Harper on his best midfield role and facing old team-mate Berahino
- Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town midfielder Rekeem Harper is ready to put the we before the me.
When leaving boyhood club West Brom to sign for the Blues this summer, the 21-year-old admitted part of the motivation in dropping down to League One was a pursuit of regular game time at a key stage of his development.
He duly started Town's opening seven league games alongside Lee Evans, as one of two sitting midfielders, but was dropped at Lincoln City last weekend.
Instead of sulking that Tom Carroll had taken his place, Harper came on as a 66th minute substitute and, in a more advanced role than usual, played a key role in Town seeing out their first win of the campaign.
Boss Paul Cook suggested afterwards that he may have just found a new position for the former England U19 international.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it," said Harper, speaking ahead of tomorrow afternoon's visit of Sheffield Wednesday.
"I would say my most natural position is playing as a number eight. I like to be free, basically. I do my contributions for the team going backwards, obviously, but I also like to be able to go forwards and play my game.
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“I think you saw some features of my game in that role. I set up a chance and helped the team grind out the result.
“I have played in the six role before, but generally I've been more in a three-man midfield that has one sitter and me being one of two eights that gets to go forwards.
“Coming here it’s more disciplined I would say. It’s more about knowing your role in the team.
“I would say I am very capable of playing that (deeper) role. It’s a lot different for me though. It’s more about what you do behind the ball and trying to make the team tick. Whereas last weekend I didn’t have to worry so much about whether I was leaving space behind me.
“It’s two different roles. I would say my preference is to play more advanced, but whatever you get asked to do you do your best.
"A lot of players have come from different styles, but every day we are getting used to the way the manager wants us to play here and are building habits."
With captain-in-waiting Sam Morsy back from suspension for Tuesday night's visit of Doncaster, Harper will soon face even stiffer competition for one of those two deeper midfield berths.
And, if he is to be seen as more of a No.8 or No.10, then he is competing with the likes of Bersant Celina, Conor Chaplin, Scott Fraser and Louie Barry.
"Good teams have good players - wherever you go that’s the way it is," said Harper. "You just have to make sure you do enough to stamp your mark and hope that the manager picks you.
“There is a lot of quality, a lot of competition. It’s healthy.
“If you’re on the bench you have to make sure you are ready to come on, affect the game and help the team achieve their goal. I’m glad I was able to do that last weekend.
“I’ve been very blessed to play the vast majority of games so far. It’s a long, long season and there are plenty more games for me to come back in and start. Whether it’s off the bench or from the start, I’ve just to make sure I help the team and do my role to help us get the three points.
“I want to be playing every game and starting, but there’s a bigger picture. As long as we win I'm happy."
Harper, one of 19 summer signings, continued: “We've been around each other a lot now and I’ve seen that we’re all winners here. There's a real buzz around the place and that spreads throughout the club, whether you’re playing or not.
“Now we're back at home for two games and I feel there’s an opportunity to build on what we’ve just achieved. That’s our focus and I’m sure we’ll do it.
“With the players in the building we all know we are more than capable of achieving whatever goal we want to achieve this season."
Harper will be up against his former West Brom team-mate Saido Berahino tomorrow, the later having having scored on his Sheffield Wednesday debut last weekend.
“When I was breaking through at West Brom, Saido was in the first team and a lot of the academy boys looked up to him because he came on the scene in the Premier League and did crazy things really," said the Blues midfielder.
“I trained with him, I was in matchday squads with him, I even played quite a few games with him when he was in the 23s for a bit.
“He’s a very, very good finisher, so we have to pay close attention to him. But one thing we have learnt to do is focus on our strengths and not the opposition’s.
“They obviously pose a lot of dangers, I’m sure they’ve got very high quality players, but our focus is on ourselves and what we can do to win the game."