Ipswich Town’s pre-season campaign starts at Needham Market this afternoon (1pm). STUART WATSON takes a look at what we could learn from the upcoming Friendly Calendar.
Needham Market is run by former Ipswich Town, Man City and West Ham midfielder Kevin Horlock. They finished 12th in the Southern League Premier Division Central last season (stage 3 of the non-league pyramid).
Bloomfields is known for having one of the best non-league playing surfaces in Suffolk. All 1,500 tickets have been sold for today’s game
It’s highly likely that Blues boss Kieran McKenna will face two completely different sides in the semis, mixing senior players with youngsters.
Four important players were sidelined for long periods at the end of last season.
Kyle Edwards suffered a quad injury at the training ground in mid-February and did not play again.
Lee Evans missed three games in January with a groin problem, then suffered a knee injury in the 3-0 home win over Burton on February 19.
George Edmundson suffered a season-ending ankle ligament injury in an awkward landing in the 1-0 home win over Gillingham on March 8.
Then Kayden Jackson, just as his revival began to gain momentum, saw his campaign cut short by a hamstring injury suffered in the 0-0 home draw with Portsmouth on March 12.
It looks like everyone is about to get back into action now.
“We had Lee and Kyle in full practice with the band,” McKenna revealed this week. “They both missed so much time at the end of the season that it’s like having new signings.
“George and Kayden are just at the very end of their reintegration. They are working very hard on the pitches at the moment and hope to be back with the full squad soon.
Kieran McKenna played a 3-4-3 system for all of his 24 games in charge last season.
There were subtle variations along the way – sometimes it was two up with one behind, more often it was one up with two #10s in support – but the basic shape was always the same.
Was it the Blues boss simply picking a formation he felt best suited the players he inherited? Could he change it after bringing in some of his own summer signings?
Even if he intends to stick to a back three (which is highly likely given the strength of the defence), could he use these upcoming friendlies to experiment with some Plan B systems?
When he took over Town’s job last year, the Northern Irishman said: “In terms of training, at this stage of the season it’s about being versatile in relation to the strengths of the players and to do what they are comfortable with and what will work for the team.
“I firmly believe that style and principles are more important than formations and in any formation it can look different whether you are in possession or not or whether it is the first or third phase of the game. .
“I don’t talk much to players about 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or 3-5-2. It’s about them understanding their roles and responsibilities on the pitch, as well as the spaces we want to attack and where to defend.
“The principles and the style that we work on is the primary thing and then within that the training can be tailored to our players and what suits them and how we want to hurt the player. ‘opponent.”
CAN NEW BOYS WIN A PLACE?
Town managed to sign four players in time for the start of pre-season.
Don’t underestimate the importance of having the core team in place from day one.
With more additions undoubtedly on the way, the New Boys will want to use these upcoming friendlies to make the case for a starting spot on Opening Day.
Dominic Ball and Evans appear to be in a battle to be captain Sam Morsy’s central midfield partner. Or maybe the three will play together at some point and show that they are an experienced trio worth sticking with? We will see.
Can Greg Leigh adapt to a more advanced southpaw role than he’s used to playing? If he doesn’t grasp this role, he could end up being cast as an ‘all-around team player’.
Freddie Ladapo has a chance to prove he can be the team’s talisman. There’s every chance that another centre-forward will be signed in the coming weeks but, in the meantime, a player with a good goalscoring record at Ligue 1 level can remind everyone of that. The strikers always want to start a new club.
It will also be interesting to see how young Arsenal loanee Tyreece John-Jules, a versatile striker, is used.
AN INCREDIBLE LUCK
The pre-season always offers an opportunity for a returning loanee or an emerging youngster to break through. There are a few prime candidates here for Ipswich Town.
First we have Cameron Humphreys. The 18-year-old midfielder was a key part of the Blues U18 squad that reached the FA Youth Cup semi-finals in 2021. He made two sub-leagues in League One last season and has been described as the club’s ‘second-best centre-back’. midfielder’ on leaving U23 boss Kieron Dyer. He recently signed a new three-year contract and was seen leading in footage of the first pre-season fitness tests.
Then there is Corrie Ndaba. The 22-year-old is back at Playford Road after enjoying an impressive season on loan at League Two club Salford City (he was named the Supporters’ Player of the Year).
This will be the Irishman’s fourth pre-season with the first team. Is this the year he finally makes his league debut with the Blues? Left-handed and good on the ball, his qualities certainly seem suited to McKenna’s style of play.
Other youngsters who have had a good season with the U23s – attacking midfielder Tawanda Chirewa, full-back Albie Armin and versatile Tommy Hughes – are also likely to have a chance to boost their reputations.
Last season’s top scorer with 13 goals, Wes Burns, is yet to join the squad for pre-season. He enjoyed a long break after representing Wales in Nations League games against Poland, Belgium and Holland. The last of those matches was just 10 days ago.
Who will McKenna try on the right in his absence? Kane Vincent Young? Kyle Edwards? Ipswich need to know who his replacement is in this position given that it is now possible that Burns will miss the Winter World Cup in Qatar in November/December.
Elkan Baggott is another still on vacation following his recent outings in Indonesia.
Do pre-season results really mean anything? History suggests not. Years ago Town had great friendly results and started badly. One season they lost their last warm-up game 6-1 at Charlton to win their first five games in all competitions.
Early warm-up matches usually see mixed teams get one half each. This afternoon’s game at Needham Market is, for all intents and purposes, a glorified exercise in fitness. It’s only in a few weeks that we will be able to start reading a little more in the selections.
Nonetheless, it would be nice to see Ipswich develop a winning habit. They failed to string together three straight wins last season. Pre-season saw them win only one of six (the opener at Dartford).
McKenna had wanted to take his team to Austria for a summer training camp, but ultimately it was decided, due to Covid and the war in Ukraine, Town would stay in the UK.
Next week will be at Playford Road. The following week will be dedicated to Loughborough University.
The Blues then host West Ham at Portman Road (Tuesday 12 July, 7pm). The Hammers, who also have a match at Boreham Wood that night, are unlikely to send all of their stars to Suffolk. It will be interesting to see how Ipswich fare against some elite level players.
After that it’s away games against newly relegated League Two side AFC Wimbledon (Saturday July 16, 2.30pm) and Championship side Millwall (Saturday July 23, 3pm).
The pre-season then concludes with an evening match at Portman Road against National League side Southend United (Tuesday July 26, 7 p.m.).