Eight Ipswich Town questions that must be answered after the international break
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town have reached the first international break of the season still winless. STUART WATSON looks at some of the key issues going forwards.
Can they tighten up at set-pieces?
Seven of the nine goals conceded have come either directly or indirectly from set-pieces. That sounds bad, but break the goals down and it suddenly seems like an issue that can be fixed.
Against Blackburn, the equaliser was a deep free-kick that was twice nodded back across goal. Very soft.
At Rotherham, the last minute winner was a crossed free-kick which fell kindly and was well finished. A little unlucky.
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At Exeter, a scuffed free-kick from out wide was not dealt with. Poor.
At Derby, a corner was defended before a well-struck shot was deflected into the top corner. And then a direct free-kick took a deflection off the wall. Unlucky on both counts.
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At Sheffield Wednesday, there was dreadful marking for both headed goals at corners. Both very much avoidable.
What would be a bigger concern is if Town were being regularly carved apart in open play and often seemed to be riding their luck.
That’s not been the case. In fact, they’ve got one of the best records in the division when it comes to conceding chances. On average, the keeper has made just one save per game.
Will there be an improved cutting edge?
Of bigger concern has been the lack of goal threat.
Paul Hurst has pointed out that his team are regularly having more shots on goal than the opposition, but – like the set-pieces stats – that’s a little misleading.
The pressure leading up to the opener against Norwich on Sunday was the first time you really sensed Town were banging door down.
Even in the Rotherham game, despite 63% possession, 16 shots and 12 corners, it never really felt like a goal was only a matter of time.
There’s a lot to like. We all wanted a bit more entertainment and it’s undoubtedly been easier on the eye at times. Town have started games with much more positive intent, midfielders are showing for the ball a lot more and there has been some lovely little spells of one-touch play.
That needs to happen for more sustained periods in matches though. The end product is not there just yet – be it the final pass, cross or shot. Hopefully all that will come as a new set of players gel, get fitter and become accustomed to the style of play asked of them.
Will another winger come to the party?
Gwion Edwards has been electric. The flying Welsh winger has been worth the entrance price alone at times with his direct-running and dazzling footwork down the right.
Teams are already starting to give him extra attention. The Blues need team-mates busting a gut to either give him options at the end of a run or take advantage of the space that opens up elsewhere.
Other wingers also need to come to party too. Jordan Graham can hopefully be the answer down the left.
Which way will Hurst’s hardline approach go?
There was a sense under Mick McCarthy that certain players were undroppable and, subconsciously at least, maybe a few had slipped into a comfort zone. Hurst said from day one that he would judge players on form rather than reputation.
The goalkeeper shouldn’t be immune to that. Bartosz Bialkowski – the three times Supporters’ Player of the Year – hasn’t had the best of starts to the season after returning from the World Cup and signing a bumper new deal. He’s been a little flappy at set-pieces on occasion and his kicking’s not been great.
In Dean Gerken there is a very able deputy champing at the bit. Picking him on Sunday sent out a strong message to the rest of the squad. No-one’s place is guaranteed.
It’s a risky strategy. There’s a fine line between keeping people on their toes and freezing them with fear.
How long should players be given to play their way through a sticky patch? Is six games enough? Are there others who, on that logic, deserve the same treatment?
It’s going to be fascinating to see how Hurst’s hard line approach pans out.
Can Nolan and Jackson’s strengths be fully utilised?
Jon Nolan, technically, looks like he belongs at this level with some close ball control, tight turns and economical passing. He needs to support the attack more though and have more of an impact in the final.
Kayden Jackson has already shown us his willingness to press high and run the channels. Town now need to supply him with the through balls that will unleash his main weapon – pace.
How much difference will some extra experience make?
None of the players who have stepped up the pyramid have looked out of their depth. At times though the Blues have maybe lacked a little bit of experience and nous at key moments.
Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse cannot bear the burden of leadership on their own. That’s why the addition of Jon Walters looks a very shrewd one indeed. The 34-year-old striker returns to Portman Road with eight years of top-flight and international experience under his belt.
If the Blues sign veteran ex West Ham defender James Collins as a free agent it will be another respected voice in the dressing room.
This new-look group is full of potential and hunger. A handful of mentors down the spine of the team and around the camp should aid their progress.
When will the team become more settled?
Only three players have started all six league games so far – Luke Chambers, Jonas Knudsen and Gwion Edwards. Altogether, 20 different players have started games already.
Hurst is learning on the job at the moment. He has tried Nolan as a No.8 and a No.10. He has had Tayo Edun on the left and in the middle. He has had Ellis Harrison up front and on the left. And he has operated with subtle variations to the system – 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2.
Versatility and flexibility is good to a point, but at some stage selections will have to become a little more consistent.
Defences, including the goalkeeper, thrive when relationships are allowed to develop. It’s going to be interesting to see what the two centre-backs of choice are when Toto Nsiala returns from suspension and if the experienced James Collins is signed as a free agent.
Finding the right midfield balance will be crucial, especially with Emyr Huws, Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop to come into the mix.
Hurst himself has said that sometimes managers stumble upon the winning formula when they least expect it. That magic moment is hopefully not far away.
Will Town fans keep bringing the noise?
Town fans raised the roof when first blood was drawn in the East Anglian derby on Sunday. It’s been a long time since Portman Road was rocking like that.
Hurst is taking supporters on a journey. They feel included in the siege mentality again rather than part of the enemy.
Do not underestimate the role of the proverbial 12th man.