The gaps Ashton and Cook still need to fill in the Ipswich Town squad
- Credit: Archant/PA/Ligue1
With eight new signings through the door and plenty still to come, Andy Warren looks at the gaps in the Ipswich Town squad still needing to be filled by Mark Ashton and Paul Cook.
For me, there are only three positions on the field more-or-less sorted when it comes to the Ipswich Town depth chart.
Vaclav Hladky is understood to have been Mark Ashton and Paul Cook’s top goalkeeping target this summer and, now they’ve got their man, he will undoubtedly start the season as first choice between the sticks.
Behind him is Tomas Holy who, during his 62 Ipswich games over the last two seasons, has surely shown he can be an adequate back-up. So, unless he is moved on this summer, it’s highly unlikely a new senior goalkeeper will arrive.
It’s a similar situation at right-back where, when fit, Kane Vincent-Young is a nailed-on starter, with Janoi Donacien serving as back-up. Don’t forget, new signing Wes Burns can play there, too. So, again, unless Donacien is moved on, you have to think the roster is set there.
The final position is centre-forward, where Town have already brought in Macauley Bonne and Joe Pigott. Cook only plays with one central striker (though it’s not completely unknown for him to throw a second into the mix) so, with James Norwood still on the scene, Town seem well-stocked there.
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Kayden Jackson remains on the books but won’t be involved.
Heart of defence
As things stand, Toto Nsiala and Luke Woolfenden are the only centre-halves with league experience on the Town books.
Corrie Ndaba and Elkan Baggott, two classy left-footed prospects, are waiting in the wings, but asking them to step up at this stage would be a real stretch.
So, the Blues are going to need at least one, possibly two, central defenders from this point.
The ultimately failed pursuit of Sonny Bradley, the 6ft 5in, 29-year-old, captain of Luton Town shows what mould is desired by Cook and Ashton but defenders of his stature, in the prime of their careers, are not readily available to League One clubs.
Town appear to be competing financially with the lower end of the Championship as football emerges from the pandemic, so it’s not impossible the Blues are able to secure an experienced defender who ordinarily would be operating higher up the pyramid. If they can, it’s not impossible that man ultimately takes the captain’s armband.
As well as a rock-solid performer, there’s room to bring in another centre-half option too, with Everton’s Lewis Gibson a player the Blues are known to covet. Town are thought to be keen on a full-time deal for a player who is out of contract next summer.
I’d like to see two players recruited here.
Stephen Ward’s departure and Myles Kenlock’s demotion to the Under 23s means new signing Matt Penney is the only left-back in Cook’s squad right now.
He’ll want another, in a position where players are asked to be supremely fit, get up and down the pitch and contribute as much in attack as they are in defence.
Hayden Coulson of Middlesbrough is a known option there, though Sunderland and Luton are said to be keen on him.
A new recruit is definitely needed here.
Lee Evans and Rekeem Harper look to be two excellent additions to the middle of midfield and are likely to be Cook’s opening day starters. But are further additions needed?
As things stand, Jon Nolan, Flynn Downes and Teddy Bishop are all on the books in this position, meaning plenty of bodies are already in the building.
But Downes and Bishop are both almost certain to move on, leaving Nolan as the only other dedicated option.
Scott Fraser, primarily a No.10, can also play a little deeper, but Cook will surely want his creative talents to be further up the field in an ideal world. The same applies to Matt Crooks (to be discussed shortly) should Town succeed in their bid to secure the Rotherham man.
For that reason, I’d say another central midfielder is needed, given Nolan’s patchy injury history and the fact he’s yet to show Cook what he can do.
It’s not a top priority, though, given the former Shrewsbury man has also shown flashes of excellence during his three seasons at the club. He just needs some consistency.
Man in the middle
Crooks remains a serious target, despite the signing of Fraser, so Town are clearly in the market for another No.10.
It’s becoming something of a saga now, with Rotherham manager Paul Warne seemingly discussing the situation, and Town specifically, on a daily basis. This week he has said two Championship clubs are bidding for the 27-year-old attacker.
Town remain confident they can get their man, though. Time will tell if they can.
If they don’t, you would imagine they will move for another player in this position.
This is the area I’m most keen to see Town recruit at this point, especially given just how little production they got from the wide forward areas last season.
As things stand, Burns and Armando Dobra are the wide attacking options - and it’s clear further recruits are on the agenda.
The pursuit of Bersant Celina is much-discussed and ongoing, showing just how much value Town place in this position. If he can be secured it would be a real statement of intent.
Michael Jacobs of Portsmouth, who was previously at Wigan with Cook, also remains an option, with both players able to play on both flanks. Jacobs can also operate through the middle, perhaps lessening the need for a second No.10 should the Crooks deal not end in satisfaction. Who knows?
What is clear, though, is wide attackers will come through the door in the coming weeks.
So, all that considered, I make that another seven signings still needed at Portman Road.
Definitely required are one centre-half, a left-back, a No.10 (hopefully Crooks) and two wide attackers. Beyond that there’s a lesser need for a second (fourth in total) centre-half and possibly another central midfielder.
Cook likes versatile players, though, so there’s a chance he could cover multiple positions with individual players.
We know Cook likes to operate with a tight squad, giving an average of 22 players at least 10 league appearances over his last five seasons (three at Wigan, two at Portsmouth). By contrast, 25 Town players played at least 10 league games last season, with the likes of Emyr Huws, Vincent-Young, Brett McGavin, Luke Thomas and Cole Skuse also playing significant minutes but not reaching that mark.
Excluding those set to move on, there are 16 senior players in Cook’s squad at present, with Ndaba and Idris El Mizouni on top of that. That leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre as the Town boss and Ashton build their squad.