Winners and Losers: The ups and downs of Town's dramatic opening weekend

It was a good weekend for Macauley Bonne but a tough one for Toto Nsiala (inset)

It was a good weekend for Macauley Bonne but a tough one for Toto Nsiala (inset) - Credit: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town drew 2-2 with Morecambe in the opening game of the season on Saturday. Andy Warren looks picks out his winners and losers from the weekend.

WINNERS 

Hometown hero 

There’s only one place to start and that’s with Ipswich Town’s latest debut goal-scorer. 

The only thing which would have made this moment any sweeter would have been the goal actually being the winner. He certainly came off the pitch feeling like one, though. He probably still does today.

Despite the fact it only won a point, punctuating a special day as fans returned with a stoppage-time strike from a boyhood Ipswich fan, on his long-awaited debut no less, is pretty good. 

Macauley Bonne celebrates after scoring to level the game at 2-2.

Macauley Bonne has been named Ipswich Town's Player of the Month for August. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com

He kissed the badge as he wheeled away to celebrate in front of a stand packed with supporters, many of whom will have known the popular 25-year-old during his formative years. He is a proper Ipswich lad. 

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During his post-match interviews the striker pointed at various areas of the ground where he had friends and family sitting – they covered almost the entire stadium. 

We should have expected this goal, really, given he also netted a last-minute leveller on his QPR debut last season, as well as showing a penchant for early strikes when switching clubs throughout his career. 

The challenge now for Bonne is to force his way from the bench to the starting XI, with Joe Pigott leading the line from the off and a wealth of attacking options at Paul Cook’s disposal. 

He’s likely to get a first start tomorrow when Newport visit in the Carabao Cup. 

Bonne wasn’t the only debut goal scorer, of course, with Scott Fraser netting Town’s first. That will surely help the former MK Dons playmaker settle. 

Town manager Paul Cook looks on.

Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook watches on during a 2-2 home draw with Morecambe. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com

The boss 

We knew there would be a huge roar when the teams finally emerged ahead of kick-off on Saturday, but one moment we maybe weren’t expecting was a thunderous, solo, reception for boss Cook. 

This was the Town manager’s first game in front of a real Portman Road crowd and, prior to his side walking out onto the pitch, he arrived early as he came jogging out of the tunnel to greet the 21.037 in attendance. Thankfully, he was spotted very quickly by supporters and given an excellent ovation by what was the biggest home support he has ever managed in front of. 

It’s been a funny old time for Cook to have taken over at Portman Road, not playing a game in front of a proper crowd despite being in charge for five months and hearing his voice echo around an empty stadium for much of that spell. But the ovation he received will have shown him just how much good will he and his team have behind him right now.  

We need to get used to his early entrances to the pitch – he's likely to do it before every game to applaud supporters before letting his players take centre stage. 

He'll have seen things he liked and things he didn't, but he will surely have been encouraged by the growing partnership between Lee Evans and Rekeem Harper. They look set to become the beating heart of this Ipswich team.

In the blue corner 

The Chantry area of Ipswich will certainly have enjoyed Saturday night. 

Not only did Bonne’s goal raise the roof at Portman Road, but another of the estate’s favourite sons enjoyed a special day in the world of sport. 

Boxer Fabio Wardley, an Ipswich fan and former academy player himself, successfully defended his English heavyweight title against Nick Webb, securing victory with an impressive knockout in the first round to extend his winning streak to 12-0. 

The two know each other well and are in regular contact, with Bonne heading straight home from Portman Road in order to watch his friend in action. 

A healthy crowd in attendance for the opening league fixture.

21,037 fans watched Ipswich Town's draw with Morecambe - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com

Town’s bank balance 

Bonne’s late leveller will have sent Ipswich fans happy, even though their side had dropped two points to a team they were expected to beat. 

And, with around 13,000 season ticket holders joined by 8,000 more fans for this game, many of those ‘casual’ (for want of a better word) supporters might be more tempted to come again than they would have been had the Blues lost. 

With the amount Town can spend on players capped at 60% of the club’s turnover, bringing in money through ticket sales is going to be vital to the club’s success. 

The atmosphere generated by so many supporters will certainly help, too. 

