OPINION: Are Ipswich Town as good as the League One table suggests?

Ipswich Town have enjoyed a brilliant start to their first third-tier campaign since 1957. After eleven matches they sit at the top of League One with a game in hand over second-placed Wycombe Wanderers and their unbeaten record still intact. They are one of two teams in England’s top four divisions yet to be defeated in the league – current European champions Liverpool their company.

A key factor behind this is the strength of the Blues’ defence. Paul Lambert learned from his side’s weekly defensive calamities during last season’s relegation campaign, bringing in reinforcements over the summer which have genuinely improved the squad. Free agent James Wilson has established himself as arguably the club’s best senior central defender while wing-back Kane Vincent-Young has shone since his arrival from Colchester United, picking up the PFA’s League One Player of the Month award for September. New goalkeeper Tomas Holy, who made the switch to Suffolk from Gillingham, has also impressed, cementing his place between the sticks and keeping five consecutive clean sheets, a run that ended at the end of last month. As a result of these improvements Town have conceded just five league goals so far this season which is the best defensive record in the league; Burton Albion are the second-placed side having conceded nine times.

However, their attacking statistics tell a different story. While they can boast the joint-third most prolific attack in the league, sitting behind only Peterborough United and Oxford United in terms of goals scored, Ipswich are currently outperforming their expected goals (xG) tally (according to Experimental 3-6-1), meaning their chance creation does not match up to their real-life return in front of goal. In fact, Town are all the way down in eighth on this season’s xG table, having gained seven more points in their opening ten matches than expected. It should also be noted that five of Ipswich’s 21 goals came in August’s thrashing of troubled Bolton Wanderers, who were forced to field a team of academy players in their opening few matches.

For example, there have been three matches this season where Paul Lambert’s men took all three points despite failing to win according to the xG model. September’s home match against Tranmere Rovers saw the Blues win 4-1 with goals from Luke Garbutt, Kayden Jackson, Jon Nolan and Kane Vincent-Young sealing the result. However, the xG tally for the match showed the visitors had in fact created the most dangerous chances and perhaps should have even won the game with 0.5xG over the hosts. Tranmere also had more shots on goal and more corners, suggesting that the goal disparity at the final whistle failed to tell the full story of the match. Despite a series of impressive results, Ipswich’s finishing and chance creation could and should be better for a side looking to bounce back to the Championship at the very first attempt. The fact that Ipswich are out-performing their xG hints that an improvement is needed to avoid deviating from their current table-topping form.

Furthermore, in some matches where they have won on xG, they have struggled to take the chances they have created in front of goal. The performance against Sunderland in their second game of the season warranted a better result than the 1-1 draw they were forced to settle with, with Town’s three expected goals triumphing over their opponents’ 0.5. Part of the problem, therefore, lies with the inability of the side to take the chances they create, as well as chance creation itself.

James Norwood and Kayden Jackson have established themselves as the first-choice strikers in Paul Lambert’s two-up-top system. The former, arriving from Tranmere Rovers after helping the Merseyside club to two consecutive promotions, was expected by many supporters to lead the attacking charge for Ipswich this season, but it could be argued that his contributions in front of goal have been sub-standard in relation to the amount of chances he has had. He has missed a number of one-on-ones where he really should have scored, including two during the Bolton victory and a crucial chance against Sunderland. And while he has netted five times in eleven outings so far this season, many Town fans will be frustrated that his goal tally is not even higher, a feeling which is amplified by the fact two of his five goals have come from the penalty spot.

Although it would be silly to assume that the issues that plagued Ipswich Town last campaign have been completely ironed out, it is clear that a fragility in front of goal still lingers amongst the squad. Whether it is chances created or chances converted, Paul Lambert will be looking to improve his side’s goal return as the season progresses – if not, don’t be surprised to see a dip in form for the Tractor Boys as their real-life form begins to reflect their expected performances.

(Image: https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1259845. Free to reuse under Creative Commons)

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