I have seen North End play worse than they played on Saturday, much worse.
But I have to say that this was the worst performance under the stewardship of Alex Neil – and by some distance. North End were made to pay for defensive frailties although the question around the impact of the missing players is more a strategic one than a tactical one at this point in time. To be fair, we pretty much held our own in the first half right up to added time but it was a very dour affair. The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of us and when Ipswich made it two after the break, you just knew that the chance had gone. North End kept going to their credit but made little impact to be honest and when the third goal added insult to numerous injuries, North End looked a shadow of the side that had beaten some of the frontrunners earlier in the season. It was Preston who had the first chance early in the game with a Pearson shot but chances were few and far between. Ipswich had clearly done their homework on us and I suppose one of the points for discussion was the fact that there was no ‘Plan B’ adopted to try and break down the Tractor Boys later in the game. Ipswich had the two class players on the field in the shape of McGoldrick and Waghorn and it was the latter who gave the home side the lead in added time. Referee Madeley had given a free-kick, five yards outside the box, against John Welsh for what looked a good tackle. North End lined up the wall to the right of the goal but instead of covering the left, Maxwell gambled on Waghorn going over the wall and cut somewhat of a lonely figure when Waghorn went for the gap that Mawell should have been covering. It was not Chris Maxwell’s finest moment and the goal was to have a very significant impact on the outcome. Our best chance came right on the first-half whistle when a curling Daniel Johnson shot hit the top of the crossbar. North End’s task was made doubly difficult five minutes after the break when the hosts got a second goal with a header from McGoldrick. A cross from the right found the Ipswich man at the back post but I have to say that Vermijl (on for Darnell Fisher) made a woeful attempt at challenging McGoldrick’s header and Maxwell had no chance as Ipswich went two up. North End rallied for a while but were powder puff in attack with only Barkhuizen looking like making any impact on the home defence. Cellina broke down the right with O’Connor way out of position and fired a decent shot home from about 15 yards to seal North End’s fate. So, North End drop from fifth to fourteenth in the time it takes to say Wolves, Brentford, Villa and Ipswich and just where we go from here is a matter for debate. I suppose we will only know later next week what the injury situation is but North End desperately lacked quality at Ipswich and it wasn’t just the defence. Whether teams have sussed our style remains to be seen but I heard booing from a section of the 435 who made the 514-mile round trip to watch some pretty poor stuff and I haven’t heard that for a long time away from home. This international break will clearly test Alex Neil, not just in terms of injuries but in terms of getting his players right mentally for when hostilities resume again a week on Friday against Bolton. There were too many heads down too early at Ipswich for my liking and perhaps it’s time for a shuffle of the pack and I don’t mean defensively.