Miles Starforth’s match analysis: Ipswich Town 3 Newcastle United 1

Newcastle's Jonjo Shelvey takes on Ipswich Town's Tom Lawrence.
Newcastle's Jonjo Shelvey takes on Ipswich Town's Tom Lawrence.
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Is it time to think the unthinkable?

Could Newcastle United still end up in the play-offs?

The thing is, if they play like this in their remaining three Championship fixtures, it could go down to the wire.

Chris Hughton’s Brighton and Hove Albion, promoted yesterday after Huddersfield Town were held to a 1-1 draw by Derby County, had been sprinting towards the finish line.

Newcastle, by contrast, are limping along in second place.

Third-placed Reading are six points behind United. Huddersfield, with a game in hand, are a further point behind them.

In truth, Newcastle haven’t been playing well, consistently, for months.

Injuries and suspension have been factors, as was the decision not to invest in January.

Rafa Benitez wanted a midfielder and a winger. And his team has certainly been lacking creativity of late.

United have had enough quality and character to get results, but they haven’t been as convincing as they were in the first half of the season when Dwight Gayle and Jonjo Shelvey were in their pomp.

Shelvey was dreadful yesterday at Portman Road, where Newcastle were deservedly beaten 3-1.

But he wasn’t the only one.

There wasn’t nearly enough character and quality from Benitez’s players.

Yet again, Shelvey shuffled out of the ground refusing to speak.

So too did captain Jamaal Lascelles, who also had a forgettable afternoon.

There were mistakes all over the pitch, and Benitez – who had been proud of his players’ efforts against Leeds United on Good Friday – told of his “concern” after the match.

United’s supporters are also concerned.

Their team was convincingly beaten by Ipswich, a side which had gone into the match still needing points to secure their Championship status.

Benitez had made five changes to the team which was held to a 1-1 draw by Leeds.

Former Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy was recalled to the starting XI along with DeAndre Yedlin, Grant Hanley, Mohamed Diame and Christian Atsu.

Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy had admitted before the game that his team had “missed” Murphy, signed on a two-year deal last summer. But would Newcastle miss Gayle?

At the back, Chancel Mbemba made way for Grant Hanley, while there was also a start for fit-again DeAndre Yedlin. The team, however, spent the first few minutes on the back foot.

Shelvey, uncharacteristically, was wasteful with possession, and Ipswich delivered a series of balls into United’s box, including a dangerous free-kick from Tom Lawrence.

At the other end of the pitch, Murphy and Paul Dummett had half-chances.

Benitez, concerned at what he had seen in the first 20 minutes, used a break in play for treatment to Isaac Hayden to issue instructions to his players, who had lived far too dangerously for his liking.

They had been sloppy with the ball and sluggish out of possession.

Ipswich were sharper. They repeatedly got down the flanks and tested Yedlin and Dummett.

Shelvey twice tested goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski in the first half, but Newcastle, for the most part, struggled to create anything meaningful in the final third of the pitch.

They needed more from Shelvey and Diame.

Dummett delivered a good cross for Matt Ritchie late in the half after turning his man, but the winger put his header wide of Bialkowski’s goal.

Then it happened. And it had been coming.

Lawrence ran at goal at the other end of the pitch after Ritchie lost the ball. United backed off and at the last moment he slipped to the ball to the unmarked Sears, whose side went in off Hanley.

Newcastle were just fortunate not to be further behind at the break.

The performance didn’t immediately improve after the interval, and Benitez replaced Hayden with Yoan Gouffran just past the hour-mark.

Gouffran couldn’t get on the end of Atsu’s low cross from the left, but Murphy was there to tap the ball home and equalise.

This time, the goal hadn’t been coming. But that didn’t matter. It came. And United had almost half an hour to find a winner.

But that wasn’t how it worked out.

A poor clearance from Darlow led to another Ipswich attack, and eventually Sears rolled the ball across the face of goal to McGoldrick, who tapped the ball home at the far post.

It was another dreadful, and avoidable, goal from United’s point of view.

So too was the injury-strike from Emyr Huws which capped a miserable afternoon which was brightened only by Derby’s late equaliser against Huddersfield.

Newcastle’s Championship fate, thankfully, remains in their own hands.