Early promise, in from the cold, new beginnings and round pegs in round holes - talking points from Colchester wins
- Credit: Richard Blaxall
Ipswich Town opened their pre-season account in impressive fashion at Colchester on Tuesday. ANDY WARREN looks at the evening’s big talking points.
It’s just one game, but...
Ah pre-season, the time for new dawns, false hope and overreactions.
This is a pre-season with a difference, too, given Ipswich have gone five months without playing a game of football. You could sense the hunger in supporters on Tuesday as they prepared to watch their team in match action once again, even if it was through a wide-angled lens on laptops and phones.
Well, with two games in one night to get us back in the swing of things, it’s already feeling like it’s never been away.
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The Blues looked driven, well-organised and ruthless at times, with Paul Lambert’s men moving the ball around the pitch with a zip, attacking from wide areas, getting full-backs forward and supporting the striker from midfield.
How much you read into this game is a personal choice for you, but there’s no doubting it was, despite a few signs of rust, a hugely positive evening.
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That positivity is tempered by the usual caveats, of course. It’s only pre-season, results in these friendlies mean very little and, it has to be said, Colchester will not be particularly happy with their performance on the night, especially in game one.
But, all that aside, it was a positive evening. It’s good to have you back, Ipswich Town.
System of the Town
We saw it all last season. Back four, back three, back five, wing backs, two up top, lone striker, diamond midfield and a traditional 4-4-2.
So, squad rotation aside, if there’s one wish Ipswich fans will have for their team this coming season, it’s perhaps the need for a settled system and a clear identity.
Lambert was beginning to build that in February and March 2019, as Town were falling towards relegation, and the Scot appears to have gone back to a similar system this summer having chopped and changed throughout last season as he searched for a winning formula.
MORE: Player reports: How all 26 Ipswich Town players performed at Colchester UnitedA 4-3-3 system, or a variant of it, was used in both games, with the Blues utilising it well. One of the three midfielders, Cole Skuse in game one, Flynn Downes in game two, often dropped into the back line which would then give the two full-backs the freedom to get forward and support the two wide players, who would often look to skip inside and allow for the overlap.
Ipswich always had numbers in important areas of the field and, crucially, midfielders and wide forwards did a decent job of supporting the central striker. That’s the real pitfall of a 4-3-3 as, if you fail to offer that support or you get penned back, the striker can become isolated and the shape can begin to resemble a 4-5-1. Not good.
But on this occasion, Ipswich played it well. There will be greater tests to come, of course, as upcoming opponents Tottenham and West Ham will have much more of the ball than Colchester were able to manage. It’ll be interesting to see how the Ipswich shape looks then.
Still, seeing the beginning if a plan is positive.
A new face
We saw one of Ipswich’s new signings at the Community Stadium in the shape of Stephen Ward.
The veteran, who turns 35 tomorrow, played the first hour of game one and even took the armband over regular vice-captain Cole Skuse, showing just how important Lambert sees the Irishman’s voice in the dressing room.
He was involved early, getting beyond Gwion Edwards and putting dangerous balls into the box, without ever being troubled in a defensive sense.
Ward looks to suit this system perfectly, given he’s comfortable on the ball in all three thirds of the pitch, so this was a positive start.
We will have to wait a little longer before we get to see goalkeeper David Cornell and striker Oli Hawkins, who watched on from the stands, having barely trained with their new team-mates following their unveiling on Monday.
A breath of fresh Ayr
It’s fair to say striker Aaron Drinan has become a forgotten man at Portman Road.
He arrived to great praise from Mick McCarthy and Luke Chambers in January 2018 but has still not made a senior appearance for the club and has been sent out on loan four times (Sutton United, Waterford, GASK – Sweden, Ayr United).
His most recent temporary move, to Ayr, was a fruitful one as he played regularly in the Scottish second tier, and now, with that spell fresh in his mind, the door appears to be ajar at Portman Road at last.
With James Norwood still recovering from a groin problem and Hawkins not yet good to go, Drinan took his chance, finishing calmly with his left foot before slotting home with his left foot before converting from the spot. There was some decent link up play, too, as he dropped deep to bring others into the game.
