Having beaten Doncaster and Sunderland away from home, of course thoughts were turning to a banana skin today, at The Valley against a team seemingly out of sorts and slipping out of the play-off picture. We managed to avoid that, but it proved to be a tough afternoon, a game in which both sides fashioned decent positions but failed to turn them into clear-cut chances. Nobody broke the deadlock. We can justifiably claim that, especially if you ignore the first 15 minutes, we had the greater number of attempts on goal and might have been given the verdict on points. But that doesn’t count for anything at this stage of the season.
The team saw one enforced changed, with Maatsen not making it, joining Washington and Aneke on the injured list. With Millar in to replace him, it looked like the same formation: 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. In front of Amos, Inniss and Pearce flanked by Matthews and Purrington. Pratley holding the fort with Forster-Caskey and Gilbey for company, then Millar and Jayesimi either side of Stockley up front. Only doubt was which sides the two wide men would operate on (proved to be Millar on the left and disappointingly they didn’t try mixing it up during the game), only concern was that with the injured trio options from the bench looked thin, only Shinnie and Watson in midfield and Schwartz up front, with nobody able to slot into a wide position if anything happened to Millar or Jayesimi (why not have Morgan on the bench instead of one of the three defenders?). Indeed, we ended up making just one change, Watson for Pratley, despite some tired legs towards the end, which underlined the lack of viable options.
If Ipswich were supposed to be out of sorts it seemed that nobody had told them at the start as in the first 15 minutes we barely got a kick. They were brighter from the off, their formation caused us problems, and they almost took the lead in the first minute as from a free kick drawn by a foul by Pearce a header required a blinding save from Amos, a shot from the rebound was cleared off the line then headed over for a corner. That was to be as close as Ipswich came to scoring through the game.
After 15 minutes I checked the BBC stats and they indicated 81% possession for Ipswich. But after that we did manage to get a foothold in the game, with some decent pressing winning the ball back and disrupting their play. By 30 minutes Ipswich’s possession stat was down to 65%. And around that time we did have our first real chance. A cross from the left was not claimed cleanly by their keeper and it fell to Stockley. He probably had more time to pick a spot but instead turned the ball towards what we hoped was an empty net only for it to be kicked off the line.
Millar was played in down the left, checked inside and the ball rolled for Pratley to take the shot only for it to be blocked. Ipswich did have a breakaway and a poor Inniss header was picked up and ended with a shot over the bar. Equally, before the break they might have had a player sent off. Their guy had already been booked and seemed to deliberately handle the ball, foul given but no second yellow. Instead the card came out for Jaiyesimi as we made a mess of a short free kick shortly before the break.
At half-time we knew we were in a tough game against decent opposition. We’d not played well enough to feel especially confident, too many set pieces and crosses in not precise enough, the wide men both failing to make a decisive contribution. But you felt that we were looking the stronger team and that if we could take the lead they might wilt. Alternatively, if they grabbed a goal and had something to defend we would struggle to turn it around, especially with the options from the bench looking so limited.
Neither was to happen. Plenty more hard work, half-chances, but no breakthrough goal. Inniss was making his presence felt from the set pieces but that only led to near misses, albeit with one a decent save from their keeper as his powerful header was deflected by Jaiyesimi. Millar was denied a good position has having turned their guy the referee made a poor call and gave a free kick against him, and around the hour we had a glorious situation. Pretty much a three on two as the ball was played into Forster-Caskey, with Millar and Stockley for company. We didn’t make the most of it, ended with a Millar shot comfortably saved.
Our one change was a like-for-like as Watson replaced Pratley, and as if to complete the similarity almost immediately picked up a yellow for a foul after a poor first touch. Ipswich did look dangerous at times but by and large it was us forcing the pace. A Forster-Caskey shot was only parried by their keeper but Stockley couldn’t get to the rebound first, then Millar teed up Forster-Caskey for a super curling effort which ended up just over the bar.
Into the final 10 minutes and another Inniss header from a corner was almost turned in by Stockley. The three minutes of stoppage time were disrupted by a little altercation as Inniss squared up to their guy, who collapsed holding his face. I hope he’s embarrassed when he looks at the replay. He should be. Still time right at the death for Gilbey to head wide from a free kick. But just wasn’t to be today.
By the end we’d managed to get up to 47% possession. More tellingly, we’d had 12 shots to their 5, six on target. On another day something goes in (or a defender hacks a clearance off the line into the roof of the net). But perhaps our situation was summed up by striving for a winner at home with one up front and the only forward on the bench not being introduced. Perhaps Adkins was fearful of disrupting the formation and conceding a late goal to turn a reasonable point into a real setback. But it’s hard to see Aneke or Washington not being used if they were available. We need them, and Maatsen, back.
Not sure as yet whether to focus on the positives or the negatives, we’ll only know at the end of the season if it was a point won or two dropped. The latter are Blackpool beating Sunderland and Lincoln winning a second in a row. That leaves a gap of five and six points (plus their better goal difference) between us Lincoln and Blackpool. The positive is of course Portsmouth losing at MK Dons. Two points behind them now with a game in hand. To be really upbeat, you could say that for the first time in quite a while it is all now in our own hands. If we win our final six games nobody can stop us being in the play-offs. But we know tough games lie ahead. To end on a positive, we would have taken two wins and a draw from the last three games.
Amos – 8/10. Excellent save at the start and thereafter dealt with everything he had to. Quite a relief that he got up and continued after treatment in the second half.
Matthews – 7/10. Was seriously tested in that opening spell as a couple of times Ipswich carved us open on his side. But weathered that and went on to have a decent game.
Inniss – 7/10. Commanding again, just a pity that his ability to win headers from set pieces didn’t this week turn into goals.
Pearce – 7/10. Also a slightly shaky start but no problems after that, good game.
Purrington – 7/10. Saw more of him as an attacking threat in the second half, almost set some things up, no problems defensively.
Gilbey – 6/10. Less influential than against Sunderland, still made good runs and cropped up in dangerous positions.
Pratley – 6/10. No complaints, did his job. Even left it to Watson to pick up the yellow card.
Forster-Caskey – 6/10. Rather quiet first half, more prominent in the second but for once struggled to pick out the killer pass and his shots were just wide of the mark.
Jaiyesimi – 6/10. Disappointing first half, much more threatening in the second. Like others just a whisker away from a decisive contribution.
Stockley – 6/10. Did the job asked of him, just unable to convert the one good chance that came his way or any of the half-chances.
Millar – 6/10. A number of good contributions, especially in the second half. Just nothing that proved match-winning.
Watson – 6/10. Fair enough.