Big promise, getting angry and stats not lying - The Sam Morsy effect
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Following a slow start, Ipswich Town are beginning to find form. STUART WATSON takes a look at the Sam Morsy effect.
Rewind to September 11. Town had just lost 5-2 at home to newly-promoted Bolton, their winless start to the campaign extending to seven matches.
Blues boss Paul Cook was, quite rightly, asked if the early results were worrying him.
"No, no - I’ve got to tell you no," he replied. "It genuinely doesn’t. I’d love to be able to say it does.
"I know the personnel in the building. I know the players we’ve got to come in. I know the characteristics of the Samy Morsy-type, for example. Everything that we lacked today will be there times 10 from him.
"There will be no performances like that when he’s in the team."
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Wow. Talk about heaping the pressure on one man.
It was becoming increasingly clear that the Lee Evans-Rekeem Harper midfield axis wasn't working.
Morsy, an eye-catching late deadline day signing from Championship club Middlesbrough, still had two more games of a league suspension to serve though.
At Lincoln, Tom Carroll partnered Evans and Harper came on to play a key role as a more advanced midfielder in a gritty 1-0 win.
Then, in the 1-1 home draw against Sheffield Wednesday, Idris El Mizouni partnered Carroll due to Evans being injured.
Carroll had shown the calm, technical ability of a former Premier League player. Youth graduate El Mizouni played with grit and positivity. The blend was better, but Cook was clearly gagging to get his trusted former skipper in the team.
"I felt Idris deserved that chance today," said the Blues boss, after Conor Chaplin's late leveller against the Owls. "If he didn't get the chance today, the reality is, with Samy Morsy now available, he might not have got one."
Any concerns that Morsy had been slightly over-hyped were quickly blown away following a dream league debut.
Town thrashed sorry Doncaster Rovers 6-0 under the lights at Portman Road. Their new skipper was outstanding, leading both vocally and by example.
When the Blues were out of possession, he sniffed danger and snapped at heels. When the Blues were in possession, he never stopped demanding the ball and always looked to drive into space when possible.
Crucially, that loosened the shackles on his former Wigan team-mate Lee Evans. The Welshman, who now no longer had to do a Morsy tribute act, could concentrate fully on his own game. He ended the game with a hat-trick.
"Having Samy in there, who likes to get it off the back four, does give me licence to get in the box," said Evans. "Obviously we had our partnership before at Wigan, it's started well again tonight and long may that continue."
It wasn't all plane sailing from there.
Town, to a man, were not at the races up at Accrington. After the 2-1 defeat, Morsy fumed: "We let ourselves down.
“They play like a non-league team and that’s no disrespect to them – that's just the style and it works for them. The way they play is disgusting – one of the players just kicked the ball out of the stadium (to waste time) which I’ve never seen before in my career.
“I think we are delusional if we think we’re going to play like we did against Doncaster every week and hit teams for six. This is a reality check. We have to be better, work harder and then be better at what we do."
The Egyptian international was caught on the ball when Town conceded an equaliser against Shrewsbury in the next match. Thankfully, the Blues were able to grind out a 2-1 win.
A week later, the Blues let a two-goal lead slip at Cambridge.
Town legend Mick Mills, on co-commentary duty for BBC Radio Suffolk, observed: "I've just watched Sam Morsy walk the entire length of the touchline and I've never seen somebody look so miserable. I thought 'well, good, at least it affects him'. He's obviously someone who doesn't forget days like this quickly. He's hurt."
Maybe, just maybe, that was the moment that Morsy - who candidly admits he didn't expect or particularly want to leave Middlesbrough on deadline day - got fully fired up for League One football.
Since that day at the Abbey Stadium, Town have really kicked on.
First there was a 4-0 win at Portsmouth, then a last-gasp winner against Fleetwood. After that, a narrow defeat at league-leaders Plymouth was followed up by a statement 4-1 win at Wycombe in midweek.
Town' skipper was immense at Adams Park. He set up Bersant Celina's equaliser. He was a driving force throughout.
And so for some numbers.
Morsy top's Town's charts for passes per game (64 on average) and passing accuracy (88% on average). He's behind only Idris El Mizouni for tackles per game (an average of 2.4), while only flying wingers Kyle Edwards and Wes Burns best him in terms of successful dribbles per game.
The eight league games without Morsy: W1 D4 L3 F12 A16.
The eight league games with Morsy: W5 D1 L2 F22 A9.
Those sort of stats are never an exact science, because there are clearly multiple factors at play, but they act as decent shorthand for the Morsy effect.
WHAT HE'S SAID
On being captain: "It is a massive honour. I'm incredibly proud and I don't take these things lightly. I will be giving my absolute all to try and help us be successful this season.
"I've been captain before and the fundamentals are always the same in terms of having a winning mentality and leading by example.
"I'll be trying to represent the football club as best I can."
On grinding out results: "Slowly, we have to change the narrative of the whole season. There was a narrative of us conceding late and losing leads. We need to change it to ‘we’re going to score late’ and when we need an equaliser we get that goal, or a winner.
"We’re going to have performances like Doncaster (6-0) and Portsmouth (4-0), which were fantastic, but there will be tight games where we need the mindset of needing to win and finding a way to do it, no matter how badly things are going.”
WHAT THEY'VE SAID
Paul Cook, after signing Morsy, said: "He's got vast experience, multiple promotions, played at a very high level, is an international footballer and he’ll be a defensive rock for us.
“He’s an absolute character of a man. He’s captained all my teams that I’ve been with him at, at Chesterfield for three years, Wigan for three years, he knows what I want every day and he delivers every day.”
Hayden Coulson, who was a team-mate of Morsy's at Middlesbrough, said: “He’s a cracking signing. If you know Morsy, you know what he’s about. He will always give you everything, both on and off the field. He’s come here to get that promotion and get back in the Championship. He’ll bring that intensity with the press. He does the ugly side of the game. He’s obviously known for his big challenges. I’m sure the fans here will love him.”
Town winger Wes Burns, asked for his early impression of Morsy, said: "Straight away you can tell with Sam Morsy that he's got that leadership vibe about him. He literally trains exactly the way he plays! I know it rubs some people up the wrong way when he flies into challenges and kicks people, but I don't care if he kicks me because I know he'll do exactly the same to the opposition on a Saturday. I know it comes from a place of him being so eager to push this team forward."
Town legend Mick Mills said: "He sort of props up the attacks nicely by running into these lovely little holes half a dozen or so yards behind where the ball is. He makes himself available all the time so that if an attacker runs into a dead end they can come back out and the move can start again. He can take the ball off the front or the back. He's a good player, no doubt."