Stu says: Five observations following 1-0 win at Dartford

James Norwood in action during the pre-season friendly against Dartford

James Norwood in action during the pre-season friendly against Dartford. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town got their pre-season campaign up and running with a 1-0 win at Dartford yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.

Ipswich Town fans at the pre-season friendly against Dartford

Ipswich Town fans at the pre-season friendly against Dartford. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

WELCOME BACK! 

Never has a pre-season opener felt like such an event. 

A crowd of 1,620 watched this game at the smart Princes Park stadium. 

The sound of a drum, the exchange of chants, the smell of burgers... Oh, how football has missed the presence of fans over the last 16 months. 

Pre-match, Mark Ashton went out of his way to speak to as many Blues supporters as possible, posing for pictures on the open terraces. Michael O’Leary and Lee O’Neill stopped for chats too.  

Ipswich Town CEO Mark Ashton at the pre-season friendly against Dartford

Ipswich Town CEO Mark Ashton at the pre-season friendly against Dartford. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Paul Cook and his new-look staff and squad then got a really warm reception when they emerged from the tunnel. 

A minute's silence for Paul Mariner, one of the all-time Ipswich Town greats, soon turned into spontaneous applause. Quite right too.

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The former England striker would have loved the joyous 'Three Lions' singsongs which broke out throughout the afternoon too.

Football is about emotions. Now we can finally share them together again.

No doubt about it, the players fed off the atmosphere. The tempo and intensity of this game was a step up from what you usually get in early July. 

Town players remember Paul Mariner before the pre-season friendly at Dartford

Town players remember Paul Mariner before the pre-season friendly at Dartford. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix

THE NEW BOYS 

All six of the summer signings started the game

Goalkeeper Vaclav Hladky didn’t have a great deal to do.

Matt Penney got forward constantly from left-back and put plenty of crosses into the box. James Norwood was agonisingly close to converting one on the stretch.

Wes Burns was a direct runner down the right. One driving run through the middle of the park drew a foul in a dangerous area. 

Wes Burns in action during the pre-season friendly against Dartford

Wes Burns in action during the pre-season friendly against Dartford. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Macauley Bonne’s movement up top was good. He struck the crossbar with one 20-yard effort and cracked the outside of the post with another (albeit the offside flag was up). 

It was the deep-lying midfield duo of Lee Evans and Rekeem Harper who most impressed though. Both were strong and composed.  

Harper has the first touch of a top level player. And his first thought is to go forwards. 

Evans, wearing the captain’s armband, has the passing range to switch the play in an instant - something Cook constantly demands. 

It was goalless at the break, but Town had asked all the questions against the National League South hosts. 

Rakeem Harper in action during the pre-season friendly against Dartford

Rakeem Harper in action during the pre-season friendly against Dartford. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

CALLING ON THE KIDS 

It was all change at the break. 

Corrie Ndaba (21) and Idris El Mizouni (20) were now the most senior of the 10 outfield players. The rest were aged between 16 and 18. 

Town’s young guns settled after an iffy start and took the lead through a fine Tawanda Chirewa strike in the 73rd minute. The teenage midfielder bent a lovely low effort into the bottom corner from outside the box. 

Tawanda Chirewa celebrates scoring the winner during the pre-season friendly at Dartford

Tawanda Chirewa celebrates scoring the winner during the pre-season friendly at Dartford - Credit: Pagepix

Ipswich almost bagged a second when Nico Valentine’s saw a close-range attempt blocked on the line by a defender. 

All gave a good account of themselves against a decent level of opposition.

Edwin Agbaje, goalscorer in Town’s FA Youth Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool in May, caught the eye with some powerful runs from right-back. 


STATING THEIR CASE 

The youngsters were indebted to goalkeeper Tomas Holy for some smart stops early in the second half. 

One full length dive to keep the ball out the bottom corner was particularly impressive from the big Czech. 

Lee Evans during the pre-season friendly against Dartford

Lee Evans captained Ipswich Town in the first half. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Armando Dobra was lively on the left in first period. He not only drifted inside and got defenders on the back foot, but did his defensive work too. One sprint back and slide tackle brought a loud cheer. 

Janoi Donacien had some positive moments at right-back too. 


ABSENTEES 

Cook has insisted that ‘the door will always be ajar’ for the quartet of Flynn Downes, Kayden Jackson, Myles Kenlock and Teddy Bishop – all of whom were instructed to start pre-season training with the Under-23s. 

We didn’t get to find out whether they would have been given the chance to put their foot in that door here though.  

The reason the second half team was so young is because there have been some Covid cases in the 23s.  

Armando Dobra during the pre-season friendly against Dartford

Armando Dobra during the pre-season friendly against Dartford - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

That meant, in addition to ‘the bomb squad’, the likes of Brett McGavin, Bailey Clements, Levi Andoh, Tyreece Simpson, Ross Crane, Elkan Baggott and Callum Page couldn’t be involved either. 

Meanwhile, Jon Nolan was absent due to a calf injury, while Kane Vincent-Young, working his way back from an end-of-season shoulder injury, was left out as a ‘precaution’

It’s a reminder that the Blues still have plenty of squad strengthening to do before the transfer window shuts at the end of August.

Nico Valentine has a second half shot saved during the pre-season friendly at Dartford

Nico Valentine has a second half shot saved during the pre-season friendly at Dartford - Credit: Pagepix

Ipswich Manager Paul Cook and his team before the pre-season friendly win at Dartford

Ipswich Manager Paul Cook and his team before the pre-season friendly win at Dartford - Credit: Pagepix Ltd


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