Stu says: Five observations on Ipswich Town’s 2-1 friendly defeat to West Ham
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town lost 2-1 to West Ham, at Portman Road, in their final warm-up game this afternoon. STUART WATSON gives his snaps thoughts.
Well, this certainly whetted the appetite.
For many Town fans this was their first glimpse of the Paul Hurst era and they will have very much liked what they saw.
It was hard not to fear the worst when West Ham, backed by 4,175 travelling fans, took the lead with barely two minutes played. Brazilian forward Felipe Anderson, a £36m summer signing from Lazio, was left completely unmarked at the far post to head home Ryan Frederick’s cross.
The Blues responded superbly though and played with the vim and vigour that has so badly been lacking for the last couple of years.
Andre Dozzell’s assist for Ellis Harrion’s coolly taken 15th minute equaliser was sublime (more on both those later).
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Manuel Pellegrini’s men were rattled by an in-your-faces approach. And when the Blues did turn over possession their first thought was to be expressive and positive.
Harrison thumped a header against the upright, Knudsen volleyed over and the home players left the field to rapturous applause after the break.
That intensity and confidence did not drop after the restart as the Hammers were forced to scramble behind within seconds. After that the visitors struggled to play their way through a relentless high press.
Marko Arnautovic’s goal therefore came somewhat out of the blue in the 70th minute. After the ball broke kindly for him in midfield, the Austrian striker showed blistering pace to burst clear and finish.
Town refused to roll over though and responded immediately as Dozzell’s shot from the edge of the box was held after a fine Edwards cross and Harrison lay-off.
This was a major acid test for the Blues given the opposition contained big names such as Anderson, Jack Wilshere and Andriy Yarmolenko. It was passed with flying colours.
There will be times when the Blues lose to good opposition this season – we know that. If they play like this most weeks though, there will be no cause from complaint about entertainment value. That’s all anyone is really asking for.
Three Lions roared
This was the first time that homegrown midfield trio Andre Dozzell, Tristan Nydam and Flynn Downes – all capped at England U19 level – have started a senior game together for the Blues.
The prospect of that combination has always been an exciting one given their respective qualities, in theory, looked like they would complement each other nicely. How exciting it was to see it worked in practice too.
Downes sat deepest, charging around and rattling into challenges. The moment he unceremoniously barged £36m forward Felipe Anderson into the advertising hoardings midway through the first half was yet more proof that he is no respecter of reputations. He looks full of confidence after returning from a loan spell at Luton Town with a promotion on his CV.
Tristan Nydam, as we saw so often last season, fights above his weight. He clashed heads with man mountain Cheikhou Kouyate, nipped at heels and offered some left-footed balance in the middle of the park. Like Downes, he never goes hiding.
It was Dozzell, back after his year-long knee injury, who looked a class above though. The 19-year-old unfailingly shows for the ball. And whenever he gets it, which is not as often as it should be, his first thought is to create. He sees things that others don’t and attempts things that most won’t.
His assist for Harrison’s equaliser, a left-footed through the eye of a needle pass that split the defence, was a reminder of just what Town have badly lacked in recent years.
Hurst’s master-plan is seemingly to assemble a team of League One all-stars hungry to prove themselves at the next step. And the two he’s landed from the division he knows so well are already looking like shrewd additions.
Ellis Harrison, a £750k buy from Bristol Rovers, once again led the line brilliantly. He just looks like an excellent all-rounder. He holds the ball up strongly, he’ll play cute link-up passes, he’s got the pace to run in behind and he’s strong in the air.
The 24-year-old’s finish was cool as you like, giving Poland international Lukasz Fabianksi the eyes after getting clear. And he timed his run to perfection when beating the offside trap to head against the post.
The biggest thing of all is that is works his socks off (no pun intended, given they are permanently around his ankles). He never stopped charged down defenders and that acted as the start point for Town’s high press. When he went, so did the others.
Gwion Edwards, the £700k signing from Peterborough, was equally impressive. The Welsh winger is a real box of tricks and had defenders on their heels all game. His end product, most importantly, was good too. At last, Town have an exciting wide man that they actually own.
Better from Freddie
Hurst called upon Freddie Sears to show more self-belief following Tuesday night’s 1-0 win at MK Dons. The 28-year-old responded with one of his most confident displays for some time.
He may have been playing in his unfavoured wide left position again, but instead of simply toiling robotically up and down the flanks he showed much more of a ruthless instinct on the ball. The touch was sharper. He got his head up early. He very much played his part in a dynamic team display.
With forward options limited at present, Town must just need him firing on all cylinders...
And so, the elephant in the room...
The fact Martyn Waghorn remained an unused substitute for the second friendly running suggests the Blues are bracing themselves for serious bids from Derby and/or Middlesbrough over the coming fortnight. If he goes late in the window then Town would be facing a last-ditch scramble to replace him, just as they were with Daryl Murphy two summers ago.
For all the positivity associated with this performance, there is no getting away from the fact this squad looks painfully thin with a week to go until the big kick-off.
Cole Skuse (thigh) and Joe Garner (knee) weren’t deemed fit enough for the bench, while Emyr Huws, Tom Adeyemi and Teddy Bishop all remain far from ready for action.
Teenager Luke Woolfenden once again produced a measured and confident display alongside Luke Chambers at centre-back, but he’s still raw.
At least one centre-back is a must before next week’s visit of Blackburn Rovers and the start of the new Championship campaign.