Stuart Watson: Where Town need to strengthen this summer

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna looks on.

Kieran McKenna is now going into his first summer transfer window as Ipswich Town manager. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town have just finished 11th in League One. STUART WATSON assesses where the squad needs strengthening heading into Kieran McKenna's first summer transfer window.

Christian Walton at Crewe Alexandra.

Christian Walton could be Ipswich Town's No.1 for years to come. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

GOALKEEPER 

Town undoubtedly have League One's best goalkeeper in CHRISTIAN WALTON.

At 26 years old he’s still got room for development too. And the great news is he’s a protected asset for three more years. 

The big question is who will back him up next season? 

VACLAV HLADKY didn’t come to Portman Road to be a No.2 last summer. Will he push for a departure? He’s already been linked to Scottish club Aberdeen.  

And would Town let him go? Convincing someone else of similar quality to come and warm the bench wouldn’t be easy. Then again, a cheaper alternative would free up funds to improve other areas of the squad.  

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With Tomas Holy set to be released, NICK HAYES, a former Blues academy player who returned to the club from Hemel Hempstead in January, appears next in line. He was on the bench at Crewe recently. 

“He has the foundations to be an excellent goalkeeper in the future,” was keeper coach Rene Gilmartin’s assessment of the 23-year-old earlier this year. 

VERDICT: Back-up required if – and that’s a big ‘if’ - Hladky moves on. Maybe a young Premier League loan who is prepared to use next year as a learning experience in senior football? 

George Edmundson in action against Burton Albion.

Ipswich Town defender George Edmundson looks a player capable of playing higher up the pyramid. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

BACK THREE 

Town kept 10 clean sheets in the 15 games that JANOI DONACIEN, LUKE WOOLFENDEN and GEORGE EDMUNDSON played together. 

So there’s every chance that will be the starting back three next season once Edmundson has recovered from the nasty ankle injury he sustained against Lincoln on March 8. 

CAMERON BURGESS, daft red card at Shrewsbury aside, has proven he’s a solid enough stand-in over recent weeks. 

And then you’ve got two homegrown youngsters to consider in CORRIE NDABA and ELKAN BAGGOTT

Ndaba, 22, returns from an impressive season-long loan at League Two side Salford City. He’s just been named their Supporters’ Player of the Year. 

Left-footed, versatile and comfortable on the ball, the Irishman’s attributes could be well-suited to McKenna’s style of play. 

With that in mind, it might now be 19-year-old Baggott’s turn to go out on loan and get a season of League Two football under his belt following an end-of-season taste of senior action for the Blues. 

VERDICT: Even if Baggott goes out on loan, that’s still five senior centre-backs vying for three positions. Take into account that McKenna believes Kane Vincent-Young can play as a wide centre-back role too, if required, and the Blues have more than enough strength in depth at the back.  

Wes Burns wheels away after scoring Towns second.

Wes Burns wheels away after scoring Towns second. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

RIGHT WING-BACK 

WES BURNS has this position nailed down following an outstanding debut season with the Blues. The flying Welshman was named in the EFL Team of the Year, and swept the board when it came to club awards, after scoring 13 goals and providing six assists. 

Can he kick on next season? Will he be as robust again after taking several kicks and playing through the pain? Let’s hope so. 

Two men returning from injuries will act as exciting back-up options in this role. 

It’s easy to forget just how good VINCENT-YOUNG was in his early days at Town prior to two years of injury set-backs. Hopefully, with a good pre-season under his belt, he can rediscover his dynamic drive of old. 

The there’s forgotten man KYLE EDWARDS. It’s also easy to forget how electric the 24-year-old was in his early days at club following a summer switch from West Brom. 

We know him as a left-sided attacker cutting in on his stronger right foot. McKenna, however, had been looking at him for a different role prior to a season-ending quad tear in February. 

“Wes (Burns) has been in fantastic form on that right hand side, which was a position Kyle had been working hard on in training and had made a good impression,” said the Blues boss. “We thought he could do well there as well as the other positions he can play.”  

VERDICT: All sorted. 

Matt Penney plays the ball forward

Matt Penney plays the ball forward - Credit: Ray Lawrence

LEFT WING-BACK 

Amazingly, Town started eight different players at either left-back or left wing-back in the season just gone. That tells you everything about how problematic the position has been.  

Here’s the breakdown across the 55 games in all competitions: Matt Penney (21), Dominic Thompson (15), Bailey Clements (7), Hayden Coulson (5), Myles Kenlock (2), Vincent-Young (2), Donacien (2) and Burgess (1). 

Coulson could have been the left-sided version of Burns. Injuries robbed him of the chance to show that though and his season-long loan from Middlesbrough was cut short in January. 

PENNEY’s arguably the best crosser of the ball at the club, but his defensive deficiencies have been a problem. There’s a reason he’s not nailed down a starting spot. A squad role looks most likely for him next season.  

Thompson came in on loan from Brentford mid-season. He’s been okay – no more, no less. I can’t see Town rushing to get him back. 

Clements and Kenlock are set to been released. Burgess and Donacien, clearly, aren’t viable left wing-back options. 

That leaves Vincent-Young. He played a lot of football for Colchester as a left-back, but it doesn’t seem like McKenna sees him as being suited for that role. Inverted wide men don’t seem to be his thing.  

