Andy Angles: Five observations following Town's clash with Crystal Palace
- Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller
Ipswich Town lost 1-0 to Crystal Palace on what was a special day at Portman Road. Andy Warren gives his thoughts.
More than a game
This certainly wasn’t a day to analyse results and wasn’t really one where the Ipswich Town performance needed to be picked to pieces – this game was about fans finally returning to Portman Road.
It was about hearing supporters discuss a return to their pre-match routines for the first time in 18 months, meeting with friends again to enjoy a shared love for the first time in far too long and heading back to a place of union after months of separation.
Seeing blue shirts wander through the town centre and along the waterfront before the game raised a smile and the sights and sounds inside the concourses and stadium bowl brought life to a building which has hosted so many soulless ‘events’ of late.
Just a few thousand fans were inside Portman Road for this game, a similar number to sparse EFL Trophy attendances in Suffolk, but this atmosphere was so much more intense than any of those games and far out-stripped anything you would normally expect from a pre-season game.
It brought something extra out of the players, too, just as it did at Dartford. The huge roar as Toto Nsiala led his team out surely impacted those in blue, just as it put hairs on end for so many in the stands.
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The biggest eruption came around the 50th minute when James Norwood charged down a succession of Palace players to eventually force a mistake, while every positive Ipswich move was greeted loudly. I’m sure even the officials enjoyed the abuse which came their way.
Football is back. The appetite has been whetted. Roll on August 7.
Picking it to pieces
I say this wasn’t really a performance needing to be dissected, but that’s exactly why we watch football. So, it’s going to happen.
Town stood their ground against a good Crystal Palace side in this game. There were moments when they were torn open, others where Palace strikers’ (I’m looking at you, Jean-Philippe Mateta) horrific finishing kept the score level and plenty of times when the Eagles’ greater quality was plain to see.
And that’s fine. We need to remember this was a half-built League One side taking on a team from two leagues higher. Ultimately, they were only beaten by a Wilfried Zaha penalty.
But there were plenty of occasions when Town gave as good as they got and more where they stretched a Premier League defence and nearly caused it to break. They certainly gave Palace a game, kept them honest, maintained a threat and took a number of vital steps on the road towards their League One opener. That’s what it’s all about.
We saw a Paul Cook stamp on this team with full backs getting forward, deep-lying midfielders making things tick and, on the manager’s orders, a renewed commitment to closing down Palace in possession in a bid to force mistakes.
Even if the formation at times resembled more of a 4-4-2 than Cook’s favoured 4-2-3-1, signs of progress are there.
And that will have delighted the Town boss as much as playing in front of a Portman Road crowd would have done. He’s been waiting for this.
For the majority of those in attendance, this would have been a first look at the raft of new signings who have arrived at Portman Road this summer.
And there were positives to take from all of their performances, even if many were far from perfect.
Six new boys started, with goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky the busiest as a neat and tidy first half was followed by and all-action second which saw him make a string of saves to keep the deficit at one. He took home the man-of-the-match award.
Matt Penney showed the attacking tendencies Cook wants from his left-back, Rekeem Harper played with a smooth swagger in midfield as he looked to make his side tick, while Wes Burns showed all of the explosive qualities we have seen in his performances for Fleetwood against Ipswich.
Scott Fraser, playing wide on the left rather than in his favoured central role, was able to produce several clever passes to create opportunities for others, while striker Joe Pigott’s link-up play was good as he also hit the post from range.
Macauley Bonne came off the bench in the second half and showed good work rate and clever movement, though had little sight of goal.
But it wasn’t just the new boys who brought positives. Kane Vincent-Young was back in action, linking up superbly with Burns down the right flank. We’ll overlook the foul for the penalty, with suggestions Zaha took a dive.
Luke Woolfenden and captain Nsiala stood their ground at the back and had their moments against a dangerous frontline, while Norwood’s work rate was there for all to see. He had some good moments on the ball, too, showing an early understanding with Pigott.
The signs are good but there’s still plenty to work on.
The only member of the starting XI not mentioned above is 17-year-old Cameron Humphreys – a surprise name on the team sheet.
But in the absence of Lee Evans and Jon Nolan, Town’s only other first-team midfielders, through injury, he needed to step up.
And step up he did. Sure, he had some though moments against some experienced campaigners, but that was to be expected. He also had some excellent passages of play and was able to show great technical ability whenever on the ball.
A place in the first-team squad is going to be a tough ask at this stage, considering Evans and Nolan will soon be back and new signings are likely, as well as his tender years and slight frame, but he will have earnt Cook’s trust here.
He wasn’t the only young player to impress, with half-a-dozen more coming off the bench in the closing stages.
The pick of those was arguably midfielder Matt Ward, who showed no fear at all as he got on the ball on several occasions during his nine minutes and was confident enough to play on the turn.
What Humphreys’ inclusion and the incredibly young bench did highlight was the need for further reinforcements.
The injuries to Evans and Nolan leave Ipswich light in midfield, with Teddy Bishop and Flynn Downes heading to the exit, while Nsiala and Woolfenden are the only centre backs with league experience at the club.
Myles Kenlock’s exile means Matt Penney is the only senior left-back in Cook’s thinking, while Armando Dobra and Burns are the only two specialist wide players.
Janoi Donacien backing up Vincent-Young, Tomas Holy as deputy to Hladky and the trio of Pigott, Norwood and Bonne mean the only positions which look truly sorted are goalkeeper, right-back and striker. Then there’s the oddity of Kayden Jackson returning to first-team duty following exile and being the only outfield player not to make it off the bench. Playing any kind of role in the first-team when the real stuff starts seems something of a long shot right now.
The opening day of the season is a fortnight away but, as we’ve already seen this summer, CEO Mark Ashton can accomplish a lot in the transfer market in just a few weeks. There are five weeks until the window closes, too.
Plenty of work to do but no reason to panic. This was always going to be a tough rebuild.