You could have wrote the script before the game, couldn’t you?
Taking on a team in a poor run of form? Tick.
New manager just appointed? Tick.
Full house as SAFC come to town? Tick.
Everything seemed to be pointing to ‘one of those games’ that we’d come away from with nothing but a host of mitigating factors and plausible excuses.
And, to be fair, our performance for a lot of the first half suggested this would be the case.
Even the impromptu team talk enabled by Hoffmann’s very convenient ‘injury’ failed to change the course of the first 45. We almost got back into the changing rooms unscathed (apart from Leon Dajaku – how was that not even a booking?!) but fell to an injury-time goal.
That could have killed us off. But, the second half was an altogether different proposition – we looked more composed, more confident in possession and maybe should have come away with all three points, although a draw was – in reality – the fair result.
If you’d offered me four points from Ipswich at the start of the season I’d have taken it, and come the season’s end we could look back on Saturday’s result as a very good point indeed.
While we failed to get promoted under Jack Ross because we drew too many games, Lee Johnson’s approach is to try to win every fixture – and it’s largely been a welcome change. But sometimes a point’s a good result – a result that deserves respect – and thanks to a solid and sturdy display in the second half we achieved just that. Would we have got that point a couple of months ago? I’m not sure we would have. Keeping that points tally ticking over is important as we get to January – we’ve got players returning from injury and a determination to strengthen as we enter the transfer window.
Some may bemoan the fact that Rotherham and Wigan have extended their lead over us at the top of the table, but on a game-by-game basis this is largely irrelevant. They’ll drop points on weekends we pick up all three over the coming months, and at present, we need to concentrate on how we’re running our own race. Getting to January averaging two points per game will be a very solid achievement given the injuries we’ve had.
The fact the likes of Cirkin, Evans, O’Nien, McGeady, Huggins and Hume – who I thought looked impressive on Saturday as he made a long-awaited comeback – have been out for so long has meant players such as Dan Neil, Carl Winchester and Ross Stewart have all played more football than perhaps is ideal.
Dan Neil had one of his quietest games for some time in the first half, but came out in the second half a different player. He was constantly trying to get on the ball, took more care in possession and set up Nathan Broadhead’s goal with a stunning piece of play. Winchester, too, showed the energy we’ve come to expect, but he’s surely running on close to empty.
Stewart, likewise, just doesn’t seem as sharp as he did earlier on in the season – he looks a bit leggy.
Tuesday’s cup game at Arsenal – if it does indeed go ahead – therefore gives Lee Johnson some selection headaches. If it were an FA Cup second-round tie we’d likely play a much-changed team, but this is different.
It’s a game that, in some respects, we could do without.
But the likes of Neil, Stewart, Broadhead and Winchester will be relishing a run out at The Emirates, a game to prove themselves against a historic club, and by not playing them you’d risk a serious dent in morale.
Who knows what’s going to happen over the coming weeks – it’s a racing certainty we’ll have some games postponed – so that particular decision about when to rest players could be made for Lee Johnson anyway. It may well work out well for us.
At the time of writing, we’ve got three league games until the very earliest point we’d realistically see any incomings – and I just hope that the club back Johnson in whatever he needs to ensure this team continues to improve, develop, and keep within a game or two of the current top two.
It’ll be an interesting window to watch develop – after all, it’s the first January one we’re approaching with any sort of plan.
After the summer transfer window closed, Sporting Director Kristjaan Speakman said they were already working on the next couple of windows, and Johnson said in his appearance on the club’s Unfiltered podcast this week that the aim is to come out of January with a stronger squad than we go in with – and any players who come in must be fit and ready to go.
It’s the first January window we’re going to have for a hell of a long time that’s part of a long-term plan – and, if we do it successfully, and supplement an already very good squad with three or four players who can improve the first XI, we could very well be looking back at that point on a late December afternoon at Portman Road as an incredibly valuable one indeed.