Massive task put into sharp focus
IPSWICH Town manager Paul Jewell still feels there are many weaknesses in his squad following Tuesday night’s 5-2 home defeat to Southampton. STUART WATSON looks at the issues facing the Liverpudlian with little under two weeks to go until the transfer window shuts.
HIS players undoubtedly let him down on Tuesday night, but let’s not forget this isn’t a side Paul Jewell has simply inherited anymore – it’s one he’s moulded himself.
Eight new signings over the summer and still there a major shortfalls that need addressing. A centre-back, youthful playmaker, pacy winger and target man striker are all arguably missing.
Let’s not get too down on the Liverpudlian just yet though.
Stripped of the spine of his team (Gareth McAuley, David Norris and Connor Wickham) this summer, you can’t overstate the size of the task he faced heading into the most competitive looking Championship season in years.
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Not only did those aforementioned key players need replacing, but major facelifts were undoubtedly required elsewhere too if the Blues were to stand any chance of making up a massive 13-point gap between them and the top six.
With 13 first team players having departed since the end of last season altogether – ranging from prominent loanees such as Jimmy Bullard and Darren O’Dea to valuable squad men such as Tom Eastman and Luca Civelli – it was always realistically going to take more than eight new faces.
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And in a fiercely competitive market, with the same clubs scrapping over limited top quality players, it’s a big, big ask for Jewell to form a promotion-pushing dream team from scratch over three whirlwind months.
The problem areas Jewell may feel he still needs to strengthen:
Remains the top priority, with left-footed duo Damien Delaney and Tommy Smith feeling the strain of being the only fit players in that position due to Ivar Ingimarsson’s injury-hit start to his Town career.
Premier League clubs have already beaten Jewell to the signatures of Matthew Upson, Jonathan Woodgate (both Stoke) and Daniel Ayala (Norwich), while Stoke’s Ryan Shotten looks set to chose Burnley for geographical reasons. For the time being, inexperienced right-back Jack Ainsley remains the back-up option.
With Jewell claiming that teenger Josh Carson is ‘not in the best shape he could be’, Luca Civelli having gone for nothing and the likes of Jaime Peters and Shane O’Connor out in the cold, there are just two recognised widemen left in Lee Martin and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. And with the latter seemingly more suited to a free role and Martin struggling with a hamstring injury, Jewell started with a very narrow midfield four on Tuesday night before eventually playing left-back Arron Cresswell and central midfielder Grant Leadbitter on the flanks.
Central midfield is undoubtedly the area of the squad with the most depth, with Keith Andrews’ recent arrival on loan from Blackburn taking the number of options up to seven. The problem is those options are all very similar, with hard-working players galore but little out-and-out creativity.
In addition, the average age of the narrow midfield quartet that started the game on Tuesday – Mark Kennedy (35), Lee Bowyer (34), Keith Andrews (30) and Leadbitter (25) – was 31 years old.
In Michael Chopra, Jewell has signed a striker who has already shown all the signs of being the prolific 20-goals-a-season man that Ipswich have so badly lacked in recent years.
And while he showed in the 3-0 opening day win at Bristol City that he can be effective as a hard-working lone forward, he is certainly more dangerous when a strike partner can share some of the burden.
Jewell would undoubtedly like to play with two up top, but keeps reiterating that he doesn’t feel he has the personnel to do so.
That would seem to indicate that he is not convinced that Nathan Ellington, Jason Scotland nor Tamas Priskin are the correct foils for Chopra, with him perhaps wanting a greater aerial presence alongside Chopra.