at a time when Town are desperately short of central midfielders. Silly boy.
Yet instead of giving Nolan the cold shoulder as he trudged off the pitch, Lambert went out of his way to give him a sympathetic pat on the back.
The Blues boss was subsequently shown a red card himself after the final whistle following strong on-field remonstrations with the officials. Time will tell what punishment accompanies that.
It’s important to say that referee Kevin Johnson did, undoubtedly, make some bizarre decisions in this match. He failed to police a drop ball that Lincoln refused to give back to Ipswich following a head injury. And at one point he appeared to give an offside against an Ipswich player in their own half.
None of that excuses Town’s ill-discipline though. Calmer heads are required.
Last week, Lambert bemoaned the fact that managers can’t make five substitutes this season.
He made just one in this match though, waiting until the 81st minute to replace Jack Lankester with Keanan Bennetts.
Lankester, making his first competitive start since January 2019, did his best work when drifting in from the right and could well be a candidate for a central role at some point over the coming days.
It would also have been handy if Ipswich players had agreed on who the direct free-kick taker was going to be before kick-off too. In the first half, Edwards and Andre Dozzell argued over who would take aim from 30 yards out before Edwards eventually slammed a low effort into the wall.
Last season, after an 11-game unbeaten league start, Town lost back-to-back games. They responded with successive wins at Southend and Rochdale, but it was all pretty much downhill from then onwards.
This season, after a six-game unbeaten league start, Town have lost back-to-back games.
The teams they have claimed points off so far are currently sitting 23rd, 18th, 17th, 15th, 11th and 10th. The teams they have lost to are 1st and 7th.
After years of false dawns and disappointments, you can’t blame any Blues fans who are currently feeling a horrible sense of deja vu.
The next 10 days are, as much as anything, a huge psychological test for the players.
First up are home games against Gillingham (Tuesday) and Crewe (Saturday), followed by a midweek trip to Sunderland.