Hardly what the doctor ordered. Any thoughts of Tuesday night’s win sparking a real change in our home record died a death in a game which proved to be won and lost in the first five minutes. Ipswich came out of the blocks while we seemed to believe we were still playing Doncaster. They forced two excellent saves from Alnwick, nearly converted a corner, and then scored from another. They really didn’t threaten again, but in the event didn’t have to as in an increasingly frustrating afternoon we failed to show the wit or precision needed to break open what became a massed defence – and unlike against Doncaster (and Leeds) didn’t produce a moment of magic from outside the box to score. Sobering and dispiriting.
The team was not surprisingly unchanged from Tuesday night, with Hamer still out injured. Unusually I checked the BBC pre-match summary before heading off and noted that we have scored fewer goals in the first half than any other Championship team whereas Ipswich have a habit of going ahead, often only to blow it. After five minutes you wished we’d done our homework properly as Ipswich began all guns blazing and we really had no answer. Alnwick first turned a one-on-one effort around the post, then produced an outstanding double-save, one a point-blank stop. Their first corner saw us sleep and let a guy get clear at the near post; their second produced a goal from close range. Hard to argue with it as we had the warnings.
After that opening, the game settled down and there were encouraging signs. In particular Kermorgant seemed to be getting back to his previous mobility and was winning every ball in the air with some ease. Stewart looked threatening, and Church was working well. It seemed as though we had the weapons to hurt them, if we could make the best use of them. In what was a relatively open first half we failed to do so. Crosses from decent positions didn’t find a target and too often the necessary cohesion just wasn’t there as passes were misplaced, runs misread etc. Wilson overhit one cross when well placed and hit the next one hard and low, without anyone getting on the end of it. In the event, apart from Church being played in and judged offside (I’m not sure if he was or wasn’t but do know the linesman was some yards behind the play and just guessed) and the closest we came to actually scoring was a Wiggins cross which seemed to come back off the woodwork and/or their keeper.
After their opening salvo Ipswich had been contained, but at the break you felt we might need something special, or just one off someone’s backside, to get back on level terms. We were tending to go long, which might not have been pleasing on the eye but was a fair reflection of where our strength lay in this game.
In the second half Ipswich increasingly decided to hold what they had and ensured they got nine or ten behind the ball, putting the onus on us to break them down. It proved to be an effective tactic as denied space and more often jumping from a standing position Kermorgant’s ability in the air was increasingly nullified, while Stewart was kept under wraps, not finding the space or the service to have a decent run at his opposite number.
Changes were required. A double-substitution saw Church and Jackson replaced by Pigott and Green. Bringing on a second winger, allowing Stewart to switch back to the left, seemed a decent move, while Church coming off also made sense, not because he was playing badly but because the space to get in behind or around them just wasn’t there any more. But the fact that Sordell wasn’t brought on seemed strange as we were crying out for someone to make things happen in the box, or to take any half-chance.
Stewart did threaten a few times but ended up being well dealt with and as the game entered its final stages all we could look back on from the second half was another cross that by accident almost ended up in the net. Sordell did come on, with Wilson sacrificed, but the afternoon was summed up right at the finish as a poor challenge on Kermorgant (not the first in a generally fairly contested game) saw the ref intervene and blow his whistle without looking up to see where the ball had gone. It had actually run through to Stewart with nobody close to him and a clear run on goal. Only added to the frustration, as did a stoppage-time fracas which only ended up wasting time.
Possession stats mean little. The telling one is that we failed through the entire game to fashion a proper scoring opportunity. Tomorrow we’ll be left with the sobering statistic of having scored seven goals in nine home games, having failed to score in five of them. After the awful performance at home against Millwall, we played well against Forest and might well have won, were decent against Blackpool and Wigan (but failed to score), should have beaten Leeds (or at least drawn), and did a professional job against a lacklustre Doncaster. Today the focus is back on the negatives. In truth I don’t think we were especially worse than against Doncaster; but the opposition was better and the way the game panned out we looked increasingly ordinary when some devil and a little magic was needed.
Alnwick – 8/10. Might have been a nine as he pulled off excellent saves before their goal and thereafter dealt well with the little that came his way.
Wilson – 6/10. Nothing especially wrong other than not delivering telling crosses from good positions.
Wiggins – 7/10. Much the same, got forward to good effect but couldn’t find a telling contribution (if his cross had gone in it would have been a very welcome fluke).
Morrison – 6/10. The defence collectively was all at sea in the first five minutes but after that seldom troubled.
Dervite – 6/10. Much the same; composed and assured after the opening spell but in retrospect that opening cost us the game.
Stewart – 6/10. In the end was well dealt with by their defence and today flattered to deceive. Might have been different if the ref hadn’t blown for the late foul and he went through and scored.
Stephens – 6/10. Difficult game to shine in as there was possession aplenty but he wasn’t able to pick out a telling pass in the final third.
Cousins – 6/10. Neat and tidy, provided good cover for the defence, but today no more.
Jackson – 5/10. Expect he’ll be disappointed with his showing as he struggled to get into the game from out wide and didn’t get anything in the box.
Church – 6/10. No shortage of effort but no decisive contribution.
Kermorgant – 7/10. If there was a positive from today for me it was the signs that he’s getting back to match fitness. Far less effective in the second half as they sat deep, but seemed to have their defenders on a plate in the air in the first half.
Subs – Pigott (6/10: threatened once or twice); Green (7/10: presumably came on to deliver crosses in an increasingly desperate attempt to level the game and did have some impact); Sordell (no mark as he was only on at the death and don’t think he touched the ball).