Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 1-0 loss at Cambridge United
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Ipswich Town finished their pre-season campaign with a 1-0 defeat at League Two side Cambridge United yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Ipswich Town’s most underwhelming performance of pre-season came against their lowest ranked opposition.
After playing some decent football against match-ready Premier League duo Tottenham and West Ham, the hope was we’d see just how effective this new slick, intense brand of football the team has been working on this summer would be against a team whose level is far closer matched to their own. Instead, it was all a bit ponderous.
Paul Lambert made 10 changes from midweek in an attempt to minimise the risk of injuries and get all his squad up to speed for the big kick-off. His challenge to a bloated squad has been ‘show me why you should start’, but few answered that question positively at The Abbey Stadium.
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The build-up play was too slow and deep. It gave Cambridge plenty of time to get organised behind the ball.
When that didn’t work, the Blues broke with recent traditions and started to go more direct. That brought little joy too.
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In the end, Ipswich finished the game having produced just one meaningful attempt on goal – substitute James Norwood directing a stooping header against the base of the post from a Jack Lankester corner.
Cambridge’s goal, scored in the 56th minute, came via a raid counter-attack from an Ipswich corner. Striker Paul Mullin beat young left-back Tommy Smith in a straight foot race and, after his shot came back off the inside of the woodwork, former Town man Paul Digby was there to gobble up the rebound.
The U’s, who just seemed to have a bit more purpose about them in and out of possession, had created the better chances from open play and forced several corners. Joe Neal forced Tomas Holy into a decent save towards the end, while James Wilson had to clear off the line in the dying moments after a scramble in the box. Mark Bonner’s men were full value for the win.
TALE OF TWO STRIKERS
This was Oli Hawkins’ first appearance in an Ipswich Town shirt.
The 6ft 6in striker has, as the old cliche goes, ‘good feet for a big man’. On the rare occasions that Town worked an opening in the final third, Hawkins produced some deft little bits of link-up play.
He is, as you’d imagine, good in the air too. Time and time again he was the one heading away Cambridge corner deliveries – an over-looked quality that Daryl Murphy always used to bring to the party, as well as his goals.
His presence up top does provide the temptation to go long though. Twice James Wilson pumped straight balls towards his general direction in the first half. Jon Nolan and Alan Judge both tried more flighted balls over the top which proved too strong too.
It was a shame Ipswich couldn’t get in many dangerous crosses from wide areas for Hawkins to attack.
Norwood replaced Hawkins at the break for his first game of football since undergoing groin surgery in February.
It was hard to tell if he was playing with fire of frustration. There was certainly an edge there. The 29-year-old was constantly swearing at himself or no-one in particular.
His diving header that hit the post was brave. And it was his shot that was blocked in the build-up to that corner too, following a nice reverse pass from Jack Lankester.
SENIORS DIDN’T STEP UP
After Flynn Downes, Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop laid down a marker with their synchronised displays against West Ham, it was over to some more senior midfield counterparts.
Jon Nolan dropped too deep to get the ball instead of pressing high and leaving that task to Brett McGavin.
Emyr Huws had the odd burst with the ball in midfield without ever really taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
Alan Judge played wide left. It is, as we’ve seen plenty of times before, not his forte. The Irishman drifts all over the pitch looking for the ball.
It was all a bit too telegraphed rather than telepathic, mechanical rather than mercurial.
Lankester, who hasn’t played a competitive game since January 2019, did grow into the game as it wore on. He showed for the ball more and more and looked the most likely to unpick the lock.
Corrie Ndaba produced another assured display in central defence after coming on at half-time. He’s done his reputation the world of good this pre-season.
With Luke Chambers and Stephen Ward both rested and Cole Skuse injured, the question was ‘who will be captain?’ The answer, it seems, was no-one.
Cambridge’s official team sheet had the ‘c’ next to an unlikely name in 18-year-old left-back Smith. That was an error.
The eagle-eyed among you have spotted that Huws was wearing the blue and white striped armband, which blends in nicely with the shirt, though that wasn’t exactly apparent from the Welshman barking orders and encouragement.
This was a pretty quiet Town team. Keeper David Cornell was constantly shouting ‘no voices’ at the outfielders in front of him. The hosts were certainly more vocal.
Kane Vincent-Young’s nagging Achilles problem has to be a concern given his key role in this team. Janoi Donacien had a solid game defensively in his continued absence but was then forced off himself with a ‘little knock’. That left James Wilson, only just back from a calf problem himself, playing at right-back.
Teenager Smith played at left-back because Myles Kenlock was again left out as a precaution due to a tight thigh and Town felt it prudent not to play 35-year-old Stephen Ward for a second time in five days.
Striker Kayden Jackson sat out a second game in a row with a ‘little groin injury’, winger Gwion Edwards wasn’t risked after he ‘felt his groin a little bit’, while midfielder Cole Skuse was left out after a ‘little tweak that opened up his knee’ in training.
After such a long break from football, it’s probably sensible that Town take no chances with players given the volume of games that are on the horizon.
Cup games against Bristol Rovers and Arsenal U21s will, it seems, be used as an extension of pre-season before the League One opener against Wigan on September 13.