Stuart Watson's Sunday Verdict: Play-offs here we come... Ipswich Town don't look anywhere near ready for a Championship return
PUBLISHED: 13:54 09 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:54 09 February 2020
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Ipswich Town dropped out of the League One play-off places with a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Strap yourselves in. Play-offs here we come.
Using a couple of crude mechanisms for predicting points, I've worked out Ipswich Town are going to finish... fifth.
Calculators at the ready. Here we go.
Method one: Ipswich replicate the results from their reverse fixtures against all 14 teams left to play. So they beat AFC Wimbledon, draw with Oxford, lose to Portsmouth etc etc. That would give them 28 more points and a grand total of 76.
Prediction method two is based on the current league position of the teams left to play. On average, Ipswich have taken 0.5 points per game against those currently in the top seven (W0 D5 L5), 1.6 against those in the middle eight (W4 D4 L2) and 2.7 against those in the bottom three (W9 D0 L1). Extrapolate that over the remaining 14 games and it's 27 more points and a grand total of 75.
So, Ipswich are on course for around 75-76 points. Where would that total leave you in the previous decade of League One? By the time we adjust for the fact it's a 23 team league due to Bury's expulsion (take four points off everyone from previous campaigns), the answer is anywhere between third and sixth. The average is fifth.
That's what makes these last three defeats all the more galling. Had Town emerged from matches against Rotherham, Peterborough and Sunderland with just a couple of results, even draws, then automatic promotion would have been very much there for the taking given the fixtures left.
They should have been going into 'winnable' fixtures with a little bit of breathing space - that could have been powerful. Instead, they now go into 'winnable' games with no wriggle room and the pressure on - that could be debilitating. We'll see.
First we heard it could suit Ipswich Town being away. Now we've heard it could suit them being out of the top six. Perhaps it just suits them being in League One.
That's the way it feels when you keep hearing Marcus Evans, Lee O'Neill and Paul Lambert shrugging off set-backs and talking about long-term plans. The cynics would suggest that Marcus, having not had the financial muscle to compete in the Championship, will now be quite happy to bob along in the third-tier.
Okay, tin hat on, it's controversial opinion time. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the Blues didn't go up this year... Stick with me. I don't know if I truly believe it myself, but I'll put the theory forward nevertheless
Perhaps we all, myself included, got carried away with this notion that it's imperative the club simply 'has' to get promoted at the first time of asking. When Ipswich go up, surely it's best they go up when they're ready? Sheffield United are the poster boys for that.
Can anyone say Ipswich look ready now? It doesn't look like it.
Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse are going to need replacing in the near future, while you couldn't confidently hang your hat on Emyr Huws, Teddy Bishop, Jack Lankester and Freddie Sears given their injuries. There'd be question marks over others in the squad as to whether League One is their natural level too.
In short, this squad would need some serious surgery to stand a chance of survival. And that would mean having to cash in on one or both of Luke Woolfenden and Flynn Downes.
Lambert would then face a dilemma. Try and box clever in the transfer market and risk doing a Paul Hurst, or look for short-term sticking plaster loans and risk doing a Mick McCarthy.
Maybe the Blues boss needs another summer transfer window in League One. If some big bucks come in, then give him chance to deliver another Kane Vincent-Young or three. Hopefully another two or three homegrown players can follow in the footsteps of Woolfenden and Downes too. The latter, arguably, is more likely to happen at this level than the one above.
When promotion comes you need to have all your ducks in a row.
I'll finish with some positives. There are some if you look hard enough.
Had Saturday's game happened in the middle of a good run then it would have been much easier to swallow. Town did play some really nice football in that first half, just as they had in the opening exchanges with Peterborough.
Yes, yes, I know - goals change/win games. The only stat that ultimately matters is the scoreline.
I've seen enough in the 2020 performances, just, to believe that positive momentum could be gathered down the closing straight. And when it comes to the play-offs, form and confidence is everything.
Ipswich haven't beaten a promotion rival yet in 10 attempts, but if they went into a two-legged tie off the back of a lengthy winning run (not impossible when you look at the run-in) then their mindset would be very different to that of a side who might be reeling from just missing out on the top two.
Let's look at that record against promotion rivals in greater detail too. Outplayed by Rotherham and Peterborough home and away, no doubt. There's every chance those two will end up as the top two though.
Town could and perhaps should have got more from both of their draws against Wycombe. I'd fancy them against the Chairboys. Just like Shrewsbury a couple of years ago, they may ultimately run out of gas.
The Blues have played some of their best football this season against Coventry. They've looked the better side in three of the four halves played against Sunderland. Whether losing in the play-offs last season would give the Blacks Cats or Portsmouth extra motivation/knowledge or extra pressure/fear is an unknown factor.
Or it could be Doncaster, Fleetwood, Oxford or Burton... Town haven't lost to any of them so far.
Clutching at straws? Maybe.
Town might not even make the top six. They are still in the mix though. A week is a long time in football.