Ipswich Town drew 2-2 with Wigan Athletic last night. Andy Warren reflects on the action.
a reason to smile
Ipswich Town did not have much at stake in this game. But Wigan Athletic certainly did.
The Latics would have completed promotion to the Championship had they won at Portman Road, due to MK Dons’ defeat at Oxford, but they will have to wait a few more days to secure their place in the second tier.
Neither team got the result they wanted, but both sets of fans will have come out of this game happy.
For Wigan, it is a point closer to their ultimate goal, but for Ipswich it was a reminder of the quality they possess and encouragement that next season could be different.
Wigan set the standard in the third tier in 2021/22, but Ipswich more than matched them here and arguably deserved to win.
Town brought intensity throughout the 90 minutes and showed character to come back from a goal down and take the lead. You would never have known that Kieran McKenna’s team’s season was over for a while and that Wigan was the one seeking promotion. That is the biggest compliment you can give them.
The hosts maintained an offensive presence throughout the game, as Wigan came in and out of this game, threatening Christian Walton’s goal sporadically but ultimately doing enough to take a point.
A crowd of over 21,000 watched this match under the lights of Portman Road, despite the Blues not betting heavily on it. But imagine how many would have been inside the Blues house if this game had a) been played on its original Easter Monday date and b) been vital to an Ipswich promotion offer.
Hopefully, after a lot of hard work in training camp and in the recruiting market, Ipswich will be in Wigan’s position in a year’s time and we’ll have big crowds at Portman Road to match.
However, more performances like this will be needed if that is to be the case.
It wasn’t just a performance based on intensity and heart. There was also quality from Ipswich.
That was evident in both goals, with Conor Chaplin showing great composure as he kept his cool inside the box before firing into the bottom corner. You wouldn’t have wanted anyone else on that stage.
It also came from a much-discussed Town game, although the fact that the Blues were able to score after Bersant Celina’s low, clipped effort was perhaps more luck than judgement.
Before the leveller, Town had been in control for the vast majority of this game, but fell behind until Keane’s first goal. The fact that he came on during first-half stoppage time made you feel like this was going to be another one of those all-too-familiar Ipswich Town nights where chances were begged and punishments dished out.
Chaplin’s goal secured parity before Sam Morsy’s hard-hitting volley put the Blues ahead, as the captain converted a truly quality goal involving a deep ball from Wes Burns and a well-damped header from Dominic Thompson.
Burns was involved in the attack but, in a break from the norm, it didn’t feel like all of Ipswich’s attack went through the Welshman in this game.
Town were strong in midfield, with Morsy hanging around and Tyreeq Bakinson jumping on loose balls again and again, giving the Blues a platform to attack through the middle and test Wigan in different ways.
Shots were fired from outside the box, another break from Ipswich Town tradition. Even though neither scored goals this time around, it’s a promising sign.
McKenna said after the game that he wanted to see even more long-range efforts from his side.
We hope to see more of these two things next season.
Hello old friend
Will Keane was back at Portman Road and he certainly enjoyed his evening.
The senior striker made 41 appearances for City over two seasons, scoring nine goals, but we never saw the best of him.
However, the Latics certainly are.
At Town, the skilful striker was too often used as a striker by former Blues boss Paul Lambert, a role that did not suit the tools the former Manchester United man brings to the pitch.
But now he plays in a retired striker role that allows him to deftly work the ball with his feet in deeper positions and attack the box in equal measure.
It has worked for him. He now jointly leads the League One goalscoring charts with 23, along with Morecambe’s Cole Stockton.
How well would McKenna fit into this system? Pretty good, I’d say.
He made his mark on this one, expertly heading home from a corner and then making a clever run to set up the leveler on the finish.
Keane, who certainly didn’t leave Portman Road on bad terms, was the pantomime villain for much of this game due to his ear being covered in the direction after his first goal.
He did so because, before the corner was taken, fans in the hotbed at Portman Road threw the ball at him when he went to collect it for the set piece. Keane had the last laugh then and so did in the 86th minute, when he silenced the chants of ‘Keane what’s the score’ by leveling.
The exchanges added a lot to the atmosphere of the night and gave it the feel of a great Ipswich Town game. That can only be a good thing.
Of course, be careful not to poke the bear too much.
Praise for Conor
Was this Chaplin’s best match in an Ipswich Town shirt?
His manager certainly thought it was for the best under him.
“He’s someone who’s good at shooting in those tight spaces,” McKenna said. “I think his overall performance was excellent. I think that was probably the best performance of him in my time here.
“Starting with his intensity, him and Macauley (Bonne) leading from the front with that, but his overall game, his understanding now of how he can contribute in the overall game was good. It’s still a bit of an adaptation for Conor, he was more of a pure striker early in his career.
“We keep reinforcing with him that we have to put him in goal areas because his best attribute is his ability to shoot in tight areas in and around the box and that’s a key attribute for us and he did very well.” Good for the goal.”
It wasn’t just his goal. He was also creative. There was a brilliant ball to free Janoi Donacien in the first half and another excellent spin by Kell Watts that freed fellow attacking Bersant Celina to shoot.
That’s 10 goals for the season now for Chaplin. A good return considering that he has shared attacking duties with Sone Aluko for much of the campaign and has been playing a role that he is still getting used to.
It will be interesting to see what he can handle in his second year as an Ipswich player.
We’ve already covered the roles of Morsy and Chaplin in this performance, but there are a few more players worth mentioning.
Bakinson, as stated earlier, seemed to notice every fumble that gave his team possession in dangerous areas. She’s become his loan spell here, and when he’s on it, he seems like a good partner for Morsy. He has certainly made an argument for his loan to be permanent. It will be interesting to know which path he will take.
Cameron Burgess’s return to full-back saw the big centre-back defend excellently against a tough Wigan attack as he read the game well and made vital interventions with his feet and head. He has shown that he is good enough to be a reliable member of this team next season. George Edmundson may face a fight to be a sure-fire starter on opening day of next season when he returns from injury.
Luke Woolfenden also had another good game. He defended well and also seemed keen to replicate his forward run at Rotherham on Saturday, starting from behind on several occasions. There was a moment when he seemed furious at Bonne’s lack of attack movement.
And Christian Walton proved his worth in the second half, after a quiet first half, when he rescued Donacien with a great save from Bennett after the Town defender’s bad back. He also made a great save to deny Keane’s driven shot.
We know that Town is in good hands, there.
Well sadly that’s two truly dead rubbers for Ipswich Town now.
First is a visit to already relegated Crewe on Saturday, then it’s Charlton, safely mid-table, at Portman Road on April 30.
Then it’s summer, where all eyes will be on how McKenna and CEO Mark Ashton will rebuild this team to give it the tools it needs to compete at the top of the division in 2022/23.
Ashton watched this game in Phoenix with members of the Town ownership group, as he meets with the Blues’ American investors to speed up preparations for the upcoming season.
They will have seen plenty to be encouraged by, but they will also know that much improvement is needed if Town are to reach the heights of Wigan in a year’s time.