Tactical Analysis – Rotherham United 1 Ipswich Town 0

Rotherham 1                                        Ipswich 0 

                                           Smith (90)   

A sting in the tail would be the apt way to describe this game from an Ipswich fan’s point of view. A relentless bossing of possession in the first half by the visitors was followed by a shading of the second half. However, switching off late on cost Paul Hurst’s Ipswich as Rotherham’s Michael Smith made the most of a congested penalty area to lash home the winner on 90 minutes following a free-kick into the box.

ipswich v rotherham (003)



Ipswich: Bialkowski, Donacien, Nsiala, Chambers, Knudsen, Skuse, Chalobah, Edwards (Roberts 82) Nolan, Ward (Edun 77)  Harrison (Jackson 67)

Rotherham: Rodak, Vyner, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Wood, Palmer, Taylor (Forde 67) Vassell (Jones 90) Newell (Williams 62) Smith



Ipswich made three personnel changes from their opening game – a 2-2 draw at home to Blackburn. Grant Ward came in for Freddie Sears on the left, Flynn Downes picked up a bug meaning new midfield signing Jon Nolan started, while fellow debutant Toto Nsiala replaced Jordan Spence in defence.

For Rotherham, there was one change from their 5-1 opening-day embarrassment at Brentford as Kyle Vassell replaced David Ball upfront.

Ipswich also set up in a similar system to previously. This saw them adopt a fluid 4-3-3 formation. In a difference to the Blackburn game, this time Janoi Donacian moved to his favoured position of right-back and Congolese defender Nsiala partnered Luke Chambers at centre back. In the centre of the park, Trevoh Chalobah played the deepest of a midfield three with Cole Skuse a little more advanced.  As the game went on, Jon Nolan played much of his time in the number 10 role. Striker Ellis Harrison was supported out wide with Gwion Edwards to the right and Grant Ward the left.

Rotherham adopted a more conventional 4-4-2 shape. Full backs Joe Mattock (left) and Zak Vyner (right) were accompanied by captain Richard Wood and Semi Ajayi at the heart of the Millers’ defence. A midfield four saw Matty Palmer and Will Vaulks playing centrally – and slightly deeper than the Millers’ wide players of Jon Taylor (right) and Joe Newell (left). Kyle Vassell played second striker to Michael Smith.

First half takeaway:

Both teams established early on this would very much be a cut-and-thrust Championship game.  Each sought to move the ball quickly from end of the field to the other, with the majority of passes hit long into space. Ipswich sought to utilise the pace of Harrison, with Rotherham using the physicality of Michael Smith as a focal point. With Ipswich dominating play and aggressive on the ball, Cole Skuse was often found hoisting the ball forward several times early on. He was complemented by Chalobah who was equally assertive but added a more technical side of play with a couple of crossfield balls. Grant Ward was evidently being asked to play high up the pitch on the left and press the Rotherham full-back, with Nolan often joining him in forays forward. Like Ipswich did against Blackburn they used Harrison as their main attacking outlet when going long. This was somewhat unsuccessful in the first half as Rotherham’s Ajayi was always close-by and prevented Harrison from getting a run on him. Ipswich complemented their directness with forward runs on the left flank through Jonas Knudsen – something which offered Ward extra support as the pair looked to draw out the Rotherham right-back, Vyner.

Rotherham, meanwhile, struggled to hold onto the ball for any length of time, most particularly during the first quarter of an hour which saw complete Ipswich domination. The home side were content to let Ipswich play in their half, and aimed to counter attack quickly through the pace of Vassell. Paul Warne’s team also maximised every goal-kick and set-play. Goalie Rodak would often kick long and look for teammates who had pushed high up the field closer to Smith and Vassell in attack. During the times when the Millers did have the ball they chose to use both full-backs to go forward, which also proved effective in causing the away side’s full-backs to retreat. When the wide players of Rotherham got forward, Ipswich transitioned to a 4-1-4-1 with Harrison left alone up top and Chalobah or Skuse returning to a pivot role to pick up the advancing Joe Newell.

The domination of possession by Ipswich was seen in the half-time stats – Ipswich had six corners to Rotherham’s none.

Second half takeaway:

The second half saw Ipswich shade rather than dominate possession. It was interesting to observe a slightly different approach of pass-and-move from the Suffolk side – something evidently impressed upon them by Paul Hurst and assistant Chris Doig at half time. Like in the first 45 minutes, this forced the home team back into their own half. Rotherham responded by attempting to play over the press as Rodak continued to kick long. This direct approach from Rotherham resulted in the game’s first chance of the second half as Vassell’s left-footed shot from the left side of the box was strong but central, and found its way into Bialkowski’s arms. A minute later, the Millers goalkeeper found Smith on the other side of the Ipswich penalty area, but this time his shot went wide.

Ipswich’s neat build up also resulted in several chances. Jon Nolan shot wide while further chances fell to Skuse, Edwards and Chalobah but were blocked. A largely defensive approach by Rotherham also meant a physical battle developed. Rotherham sought to snuff out Ipswich attacks primarily through the aerial prowess of Semi Ajayi – the game’s outstanding defender – who won numerous balls against Harrison. Clear-cut chances therefore continued to be at a premium for both sides.

Ipswich preserved however and continued to get Welshman Gwion Edwards on the ball in advanced places on the right. More centrally Jon Nolan kept receiving possession between the lines but often was crowded out. As a result of midfield congestion, Ipswich started to make greater use of goal-kicks hit long towards advancing full-backs Donacian and Knudsen.

Rotherham made a change by bringing on Australian winger Ryan Williams for Joe Newell and pushing the former up to play initially in support of the main striker. Fellow substitute Anthony Forde later joined to form an attacking trio alongside Vassell, while Smith dropped back to get on the ball and try and create chances.

On 67 minutes, new recruit from Accrington, Kayden Jackson, came on for his Ipswich debut. He had the chance to mark it with a goal a few minutes later when he received the ball out wide from Nolan. Jackson cut inside and advanced on goal only to be tackled by a superbly timed challenge from Rotherham captain Richard Wood.

The winning goal for Rotherham came as a result of quick-thinking from Vassell, who despite being closely followed by Donacian managed to find Smith with a forward ball. The ball eventually found its way to Williams on the wide left via a deflection, with Ipswich’s Nsiala in pursuit of the Australian. The Ipswich centre-back attempted a challenge but clearly mistimed it and ended up conceding a dangerous free-kick.  Forde’s delivery for Rotherham from the free-kick was good, but there was a slice of luck in the goal as the ball dropped kindly at Smith’s feet. It stayed 1-0 to Rotherham until the whistle blew four minutes later.

Conclusions: It was likely that any late winner for either team would come from a set-play or cross into the box as each team made greater use of physical attributes as the game dragged on. Although Ipswich deserved at least a point on the balance of play, Paul Hurst’s team struggled to use possession to their advantage and never consistently played effectively through the thirds. When their midfielders did have the ball, they often passed forward without attempting to dribble or find space. Credit should go to Paul Warne though for his substitutions which played a part in the winning goal. Ryan Williams’ burst of pace caused Nsiala to panic and foul him, giving a crucial free-kick away out left in a dangerous place, while Forde’s delivery was accurate and created uncertainty amongst the Ipswich defence.

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