Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 0-0 draw at Oxford United
PUBLISHED: 06:00 15 January 2020
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Ipswich Town drew 0-0 at League One promotion rivals Oxford United last night. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
It was blowing a gale when Ipswich Town arrived at the Kassam Stadium. After the teams went in from their warm-ups, the heavens really opened. The home club's 'Yellow Submarine' anthem suddenly felt very apt.
From the very first moments of the game you could see there was a lot of standing water building up in the middle of the pitch. The ball wasn't rolling properly. You always felt it would take one incident for the referee to consider an abandonment.
That moment arrived in the 20th minute when Gwion Edwards and Josh Ruffels both slid to contest a loose ball. Referee Tim Nield stopped the match and had a long conversation with both managers and captains before eventually, a little reluctantly it seemed, restarting play.
Six minutes later, as Ipswich saw a series of passes get stuck in puddles, Nield blew his whistle, picked up the ball and headed from the field. The game looked like it was off.
Paul Lambert kept his players out on the pitch, while Oxford players quickly headed for the dressing room. During a strange 10 minute spell, Ipswich's 1,319 fans were in good voice. Luke Chambers smacking the ball into the Oxford net from the halfway line drew cheers.
Ground staff frantically forked the surface, the rain eased up and eventually it was announced that the game would restart after a further five minutes.
THE BIG MOMENT
Either side of that long delay, Ipswich had the better of the first half.
Alan Judge, buzzing around in the No. 10 role, was latching onto some neat chested lay-offs from Will Keane. On three occasions he fired wide from outside the box.
The big moment came deep into the 18 (eighteen) minutes of added time when James Norwood and home skipper John Mousinho contested a long bouncing ball into the box. Norwood got beyond his marker before collapsing when he felt an arm tug down on his left shoulder. Nield waved away vociferous penalty protests.
Lambert claimed afterwards that the referee had told him the non-award was because he felt Norwood had fouled Mousinho first to get goal side. Play didn't restart with a free-kick though.
Town have certainly had softer penalties given against them this season. It proved to be the game's pivotal moment.
PRICE IS RISING
Luke Woolfenden will have again left watching scouts mightily impressed.
The 21-year-old produced some impressive raking passes, important defensive interventions and some dangerous forward runs.
After the match, Lambert scoffed at reports that Sheffield United are ready to make a £3m bid. It was comforting to hear him say the club won't make the same mistake they did in letting Matt Clarke and Adam Webster go on the cheap.
Everyone wants a ball playing centre-back these days. Woolfenden's value is only likely to rise over the next six months and he is effectively a protected asset until 2023. Town are in a very strong negotiating position.
Expect this saga to run and run.
There were some good individual displays in difficult conditions.
Flynn Downes wasn't exactly all action, but, fulfilling the Cole Skuse role, was quietly effective in all he did. Keane produced some deft touches up top, Gwion Edwards was a game runner down the right, while Will Norris made one superb save in the second half to keep out Josh Ruffels' piledriver. It was also good to see Norris make repeated good decisions about when to come off his line after a couple of costly mistakes of late.
Emyr Huws probably was the pick of the bunch though with another encouraging display. He was physical and positive throughout.
Towards the back end of 2019, the worry was that the Welshman didn't seem to be kicking on several months into his long-awaited injury comeback. It was natural to wonder if he'd ever reach his previous high standards again. His strong start to 2020 has quelled such fears. That's three decent league displays in a row now.
Okay, so this was another game in which Ipswich failed to win against a promotion rival. Their record against current top half sides now reads: P12 W2 D7 L3.
This has to be seen as a positive point though. If Ipswich can go and win at lowly Tranmere on Saturday (if, indeed, the game goes ahead) seven points from nine this week would represent a really good return.
Town have, hopefully, had their major sticky patch and come out the other side still in third. With some key men finally coming into form, a settled side and system emerging and the likes of Freddie Sears and Teddy Bishop fit again there is every reason to believe the Blues can kick on at the business end of the campaign.