Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 2-0 win against Gillingham in EFL Trophy
A young Ipswich Town side beat Gillingham 2-0 in the EFL Trophy at Portman Road last night. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
FAR FROM A WASTE OF TIME
This may well have been the game that even diehard Ipswich Town fans drew a line at when it came to forking out another £10 to watch via a basic online stream.
And who could blame them when both managers had made it patently clear that it was a major inconvenience to them.
It was far from a waste of time though. And those that decided against watching from afar missed out on a thoroughly entertaining evening.
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We saw a wonder strike from Armando Dobra, a superbly worked second goal and three impressive full debuts from teenagers (more on all that to come). A young Town side played some good football in the now familiar 4-3-3 system and were full value for their 2-0 victory over a more experienced Gillingham side.
It was therefore surprising that Blues boss Paul Lambert stuck so strongly to his ‘this was a game I didn’t want to play’ rhetoric post-match.
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He’d already rammed home his point about it being ‘ridiculous’, ‘ludicrous’, ‘crazy’ and ‘absolutely mental’ that a competition involving three group matches had been squeezed into a truncated campaign. He’s right, without a tournament sponsor and last season’s final still not having been played, it probably would have been sensible to can this tournament for just one year.
But it’s gone ahead and Ipswich, with their big squad, should really be bottom of the pile in terms of those whining about the pressures of playing extra fixtures.
These games provide a great opportunity for youngsters to get their first taste of senior football. They also give an opportunity to get some game-time into the legs of fringe players and those just coming back from injuries too.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I’ll tell you what is ludicrous – the EFL Trophy rules.
It’s a competition that allows Premier League clubs to field Under-21 sides in the name of player development, but then puts restrictions on the number of young players that EFL clubs field. How can that be right?
Lambert refused to play ball. With injuries mounting and plenty of League One games on the horizon, he chose to rest everyone that had featured in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at MK Dons and also decided it wasn’t worth risking the likes of Kayden Jackson (just back from a hamstring injury) and Emyr Huws (who’s suddenly become a lot more important now Flynn Downes has been ruled out for two months).
Arsenal loanee Mark McGuinness was cup-tied, while it was decided that Borussia Monchengladbach loanee Keanan Bennetts needed a few more days to settle in having only arrived last Friday.
All that meant that Luke Woolfenden and Janoi Donacien were the only two Town starters who were ‘first team’ players in the eyes of the competition’s rules (and you’re supposed to name four).
A reminder that to be eligible as a ‘first team’ player you have got to have either: Started the last first team game (or subsequently start the next one); got 40 senior career appearances under your belt; or be among the club’s the top 10 first team starters this season. Goalkeepers don’t count.
The only way a £5,000 fine (half the amount earned in prize money for the win) won’t be issued, therefore, is if two other players from last night’s starting XI (not including Woolfenden and Donacien) subsequently start at Blackpool on Saturday. That’s not going to happen.
And I tell you what, it was worth every penny...
KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Lambert said afterwards that he didn’t want to pick out individuals for praise because ‘you never know how it’s going to affect them’.
Well I’m going to, because three young men – Elkan Baggott, Liam Gibbs and Tyreece Simpson – should be commended on really impressive full senior debuts which, sadly, came in an empty stadium. From everything I’ve heard and seen, they’re all very grounded characters who will keep their feet on the floor.
Baggott, 17, is the type of centre-back everyone’s looking for these days. He’s tall, left-footed, comfortable in possession. Think Matt Clarke. After a slightly nervy start, he grew and grew in confidence.
Today, he jets off to join up with the Indonesia Under-19 squad having been given special dispensation to play at Portman Road. There’s every chance he could be next in line for a professional deal.
Gibbs, also 17, was equally eye-catching in central midfield. He had the bravery to keep attempting positive passes, even after one or two didn’t come off. There was a lovely combination of all-action energy and creative spark – his role in the second goal a prime example. The Bury St Edmunds boy pressed high and robbed Jack Tucker of possession before coolly sliding a low cross into the six-yard box for Ben Folami to convert.
Simpson, 18, is a player we saw a little bit of towards the end of last season. He provided some powerful centre-forward’s play at the tip of the attack. At one point he did superbly to back into his marker, pin him and then spin him before winning a free-kick. Some more strong back-to-goal play led to Dobra’s opener too...
The moment Dobra collected the ball 35 yards from goal you knew he had only one thing in mind. The moment the ball left his foot on the edge of the box you knew it was destined for the top corner. And goals always looks better when the underside of the crossbar is involved.
It was a super strike to cap a super display. The livewire Alabanian youth international’s quick feet and relentless directness down the right had opposition players on their heels throughout. In the five minute period leading up to his goal he’d been cut down by Christian Maghoma and dragged back by John Akinde – both acts of desperation earning the guilty players bookings.
In the first half he had the confidence to try and lob the advanced keeper from the halfway line. The surging runs continued until he left the field to hearty applause from all on the Blues bench in the 82nd minute.
By that point, footage of Dobra’s strike was circling on social media. ‘Get him in the team’ was a phrase being used by many. It’s at this point that I go against the grain slightly.
No doubt about it, the 19-year-old is thrilling to watch. He could be a star in the making. But the point is, he is still ‘in the making’. At times in the first half he was guilty of trying to take too many people on and running into traffic. There are, undoubtedly, a few raw edges still to smooth off this talented and edgy street footballer.
What’s going to be better for his development – a handful of games at Town this season, or being a regular starter on loan at League Two club? It might not be a popular opinion, but I’d argue the latter.
PUSHING AT THE DOOR?
So did anyone else make a strong case for League One action over the coming weeks?
The vocal David Cornell had little to do in goal, but made one flying save when called upon. It’s a display that will keep Tomas Holy on his toes.
Corrie Ndaba did well at left-back – he was composed in possession and got forward too. Might he be preferred to Myles Kenlock while Stephen Ward is out injured? I get the feeling he’ll be going out on loan to a League Two club.
Janoi Donacien was both solid and adventurous at right-back. He’s another left-back alternative given that’s a position he played a lot at previous club Accrington Stanley.
Jack Lankester was lively in the middle of the park. Always on the move, he created angles, constantly demanded the ball and tried to play defence-splitting passes. This was, however, his first 90 minutes in 20 months following back injuries and it’s highly unlikely will start again just four days later.
Woolfenden may just have a little bit too casual for Lambert’s liking. When the Hollywood switch passes came off they looked great, but several drifted out of play. On more than one occasion he was caught dwelling on the ball. In his defence, there may have been a little ring-rust after a recent groin injury.
Brett McGavin was his usual unflustered self at the base of the midfield, while Folami was a threat drifting in off the left and made amends for a few fluffed attempts with a well-timed run across the box for his goal. Those two also look set for loans.