Let the games begin

Expectations sky high after a good start, quickly turning to doom and gloom after a severe midway stutter, followed by renewed optimism following a strong finish. STUART WATSON reflects on Ipswich Town’s pre-season campaign ahead of Saturday’s Championship opener at Bristol City.

REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

CHOPRA’S GOALS

The summer signing couldn’t have hoped for a better start to life at the club, taking less than three minutes to open his account in Holland. Bagged two braces in his first three games and has looked every inch the 20-a-goal a season man.

STOCKDALE’S SAVES


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In the first few games of pre-season the position of goalkeeper looked a weakness as Marton Fulop continued to show his major Achilles heel – indecision at crosses. Jewell responded by signing David Stockdale on loan from Premier League club Fulham and he has looked class in his two games so far, combining some breathtaking saves with confident organisation of his defence and excellent distribution.

BOWYER’S BOOMER

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To start with, the experienced Lee Bowyer largely underwhelmed after Ipswich beat off a host of other clubs to his signature. He was at fault for Cambridge’s quickfire double and looked quite a way off the pace. Then, in Saturday’s game against Wolves, he burst into the box to score a trademark goal and then reminded all those who doubted him of his Premier League class by hitting the post from 45 yards out.

MARTIN MOVES UP A GEAR

Lee Martin has never quite lived up to his Manchester United background and �1.5m price tag since coming to Portman Road. With a shortage of wingers at Portman Road at present though he’s shown signs he can take on the mantle this season. Quick, skilful and direct as ever, his final delivery has looked far more dangerous.

MORALE IS HIGH

Gone is the so-called ‘walking on eggshells’ atmosphere alleged to have hung over the squad during Roy Keane’s reign to be replaced by a fun and relaxed feel – when appropriate – under Paul Jewell.

Certainly if any player had posted a video clip of their team mates pushing each other up and down a hotel corridor in a laundry bin (as Tommy Smith did of Jack Ainsley and Aaron Cresswell’s antics during the trip to Holland) you get the feeling fines would have been heading their way under the previous regime. Not so now.

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REASONS FOR CAUTION

CONCENTRATION LAPSES

A number of the goals Town have conceded have been entirely of their own downfall.

Keeper Marton Fulop failed to claim a corner in Den Bosch, Lee Bowyer gave away possession cheaply and then conceded a soft free-kick as Cambridge raced into a quick two-goal lead, while there was no need for Carlos Edwards to concede a penalty against Wolves.

There have been major let-offs too with Tommy Smith twice guilty of under hitting back-passes, with both Southend and Cambridge hitting the woodwork.

LACK OF DEFENSIVE OPTIONS

With new signing Ivar Ingimarsson missing the first four matches with a thigh injury, the left-footed duo of Damien Delaney and Smith were forced to play virtually every minute in central defence.

There’s healthy competition at left-back between Mark Kennedy and Aaron Cresswell who have shared pitch time, but the options at right-back are limited. Jaime Peters has faded completely out of the picture, while Jack Ainsley – having put in a promising display in Holland – has found his chances limited following Carlos Edwards’ return from a hip problem.

SHORT ON WINGERS

Luca Civelli was taken out to Holland with the rest of the squad, but with his long-term knee injury still clearly effecting him it came as no surprise that the club came to an arrangement to pay off his contract soon after getting back. That leaves just Martin, Josh Carson and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas as wide options, though the latter prefers to play in a more central role and Carson hasn’t quote rediscovered the form which catapulted him to stardom last season.

FORMATION

Jewell is seemingly no nearer to knowing what his best formation is following seven summer signings.

Chopra wants to play with a strike partner and Emmanuel-Thomas through the middle, but Jewell needs JET as a winger and feels that Bowyer and Grant Leadbitter require a defensive midfielder behind them if their attacking skills are to be fully utilised.

