Scout File: Ipswich Town (H)

Credit Graham Burrell

On Monday we face our first game of the year and boy it will be a cracker, writes Tom Morton.

Ipswich are flying high; yes they are currently third which is one place lower than when we last faced them in October. However, really it’s a joint second. The top three are, even accounting for games in hand, 6-8 points clear and you can see the squads that are obviously championship-level. It is no doubt, from our visit to Portman Road, that Ipswich are definitely deservedly in that group.

In a sense, it will be a relief to play a tough game of football. Friday’s game descended into farce with Bolton (who are definitely not a championship-ready squad) reacting badly to the idea that a mid-table club might be beating them. That said, the resilience of the second half and our willingness to go toe-to-toe with the opposition is definitely something we lacked last season. It’s also what we saw in the reverse fixture with Ipswich back in October. So there is a real heart to this squad.

Hopefully, we will see some of that resilience on Monday afternoon. Because the statistics are nothing like Friday’s game! With a team like Bolton, the margins are actually fairly fine – on pure numbers we beat them on some and they beat us on others (and realistically they have two more wins than us at home). The last time I wrote about Ipswich I said it was comparing Amber and Green on the stats; well on Friday it was Amber vs. Amber, tomorrow is solidly Amber vs. Green again.

And yet. We tend to step up to these encounters. We’ve played all of the top three teams once (twice at home and of course Ipswich away) and picked up 5 out of 9 points. I think anyone in our position would be pleased with that. To put it into context; Shrewsbury (one point above us right now) dropped all 9 points and conceded 6 goals (our tally was 2 conceded). Being competitive with the very best teams is not a problem for us!

Look, stats-wise it’s not promising. And the reality is this could well be our first home defeat of the season. Last time out the Tractor Boys managed 33 shots vs. our 3. Now, only 5 of those were on target and an incredible 16 were blocked (with the remaining 12 missing). That, coupled with their 75% possession, demonstrates our game plan of “park the bus”, keep them out, sneak a win. It worked very well.

Other stats are scary; Ipswich top the table for away performances with a nearly 60% win rate and are racking up a PPG of 2 vs. our 1.36 at home. On top of that their xG (away) is nearly twice our home figure. On the positive side – keeping a clean sheet away from home is tougher for them, having conceded in 2/3rds of their encounters. When you couple that with our scoring in 85% of home games there is a good chance of us taking a goal from them.

Tactics

Ipswich lineup 2022 (H)

The thing Ipswich do, and do well, is play with pace. They are definitely a numbers team. Yes, they are skillful (as you’d expect for a squad that cost multiple millions of pounds to assemble) but they play with such pace and intensity you can see how teams would crumble. Defend one attack and then the Tractor Boys instantly recycle the ball to come at you again. Our defensive tactics will have to be the same as before. One thing I think we have cracked really well (and saw a lot of on Friday night) is our ability to reset the back line. So Monday’s game essentially comes down to a race; can we reset faster than Ipswich can come again? The offside trap will be key. Ipswich play with a pace that a good backline should be able to use against them. They run so hard at goal that it’s possible to catch them (that said, last time out against Portsmouth their second goal was well offside, so it depends on a linesman who can spot it).

Whilst a lot of the focus is often on the forwards, like Connor Chaplin who has racked up 10 goals so far this season, some of the key threat from Ipswich comes from their left-back Leif Davis. He has 6 assists so far this season and is incredibly sharp and pacy down the left-hand side. He caused us a lot of problems last time out, and my sense is it will stop Poole from playing the very forward role he’s been holding for a number of games now. 

Defensively, of course, they are solid. Although to be fair they’ve conceded only three less than us. How do you beat a team that dominates possession and the midfield? Looking at recent goals by Portsmouth and Wycombe (who clearly employed a similar park-the-bus concept to us in their 1-0 home win against the Tractor Boys) the answer is to make the most of set pieces and quick breaks. There are no specific vulnerabilities, it comes down to finding a way to create one or two chances and capitalising on them. I’d like to see Mandriou spark to life (he was quiet on Friday, probably still not quite match-fit) and run at them a bit. I hope House will start too. It’s hard on Hopper, but Ben’s disruptive playing style and high energy across the opposition back-line will be both critical defensively and also create opportunity going forward. 

Credit Graham Burrell

Ipswich are reportedly struggling with illness in their camp. We definitely won’t see former Imp Tyreece John-Jules, who is out with a hamstring injury till later this year. But other than that, Manager McKenna is tight-lipped on who might be a risk to appear. It might be a bit of gamesmanship. The Tractor Boys managed to field their regular first team throughout the festive period. Then again, perhaps the exhaustion will kick in for those who are struggling and we will see some changes. That can only work in our favour.

Monday’s game will hopefully be a classic. It might be a rout if we get it wrong. But, hopefully, the lads are fired up from Friday and up for a positive start to the new year. Ipswich will be keen to start 2023 positively, and as one of only three losses so far this season, they will be keen to return the favour in spades. One thing is for sure, I suspect this is the last time we play Ipswich for at least a year or two. You probably couldn’t ask for a bigger challenge! Happy New Year folks!