Experience or youth, power or pace - Who should start at centre-back for Town on opening day?
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
One of the big question marks going into the new Ipswich Town season is who will play at centre-back - James Wilson recently saying he ‘doesn’t have a clue’ who will start. Mark Heath takes a look at the contenders.....
You would think that Woolfenden, one of Town’s crown jewels along with fellow young talent Flynn Downes, is a nailed-on starter come opening day against Wigan Athletic.
He’s cool, calm and collected but a solid defender too, and appears to be well-suited to boss Paul Lambert’s apparent plan to play out from the back this season.
Enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last year, attracting Premier League interest from the likes of Sheffield United.
But Lambert raised eyebrows recently when, post defeat to West Ham - a game in which Woolfenden didn’t play – he said: “(Luke) Woolfenden, I think has got to start to get going and start to perform.”
As Town fans speculated, the player himself posted, and then deleted, a popular ‘confused’ gif on social media.
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Perhaps it’s part of a new ‘tough love’ approach from Lambert to fire-up the self-admittedly laid back youngster? It would be a surprise if Woolfenden weren’t starting at Portman Road on September 13 - the question is, who will be beside him?
Ah, old faithful. Skipper Chambers partnered Woolfenden for most of last season, and is surely the favourite to be by his side again on opening day this time around.
The ageing war horse is a fine captain, inspirational leader and, one assumes, bleeds blue and white, such is his devotion to the cause.
He’s not the player he was but, as he prepares to turn 35 this season, is he the experienced head which the youthful Woolfenden needs to play alongside in a team pushing for promotion?
The counter-argument, which reared its head once again after his howler in the West Ham defeat, is that Chambers is too prone to mistakes to risk in the starting line-up anymore, and would be ill-suited to the play out from the back approach.
After that error, his captain gifting the Hammers a goal as he turned into trouble in his own box, Lambert said: “Mistakes can happen because five months off is a really long time. Luke (Chambers) knows it’s sloppy, but he’ll not do it again. He may as well do it now.”
The real question is, if Lambert decides to go in another direction, who else is there?
If it’s not Chambers teaming up with Woolfenden against Wigan, you’d think it will be Wilson.
The defender was signed on the eve of last season in what felt like a stop-gap move, due to Town’s injury struggles at the back.
But he became a valued member of the side and ultimately extended his deal by a further 18 months.
He played 31 games last term, knows his weaknesses, and plays to his strengths.
Wilson packs pace and is a solid all around performer - but he’s probably never going to be a star.
He’d certainly be a dependable, if unspectacular, presence at the back. Could Town do better though?
Of all the players who’ve improved their stock in pre-season, Ndaba could well be top of that list.
The powerful central defender appears to have all the tools required to make a splash in the game, with Lambert hinting he was on the verge of making his senior debut towards the end of the 2018/19 season.
He changed his mind after some poor performances for the U23s, and Ndaba is still waiting for his senior bow, having been out on loan at Hemel Hepstead and Chelmsford, plus seen another loan spell at Ayr fall through.
But he’s impressed in pre-season and the left-footer would offer a nice balance at the back alongside Woolfenden.
The question is, at just 20 years old, is he ready to go from the shadows to the bright lights of being an every game starter in League One, alongside another youngster in Woolfenden?
Ndaba is certainly one for the future, but it would be a surprise if he started on opening day.
It looked for all the world as if Nsiala was on his way out of Town at the end of last season.
Having been a nailed-on starter, he suffered an injury last pre-season and had to watch as Woolfenden took his chance with both hands. When he did get to play he was a liability, clearly lacking in confidence, and was ultimately farmed out on loan to Bolton.
His future looked to be so clearly away from Portman Road that your author gave him just a 1/10 chance of making an impact this season. Could I end up with egg on my face, not for the first time?
Nsiala has looked sold in pre-season with Lambert praising him, saying: “(Toto) Nsiala has been really good since we’ve come back, I think he’s been excellent.”
Of all the options, Nsiala would offer the most physical, bruising approach – something one could argue you need in the third tier. But is he reliable enough, and assured enough with the ball at his feet, to contend for a starting spot?
Time will tell!