Things we might learn from Ipswich Town's pre-season games

Cameron Humphreys on a run.

Ipswich Town academy graduate Cameron Humphreys made two sub appearances in League One last season. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town's pre-season campaign starts at Needham Market this afternoon (1pm). STUART WATSON looks at what we might learn from the forthcoming friendly schedule.


TODAY'S GAME

Needham Market are managed by former Ipswich Town, Man City and West Ham midfielder Kevin Horlock. They finished 12th in the Southern League Premier Division Central last season (Step 3 of the non-league pyramid).

Bloomfields is known as having one of the best playing surfaces in Suffolk non-league. All 1,500 tickets have been sold for today's game

It's highly likely that Blues boss Kieran McKenna will play two completely different teams in half, mixing up senior players with some youngsters.

George Edmundson looked uncomfortable ahead of being substituted.

George Edmundson suffered a season-ending ankle injury back in early March. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

INJURY COMEBACKS

Four important players were sidelined for long periods at the back end of last season.

Kyle Edwards suffered a training ground quad injury in the middle of February and didn't play again.

Lee Evans missed three games in January with a groin issue and then subsequently suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 3-0 home win against Burton on February 19.

George Edmundson suffered season-ending ankle ligament damage when landing awkwardly in the 1-0 home win against Gillingham on March 8.

Then Kayden Jackson, just as his renaissance was beginning to gather pace, saw his campaign cut short by a hamstring injury sustained in the 0-0 home draw against Portsmouth on March 12.

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It sounds like all of them are close to returning to action now though.

“We’ve had Lee and Kyle in full training with the group,” revealed McKenna this week. “They both missed so much time at the end of the season that it’s like having new signings.

“George and Kayden are just at the very end of their reintegration. They’re working very hard on the pitches now and they’ll hopefully be back in with the full group soon.

SAME SYSTEM?

Kieran McKenna played a 3-4-3 system for all of his 24 games in charge last season.

There were subtle variations along the way - sometimes it was two up top with one behind, more often it was one up top with two No.10s in support - but the base shape was always the same.

Was that the Blues boss simply picking a formation that he felt was best suited to the players he inherited? Might he change it after bringing in some of his own summer signings?

Even if he intends to stick with a back three (highly likely given how tight the defence was), might he use these upcoming friendlies to experiment with some Plan B systems?

When taking the Town job last year, the Northern Irishman said: “In terms of formation, at this stage of the season, it’s about being versatile to the strengths of the players and doing what they are comfortable with and what will suit the squad. 

“I’m a big believer in style and principles being more important than formations and within any formation it can look different whether you’re in or out of possession or whether it’s the first or third phase of the game. 

“I don’t speak to players a lot about 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or 3-5-2. It’s about them understanding their roles and responsibilities on the pitch, as well as the spaces we want to attack and where to defend. 

“The principles and style we work to are the over-riding thing and then, within that, the formation can be adapted to our players and what suits them, as well as how we want to hurt the opposition.” 

Freddie Ladapo has joined Ipswich Town on a three-year deal

Can new striker Freddie Ladapo score on his first outing for Ipswich Town? - Credit: ITFC

CAN NEW BOYS NAIL A PLACE?

Town have managed to sign four players in time for the start of pre-season.

Don't underestimate how important is having the core of the squad in place from day one.

With more additions undoubtedly on the way, the new boys will be keen to use these upcoming friendlies to make a strong case for a starting spot on opening day.

Dominic Ball and the aforementioned Evans look to be in a battle to be captain Sam Morsy's central midfield partner. Or maybe all three will play together at some point and show they are an experienced trio worth sticking with? We'll see. 

Can Greg Leigh adapt to a more advanced left-sided role than he has been accustomed to playing? If he doesn't grab that role then he could end up being cast as 'versatile squad player'.

Freddie Ladapo has a chance to prove he can be the team's talisman. There's every chance another central striker will be signed over the coming weeks, but, in the meantime, a player with a good goalscoring record at League One level can remind everyone of just that. Strikers always want to hit the ground running at a new club. 

It's also going to be interesting to see how young Arsenal loanee Tyreece John-Jules, a versatile forward player, is utilised.

Corrie Ndaba came on as a substitute for his debut. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwall

Corrie Ndaba will be looking to impress following his return from a season on loan at Salford.

BREAKTHROUGH CHANCE

Pre-season always offers an opportunity for a returning loanee or emerging youngster to break through. There are a couple of prime candidates here for Ipswich Town.

First we have Cameron Humphreys. The 18-year-old midfielder was a key part of the Blues U18s side that reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup in 2021. He made two sub outings in League One last season and was described as the club's 'second best central midfielder' by exiting U23s boss Kieron Dyer. He recently signed a new three-year deal and was seen leading the way in footage of the early pre-season fitness tests.

Then there's Corrie Ndaba. The 22-year-old is back at Playford Road having enjoyed an impressive season on loan at League Two club Salford City (he was named  Supporters' Player of the Year).

This will be the Irishman's fourth pre-season with the first team. Is this the year he finally makes his league debut for the Blues? Left-footed and good on the ball, his qualities certainly look suited to McKenna's style of play.

Other youngsters who enjoyed a good season with the U23s - attacking midfielder Tawanda Chirewa, full-back Albie Armin and the versatile Tommy Hughes - are also likely to have a chance to further their reputations.

Wales' Wes Burns during the UEFA Nations League match at Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff. Picture date

Wes Burns will join up with the Ipswich Town squad a little later having recently made his Wales debut. - Credit: PA

JOINING LATE

Last season's 13-goal topscorer, Wes Burns, hasn't yet joined up with the squad for pre-season. He's been given an extended break having been away representing Wales in Nations League games against Poland, Belgium and Holland. The last of those games was only 10 days ago.

Who will McKenna try down the right in his absence? Kane Vincent-Young? Kyle Edwards? Ipswich need to know who their back-up is in this position given there's now a possibility that Burns could be absent during the winter World Cup in Qatar during November/December.

Elkan Baggott is another still on holiday following his recent outings for Indonesia.


WINNING HABIT

Do pre-season results really mean anything? History suggests no. There have been years Town have had great friendly results and started poorly. One season they lost their final warm-up game 6-1 at Charlton only to go and win their opening five games in all competitions.

The early warm-up games usually see mix-and-match sides get a half each. This afternoon's match at Needham Market is, to all intents and purposes, a glorified fitness exercise. It's only in a few weeks time that we'll be able to start reading a bit more into the selections.

Nevertheless, it would be nice to see Ipswich develop a winning habit. They didn't managed to put straight three victories together once last season. Pre-season saw them win just one of six (the opener at Dartford).

AFTER TODAY

McKenna had wanted to take his squad away to Austria for a summer training camp, but ultimately it was decided, due to Covid and the war in Ukraine, Town would stay in the UK. 

Next week will be spent at Playford Road. The following week will be spent at Loughborough University.

The Blues will then host West Ham at Portman Road (Tues, July 12, 7pm). The Hammers, who also have a game at Boreham Wood that night, aren't likely to send all of their stars to Suffolk. It will be interesting to see how Ipswich get on against some elite level players though.

After that it's away games against newly-relegated League Two side AFC Wimbledon (Sat, July 16, 2.30pm) and Championship outfit Millwall (Sat, July 23, 3pm).

Pre-season then concludes with an evening game at Portman Road against National League side Southend United (Tues, July 26, 7pm).