Cook will be looking to complete the puzzle as Town host Millwall in dress rehearsal
- Credit: Pagepix
Ipswich Town complete their pre-season programme with a clash against Millwall at Portman Road this afternoon. Andy Warren looks ahead to the game.
Here we go, then. We’ve reached the final warm-up game ahead of the big kick-off.
It’s been an intriguing pre-season which has brought some excellent games, new signings at every turn and the sight of a new team being built before our eyes. Or, as CEO Mark Ashton says, building the plane while it’s already in flight’.
We’ve seen a few growing pains, too, but nothing to truly set alarm bells ringing as we hurtle towards the most hotly-anticipated Ipswich season in many a year.
Town’s games at Dartford, at home to Crystal Palace and then at Colchester have seen manager Paul Cook limit the amount of minutes played by his frontline players, filling in the gaps with youngsters, while looking at different combinations on the field.
But all the indications point towards this game with Gary Rowett’s Millwall being used to test what Cook sees as his starting XI ahead of the big kick-off against Morecambe.
- 1 Tankers on their way to Suffolk as the government unveils action plan
- 2 More Suffolk petrol stations closed as PM plans action
- 3 The 72 postcode areas where Covid infection rates are rising
- 4 Lorry drivers being offered up to £60,000 and other bonuses as shortage bites
- 5 Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich's 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday
- 6 Explained: What is causing the long queues at petrol stations?
- 7 Blaze spreads from classic car to bungalow next door
- 8 'Poor' infection control at care home sees used Covid test swab left in pile of clean PPE
- 9 Family of hairdresser, 17, who died in her sleep 'overwhelmed' by tributes
- 10 Church brings a new Hope to former Ipswich Odeon cinema
We may well see a few more puzzle pieces fall into place this afternoon but, with more additions certain before the end of August, the picture will certainly not be complete.
Looking through the Town squad list, I’d say it’s fair to label seven or eight players as nailed-on starters at this stage.
For me, they would be Vaclav Hladky in goal, Kane Vincent-Young at right-back, Matt Penney on the left (with a further arrival likely) and then Rekeem Harper and Lee Evans at the base of midfield, with the Welshman returning from a groin injury today.
Wes Burns will surely start on the right wing and Joe Pigott appears to be ahead of the competition when it comes to a starting spot through the middle.
But that leaves a few gaps.
Scott Fraser is a likely starter in this side but, as yet, we’ve not seen him play in his favoured No.10 role and instead operate out wide. That’s not going to be a long-term thing but, in the short term, if Fraser is used on the left then either Macauley Bonne or James Norwood could stake a claim for a second striker role, with Pigott likely to drop a little deeper.
But if Fraser’s moved centrally, newest-signing Conor Chaplin or Armando Dobra will fancy a start on the left. It’s good to have options.
Most of these questions are likely to be answered this afternoon.
At the heart
Those permutations in attack will be answered in due course, but perhaps the biggest questions come in the centre of the Ipswich Town defence.
The exits of former skipper Luke Chambers and player-of-the-year James Wilson left just Toto Nsiala and Luke Woolfenden as options heading into the season. That was until Tuesday morning, when the Blues spent in the region of £750,000 to land George Edmundson from Rangers.
The 23-year-old will surely be a starter, and is likely to make his first appearance in Blue (or white, given Town could wear their away kit this afternoon) against Millwall.
So, who will join him? That’s perhaps the biggest question with just a week to go before kick-off.
Both Nsiala and Woolfenden have had some very good moments in pre-season but bring different things to the table.
Nsiala was one of Town’s most consistent players last season and brings a physical approach to the game. He’s been trusted with the armband this summer, too.
Woolfenden is comfortable on the ball, reads the game well and is as cool as they come at the heart of defence. He looks to be relishing the challenge set for him by Cook, after being one of the few spared in the manager’s demolition of last season’s squad.
A new signing in defence isn’t an impossibility, either, but the chances are it will be either Nsiala or Woolfenden given the nod for the opening day alongside Edmundson.
Cook will be pleased to have Evans back on the field for this game, with the midfielder missing the matches with Palace and then Colchester with a knock, having curled in a superb free-kick in a training game at Fulham two weeks ago.
Another plus would be to see Jon Nolan back in action. He’s not featured at all this summer due to a calf problem but would add real depth in midfield.
In the absence of the duo, youngster Cameron Humphreys has made his case with two good performances which, in all likelihood, will earn the teenager an extended stay around the senior squad.
Hello, old friend
Fresh from Tuesday’s reunion with Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse, Alan Judge & Co, the Blues will be coming up against another former Ipswich favourite this afternoon.
Bartosz Bialkowski left Portman Road for Millwall in the summer after relegation and it’s fair to say things have gone well for the Pole since his move to the Lions.
Bialkowski, now 34, won three player-of-the-year awards on the spin at Portman Road and continued that trend by winning Millwall’s award in both of his seasons with the club. He also won the Championship Golden Glove award in his first campaign.
He’s sure to get a warm reception.