Stu says: Five observations following Town's 2-2 draw with Morecambe
- Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town got their 2021/22 campaign up-and-running with a 2-2 home draw against Morecambe yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
STRANGERS V STRANGERS
I'll get to the point. Ipswich Town were expected to win this game. They didn't. And ultimately, you have to say, that's a disappointing way to start the season.
Yes, this is a team of strangers. Yes, Paul Cook hasn't had time to get them up to his standard of fitness and drill them to his way of playing. Yes, there wasn't a single established partnership on the field. The starting XI included eight new signings, while another was introduced off the bench.
But it shouldn't be overlooked that newly-promoted Morecambe handed out nine debuts themselves too - and they haven't been recruiting from the Championship.
True, Ipswich saw a centre-half forced off injured midway through the first half. But so did Morecambe.
Credit to the Shrimps. They deserved their share of the spoils in what was an historic day for a club that has never played at this level before. We've seen enough of League One by now to know that sides raise their games at Portman Road. Every point has to be earned. This one, snatched at the death, could yet prove vital.
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Standards have risen dramatically in Suffolk this summer though. The game has changed. This is a club ruthlessly pursuing success.
So I don't think anyone should feel guilty for thinking, even at such an embryonic stage, that this was two points dropped. That has to be the mind-set now.
Right, now for an injection of positivity. Because there was plenty to be encouraged by.
For a start, Ipswich scored twice. That's not something they managed very often during the painfully drawn-out conclusion to last season. And they came from behind twice too - a real show of character.
The brilliantly worked first equaliser was a glimpse at what this levelled-up attack is capable of.
Scott Fraser, playing tucked in off the left, played a clever one-two with Conor Chaplin to get into the box before expertly guiding the ball into the far corner of the net. It was a fine goal.
By contrast, the stoppage-time leveller came in route one fashion. Macauley Bonne grabbing the headlines was Roy of the Rovers stuff. The QPR loanee raced onto fellow sub James Norwood's flick-on and slid the ball home in front of a packed North Stand. What a moment for the diehard Town fan who grew up on the Chantry estate. When he kissed the badge he meant it. The 25-year-old does love a debut goal.
Town did boss this game for long periods. Lee Evans and Rekeem Harper oozed class in midfield. Evans, in particular, snuffed out danger and sprayed some superb passes out to the flanks. They look a good partnership in the making.
Kane Vincent-Young, though rusty at times, won a series of free-kicks with some darting forward runs from right-back. It was so great to see him back again.
Win, lose or draw, this looks like a team that's going to be a lot more fun to watch.
A completely new-look team, but there were some deficiencies consistent with last season.
The two goals conceded were poor in the extreme.
For the first, Vincent-Young's initial header was loose, then the rest of the Ipswich defence were far too hesitant. Cole Stockton didn't have to do anything too special to 'jink' his way sideways in the box before netting on the angle.
The second, which was the one which really took the wind out of everybody's sails, was even worse. Matt Penney's pass was short and Luke Woolfenden really should have just got rid. Instead, he tried to casually step out of defence and lost the ball to Stockton. The Morecambe striker coolly took the ball around keeper Vaclav Hladky and, despite Janoi Donacien's last-ditch lunge, was able to score again.
Town had lots of the ball, worked some really good positions down the flanks, but didn't test the keeper enough. It wasn't until the early stages of the second half, when Joe Pigott's bending effort from outside the box was pushed around the post, that the Blues had a shot on target.
Fraser's set-piece deliveries were hit and miss. Crosses from wide didn't find a man enough. The front two of Chaplin and Pigott only really connected once, after a quiet opening half, and were both replaced in the 79th minute. Pigott's best work had been when he started dropping deep to link the play.
Building that offensive chemistry and telepathy going to be key.
It must be said that referee Craig Hicks didn't help the flow of the game in the latter stages as he awarded a string of soft free-kicks to the Shrimps.
FANS ARE BACK
For the first time since March 2020, we had no restrictions on the crowd for a competitive game at Portman Road.
A little more than 21,000 fans were in attendance and the atmosphere was electric.
The roar which greeted the players coming out of the tunnel before kick-off was a goosebumps moment.
It wasn't long before some of the familiar sounds of matchday were heard again. Ryan Cooney's air-kick on the edge of the box brought sarcastic cheers, keeper Kyle Letheren was on the end of some good-natured banter, with referee Hicks feeling some venom towards the end.
Paul Cook barked his usual orders to 'press' and 'switch the play', though there will have been times his players wouldn't have been able to hear those instructions.
Bonne's last-gasp leveller raised the roof. This may not have been the result everyone wanted to kick-start a new era, but it still won't be a day those in attendance will forget in a hurry.
Toto Nsiala looked distraught when he pulled up sharply clutching his hamstring in the 37th minute. His forced withdrawal meant Janoi Donacien, the only defender on the bench, had to play at centre-back, just like he did at the start of the short-lived Paul Hurst era (also a 2-2 draw, against Blackburn).
Donacien didn't put a foot wrong there, but that's not his primary position. And when he stayed down after a meaty challenge during the second half you began to wonder what the next reshuffle would be. Evans dropping in at centre-back? But then who would play in midfield?
For all the options in attack (we'll see Louie Barry and Sone Aluko against Newport County in the League Cup on Tuesday night), Town are short in numbers in other positions.
Even with George Edmundson to return from injury, a left-back, centre-back and centre-midfielder are still required.