Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.32 – Ipswich away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, February 21st, 2021  

SEASON 2020/21 No.32 – IPSWICH AWAY

I had begun to wonder if my frostiness towards the EFL Trophy was beginning to thaw a little or whether I should actually make a concerted effort to embrace it.

Since Premier League U21 teams were allowed to participate I’ve expressed my contempt time after time. I have always however acknowledged the potential financial benefits and disliked it that little bit less when the stage is reached with only real first teams remaining in the competition.

Knock out competitions provide something very different to the grind of a very long – and this time around messed with – league season. A kind of instant gratification as opposed to being rightly rewarded for consistent efforts over a nine month period.

Alongside our storming of Division Three and Division Two in consecutive years, the League Cup and FA Cup have provided some of the most glorious and unforgettable moments in our history.

The Milk Cup Final 1986 – I look up from my PC as I write this and on the wall there’s a picture of that splendid team and the trophy. 1983, eventually beating Manchester United at the third time of asking after two draws. Recently we’ve had the pleasure of seeing Pep Guardiola bring some of the best players in the world to the Kassam Stadium and whilst losing twice were not disgraced. Oxford United 4 West Ham United 0 in September 2019.

We’ll (probably) never win the FA Cup but that competition has provided some moments that are right up there. One of my favourite ever Oxford games was our 3-0 win at the Goldstone Ground in the third round in 1982. Brighton were in the top flight and we were in the third. Roll forward nearly 40 years and we had a weekend to remember in Geordie land only going out in the replay after a 3-2 thriller in Oxfordshire.

I’m reminiscing in such a way here because I fear these days may be over or if not will only come around once in a blue moon. (Okay, there are things that are much scarcer but I couldn’t resist the link to our recent Carabao Cup experience – “Blue Moon, You saw me standing alone, Without a dream in my heart, Without a love of my own”. I once stood on the Kippax for a midweek City game and the sound was deafening.) Why haven’t we got our own song? (Old debate I know).

The League Cup will likely be a victim of the power grab of the big few as they continue to engineer, along with other so called giants of the game in other countries on the continent, a closed shop European Super League or at least an enhanced Champions League with all but guaranteed participation. No time for midweek trips to the Globe Arena in Morecambe or the Kassam Stadium. Not for the first team anyway. (Please don’t go there).

We’ve already seen replays done away with in the FA Cup too with the later rounds this season being shifted to mid-week from the traditional Saturday (or Friday, Sunday or Monday as TV money has already long had a say).  This is currently on a needs must basis to get all fixtures scheduled following the late start because of pesky bloody Covid. Fair enough but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were to be a permanence to it all. What’s more lucrative for owners living in the U.S or an Arab State, their vastly expensive super stars taking on another set of vastly expensive super stars from the European mainland at the week end or having to demean their brand by taking on Marine in round three of a competition that was first played in 1871? That’s some history for you but history means nothing to these people whatever they may say. It gets in the way of money making. Money on top of more money.

The reason I stuck a probably in brackets when referring to the likelihood of OUFC ever winning the FA Cup was because I would not totally rule out those just focused on the massive European and Premier League financial spoils at some point dipping out completely and leaving it to the plebs of the English football world.

So, it may be that to get a knock-out fix the EFL Trophy will in future have to play a greater role, whether I like it or not, given the direction the other two national cup competitions we participate in are heading.

Before the Premier League kids were allowed out of an evening to play I used to attend home games in whatever name the Trophy was going by. I also remember going to a couple of away matches. Dagenham and Cheltenham. I drove straight from work in Oxford to the latter and there were so few people about even close to kick-off that I was convinced I’d got the wrong day.

I did go to Wembley for both the Barnsley game (pre-U21) and for my sins Coventry (post U21s). To get to play the Sky Blues we first had to get past Luton in the semi-final at Kenilworth Road. I did go round a mate’s house to watch that as we did not then have Sky. We do now so I settled down to watch us take on Tranmere.

What transpired told me much. For all I’ve written thus far I just could not get annoyed when we let the goals in, missed the penalty and for much of the game played as badly as we have at any time this season. A very mild huff was the best my body could offer. Not the usual angry expletives or animated leaps in the air when we came close.

Whilst not caring that much about the defeat, the manner of it and some individual performances indicated to me that to be in with a genuine shout at promotion we can’t afford to lose many of our better players through injury or suspensions or for those players to lose form for more than the odd game here and there.

Tranmere, who are on a good run themselves and doing very well in League Two, deservedly booked their Wembley date. They wanted it and their finishing was better than ours. However they were nowhere near the quality of some of the teams we face in L1 and that our squad players who are supposed to be cover and presumably wanting to show to Karl that they merit a starting place in the first team proper did not have noteworthy games, is a big worry.

Joe Grayson at centre-half did not look up to it. I wasn’t surprised that he was swapped for Rob Atkinson at half-time. Sadly time after time Robbie Hall looks a spent force. Jamie Hanson did not appear to be a natural right-back, but we knew that anyway.

This is unfair though because none of those who’ve got us to where we are in the league did anything positive of note either. Josh Ruffels was back to struggling against a winger although this as ever may have been partially due to a lack of help from colleagues.

Even when we brought on someone as talented as Brandon Barker, still no spark and no goals arrived. None of the substitutes turned the game for us.

At no time did we get our passing game going. In fact our distribution was as wayward as I’ve seen it for some time.

Matty Taylor hasn’t scored in his last 430 minutes on the pitch (and that’s not including additional time). These things soon mount up.

