The six Ipswich Town players who could benefit most from Paul Cook's arrival
- Credit: Steve Waller/ITFC
Paul Cook's arrival at Ipswich Town has brought renewed positivity to the club and real hope of a top-six finish. Andy Warren looks at the players who could benefit most from his arrival.
Speaking at his press conference yesterday, new Town boss Cook described exactly what he wants from his central midfielders.
“We need midfielders who can handle the ball, pass it and break up play,” Cook said.
He was perfectly describing Downes.
The midfielder’s career has stalled somewhat this season and he’s certainly not hit the heights of 2019/20, when he was undoubtedly Town’s best player.
It looked like he could be heading to the Premier League last summer, only for the Blues to reject bids from Crystal Palace, with the fall-out of Downes’ transfer request seeing him miss games before a knee injury at MK Dons saw his campaign halt before it ever got going.
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He’s still only started eight matches this season and has plenty more gears to find but, now he’s broken into Cook’s starting XI, expect him to stay there for the duration of the campaign.
Whether that will be enough for him to put himself back in the shop window for the summer remains to be seen, but what’s clear is the academy product is exactly what the new boss is after.
Had there not been a change of manager, it’s almost certain Jackson would still be training with the kids and not even considered by former boss Paul Lambert. It could easily have been that way until the end of the season.
So, in that sense, the striker has already benefitted hugely from Cook’s arrival given he was back on the pitch in his very first game having joined in first-team training just hours after Lambert’s exit.
Jon Nolan was in the same boat, of course, and would also have made this list had he not suffered a knee injury which is almost certain to end his season. Terribly bad luck for a player who Cook has said he’s tracked for many years.
Cook used Jackson as an example of why man management was so important yesterday, saying: “He came on for two minutes against Lincoln, but the reality over the next week is that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Kayden Jackson, so I think we’re just asking the players for a little bit of patience.”
His chance could well come on Tuesday night at Fleetwood, given James Norwood is due to appear in court that morning on a drink drive charge and won’t be available for the game.
Jackson scored the winner the last time Ipswich went to Highbury. The same again will do nicely.
Like Downes, this season has been a difficult one for a defender who entered it as one of the club’s prized assets.
He still is, of course, but there have been plenty of bumps along the way during a campaign in which he’s been in and out of the side and has certainly not produced his best form anywhere near consistently enough.
Lambert spoke regularly of the need to inject some urgency into the 22-year-old at times and, in Cook, you have to feel there’s a manager at the club capable of doing that. His enthusiasm is infectious.
Woolfenden’s what Cook wants from a centre-half – a player who can defend first and foremost but is capable of stepping out with the ball at his feet.
He may need to be patient, given he’s out of the side, but a chance will surely come soon enough. Then it’s up to him to take it and get his career moving again.
Norwood was on a hot streak as Cook arrived but couldn’t keep it up into the new boss’s first two games. He should really benefit from the new boss’s approach, though.
Cook’s been quick to highlight Town’s lack of chances and, ultimately, goals this season and is doing all he can to address that.
He wants his midfield playing higher, closer to the forward line, wants his No.10 advanced towards the central striker and wants intensity, creativity and drive from the flanks.
That should all be music to Norwood’s ears who, while being far from perfect, is far and away Town’s most threatening striker. His current strike rate is a little under a goal every other game, given his limited minutes this season
We know he doesn’t take a high enough percentage of the chances he does get but he should be licking his lips at the sound of a manager discussing the need to be far more creative in front of goal.
Norwood arrived at Town in 2019 hunting a third promotion, following two at Tranmere, and it's likely Cook will need to rely on the goals of the 30-year-old if it's going to come this season.
This has been a breakthrough season for the homegrown midfielder in so many ways, none more than the fact he has now made more league starts this season (29) than he has in his previous five campaigns combined (25).
Credit to Lambert for playing him and allowing him to show off his range of passing on a regular basis.
But under Cook he’s going to be asked to do more. We know he can pass and we’ve seen glimpses of his ability to move his side forward, both on and off the ball, but that workload is going to need to increase.
His set-piece delivery has been superb in recent games, both from corners and free-kicks, but he needs to work on the defensive side of his game.
Cook could just be the man Dozzell needs to mould him into a well-rounded central midfielder we all hope he can be.
The left-back just needs a little love.
For so long he never quite managed to convince an Ipswich Town manager to give him a prolonged run in the side, with Mick McCarthy, Paul Hurst and then Lambert all finding alternatives despite the academy product generally acquitting himself well when called upon.
He ended Lambert’s reign well after usurping Stephen Ward and is the incumbent now Cook’s arrived, with the new boss clearly wanting dynamic play from full-back. There are still rough edges but Kenlock is certainly capable of that.
It means the 24-year-old is likely to have a 14-game audition (possibly 17 with the play-offs) to prove his worth heading into what is going to be a summer of real change.
Cook will have little time to work on the training ground but, when the chance does come, it will be up to Kenlock to take onboard as much as he possibly can from the new boss, given he’s likely to get real attention from both the new boss and coach Gary Roberts. That’s something he won’t have had before.
He places great stock in full-back, meaning this may just be the chance Kenlock has needed to make the necessary improvements to well-and-truly lock up a place.