The Paul Hurst era has been characterised by change... but how have the old guard fared under a new boss?
- Credit: Archant
Andy Warren looks at how the players inherited by Paul Hurst have fared during the opening weeks of the season.
A total of 12 new signings have been made since Hurst arrived in the summer, with a whole host of players departing at the start of a new era at Ipswich Town.
Of the 11 players who started the opening-day draw with Blackburn, seven had played under former boss Mick McCarthy. But in the 12 games which have followed, new signings have outnumbered inherited players in nine.
Here we take a look at the players inherited by Hurst.
The skipper and his right-hand man
Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse have made more Championship appearances than any other outfield players since the Championship came into being in 2004 and have become vital components of Paul Hurst’s side during the early weeks of his reign.
Captain Chambers has played every minute of Hurst’s 13 games in charge of the Blues and, gifting possession to Stewart Downing for Middlesbrough’s second goal aside, has been the most consistent performer throughout.
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It’s the same Luke Chambers we’ve seen in an Ipswich shirt since his arrival in 2012. He’s brave, committed, vocal and rugged – willing to put his body on the line time and again for a club he has grown to love – and is as important in the dressing room as he’s ever been.
Skuse sat out the Carabao Cup loss at Exeter and then missed the defeat at Sheffield Wednesday due to injury, but remains a central figure under Hurst.
He’s tended to sit in a deeper midfield role, where his job is to help link the Ipswich backline with the attacking unit, but he’s not been able to take games by the scruff of the neck.
Skuse’s role has been much-debated during his time at Portman Road but, while there has been some adaptation needed as he gets used to life under Hurst, the midfielder remains a central figure.
Luke Chambers – 6.59 (average match rating*)
Cole Skuse – 6.12
Bartosz Bialkowski returned to Ipswich Town after a summer at the World Cup and signed a new deal almost immediately, making him one of the club’s highest earners and cementing the status of an undisputed No.1 who has won three-successive player-of-the-year awards.
Or so we thought.
The Pole was not at his best during the opening six games of the season, making uncharacteristic errors and playing his part as the Blues struggled to defend set pieces, but it was still an almighty shock to see him benched for the clash with Norwich on September 2.
He was replaced by Dean Gerken who, now recovered from hip surgery at the start of the year, has been solid between the sticks and has made a string of vital saves at big moments.
Aside from a wayward punch which led to Birmingham’s second goal in a 2-2 draw at the end of September, there has been little reason to think Bialkowski will be recalled any time soon.
Dean Gerken – 6.5
Bartosz Bialkowski – 6.1
The World Cup star
Like Bialkowski, Knudsen missed Ipswich’s pre-season trip to Spain due to his involvement in the World Cup with Denmark.
Hurst had warned the Dane he would need to prove his worth quickly to secure a place in his side but managed to do just that in his two pre-season outings.
Like Bialkowski, the left back had not been at his best during the early weeks of the season before dropping to the bench at Swansea, but he came on as a substitute at the break and played well as the Blues faced an onslaught in south Wales before coming out victorious.
The expectation is surely for him to return to the starting side for this weekend’s visit of Queens Park Rangers.
Jonas Knudsen – 5.95
In and out
While Chambers, Skuse, Knudsen and either Bialkowski and Gerken have been inked on the team sheet throughout the opening weeks of Hurst’s reign, a handful of other inherited players have had to bide their time and take their chances.
They’ve done so to varying degrees, with Freddie Sears the latest to have staked a claim having seemingly been out in the cold prior to injuries to Ellis Harrison and Jon Walters.
He started in a wide role on the opening day against Blackburn but slipped to the bench before missing out on the matchday squad completely for the clash with Norwich at the start of September. He made an impact on his return as a substitute at Birmingham before leading the line superbly in the win at Swansea, with the former Colchester man likely to retain his starting place for the game with QPR.
Jordan Spence was another to start on the opening day only to have missed out on squads in recent weeks, having failed to impress when chances have come his way, while Flynn Downes has made four of his six appearances this season off the bench. Myles Kenlock has played just six minutes under Hurst.
Freddie Sears – 6
Jordan Spence – 4.78
Flynn Downes – 5.75
Myles Kenlock - 6
Securing his place?
Grant Ward had to bide his time under Hurst, as he moved in and out of the side during the early weeks of the new era, but has he now nailed down a starting place?
The left wing position has been a troublesome one for Hurst, with Sears, Tayo Edun, Jordan Graham, Danny Rowe, Jordan Roberts and Ellis Harrison all spending time playing there.
But Ward has started the last five games, spending the majority of his time on the left, and has been one of the Blues’ best performers in most.
Grant Ward – 6.21
In the treatment room
Hurst inherited a squad including a host of players sidelined by injury and, sadly, that’s where the majority remain.
Teddy Bishop and Emyr Huws undoubtedly have the talent to add some creativity and drive to the Ipswich midfield but, despite a number of attempts to return to action in the Blues’ under 23s, are not in the first team picture.
Bishop’s only first-team involvement came as a substitute in the cup loss to Exeter but is currently out with a hamstring problem, while swelling behind his knee has dashed Huws’ hopes of a competitive return.
Tom Adeyemi has not appeared for Ipswich since the 1-0 home loss to Norwich in October 2017 and continues to be dogged by achilles trouble, with Hurst previously insisting the midfielder must ‘grit his teeth’ and push his way through his issues.
Rowe has impressed in the under 23s and has made cameo appearances in the games at Exeter and Hull, but has not returned on a consistent basis.
Andre Dozzell has been the subject of much discussion as Hurst regularly fielded questions regarding his fitness and careful approach to introducing him into the side following his recovery from knee surgery, but the youngster’s vision and ability to pick a pass has offered something different now he’s back in the senior picture.
*average match rating taken from our reporters’ ratings, both in print and online