Town’s dress rehearsal, full circle for Downes and first look at strikers - Town end pre-season at Cambridge
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town end their pre-season programme with a visit to Cambridge United this afternoon. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the friendly contest.
This is Town’s dress rehearsal, so Paul Lambert’s cast list will make interesting reading.
The Town boss has shared the minutes around during pre-season to date but gave the majority of his starters more than an hour on Tuesday against West Ham.
We’re still no clearer to knowing who will start when the competitive action begins, though several players have done their cause no harm at all. That’s especially true in midfield, where homegrown trio Flynn Downes, Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop impressed as a partnership in the middle of the pitch against West Ham on Tuesday. There’s certainly an appetite for more there.
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There were some notable absentees, though, with Luke Woolfenden sitting the game out and Kane Vincent-Young (Achilles) and James Wilson (calf) missing from the defence. The former is a guaranteed starter if fit, while the latter, along with Woolfenden, will be hoping for starts ahead of Luke Chambers and Toto Nsiala. Stephen Ward looks certain to be Lambert’s left-back option.
It’s likely David Cornell will play the vast majority of today’s game between the sticks, with Holy playing 75 minute against the Hammers but not covering himself in glory.
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Gwion Edwards and Freddie Sears started in the wide areas, but Jack Lankester will be hoping to have a real say in those positions, as he gets his career going again following a back injury. The youngster should return today after missing Tuesday’s game as a precaution.
Then there’s the Town strikers. Aaron Drinan has shouldered the burden so far during pre-season, playing significant minutes while Kayden Jackson has struggled with a knock.
But he’s likely to be used in a back-up role today, as James Norwood looks set to take to the pitch this afternoon following his struggles with a groin problem, while Oli Hawkins could also make his first appearance in blue since joining on a free transfer less than two weeks ago.
It’s understood they’re likely to play 45 minutes each this afternoon, with the central striking position certainly up for grabs.
Things we want to see
Regardless of the personnel, Lambert will expect his 4-3-3 system to continue to take shape, with his players moving the ball quickly, incisively and taking up the right positions to execute their well-drilled patterns of play in all three thirds.
The previously-mentioned midfield trio of Downes, Bishop and Dozzell will be hopeful of impressing again, if given the chance, while Norwood and Hawkins will be keen to take their opportunities.
They’re different players. Norwood the all-action poacher and Hawkins the target man, but both can be effective if used correctly and supported well. The pair will be short of fitness and have work to do if they’re to be ready for the start of competitive football, but their return can be a real positive for Town.
For all the positives of pre-season so far, Tuesday’s loss to West Ham highlighted some of the negatives.
The Blues found the going tough defensively at times, albeit against Premier Leaguer opposition, so as Town face a League Two team this weekend the expectation will be for a much tighter, more solid and confidence-creating display at the back.
The sad reality is facing Cambridge is a more accurate reflection of Town’s current level than matches with West Ham and Tottenham, so this is perhaps a better situation to judge the Blues’ backline.
Town need to do more in terms of tracking runners into the box, allowing space for wingers, keeping their shape and dealing with balls into the box.
It’s not just the defenders, either. Goalkeeper Holy didn’t have a game to remember, though it’s likely Cornell will play the majority of this afternoon’s game.
The signs suggest Lambert will persist with his desire for his defenders to play out from the back, following Luke Chambers’ error on Tuesday, but he was far from alone in making errors as they looked to use the ball deep. His was certainly the most high-profile, though.
Town can’t afford to be making errors like that in competitive games, so it’s vital these issues are ironed out now.
It’s been quite a year for Ipswich Town midfielder Downes.
And a game against Cambridge at the Abbey Stadium is a good mark of his growth over the last 13 months.
Town’s final pre-season friendly in 2019 also saw Lambert’s men visit Cambridge and, in a game which ended 0-0, there was only one real talking point.
As time ticked down, Downes was shown a straight red after he reacted angrily to a reckless tackle from U’s midfielder Paul Lewis, throwing his head into his opponent’s face and sending him crashing to the floor.
We’ve seen the red mist come down over Downes before, it’s that bite which makes him the player he is, but as he left the pitch at Cambridge there were plenty of question marks over whether he could control his temper and whether he could be trusted to be the centre-piece of the Scot’s team.
But we needn’t have worried. He avoided suspension and a week later played with real maturity in the face of provocation at Burton. In many ways he never looked back and, on a number of occasions, played peacemaker when similar flashpoints arose throughout the season.
And what a season he had, in which he was widely-believed to be Town’s best player and is now the subject of real interest from Premier League side Crystal Palace.
A return to Cambridge highlights how far he’s come. Ipswich fans will be hoping his journey will continue with the Blues this season.
As always there will be some familiar faces in the opposition line-up this afternoon.
Chief among them will be Wes Hoolahan, the former Norwich City midfielder with whom the Blues had so many memorable battles. He’s a player Lambert knows well, of course, with the two working together at Carrow Road.
The playmaker, who is now 38, was a trialist when these two sides met a year ago, but he’s a full-time Cambridge player now having spent the last year with Newcastle Jets in the Australian A-League.
The only former Ipswich player in the U’s side is Paul Digby, who made a handful of appearances for Town under Mick McCarthy before being allowed to depart in 2017, while there will be a keen battle between two opposing strikers this afternoon.
Norwood and Cambridge forward Paul Mullin are former Tranmere team-mates, winning promotion to League One together in 2019, but have more recently been living together at Norwood’s West Suffolk home following Mullin’s move to East Anglia.
Lewis, Downes’ old foe, will not be involved, though. He’s now at Tranmere.
So after today, that’s it. The competitive football begins next weekend.
But just how seriously will Lambert take next Saturday’s Carabao Cup clash with Bristol Rovers and, indeed, the game with Arsenal’s Under 21s in the EFL Trophy the following Tuesday?
With his players only recently back following a five-month lay-off and with many lacking minutes in pre-season, could the Town boss look to use one or both of these games as extra opportunities to tune his squad up for the League One opener with Wigan?
It’s certainly possible.