Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 1-0 win at Rochdale
Ipswich Town returned to the top of the League One table with a 1-0 win at Rochdale tonight. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
BACK ON TOP
Two defeats quickly followed by two wins. Talk of a blip nipped in the bud.
Any doubts about performances can wait for another day. Town are back on top in League One.
Danny Rowe's alert 53rd minute finish, after the ball had looped up inside the box, settled this one.
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It was a cold night in Greater Manchester, the Spotland surface was heavy and yet Paul Lambert's men got the job done in front of 906 jubilant travelling fans.
That's now seven away victories from nine in the league. Five of them have come by 1-0 scorelines.
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The theme of Town's relegation campaign was playing alright between the boxes but ultimately not being anywhere near ruthless enough at either end. Now we have the opposite situation.
The Blues once again looked far from utterly convincing. They scrapped their way through the first half and survived a few scares.
Teams don't take their chances with anywhere such regularity in the third-tier. Poor patches in games don't always get punished.
After the break, Town found their feet. They scored, they dominated possession and they protected keeper Will Norris excellently.
FIRST HALF FRUSTRATION
Town hit the woodwork twice in the first half, Luke Woolfenden heading against the post and Luke Garbutt rattling the crossbar from outside the area.
Both those chances came from corners, but from open play they had created nothing.
Rochdale saw a Rekeil Pyke shot deflect just wide off the heel of Garbutt and Matt Done fluff his lines inside the box.
James Norwood's booking just before the break, given for a foul following on from a lengthy spell of barracking the referee, summed up the team's frustrations.
Once again it was a 4-4-2 system.
Alan Judge, following his encouraging cameo at Southend, returned to the starting XI.
Both he and opposite wide man Rowe looked very much up for this from the off, racing about the pitch and getting stuck in.
Before the break their end product was often lacking. Rowe ran into dead ends, while Judge struggled to find his range.
Lambert opted against a change at the interval, instead simply swapping Judge to the right and Rowe to the left. It made a real difference.
Rowe's jinking runs started to come off and he had Rochdale's boy wonder right-back Luke Matheson pinned back.
It was fitting that he was the one to break the deadlock, running across the area to poke home after Edwards' cross had looped up off a defender.
Already one of the longest-serving players at the club, having been signed from Macclesfield in January 2017, this was his first goal in a Town shirt.
It looked like he had one foot out the door when loaned out to Lincoln last season, but Rowe's Town career may just be about to finally take off if he continues to believe in himself.
TOUGH FOR EDWARDS
With Kane Vincent-Young recovering from groin surgery, Lambert had a decision to make at right-back. Surprisingly, he went with self-professed left-winger Gwion Edwards, even though the Welshman had struggled during his cameo there at Accrington.
Rochdale had done their homework. They targeted that side with long diagonals in behind. It left Edwards, never quite sure when to push on, in a bit of a muddle.
The 26-year-old managed to use his pace and tenacity to get himself out of trouble on a few occasions though and it was his cross which led to the goal.
One thing is for sure, Janoi Donacien's Ipswich career appears to be hanging by the thinnest of threads. He was left out the squad completely. Saturday's FA Cup game against Lincoln may be last chance saloon.
Cole Skuse again showed his remarkable powers of recovery to take his place in the starting XI just 10 days after being forced off the field with a groin problem. It was a big boost given that Flynn Downes sat out through suspension.
Skuse admitted recently that, in hindsight, he rushed back to action far too quickly when returning from knee surgery after just five weeks at the turn of last year.
In truth, he looked far from at 100% here. But even though he wasn't able to cover every blade of grass, his reading of the game and range of passing was crucial.
Talking of reading the game, Woolfenden again played like he had a cigarette in his mouth. The young centre-back produced some ice cool moments on and off the ball.
It's a shame he couldn't convert either of his two golden headed opportunities, a second half effort falling inches wide.