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PRE-SEASON TIMELINE

Tuesday, July 12

FC Eindhoven 0 Ipswich Town 2

MICHAEL Chopra enjoyed a dream debut, coming off the bench at half-time to score a match-winning brace – his first taking less than three minutes. It was a comfortable victory against Dutch second division opposition.

IPSWICH (4-4-2): Lee-Barratt (Fulop 46); Ainsley, Smith, Delaney, Kennedy (Cresswell 58); Peters (Carson 46), Leadbitter (cpt) (Bowyer 63), Drury (Healy 46), Civelli (Martin 46); Ellington (Scotland 46), Priskin (Chopra 46).

Thursday, July 14

Den Bosch 1 Ipswich Town 3

TOMMY Smith’s header from a corner, Jason Scotland’s cool finish from close range and Tamas Priskin’s crisp low shot from the edge of the box sealed another ultimately comfortable win over a Dutch second division side. This was a far sterner test for the Blues though who had to work hard to regain possession from a side who kept the ball well and threatened a comeback at 2-1 after Fulop failed to collect a corner.

Jason Scotland impressed the most over the two tour games.

IPSWICH (4-4-2): Fulop; Edwards (Ainsley 46), Smith, Delaney, Kennedy (Cresswell 64); Martin (Drury 64), Bowyer (Healy 46), Leadbitter (cpt), Carson; Scotland (Ellington 46), Chopra (Priskin 64).

Tuesday, July 19

Cambridge Utd 2 Ipswich Town 2

CHOPRA’s second brace in three games saved Ipswich after two Lee Bowyer errors gifted Cambridge a two-goal lead within the opening three minutes.

Andy Drury made an excellent second half substitute performance, though Town – full of unforced errors – were lucky not to lose to their non-league hosts at the death.

IPSWICH (4-4-2): Lee-Barrett (Fulop 65); Edwards, Smith (Hyam 81), Delaney, Cresswell (Kennedy 46); Carson (Ainsley 46), Bowyer (cpt) (Leadbitter 65), Healy (Drury 46), Martin (Priskin 65); Chopra, Ellington (Scotland 46).

Friday, July 22

Southend Utd 1 Ipswich Town 1

ANOTHER unconvincing draw against lower league opposition, this time League Two’s Southend United. Martin scored a classy opener but the Essex side fully deserved Neil Harris’s equaliser and threatened to go on and win it.

IPSWICH (4-1-4-1): Fulop; Edwards (Ainsley 63), Smith, Delaney, Kennedy; Carson (Ellington 72), Bowyer (Drury 65), Hyam (Healy 65), Leadbitter (cpt), Martin; Chopra (Scotland 25).

Tuesday, July 26

Colchester Utd 0 Ipswich Town 0

Town fans flocked to Essex in their thousands following the confirmation that Emmanuel-Thomas and Stockdale had signed, but left disappointed after the games was first delayed and the abandoned with 12 minutes to go after home player Andy Bond suffered a nasty head injury. Plenty of effort from Town against their League One hosts, but a real lack of killer edge.

IPSWICH (4-4-1-1): Stockdale; Edwards, Ingimarsson, Smith (Delaney 46), Cresswell (Kennedy 68); Drury (Carson 46), Bowyer, Leadbitter (cpt) (Healy 73), Martin (Hyam 54); Emmanuel-Thomas (Priskin 68); Chopra (Scotland 62).

Saturday, July 30

Ipswich Town 1 Wolverhampton Wdrs 2

The Blues controlled the first hour against the Premier League visitors and deservedly led through Bowyer’s goal. Unlike at Southend, the 4-1-4-1 formation seemed to work and Wolves – who through on their big guns towards the end – only won following a deflected goal and soft penalty.

IPSWICH (4-1-4-1): Stockdale, Edwards, Cresswell, Ingimarsson, Delaney, Leadbitter (cpt) (Drury 80), Kennedy (Hyam 80), Bowyer (Healy 80), Emmanuel-Thomas (Carson 70), Chopra (Ellington 76), Martin (Scotland 76),

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