MORE: ‘We tweaked one or two things... I thought we were excellent’ - Lambert on Town’s Colchester winsHe’s perhaps more suited to the central striker role than Kayden Jackson, who played the second game in that role and has done his cause no harm.
But you still get the impression he is firmly behind Norwood, Jackson and Hawkins in the Ipswich pecking order, so there’s further work to be done. Particularly because, at 22, he would occupy a senior squad place under the new League One salary cap rules.
Surely he will make a competitive debut in the coming weeks, though, with the EFL Trophy games a real possibility. It’s up to him to take his chance.
Round peg, round hole
If you ask Gwion Edwards, he will tell you his favoured position is to line up wide on the left and cut inside to cause trouble on his right foot.
So it makes it all the more puzzling that neither Paul Hurst or Lambert have ever really played him there, given that’s where he did his best work for Peterborough.
The Welshman, who is said to be interesting Championship teams, showed what he can do at Colchester, netting Ipswich’s third goal in game one as he linked up with Ward, before driving inside and curling a beautiful shot into the far corner.
He nearly did it again in the second half of that game, too, this time firing narrowly wide.
It was encouraging to see the winger playing with confidence in a familiar position. He will no doubt be gagging for more.
Many happy returns
There were plenty of other performances of note, too, not least the returns of Kane Vincent-Young and Jack Lankester after long spells on the sidelines.
Both looked fit and raring to go, with Vincent-Young showing flashes of what he’s all about as he got up and down the right flank in game one. He made it into the opposition box on a number of occasions and really should have scored at least one, possibly two.
For Lankester, this was his first game in a year, following a failed return last summer from a back problem which brought his career to a grinding holt just as it was getting going, back in January 2019.
He was staking a claim back then and, by all accounts, has been impressive in training over the last month. It was good to see some of that translate onto the field, too, with his trademark cut inside onto his left foot from the right seeing him test the Colchester goalkeeper in game two.
A bit of patience will be required there, but he has the potential to be a vital part of this team. It’s exciting to think what Vincent-Young and Lankester could do if paired together on the Ipswich right.
A familiar face
At one stage we had two Tommy Smiths on the pitch at Colchester, with the young Town version coming on in game one to join an old stager who needs no introduction to Ipswich fans.
Smith Snr (no relation) is currently on trial at Colchester and probably won’t have enjoyed his evening too much, given he was on the wrong end of a 4-0 loss and gave away a clumsy penalty as he brought down Teddy Bishop.
Opinion is split on whether Ipswich, in the market for a left-sided centre-back, should push for a reunion, but this is probably not a fair game on which to judge whether or not he would be an upgrade on what Town already have.
Lambert has made it clear in the past that he’s not keen to go back, so don’t expect a return any time soon.
Any other business
There are plenty of players who will feel they did well on Tuesday night.
Young goalkeepers Harry Wright and Adam Przybek looked assured between the sticks, Luke Woolfenden was calm and collected and Corrie Ndaba did his cause no harm at all as he defended well and used the ball intelligently in the centre of defence.
Bishop and Armando Dobra both looked dangerous when running with the ball, while Alan Judge was perhaps Town’s best player in game two as he saw plenty of possession in the centre of the pitch. The Irishman’s goal, which saw him play a pair of clever one-twos with Jackson before firing home, was an excellent effort.
Then there’s Idris El Mizouni who, less than six months on from suffering a nasty knee injury at Cambridge, was a spark off the bench in both games, using his driving running ability and eye for a pass well. He scored a rocket of a goal in the first game, too, as he netted from 30 yards.
He’s an exciting talent.
Pre-season goes up a gear this weekend when Ipswich take on Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham at their new stadium in North London.
That’ll be a real test of where Ipswich are at, given they will have nowhere near as much of the ball as they did at Colchester.
There are plenty of positives from these early run-outs, but we will learn so much more about Lambert’s team against Spurs and then on Tuesday against West Ham.