Options galore, bare bones and a happy hunting ground as Cook plots perfect start away from home
- Credit: Steve Waller/PA
Ipswich Town travel to Burton Albion this afternoon for the first away game of the new season. Andy Warren looks ahead to the contest.
Off and running?
There’s been plenty of promise in the opening two games but it’s hard to argue the Blues haven’t gotten off to something of a false start.
There are clear signs of quality and of growing pains in equal measure, during a summer of considerable change, with all that adding up to a home draw with Morecambe and a cup exit at the hands of Newport.
Now it’s time for Town’s first away game of the new era and a first competitive match in front of travelling fans since the last gasp loss to Blackpool in February 2020.
The Pirelli Stadium is sold out, with 1,700 Ipswich fans in attendance.
There’s certainly no need to panic right now, victory at Burton or at Cheltenham on Tuesday night would really help the Blues settle into what is a long campaign.
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Cook has nine players battling for four spots in the final third of the pitch this afternoon.
And that’s not including James Norwood (injured) or Kayden Jackson, with the latter right on the fringes of the squad.
Will Joe Pigott get the nod again this afternoon, or will Macauley Bonne come in for a league start after an impressive beginning to his Ipswich career? If the Chantry boy does come into the side, will Pigott drop deeper to create a textured front two, or will Conor Chaplin continue as the No.10? Or could Scott Fraser come inside? Could Louie Barry start there, as he didn’t against Newport?
All three of Chaplin, Fraser and Barry are in the conversation for a wide role, too, as are Wes Burns, Armando Dobra and new signings Kyle Edwards and Sone Aluko.
So many questions that only one man can answer.
While it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cook stick with the four who started the Morecambe game (Pigott, Chaplin, Burns and Fraser), it’s equally possible he may want to mix things up, given the ingredients he’s working with.
It’s certainly going to take Town's chef a little while to work out his perfect recipe.
The case for the defence
If Cook has a selection headache in the final third, he has a completely different one at the back.
He’s down to the bare bones in the middle of defence, with Toto Nsiala sidelined with a hamstring problem and George Edmundson almost certainly not ready to go after an injury of his own.
So, Cook must choose whether to use Janoi Donacien or Corrie Ndaba in the centre of defence alongside Luke Woolfenden.
Donacien, almost exclusively used as a right-back during his Ipswich career but versatile throughout the rest of his time in the game, came on for Nsiala on Saturday and barely put a foot wrong in the draw with Morecambe. Ndaba is more naturally a centre-half and offers left-footed balance.
It’s surely Donacien who will get the nod here, with the rest of the back five likely to pick itself with Vaclav Hladky in goal, Kane Vincent-Young on the right and Matt Penney left, even after the arrival of Hayden Coulson.
This afternoon’s game will see one of Ipswich’s newest faces returning to a ground where he is hugely popular.
Scott Fraser left the comforts of home to move to England from Dundee United in 2018 and was an instant hit after landing at the Pirelli Stadium.
He was part of a Burton side which reached the last four of the League Cup in his first season and scored a total of 16 goals in his two seasons with the Brewers. He added 19 assists in that time, too, before joining MK Dons.
He left with the best wishes of the Albion fans and will no doubt receive an excellent reception this afternoon.
Fraser made a goal-scoring start to his Town career with a strike against Morecambe a week ago and, whether centrally or tucked in on the left, is almost certain to be on the team sheet again today.
Both of this afternoon’s managers could not be any clearer about the style they want to play.
Paul Cook likes 4-2-3-1, so does Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Paul Cook likes his wingers to come inside, so the full-backs can go outside, so does Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
There are differences, of course. The Dutchman is perhaps more direct, with Cook’s side looking to switch play out of midfield rather than get it forward incredibly quickly, while the Town boss asks his full-backs to maintain a very high position.
But both men are clear in what they want. That should make for an incredibly tight, hugely competitive game.
Happy hunting ground
Burton Albion are no pushovers. We know that. We’ve seen it before.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink transformed the Brewers last season, taking over on the first day of 2021, at a time when his side had won just twice in League One before the turn of the year.
But, remarkably, he won nine of his first 12 matches in charge, continuing the good form for the rest of the season as a side who looked dead and buried at Christmas survived comfortably by May.
The Dutchman’s side are direct and are likely to hit their central striker quickly, either to head or chest or into the channels, and cause teams trouble. They’ve started the season well, too, with a 1-0 win at Shrewsbury on opening day, but the Pirelli Stadium holds no fear for Town.
They’ve won all four of the games they have played there, all by a single goal in tight games, with Mark McGuinness’s header securing the most recent three points back in February.
Town have won seven and drawn one of the eight games they have played against the Brewers, home and away, since they first met in 2016.
Another three points would do nicely.