McKenna's midfield conundrum as he bids to replace Evans

With Lee Evans injured, Tyreeq Bakinson, Tom Carroll and Idris El Mizouni will all be hoping for starting spots

With Lee Evans injured, Tyreeq Bakinson, Tom Carroll and Idris El Mizouni will all be hoping for starting spots - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Town have a problem. 

The news of Lee Evans’ unavailability for the next ‘few weeks’ due to a knee injury robs the Blues of an understated midfield performer who, along with partner in crime Sam Morsy, gives Kieran McKenna a solid base in midfield. 

When both are available, they start. That was the way under Paul Cook and it’s the same now under McKenna. 

But the Town boss has only been able to use them as a pair four times during his 11 games in charge, with Evans’ injury worries and Morsy’s four-game ban robbing McKenna of what would be a consistent pairing. 

Sam Morsy looks on with concern as Lee Evans receives treatment during the Burton match.

Sam Morsy looks on with concern as Lee Evans receives treatment during the Burton match. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Morsy and Evans have started 18 games together this season, with all of the Blues’ biggest wins coming with the duo at the heart of midfield. 

They know each other inside out, of course, having now played 99 matches as a midfield duo, with the majority of those coming under Cook at Wigan Athletic before all three reunited in Suffolk. 

McKenna’s search for answers has seen the new Town boss use a remarkable six different midfield combinations in the seven matches he’s been unable to field his premier pair. Only one of those, Morsy and Tom Carroll, have been given more than one match together. 

Carroll was the chosen one for Tuesday night’s draw with Cheltenham, with promising signs in a first half Ipswich were able to dominate without being able to find the goal their display deserved. 

Tom Carrol on the ball against Cheltenham.

Tom Carroll on the ball against Cheltenham. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

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Former QPR man Carroll contributed to that. He’s arguably the closest thing Ipswich have to Evans in terms of a style match - on the ball at least. He can sweep the ball around the pitch, just as the Welshman does, operating deeper to allow Morsy the freedom to break forward when possible. 

He’s a comfortable passer who, on the evidence of Tuesday night, can pick out clever balls through the opposition lines to advance his team up the pitch. That’s perfect for games where Ipswich expect to be able to dominate the ball, especially at home, where teams can potentially sit off and bid to soak up Town pressure and frustrate the hosts. 

But he doesn’t bring the same physicality Evans does, meaning he’s not so comfortable breaking up play or putting his foot into challenges. Evans has made a habit of making clearances inside the box, too, while Carroll appears to struggle to maintain his intensity levels for 90 minutes. 

Tyreeq Bakinson plays the ball forward at Doncaster Rovers.

Tyreeq Bakinson plays the ball forward at Doncaster Rovers. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Then there’s Tyreeq Bakinson, the January signing who has so far made four starts under McKenna, scoring the winning goal at Doncaster. 

At his best, we’ve seen Bakinson play some clever one-touch passes to pop the ball off for team-mates. We saw them work well alongside Morsy during their start together at MK Dons recently, particularly during a period in the first half where the Town skipper was able to receive the ball and drive towards the penalty area. 

That same game also highlighted some of the issues with Bakinson, though, as he was caught in possession in dangerous areas and also pulled out of a tackle which so nearly put his side in real trouble. He needed to pick up a booking himself in order to repel the danger he’d created. 

Sam Morsy and Conor Chaplin in discussion during the Cheltenham game.

Sam Morsy and Conor Chaplin in discussion during the Cheltenham game. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

The reviews from Bristol City, shortly after Bakinson’s loan move to Suffolk, suggested the midfielder is capable of excellent performances one week and below-par ones the next.  

There appears to be an element of truth in that but, being fair to the new signing, we must acknowledge that each of his four Ipswich starts to date have come alongside different partners. That has to make it tough to settle into a new team. 

It remains to be seen whether he’ll be given a second outing alongside Morsy this weekend. 

The final option is Idris El Mizouni, a young midfielder who has shown promise this season but has found himself on the fringes under both Cook and McKenna so far during the campaign. 

Idris El Mizouni back in the team at Hillsborough.

Idris El Mizouni back in the team at Hillsborough. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

He’s featured twice under McKenna, once from the start at Sheffield Wednesday before coming off the bench at Doncaster, but has also found himself out of the matchday squad entirely when the Blues’ full midfield package is available. 

His only previous league start alongside Morsy came at Cambridge in October, where the duo had an up-and-down afternoon as Ipswich let a two-goal lead slip to draw 2-2. 

The academy graduate is arguably more of a Morsy-style player than an E vans one, though, so while the Welshman’s injury is likely to lead to further first-team involvement, it appears Carroll and Bakinson are at the head of the queue in terms of time on the field. 

But we know the youngster has ability, so it won’t be a complete shock to see himcome in and partner the Ipswich captain. 

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna pictured ahead of the game.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna pictured ahead of the game. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

But who gets the nod?  

Well, the truth is nobody offers the same package Evans brings. McKenna said as much after Tuesday night’s game. 

"He does give us a different balance to the team, but we have good players to come in,” he said. “They’re probably not of the same profile of Lee, but it's up to us to find the right balance now for the games going forwards." 

Bakinson would be my guess, talking solely about this weekend’s visit to Morecambe and then possibly, all being well, the game at Fleetwood a week later. 

But the chances are McKenna will mix things up as we go along. With four home games in five, following the match at Highbury, Carroll may well have a chance to shine. 

If the former Spurs man does get an extended opportunity during Evans’ absence, his performances could well make or break his Ipswich Town career, given he is in the final months of his one-year deal. 

The same can be said of Bakinson, who Ipswich hold an option to buy if they like what they see during his loan spell, while El Mizouni will surely get on the field at some point, too. If he does start a game alongside Morsy, it will be the eighth different midfield combination used by the new boss.

Whichever way McKenna goes, Town need their midfield back-ups to step-up during Evans’ absence.