Two stalwarts lead the way in Town’s new era... they need to fight harder than ever to stay there
- Credit: Archant
‘A new era’ is the buzz phrase but it was two old stagers who led the Blues out onto the Portman Road pitch for the opening-day clash with Blackburn.
There were four debutants in Paul Hurst’s first Ipswich Town starting line-up, with a fifth, Tayo Edun, coming off the bench to score the dramatic late equaliser, but there were also two constants.
Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse.
Both trusted lieutenants of Mick McCarthy, both playing more than 200 games under their former boss and both now 32 years of age.
The Ipswich players were told, in no uncertain terms, that reputations meant nothing under the new regime with no nailed-on starters, meaning both Chambers and Skuse were playing for their places during pre-season.
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Both performed well during the summer friendlies and, while it must be said the Ipswich squad is thin on the ground, both more than earned their starting spots.
But they are going to have to work harder than ever before to keep them.
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The pair have been etched onto Ipswich Town team-sheets in recent years, their places never in serious doubt, but that is no longer the case.
In the case of Chambers, he’s been the only senior central defender on the club’s books throughout the summer, but you get the impression that is about to change.
Toto Nsiala is set to arrive from Shrewsbury in the coming days, while Curtis Tilt of Blackpool remains a serious target. Both have worked their way up through the leagues and have never kicked a ball in the second tier, but their talent is raw and they’ve adapted well to each and every level of football they have encountered so far.
Chambers values the competition, admitting recently that he needed the new challenge, the need to prove his worth and to earn his spot all over again. He’s happy to have been pushed outside his comfort zone.
He’s the undisputed leader of the Ipswich Town changing room – a man deeply respected within the squad - and a football player who performed at an excellent level during the second half of last season without always getting the credit he deserved.
His work in helping Luke Woolfenden grow as a player during the off-season, talking the teenager through games, has proved important while his leadership on the field should not be underestimated. Attending pre-season football at small, intimate grounds at Braintree, Barnet and East Grinstead allows you to hear just how vocal the skipper is during matches.
He performed well on opening day, both in the air and on the ground, doing his best to help guide Woolfenden and debutant Janoi Donacien through the game.
Skuse also had bright moments during the contest, showcasing some different sides to his game, arriving late in the opposition box on a number of occasions and moving the ball well at times through midfield.
There’s a school of thought that Skuse could be one to benefit from additional freedom Hurst’s midfield system offers during matches, unlocking the more dynamic, progressive sides to his game. Indeed, his neat flick began the Ipswich attack which led to Gwion Edwards’ early opener.
But he too faces immense pressure for his place, perhaps even more so than Chambers.
Just look at the list of midfielders who all, if and when fit, will be fighting for three places in the Ipswich Town side.
In addition to Skuse, the young quartet of Andre Dozzell, Flynn Downes, Tristan Nydam and Trevoh Chalobah have all shown great promise in the early days of their careers. Emyr Huws, Teddy Bishop and Tom Adeyemi are all battling to return from injury. Fulham youngster Edun also sees central midfield as his best position.
That’s nine players before you add Jon Nolan, likely to sign from Shrewsbury in the coming days, into the mix. Ten players for three positions doesn’t add up.
Hurst could have quite the headache, with Skuse needing to be at his best to ensure he remains at the forefront of the conversation.
Both Chambers and Skuse have been important members of Ipswich Town teams past and have all the attributes needed to be part of the future, too.
It’s clear the side which started against Blackburn was nowhere near the one Hurst envisaged beginning the campaign with.
The experienced duo will need to be at their best in next few weeks if they are to be part of it once vision is complete.