Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 2-1 home defeat to Bristol Rovers
PUBLISHED: 06:00 15 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:29 15 December 2019
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Ipswich Town saw their gap to league-leaders Wycombe grow following yesterday's 2-1 home defeat to Bristol Rovers. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB
The story against Coventry last weekend was one of being made to pay for first half profligacy. The story against Coventry in midweek was down to a lack of energy and desire. Here, it was a tale of being left to rue two poor goals conceded in the opening quarter of the match.
Bristol Rovers' fourth minute opener came from a throw-in. After a flick-on and some clever shielding of the bouncing ball in the box, Tyler Smith arrived to slam home.
Their second, in the 23rd minute, was again far too easy from an Ipswich perspective. Andre Dozzell was hustled off the ball, the Pirates worked the ball left, switched it right and Alex Rodman had far too much time and space to cross for Tom Nichols' stooping header.
It left the Blues with a mountain that ultimately proved too steep to climb.
It looked like a long afternoon was in store at that stage. In between the two goals, there had been several pieces of mis-communication between Town players. Kayden Jackson and Cole Skuse weren't on the same wavelength at one point, then Luke Garbutt gave up too readily on a loose Jon Nolan pass that drifted into touch.
Going two down seemed to inject some fire into Town bellies though and they finished the half really strongly.
Rollin Menaysese produced a big block on Nolan in the box, Ipswich forced several corners and the pressure finally paid off when James Norwood headed home Jackson's teasing cross from the left. The build-up was excellent with Flynn Downes scooped pass followed up by an equally clever flick up the line by Garbutt.
Penalty appeals were waved away when Alfie Kilgour looked to have handled a Jackson shot, before Tomas Holy had to make a smart low save from Luke Leahy. Norwood dragged a shot wide and the half ended with Menaysese inches away from scoring an own goal when stabbing the ball just wide of the post from close-range.
Town started the second half on the front foot too. Norwood's blushes were spared by the offside flag when he stabbed Jackson's dangerous low cross against the crossbar from inside the six-yard box. Moments later, keeper Anssi Jaakkola got an important touch on another dangerous Jackson delivery ahead of Will Keane.
PIRATES STAND FIRM
After weathering a storm, Bristol Rovers' game management kicked in. Jaakkola was booked for time-wasting in the 50th minute and that did not dissuade the Finn from continuing to run down the clock at every opportunity.
Such gamesmanship came back to bite them in the 78th minute when, after two players stayed down with injuries, captain Ollie Clarke was shown a yellow card for running back on the field of play without the referees' permission.
Lambert threw on Alan Judge (66) and then, eventually, Anthony Georgiou (88). Town launched attack after attack but Rovers defended superbly, celebrating each block as if it were a goal.
When the openings did come, Town players snatched at them. Nolan put a golden headed chance over when he could have taken a touch, then also mis-cued a shot in the box. Norwood saw a late close-range header, which lacked conviction, saved down low by Jaakkola.
You can see why Bristol Rovers are where they are. That's four straight league wins from them and 10 unbeaten in all competitions. They are now just two points behind the Blues having played the same number of games.
The curse of the press conference struck again. For the third successive match, the player who was put up to speak to the media was subsequently not in the starting line-up. This time, Janoi Donacien called in sick on the morning of the match leaving Lambert with a last minute reshuffle.
That saw Cole Skuse utilised as a makeshift right-back. Lambert, who has now used pretty much every formation there is this season, went with a 4-3-3.
All three strikers - Norwood, Jackson and Keane - started for the first time. The hope was that the midfield trio who bossed the game in the first half against Coventry the previous weekend - Flynn Downes, Dozzell and Nolan - would be able to connect to the front line via link man Keane.
With a proper attack-minded right-back (the return of Kane Vincent-Young can't come soon enough), this might well be a system that could bring joy.
Ipswich have now played 28 games in all competitions this season. They won 10 of the opening 14. They've won three of the last 14.
Their record against current top half sides reads: P9 W2 D5 L2 (the two victories coming against ninth-placed Fleetwood and 11th placed Shrewsbury). By contrast, their record against bottom half sides reads: W8 D1 L1.
Form at Portman Road is also a concern. A record of 13 points from a possible 29 puts them 16th in the League One home table behind the likes of Accrington and AFC Wimbledon. As Lambert warned would be the case, teams are definitely raising their game in front of big crowds at Portman Road.
Town are still second, but the gap to leaders Wycombe has grown to seven points (with a game in hand). More importantly, the gap to seventh has narrowed to five.
The wheels haven't exactly fallen off, but the wheels nuts are perhaps loosening slightly. The next four games - Portsmouth (a), Gillingham (h), Lincoln (a) and Wycombe (a) - look pivotal if Town supporters, their cynicism understandably so deep-ingrained, are to avoid suffering a serious case of the wobbles over the festive period.