Portman Road was full of optimism leading up to the first game of the season at Reading, but four points from the first five games has left some fans concerned and re-evaluating their expectations for this season. Ipswich have let a lead slip on three occasions this season already, and this is a trend that needs to be stopped as soon as possible.
Despite only spending £50,000 on transfers all summer, many Ipswich fans were hopeful of a play-off challenge off the back of the good form shown under new boss Mick McCarthy in the second half of last season. The fixture list, however, was not kind to the Blues and the season started with a trip to newly-relegated Reading. This was soon followed by tricky fixtures at QPR and at home to Leeds, one of the dark horses for promotion.
One of the main concerns from fans after last season was the lack of a goal threat. Indeed, Ipswich were the lowest scorers in the Championship last season. No new faces were added in the striker position, but David McGoldrick and Daryl Murphy did sign permanent deals after being at Portman Road on loan last season. They both looked on good form during pre-season, but only have one goal between them so far in the six games played in all competitions. This is compounded by the fact that the two back-up strikers, namely Paul Taylor and Frank Nouble, have not looked on the pace so far and have no goals between them. In fact, ‘own goals’ is currently Ipswich’s top scorer. The Blues have often had the better of games so far this season, but haven’t made the pressure tell.
Another issue that has appeared in the early stages of this season is the inability to hold on to a lead. In four of the five league games so far this season, Ipswich have taken the lead, but they’ve only gone on to win one of them – the 3-0 win over struggling Millwall. Let’s have a look at each of the three games where they have let a lead slip.
Things were going well at Reading when Jay Tabb scored against his former club, and it looked like Ipswich would take a 1-0 lead into the break. Unfortunately, Adam Le Fondre scored just before half-time and the complexion of the game changed. Town did not have much of a goal threat after that, but only lost to a deflected Danny Guthrie strike, so could consider themselves unlucky to have not taken a point from the Madejski.
At home against Leeds, Ipswich were utterly dominant for the first 30 minutes and should have been out of sight before Luke Varney’s equaliser. Ross McCormack’s shot early in the second half took a deflection, but Scott Loach was disappointed not to save it. When Ipswich were forced to chase the game, they were lacking in ideas and cutting edge.
Loach was dropped for the next game at Birmingham, and a much-changed Ipswich side took the lead thanks to a Christophe Berra header. Again, Ipswich were clearly the better side but they weren’t able to make it count, and Chris Burke’s deflected shot looped over Dean Gerken and into the goal. This was more a case of bad luck for Ipswich – the Birmingham keeper was in fine form and the equalising goal was incredibly lucky for Birmingham, who were poor throughout.
McCarthy has a reputation for being loyal to his players but said after the Leeds game that he would make changes for the next match at Birmingham, but few expected him to change half the line-up. Gerken replaced Loach in goal, which on the face of it looked a bit harsh, but I think the manager has never been convinced by Loach and wanted to get his own man in goal. Christophe Berra got his first league start in place of Elliott Hewitt, with Luke Chambers moving to right-back. Paul Anderson replaced Carlos Edwards on the right wing, with Ryan Tunnicliffe taking Jay Tabb’s place on the other side. The fifth and final change saw Frank Nouble replace Daryl Murphy up front.
The team performed well at Birmingham but there are a few concerns about ‘square pegs in round holes’, with Chambers and Tunnicliffe not playing in their natural central positions. Hopefully, McCarthy can settle on his strongest line-up soon, but that will probably only happen when the results start coming. It’s always possible that McCarthy could dip into the loan market if things don’t improve. Names such as Phil Bardsley and Billy Sharp have been linked, but neither of those are realistic signings due to their Premier league wages.
Ipswich certainly haven’t had the rub of the green so far this season, but to be fair there were one or two smash-and-grabs towards the end of last season. There’s certainly no reason to panic yet, but results need to pick up soon if they want to challenge for a top-six finish. Mick McCarthy is a great manager at this level, so I’m backing him to get the team back on track, provided he doesn’t take the Republic of Ireland job. With home games against Middlesbrough and Yeovil coming up, there is a great opportunity to silence the doubters and get some points on the board.