Now time to put a bit of spin on where this leaves us. Forget how woeful we were; on another day we would have beaten Tranmere possibly quite comfortably. Taylor hit the woodwork twice. If he had converted the penalty we would have very much been back in the game. There were also quite a few incidents when we had no one sharp enough to get on the end of balls played into the box. Plus we need to remember that our turnaround time of less than 48 hours cannot have helped our cause. Moore and Ruffels both went the full distance against Wigan and Tranmere with Mark Sykes only being spared a few minutes.

We’ll be stronger when Sam Long returns at RB, when Marcus McGuane regains fitness and with Elliott Lee back which we’re told he will be for the trip to Portman Road. Additionally it’s unlikely that so many will play so poorly again.

All of which means some positivity is creeping into my thinking.

That positivity is certainly needed when one looks at the fixtures coming at us one after another. Fixtures that really do matter to me.

Took this picture in The Briarbank in Ipswich last season.  Now no-one is allowed out, sadly

IPSWICH TOWN 0 OXFORD UNITED 0

Extremely happy with the point but that’s only taking into consideration how uninspiring this performance was. This was a mediocre game of football between two, on the day, very mediocre teams. If I had to sum up in one word how we looked it would be “stale”. Against a team where it is clear all is not well in the camp I would have expected us to have approached this with much more positivity and belief than we did.

We didn’t impose ourselves on anything from the first whistle and it was as if a number of cylinders in the Oxford United engine were not firing at all. We were uncertain in defence. We let them play which wasn’t the brightest of ideas giving their supposed fragility. With that comes a confidence we could possibly have banished very early on.

The Tractor Boys did though still give evidence from time to time that they were rather poor themselves. Indeed they did so throughout the game.

In the 16th minute they’d sliced over their own bar but did come up with a proper bit of defending a minute later when an Elliott Lee header was blocked at close range by a man in blue.

It was midway through the first half that the inevitable Alex Gorrin booking arrived. Although he’ll probably never learn, referees do appear to thrust a yellow card in his direction when he puts in a challenge that if delivered by many others would be overlooked. That said there was no need for it. I wish he could be a little cannier in the way he tries to stop attacks and win the ball for his side.

There were chances of sorts at either end. Mark Sykes had a long shot that missed after picking up a loose Ipswich pass and Troy Parrot went very close for the hosts.

In this mundane fare Brandon Barker stood out. He was the only real spark we had. Better quality on the ball and the only one that looked like making anything telling happen. The problem with this is he needs to have team mates on the same wavelength. There was nothing happening around him. No quick movement, runs in behind, calling for the ball, or options available.  BB only ever got balls to his feet. Is he a player who himself can sprint on to a long ball hit over the top? He’s quick enough with the ball but I can’t ever recall him being asked to put his foot down without it.

With just over half an hour gone Taylor couldn’t quite get on the end of a Barker delivery but almost nothing was being created for our number 9. Most of his work schedule was that of a hold up player and whilst he’s okay in that role, it’s far from what he’s best at and when the referee takes a dislike to you and ignores it when you’re bundled over it’s a waste of a body.

Whether Matty was getting frustrated I can’t say for sure but I know I was. I was feeling increasingly niggly and argumentative. Possibly lockdown really taking a toll as it’s a very long time since we’ve been permitted to run free. Rightly so may I add. Don’t take the shackles off too soon this time.

When I am in real life attendance I am just about 100% focused on the action on the pitch. I hate it when anyone tries to engage in lengthy conversations whilst the ball is in play whether it be directly with me about the match or others nearby in loud grating voices no one can ignore indicating they’re more concerned about their pie being cold than the fact we’re a goal down.  It’s nothing personal about Stevie Kinniburgh. Indeed I was in a recent argument stating that he was a breath of fresh air as far as punditry went. Plus I know that the commentary we get on iFollow is lifted from the radio but that is exactly where it belongs. When watching what’s going on yourself you don’t need everything described for you, especially when it does reflect reality. To be fair it’s quite a difficult job commentating, I know that.

Hope that we’d start the second period better than the first was quickly quashed. They had a corner and we weren’t able to clear it properly. Forde got booked for an obvious pull back. We were verging on the shambolic. Ipswich hit the post after a mistake by Gorrin. They then missed a very easy chance.

When we were at our best during that incredible winning streak the full-backs were getting forward. There was none of that here. No enthusiastic bursts forward from Long, obviously.

We weren’t playing the ball first time even when we had the opportunity to do so. I even thought that we were getting worse and this was now including Barker too.

As is customary the changes came with 60 minutes just gone and they were needed. Shodipo and Henry for Gorrin and Lee. I had hoped that the latter would have provided more of an impact than he did.

Henry was caught dawdling within seconds of arriving but an improvement within the team arrived almost immediately. We were now more attacking. Taylor couldn’t quite get over a Sykes cross and instead of registering, headed above the target. Two further subs nearly fashioned something with a bit of craft from Liam Kelly setting up Sam Winnall and his shot gave Thomas Holy the difficult task of getting his giant frame down. But we still weren’t quite there and a game of nothing that will live in the memory ended as it deserved to without a goal.

So, positives? Yes, another clean sheet and the league table. We’re still very well placed in eighth place. It’s always tight. Very. But there’s no team below us with games in hand that could see them go past us. Nor by the same token do we have the chance to climb further.

This draw kept Ipswich three points below us. Another example of us not being able to quite deliver against teams in the top half of the table? When I said Pompey will provide sterner opposition on Tuesday my son said, “Why? They’ve just lost to Blackpool.”  Which just emphasises the closeness of it all.  There are no givens in this league. Any team really can beat any other.

We’re well in the mix. We need to stay there by whatever means necessary. That can for example be by achieving boring 0-0 draws. Until we become good enough to rise above the mix I’ve decided I’ll settle for what occurred on Saturday. I feel less pained now.

Bring on Pompey.

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 21st, 2021 at 9:29 pm and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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