Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 4-1 home loss to West Ham
- Credit: Picture: Stephen Waller
Ipswich Town’s pre-season campaign continued with a 4-1 home defeat to West Ham yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts on the action.
For years now it seems, Town have never quite been able to get their central midfield balance right. It’s often felt a little one-paced, predictable and safe.
That’s why it was so encouraging to see how homegrown trio Flynn Downes, Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop operated together in a largely impressive first half display from the Blues.
Dozzell has always seen himself as a deep-lying playmaker (what many in the game refer to as a No.4). It’s what England youth bosses have seen him as too. He’s rarely been trusted enough to take on that responsibility for Ipswich though, not helped by the fact that Cole Skuse is an out-and-out sitting midfielder. As a result, he’s been stuck out wide or in a more advanced role here and there and never really been able to show off the best of his game.
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That could all be about to change this season though. The 21-year-old offered a reminder of his ability to make games tick, constantly getting the ball off the defence then moving it quickly, accurately and positively.
Ahead of him, Downes looked a cut above the rest of his team-mates. He was here, there and everywhere, providing a box-to-box thrust. Too good for League One, his display was one that will have impressed watching West Ham boss David Moyes. Ipswich need to fully utilise their all-action Essex boy before bigger fish come circling.
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Bishop adds a different, complimentary quality. He can dance past a marker and break the lines. He’s not afraid to have a pop from outside the box either.
The trio, who have grown up playing alongside each other at Playford Road, just seem to click. We saw a similar connection when it was Downes, Dozzell and Tristan Nydam as a midfield three in a pre-season home friendly against West Ham two years ago too, but competitive game time for them all as a unit never materialised.
Time will tell if that transpires again.
The young guns have certainly laid down a marker for their more experienced central midfield team-mates of Skuse, Alan Judge, Jon Nolan and Emyr Huws. The latter, to be fair, responded with a fine surging run to set-up Freddie Sears’ goal. Then fellow sub Judge produced a sumptuous pass late on which saw away keeper Darren Randolph deny Nolan from close-range.
Let’s hope competition for central places helps rather than hinders Town in the months ahead.
IDENTITY AND INTENSITY
Part of the perverse feelgood factor surrounding Ipswich on their way to Championship relegation in 2019 was that a style of play was emerging.
Paul Lambert came in and quickly got the team trying to play through the thirds. It didn’t always work, but you could see something developing before your eyes. That February/March period when Town went toe-to-toe with the likes of Derby, Stoke, West Brom and Bristol City, securing a string of 1-1 draws, was particularly heartening.
Lambert didn’t hold his nerve though. With wins proving hard to come by, the football became more direct. Centre-backs splitting to receive the ball from the keeper was soon ditched.
Last season started with Lambert declaring that his team would play ‘rock and roll’ football, but no real discernible style emerged. As the Scot chopped and changed both formations and personnel he scoffed at questions regarding tactics, constantly suggesting that ‘players, not systems win games’.
Yet Town finished 11th as Rotherham, Coventry, Wycombe and Oxford, all with their own very distinct brands of football at differing ends of the spectrum, had greater success.
And so Lambert appears to have changed his view on the importance of tactics after the 2019/20 season post-mortem that was carried out in-house during the lengthy Covid-19 break.
We’re back to square one again. All of the principles that Lambert arrived with have returned. The formation will be his preferred 4-3-3. The Blues boss is talking a lot about ‘dominating possession’.
You only had to watch the team shape drills that took place during the warm-up yesterday to see the plan. Centre-backs and deep midfielder receiving the ball short from the keeper, then work it wide or use the lone front man as a pivot. Out of possession, players press high.
PERILS OF PLAYING OUT FROM THE BACK
The rewards of mastering this brand of football are high. But so are the risks.
As encouraging as some of Town’s passing and pressing was, there is equal concern about the mistakes which were made at the back.
The most high profile error came from Luke Chambers for the Hammers’ fourth. After sub keeper David Cornell played a short pass to the feet of Jon Nolan, he played it sideways to Town’s skipper and there seemed little danger on. Chambers tried to turn back inside onto his favoured right foot under pressure though and was completely unaware of Haller lurking behind. The Frenchman received the gift to complete his hat-trick.
Following a similar disaster at Tottenham last weekend, when Cornell played the ball straight to an opposition player, it begs the question – do Ipswich have the right players to commit to this strategy?
Neither Chambers, James Wilson nor Toto Nsiala (who’s actually looked pretty solid so far) could be described as ball-playing centre-halves.
Luke Woolfenden is ideally suited to the system, but there was an unexpected barb aimed in his direction from Lambert after the game in which the Blues boss said the unused youngster has ‘got to start to get going and start to perform’.
Then there’s Corrie Ndaba. The 20-year-old Irishman is left-footed and, just like Woolfenden, is a calm customer on the ball. He followed up a good display at Tottenham with another assured cameo and might just be pushing himself into the picture.
The defensive errors weren’t just down to attempts to play out. In fact, most of them were nothing to do with that.
Chambers failed to deal with two simple long balls in the first half – producing one loose header and letting the other drift over him – but had his blushes spared by Haller fluffing his lines on both occasions.
There were several moments of mis-communication. Tomas Holy and Nsiala got away with a bit of a mix-up, Dozzell appeared to get away with a handball just prior to clattering into team-mate Janoi Donacien in the box, then Huws and Donacien collided in their own area towards the end.
Holy completely misjudged the flight of the ball for West Ham’s third goal too.
Hopefully we can put a lot of that down to ring-rustiness following an enforced five month break from competitive action.
Having barely tested Tottenham’s keepers last weekend, there was a bit more cutting edge to Town’s possession in this game.
Aaron Drinan twice got on the end of crosses during a fast start. The hard-working Irishman played the role that was asked of him, but appears to be keeping the seat warm until James Norwood and new signing Oli Hawkins are up to speed.
Where this system leaves Kayden Jackson, a player who looks far more suited to playing with a strike partner, remains to be seen. Especially as Lambert doesn’t seem to fancy him as a wide forward.
Town are going to need some spark and goal threat from the flanks. Gwion Edwards was lively down the right, pressing high and running direct, prior to going off as a precaution just before the break after feeling his groin. His replacement, Idris El Mizouni, produced a deft touch in the build-up to Town’s goal and drove into space when possible.
On the other side was Sears. He took his goal well and linked up nicely with Stephen Ward at times, but also gave the ball away on other occasions.
With one more friendly and two cup games (which you imagine will be used as an extension of pre-season) coming up, there are still plenty of starting places very much up for grabs ahead of the new League One season starting on September 12.