Stu says: Six observations following Town's 1-1 draw with Sunderland

Kane Vincent-Young in action against Sunderland.

Kane Vincent-Young in action against Sunderland. - Credit: Steve Waller -

Ipswich Town drew 1-1 with Sunderland at a packed Portman Road yesterday. STUART WATSON reflects on the action.

Pyrotechnics ahead of the Sunderland game.

Pyrotechnics ahead of the Sunderland game. - Credit: Steve Waller -


We had the grand unveiling of a statue to immortalise the late, great Kevin Beattie. The powerful leap cast in bronze perfectly captures the man widely recognised as Ipswich Town's greatest ever player.

We had two of the club's US-based owners over for the first time. All the footage and pictures of Mark Detmer and Berke Bakay caught their excitement and wonder.

We had a near packed house at Portman Road. The success of the club's recent ticket campaign for the festive fixtures meant the attendance was 29,002. That, quite frankly, is ridiculous for a club sitting mid-table in League One just a week before Christmas.

Incoming manager Kieran McKenna speaking with Ipswich Towns Chief Executive Officer Mark Ashton duri

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna speaking with chief executive Mark Ashton. - Credit: Steve Waller -

And we had a new manager in the stands. There was no grand introduction of Kieran McKenna to the crowd, but the bold appointment of Manchester United's young first team coach had certainly put an excited chatter in the air.

As the teams came out, the blue and white flags which had been left on every seat were waved in unison. Then, to top it all off, we had a fire cannon display. 

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Which version of this Jekyll and Hyde Town team would show up today? Would they rise to the occasion or fall flat? We soon had our answer.

Mark Detmer and Berke Bakay celebrate James Norwoods first half goal.

Mark Detmer and Berke Bakay celebrate James Norwoods first half goal. - Credit: Steve Waller -


Fast forward to 5pm and the crowd were on their feet warmly applauding the players from the field.

Okay, so it wasn't that elusive first win against Sunderland since dropping into League One. And it wasn't that elusive first win in front of a 21k+ crowd for many a year. But it had been a performance to be proud of.

Town players looked fired up from the very off. They pressed high. They played forwards. They took on markers. They smashed into 50/50s. They deservedly scored in first half stoppage-time and they responded well after conceding early in the second period.

When two early corners were forced the crowd roared their encouragement. Any fears this could be a nervy atmosphere soon evaporated. Players and fans were feeding each other positive energy.

Sam Morsy clears.

Sam Morsy clears. - Credit: Steve Waller -

James Norwood and Macauley Bonne ran and hustled and scrapped up top. Defenders bounced off the rumbustious Norwood. At one stage, Bonne turned and gestured manically for the rest of the team to join in them in hunting as a pack.

Sam Morsy finally looked like the player sold to us. The captain led by example in midfield, crashing into firm but fair challenges.

Lee Evans left Leon Dajaku in a crumpled heap and needing to be stretchered off. When the Sunderland players reacted angrily to the honest collision, Norwood and Bonne were swiftly on the scene acting as bouncers. 

Janoi Donacien timed a crowd-pleasing slide tackle to perfection. Matt Penney, who has often looked a little flakey, played with real competitive spirit.

It's a reminder that really football is a simple game. Win your battles first and then the rest follows. 

Macauley Bonne congratulates James Norwood after his goal.

Macauley Bonne congratulates James Norwood after his goal. - Credit: Steve Waller -


Norwood left the field to a standing ovation.

Not only had he left it all out there, but he'd added another goal to his tally.

After Bonne's low cross had looped up into the air, the 31-year-old showed clever movement and great desire to leap above three Sunderland players and head in off the underside of the bar.

James Norwood heads home.

James Norwood heads home. - Credit: Steve Waller -

That's two goals in two league games since his return from the cold. His 22 league goals for the club have come at an average of one every 164 minutes.

At Wigan the previous weekend, Norwood celebrated his goal by pointing to the name on the back of his shirt. 

This time, he raced over to the dugouts to show his appreciation to Kieron Dyer, the man who has kept him sharp in the Under-23s and, evidently, been a real ally.

Let's all hope he continues to do his talking on the pitch.

Nathan Broadhead celebrates Sunderlands equaliser early in the second half.

Nathan Broadhead celebrates Sunderlands equaliser early in the second half. - Credit: Steve Waller -


Town gave away far fewer cheap free-kick kicks than usual. They defended set-pieces far better than usual.

Sadly, a collective lapse in concentration at the start of the second period proved costly.

Lee Evans had a dodgy few minutes on and off the ball. George Edmundson, who once again had looked class, had a momentary wobble too. All of a sudden, Nathan Broadhead was coolly finishes off a through ball inside the box. Moments later, Christian Walton had to stay big to block a Ross Stewart effort following a similar move.

Credit to Town, instead of crumbling they got back on the front foot again. Kane VIncent-Young and Conor Chaplin both contributed to the energy and intent off the bench.

As John McGreal said afterwards: "It's just ironing out those little slots."

Wes Burns is clipped by Ross Stewart.

Wes Burns is clipped by Ross Stewart. - Credit: Steve Waller -


It was a pleasant surprise to see Wes Burns' name on the team sheet at 2pm.

Having missed eight games with a hamstring injury, the 27-year-old went straight into the starting line-up.

Would there be any rust to shake off? Nope. Within minutes he had fans off their seats with several trademark forward charges. It was a theme which continued throughout. 

With 15 minutes to go, Burns appeared to stretch off some cramp. Town had already introduced Kane Vincent-Young for Matt Penney though, so he stayed on to the end and appeared to find a second wind.

It's great to have him back. That direct-running and pace completely changes the dynamic of this team. 

Sone Aluko on the ball against Sunderland.

Sone Aluko on the ball against Sunderland. - Credit: Steve Waller -


New boss McKenna left the team selection entirely to the caretaker team of McGreal, Dyer and Rene Gilmartin. And they decided the time was right to take a look at 3-5-2 from the start after it had helped turn the tide at Barrow in midweek.

It seemed to really suit the personnel on the pitch.

Luke Woolfenden was able to calmly sweep up at the heart of a back three. Donacien and Edmundson had license to get forwards on either side of him. Burns' energy is well suited to wing-back. Some of Penney's defensive flaws are better hidden in a wing-back role too.

The front two have already been mentioned, as have the two deep midfielders.

Which means the final mention goes to Sone Aluko. Playing as the No.10 he was calmness personified as the muck and bullets flew around him. The 32-year-old exuded Premier League pedigree, settling things down at the moments it was required. 

It'll be interesting to see if McKenna persists with this system at Gillingham on Boxing Day.

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