Explaining Ipswich Town’s slow starts: Corners, risky style of play and losing battles


Embed from Getty Images

It’s no secret that Ipswich Town are facing somewhat of a challenge when it comes to how they start matches.

The Blues have dropped to fourth in the Championship after one win in nine games. Town still have a game in hand over third-placed Leeds United so are still firmly in the four-horse race for the top two.

But it’s the slow starts to matches that is proving detrimental to their form.

The Tractor Boys let top of the goals conceded in the first fifteen minutes chart (12) and have conceded 18 in the first half an hour.

Preston A (5, 8), Leeds A (8), Watford A (12), West Brom A (5), Swansea H (7), Rotherham A (4), Birmingham City A (13) are just some of the games where Town have started slowly and ended up conceding inside a quarter of an hour.

What is it though that is causing Town to start so slowly? In short: there are a multitude of factors and the context behind each is key.

The first reason can be down to Town’s organisation from corners. The Blues aim to mark zonally from set-pieces and attach markers onto those they expect to pose a key threat.

Except this sort of set-up can easily leave players unmarked.

The first of Leeds’ four goals at Elland Road came from a corner in which Pascal Struijk darted away from his marker to find plenty of space. Joel Piroe’s header was saved by Hladky but Struijk was there and, moving quicker than Axel Tuanzebe, he nodded over the line.

Against West Brom at the Hawthorns it was Nathan Broadhead and Leif Davis who allowed Darnell Furlong to push towards the near post to flick a corner beyond Vaclav Hladky on five minutes.

Another reason for Town’s conceding early on is their risky – yet often rewarding – style of play. Countless times this season McKenna’s side have won praise for their brave, possession-based way of moving up the pitch.

Yet when those moves and patterns of play fail to come off, it can easily lead to opponents scoring. And that’s exactly what happened against Watford.

Town’s central defenders for the night – Tuanzebe and Cameron Burgess – pulled wide to allow Sam Morsy to slot deep whilst pushing Davis and Brandon Williams up the pitch.

Tuanzebe’s pass back to Hladky was controlled well despite pressure from Mileta Rajović. The next pass was less clever, however, as it bypassed Burgess, was cut out by Yáser Asprilla whose initial effort was stopped before converting the rebound inside 15 minutes.

Embed from Getty Images

The third of Preston North End’s goals in a 3-2 win at Deepdale also came from this misfortune. Luke Woolfenden and Hladky combined, the shot-stopper was put under pressure by Emil Riis Jakobsen and ended up spooning it almost straight to a Lilywhites player and ex-Town man Will Keane was there to convert on 39 minutes.

“Looking back at it, maybe we were half a yard off on transitions and stuff like that, hence the two goals,” midfielder Massimo Luongo said after the defeat to Preston North End.

“The boss said we weren’t far off it, we were playing some good stuff and doing the right things on the ball. We lost it in areas where we were probably a bit vulnerable on the counter and then they made us pay and we got punished for it.

“Going forward, we were still trying to do the same thing. We came out both times, I remember we had a good spell of possession then we lost the ball and suddenly we’re 2-0 down.

“But we didn’t stop, it’s hard coming here anyway but being 2-0 down makes it even tougher. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing, don’t bring any negative vibes and keep pushing.”

One of the negatives taken by McKenna from the 2-2 draw with West Brom on Saturday (February 10) was their success rate in challenges on and off-the-ball. They held off conceding inside fifteen minutes, but they did still concede the first goal for the fourth league game in a row.

During the first half Town won just nine (32%) ground duels and eight (47%) aerial duels.

“It’s not something we’re ignoring that’s for sure,” McKenna said when asked about the slow starts. “I don’t think we won enough challenges at the start [today]despite us talking about it pre-match.

“We were playing well but West Brom came out on top in the 50-50 balls. On too many occasions when there were chances to win the ball we didn’t and that meant we couldn’t create the domination that we did late on.

“There’s lots of factors to that. West Brom have excellent players and ours are at full-stretch to compete at this level. We know we won’t have the full 90 minutes either.

Embed from Getty Images


“We won’t hide from the fact that we need to find ways to consistently impose ourselves into games at the start but we equally have to respect the opposition we’re playing against and the level we’re at.

“We’ve also got to take confidence from the positive that players believe if we stick to the ways we play then we’re usually still going strong and the opponent can sense it getting difficult by the end of the game.”

Town find themselves with just one win from nine Championship matches,  possibly the toughest spell of form that McKenna has endured since coming to Portman Road.

Despite the slow starts, however, the Blues have the highest number of points secured after falling behind (22). Of course it would be much easier for Town if they didn’t have to climb a self-inflicted mountain each week, but the Tractor Boys are proving they are able to find the strength in depth to do so if required more often than not.

Southampton (H) is the the only top-four team they are still to play this season and the Blues have, on paper, an easier set of fixtures between now and the next international break compared to their promotion rivals.

If they are able to impose themselves more strongly and more quickly into the these fixtures then that should be enough to keep them fighting for an automatic promotion spot.

They still really need to kick the habit of starting slowly and giving their opponents a head start though.

Especially against those at the other end of the table who will be fighting for every point they can get and, should they sneak an early lead, might give Town nightmarish reminders of stubborn League One outfits.


About Author

When not busy covering local news for EssexLive, Matt Lee can be found in the press box at Portman Road covering Ipswich Town's return to the Championship and push for the Premier League.

Comments are closed.