Cole Stockton (9) celebrates scoring his and Morecambes second.

Cole Stockton (left) celebrates scoring one of his two goals for Morecambe on the opening day at Portman Road. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com

Shrimps 

A word for the visitors, on what was so nearly a very impressive three points. 

This was Morecambe’s first ever game of third tier football and they more than played their part in a match against a side with a very different standing in the world of English football. 

Like Town, they are a work in progress as nine players were given debuts, in what was manager Stephen Robinson’s first game in charge after replacing promotion winner Derek Adams. He will have been pleased with much of what he saw. 

Cole Stockton produced great finishes for both his goals, with a little helping hand from the Town defence, and they certainly deserved their point. 

LOSERS 

Tough break 

This was a big chance for Toto Nsiala to stake a claim. He had earned that chance, too.

The big defender was one of few to survive Cook’s cull, had been given the armband and a vote of confidence from his boss in pre-season and entered the campaign with momentum after finishing last season really well. 

It was similar to the scenario which faced Nsiala ahead of Town’s first League One season, in 2019/20, and, sadly, things have worked out the same way.  

As soon as Nsiala pulled up, holding his hamstring on 38 minutes, it looked as though his afternoon was over before it had really begun. He looked distraught as he left the pitch with his shirt pulled up over his face. It was hard not to feel for him.

A distraught Toto Nsiala heads back to the changing rooms after suffering a first half injury.

A distraught Toto Nsiala heads back to the changing rooms after suffering a first half injury. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com

The same happened in Germany in July 2019, when the defender suffered an injury which denied him a guaranteed starting spot in Paul Lambert’s team on opening day and prompted the signing of James Wilson. Nsiala struggled to get back into the side from there and was loaned to Bolton in January. 

The timing was cruel then and it looks cruel now, too, given George Edmundson was watching from the stands and Town are surely in the market for further central defensive reinforcements. 

Hopefully the injury isn’t too bad. 

Case for the defence 

It wasn’t just Nsiala who had a tough day at the office. 

Town are high on attacking options at the moment and light on defensive bodies, with the starting back four in this game just about the only one Cook could have fielded right now. 

Kane Vincent-Young, Nsiala and Luke Woolfenden are all still in place from last season but that trio had never actually been on the same pitch together before, while the two central defenders have never played regularly together. This team is still gelling. 

Both Morecambe goals were sloppy in the extreme, with Vincent-Young giving the initial ball away for the first before the Town defence backed off and backed off, allowing Cole Stockton to glide past Woolfenden, Lee Evans and Matt Penney as he wriggled through to score. 

For the second, Matt Penney’s ball back to Woolfenden didn’t have enough juice, though the latter should have put his foot through it to clear. Neither man will be happy with their contribution to this one.

There’s plenty of work still needed to be done, both in terms of recruitment and working with what Cook currently has at his disposal. 

That includes Janoi Donacien (who looked solid after he replaced Nsiala) and Corrie Ndaba, both of whom are now likely to play against Newport tomorrow.

Scott Fraser appeals to referee Craig Hicks.

Scott Fraser appeals to referee Craig Hicks. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com

Man in the middle 

We’re not supposed to talk about the officials. But, unlike Town boss Cook, I can’t be fined for it, so I’m going to. 

This wasn’t a very good showing from referee Craig Hicks, who certainly drew the ire of the Portman Road crowd and the attention of Cook who, post-match, described portions of the game as ‘a circus’ due to Hicks’ ‘strange’ decisions. 

Those decisions included, but were not limited to, some weirdly long periods of advantage before pulling play back for free-kicks and others where none was played at all. Plenty of missed fouls, the most blatant of which came when Penney was charging towards the box and was chopped down, as well as a failure to stop periods of Morecambe time-wasting (fair play to them, it’s what they should be doing).  

There were some pedantic moments, too, particularly when Evans attempted, on at least three occasions, to take a free-kick, only to be pulled back.

We’ve seen some poor refereeing performances during Town’s League One journey and this was up there with them. 

A mug’s game 

Ipswich Town were what’s called a ‘coupon buster’ on Saturday. 

The Blues were hot favourites to beat Morecambe with the bookies, so much so social media was littered with football fans lamenting Cook’s side for ‘letting us down’. 

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