Things becoming clearer, a watching brief and Waggy Watch - observations from Barnet
Ipswich Town beat Barnet 1-0 in pre-season this afternoon. Andy Warren gives his snap observations following another 90 minutes of football.
It’s all becoming a little clearer… sort of
It’s becoming clearer and clearer by the game that Paul Hurst is looking for his side to operate in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
On this occasion Cole Skuse and Flynn Downes operated ahead of a flat back four, with Skuse the deeper of the two, while a three of Jordan Roberts, Martyn Waghorn and Grant Ward were stationed behind Freddie Sears in the first half.
The traits we’ve seen over the last two games, as well as Wednesday night’s Under 23 game, remained, with the full-backs pressing high and the forward line looking to turn the opposition defence before their own goal both with and without the ball. Myles Kenlock’s goal, for which he made it into the box to drive home, is a good example of the extra attacking threat of advanced full-backs can bring.
Some of it was good, as they kept the ball significantly better than they have in their previous two pre-season outings, but chances were at a premium.
What isn’t clear, though, is who will be in the starting line-up on opening day.
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While new signings are needed, particularly in central defence, Hurst continues to look at players in a variety of positions, with Waghorn playing as both a central striker and withdrawn forward and Andre Dozzell played as a No 10 in the second half.
The experimentation is set to continue in the Blues’ final two pre-season games, at MK Dons and at home to West Ham, but Hurst is running out of time to assess what he has the serious business of the Championship draws ever nearer.
This was Hurst and Chris Doig’s third opportunity to see their new players in action during the club’s pre-season schedule.
And while Barnet manager John Still and his assistant, former Blue Darren Currie, talked their players through every step of the game, the Ipswich bench took a very different approach.
Hurst spent the majority of the game sat in the dugout while Doig was positioned on an advertising board in the first half before returning to the bench for the second, taking up a watching brief.
It seemed as if the pair were happy to watch their players find their own way, rather than barking orders throughout.
Maybe it was a test to see how far their players have come as they look to install a new system.
Hurst and Doig returned to the touchline late on after the Ipswich Town youngsters, which included left back Bailey Clements and central defender Corrie Ndaba, were introduced.
Martyn’s tail was Wagging
All eyes were on Ipswich’s in-demand frontman following a week of speculation.
The forward was all smiles as he warmed up at The Hive and certainly didn’t give the impression of a player with his mind elsewhere, before he was deployed in two different positions against Barnet.
He spent the first half behind loan striker Sears, where he was able to drop deep and push on in equal measure and try to dictate the tempo of Ipswich attacks.
Waghorn then took on central striking duties in the second half, with his set pieces again looking dangerous but not finding his way to goal. He played the full 90 minutes, despite at one stage looking to be struggling with a tight hamstring, so no wrapping a prized-asset in cotton wool here.
Speculation regarding is bound to continue between now and the closure of the transfer window on August 9, but it’s clear Hurst values his input highly and is still working to decide on his best position within his side.
Skuse making things tick
The experienced midfielder was the Blues’ best player for much of this game.
He sat in one of the deeper midfield roles, picking the ball up off the back four and providing the starting point for the majority of the Ipswich attacks.
Skuse stroked the ball around the pitch well, with three or four long balls catching the eye, while he also did the dirty work in midfield as he won possession back with firm tackles and well-timed interceptions. He was dubbed ‘The Interceptor’ last season for a reason.
By almost dropping in to form a back three at times, he gives the Ipswich full backs freedom to split wide and move up the field when attacks begin, which is set to be a feature of Hurst’s Blues’ playing style this season.
He was a feature under Mick McCarthy throughout the former boss’s time at Portman Road. Will he be the same under Hurst?
Bart is back
The big Pole is back in the goal.
How nice is it that the future of Ipswich Town’s three-time player-of-the-year is secure well before the start of the campaign?
Bialkowski was back between the sticks for this game and, in truth, he barely broke a sweat during his hour on the field.
The most of his work was to stroke the ball around at the back, working short passes with Lukes Chambers and Woolfenden, as he reacclimatises himself to club football after a summer at the World Cup.
Time to take your chances
Time is running out for these Ipswich players to show Hurst they deserve a chance in his starting XI on opening day.
Freddie Sears was given a chance to impress as a central striker this afternoon and, sadly, had little to feed off despite hanging on the last shoulder of the Barnet defence throughout his 45-minute appearance.
He’s been tried as a winger and a centre forward during pre-season as Hurst looks gto find him a home in his side. Above all others, Sears is arguably the player most in need of a fresh start but it remains to be seen if he’ll get it at Portman Road.