VERDICT: Easier said than done, but Town need to sign someone resembling a left-sided version of Burns. It would be handy if that player is a set-piece specialist too. 

Sam Morsy celebrates after scoring against Plymouth.

Sam Morsy celebrates after scoring against Plymouth. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

CENTRE-MIDFIELD 

SAM MORSY, mentally and technically, is a Championship standard player. The influential skipper’s game went up a notch when McKenna gave him the freedom to drive forwards with the ball and arrive late in the box. He is the heartbeat of this team. 

In my opinion, it’s underestimated the role LEE EVANS played alongside him. The Blues missed the experienced Welshman’s physicality and range of passing while he was sidelined for the majority of 2022. 

Those two could very well be Town’s starting midfield duo come the opening day of 2022/23. 

Strong competition is required in this department though. Evans has injury question marks over his head, while Morsy is never too far away from a suspension. 

Will the Blues take their option to sign Tyreeq Bakinson permanently following his 17 appearances on loan from Bristol City? The 23-year-old has improved rapidly in his time at Town, but still has plenty of raw edges. And there are other pathways to consider to. 

Assuming Tom Carroll will be released, current in-house options to back-up Morsy and Evans are young trio REKEEM HARPER, IDRIS EL MIZOUNI and CAMERON HUMPHREYS

Harper returns from a loan spell at Crewe. Can McKenna turn the 22-year-old's Town career around? Or will the Blues cut their losses on a player they paid £500k for last summer? 

Can El Mizouni really kick-start his career? He’s 21 now and really could do with playing regular football after three years of bits and pieces. That looks unlikely at Ipswich next season. Contracted until 2024, might he go out on loan again before returning for one big push at Portman Road? 

Humphreys is only 18, but looks a real star in the making. If you’re good enough you’re old enough, as they say. Will McKenna ease him into senior football via cup games and the odd sub appearance this coming season? And if that’s the case, maybe an attacking midfield role will be seen as more suitable (that’s where he came on against Charlton last weekend).  

Or will the club feel a carefully chosen loan away is best for his long-term development? 

VERDICT: Due to all the imponderables listed above, I can’t see this being a position Town rush into signing someone for. I imagine McKenna will assess Harper, El Mizouni and Humphreys in pre-season and then decide whether or not to move for either Bakinson or someone else. If the buy clause in Bakinson’s loan has a set date, then a difficult decision will have to be made.  

Conor Chaplin celebrates after scoring to give Town a 1-0 lead.

Conor Chaplin celebrates after scoring to give Town a 1-0 lead. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

SECOND STRIKERS 

Considering he only started 28 games, CONOR CHAPLIN’s return of 11 goals and three assists was pretty impressive. 

The 25-year-old admits he was learning on the job as a No.10 having played as a striker or wide man for much of his career. By the end of the campaign he was channelling his infectious energy more and more effectively in that role. I can see him being a key piece of the jigsaw in season two at Town. 

But who will be the other deep-lying forward? (Assuming that McKenna’s 3-4-2-1 system won’t change). 

BERSANT CELINA’S season-long loan from Dijon has expired and the skilful Kosovan has made it clear he would love to return to Portman Road. Few, if any, are more technically gifted than him at League One level. Do his moments of magic happen consistently enough though? My gut feeling is that McKenna will want him back – but only if the price is right. 

The only senior in-house option to partner Chaplin right now is SONE ALUKO, the 33-year-old having recently triggered a one-year extension clause in his deal. He’s silky smooth to watch and will provide valuable off-pitch experience. But, following just three goals and zero assists from an attacking role, it’s unlikely he’ll be seen as a week-in, week-out starter.  

The aforementioned HUMPHREYS is someone to consider when discussing this area of the pitch, as is fellow Under-23s star TAWANDA CHIREWA. The 18-year-old left-footer has been in prolific form this season and would have made his league debut last weekend had it not been for illness. 

VERDICT: My gut feeling is that Celina will return on another season-long loan and space will be left around the edges for Humphreys and/or Chirewa.     

Just for you: Kayden Jackson after giving Ipswich a 2-0 lead at Fleetwood Town.

Just for you: Kayden Jackson after giving Ipswich a 2-0 lead at Fleetwood Town. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

CENTRAL STRIKER 

James Norwood’s been released, Macauley Bonne’s loan has expired and JOE PIGOTT, following a frustrating debut campaign, could well follow them out the door this summer. 

Emerging youngster TYREECE SIMPSON, meanwhile, has told the club he wants to leave.  

That leaves KAYDEN JACKSON. It’s looking likely that he will sign a new contract, following a return to the picture under McKenna, but you’d imagine his role will be that of pacey impact/squad man. 

VERDICT: Town’s top priority this summer is to land a new talisman who can go and score 20+ goals. They’ll need to be a strong, quick, intelligent all-rounder. Won’t come cheap. This is where the bulk of the budget will go. 

If Pigott goes, then I can see another striker coming in. This one may be a more experienced/physical type to add variation to the attacking options. 

OVERALL VERDICT 

Talismanic striker and a dynamic left-sided starter are the absolute top priorities. 

A central midfielder and attacking midfielder are also required – though Bakinson and Celina may well return to fill those slots.

Other arrivals will be probably dependent on departures. 

The core of a good squad is there. After last summer’s major overhaul left Town chasing their tale, this transfer window needs to be more focused on quality over quantity.