06:00 July 17, 2022
11:22 am July 17, 2022
Ipswich Town played two friendlies yesterday – one side losing 4-2 at Crystal Palace and another winning 3-0 at AFC Wimbledon. STUART WATSON looks back on the action.
DEMONSTRATION OF RESILIENCE
The number one match of the day was a behind-closed-doors training ground affair against Crystal Palace.
The Premier League club are currently on a pre-season tour of Singapore and Australia, but several key early players have not travelled, reportedly due to their vaccination status.
As a result, it was a very strong Eagles side that lined up against the Blues at Beckenham.
Star man Wilfried Zaha, Belgian striker Christian Benteke, recently selected England defender Marc Guehi, £22million summer signing Cheick Doucoure, as well as Jeffrey Schlupp and Eberechi Eze have all started.
You feared the worst when the hosts scored a quick brace to lead 2-0 inside 11 minutes. Dom Ball flew into midfield and Corrie Ndaba slipped as Benteke coached teenage striker Luke Plange. The city was opened moments later as the same duo combined again in the same way.
Ipswich refused to feel sorry for themselves, however, and spent much of the first half on the front foot. George Edmundson steered narrowly wide around a bend, while Cameron Humphreys approached powerfully after a dash of driving.
Palace’s clinical advantage showed again when Benteke beat a high offside trap and finished one-on-one. Plange then made it 4-0 after the restart, following his hat-trick pass by Zaha.
Again though, Ipswich refused to let their shoulders slump. And they got their rewards by pulling back two goals. The ball headed a deep free kick from Sone Aluko and then Aluko netted with a curling finish inside the box.
“I think we played well for the vast majority of the game if I’m being honest, but the level of their strikers is so high that a small mistake is ruthlessly punished,” Blues boss Kieran McKenna said.
“We tried to build a program of pre-season fixtures that would force us to build resilience. We’ve now played three or the top 12 in the Premier League (previously losing 5-1 at Arsenal and 2-1 at Arsenal ). Home of West Ham).”
The second match, against AFC Wimbledon, was very different.
Town were in complete control from start to finish against the recently relegated League Two hosts.
The first half brought back memories of some of the frustrations of last season. McKenna’s men dominated possession, kept the opposition away from their goal, but never really seemed to knock on the door.
Leading 1-0 at the break thanks to Sam Morsy’s clean low finish from the edge of the box, McKenna urged his side to step up a gear in the sunshine. Fortunately, they accepted.
Tyreece John-Jules, new to Arsenal on loan, scored after a direct run into the box by Conor Chaplin. Morsy added a third with a delicious 40-yard lob off stranded keeper Nik Tzanev.
The margin of victory could easily have been greater too, with Freddie Ladapo denied by the keeper’s legs one-on-one.
Following the dismissal of Paul Cook last December, Town ended the season playing with a fixed system. Sometimes it was 3-4-2-1, sometimes it was 3-4-1-2, but it was always a back-three.
McKenna called it a ‘hybrid’ formation that allowed in-form right-back Wes Burns to play very forward.
Now, in the two games Burns hasn’t featured this pre-season, at Needham and AFC Wimbledon, it has looked a lot like a traditional 4-2-3-1 formation.
The wide man on the left side (who was John-Jules at Plow Lane) often tucks inside to make him look like two No 10s. Powerful left-back Greg Leigh seemed to appreciate the space that s is created before him.
On the other flank, Kane Vincent-Young operated more like a traditional right-winger with Idris El Mizouni behind him at right-back.
Different systems for different games? Perhaps McKenna has this formation in mind for the days when it falls to Ipswich to break down stubborn opposition in League One.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
It would have been easy for Ipswich to ease off in the scorching heat of Plow Lane.
Sam Morsy was a big reason why that wasn’t happening.
The Blues skipper has really led by example – and not just with his goals.
You could see that concentration of steel in his eyes. And while he didn’t throw himself into silly challenges, he clicked his heels and pressed with intensity.
The value of having someone setting those standards in the locker room cannot be underestimated.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH
In the two matches, 29 different players were used. And there are more to come.
Versatile striker Marcus Harness, whose arrival from Portsmouth was announced at 11pm the previous night, is set to make his first outing for the Blues at Millwall on Saturday.
Kyle Edwards, who missed the last two games with a “little problem”, should be back and involved for this one too.
Ipswich, meanwhile, remain interested in Leeds left-back Leif Davis, former Dijon player Bersant Celina and Leicester striker George Hirst. There are others on their radar if those deals don’t pan out too.
“We’re still active,” McKenna said. “We still have a few things we want to do and we’re working very hard towards it.
“Mark (Ashton), Luke (Werhun), the scouting team and the coaching staff are working very, very hard to identify and talk to players who we think can add us and hopefully we still have some additions to make.”
In the 88th minute of the game against Palace, George Edmundson was substituted.
As he left the pitch, the centre-back leaned over and felt the right ankle he injured so badly in March.
Uh oh… But then a lifted thumbs up from performance director Andy Rolls to the bench.
“He’s fine,” McKenna confirmed. “He got a little kick, but he was going to get out anyway.”
Phew. One of the biggest positives of the day was that Town went through two games injury free.
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