Stuart Watson: Why I'd stick with Davis and Harness at Forest Green
- Credit: Ross Halls
Subs made an impact as Ipswich Town started the season with a 1-1 home draw against Bolton last Saturday. STUART WATSON looks at the selection dilemma facing Kieran McKenna ahead of this weekend's trip to Forest Green Rovers.
IN AT THE DEEP END
Town had to wait a little longer to make their money signings in this transfer window.
Attacking midfielder Marcus Harness arrived from Portsmouth for £600k just a fortnight before the start of the season, while left-back Leif Davis completed a £1m+ switch just five days before the big kick-off. The latter had come straight from the airport, having just been on a pre-season tour of Australia with Leeds, to put pen to paper at Portman Road.
It would have been easy for manager Kieran McKenna to take the decision to ease them both into competitive action, especially as more setted summer recruits Greg Leigh and Tyreece John-Jules had been impressive over pre-season.
Instead, he decided there was no time like the present and put them both in the starting XI for Saturday's League One opener against Bolton.
Asked if the Davis selection had been a difficult one, the Blues boss explained: "There is difficult decisions in every position almost. It was difficult to decide who would not make it onto the bench (Kane Vincent-Young, Kyle Edwards, Matt Penney, Cameron Humphreys, Corrie Ndaba and Idris El Mizouni all left out of the 18).
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"I was pretty clear on that one in my head though. Leif is a player we really like. I think he's going to have a big future in the game if we can do the right things with him and he can do the right things himself.
"He's going to be an important player for us and we wanted to throw him in at the deep end. We knew it was probably only going to be 45 or 60 minutes, but we wanted to get him off and running rather than wait a few weeks."
This was far from the debut Davis would have dreamed of.
The 22-year-old was given a difficult time by impressive Liverpool loanee Conor Bradley.
He clipped the winger's heels in the box to to concede the penalty which Bolton converted for a 25th minute lead, was booked for a foul on the same player just before half-time and was left shaking his head in frustration after being beaten by his opposite number once more soon after the restart.
A surging forward run moments later will have helped boost his confidence, but by that point it was pretty clear he would soon be withdrawn.
Meanwhile, Harness, playing as the inside left No.10, simply struggled to get a foothold in the game.
"I thought Leif and Marcus had a real good energy," said McKenna. "The start of the game was obviously very bitty, so it wasn't easy for anyone to shine, but I thought they both ran well, showed good physicality and set the game up well for the other two boys to come on and really give us that added impetus."
Davis and Harness were replaced by Greg Leigh and Tyreece John-Jules respectively just before the hour mark.
"(The new five subs rule) gives you that little bit of confidence to make them earlier because you're not so worried about if you pick up an injury," admitted McKenna.
"I thought the players who started the game had already got control, then I thought the subs came on and gave us a bit of extra impetus."
He continued: "We had planned to bring them (Leigh and John-Jules) on as a pair and get their link-up going.
"They are two really good options for us. Tyreece is getting stronger and stronger every week - I think everybody is starting to see what we saw in him. If he can stay fit and keep getting stronger he could be a massive player for us this year.
"Greg is settling well and getting more and more used to what it's like here. We knew he was capable of making an impact."
Town's left side undoubtedly functioned better after those changes. Leigh looks powerful and athletic, while John-Jules has a real dynamism to his play. Both have a swagger about them.
Freddie Ladapo was the fifth player to make his Town debut at the weekend.
I've seen a few comments from people saying they were underwhelmed, but, for me, I thought he did a solid job for the team.
The 29-year-old put in a real shift as the central striker up against three central defenders. He showed a willingness to run in behind, gave a back-to-goal pivot point to try and play off and generally helped soften up the opposition for the latter stages.
Kayden Jackson and Sone Aluko replaced Ladapo and Conor Chaplin in the 72nd minute and Ipswich, once again, benefitted from some fresh legs.
Aluko's touch under pressure was class, while Jackson tirelessly pressed high and make some clever runs.
After the game, McKenna was asked if his team's inability to kill off the match when on top might strengthen his resolve to sign another striker before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
"It wasn't just about the strikers," he replied. "The big chance fell to Sam (Morsy), who plays in midfield. Tyreece (John-Jules) came on as a 10 on the left side and had big chances.
"I thought our strikers both put in really good performances. I thought Freddie had a great battle with (Ricardo) Santos, I really enjoyed that, and it gave us a really good platform in that second half to play off him.
"I thought Kayden came on and was a massive threat. He could easily have had an assist or a goal for himself.
"It's not just about strikers, it's about the whole team. We had enough chances throughout the whole team to win a game. I think we'll get sharper as the weeks go on."
WHO PLAYS NEXT?
So, McKenna has got a classic selection dilemma on his hands going into game number two at Forest Green Rovers on Saturday.
Does he send a message to his large squad that good performances, no matter who you are, will be rewarded with starts?
Or does he send a different message, by sticking with the same team, that players will get a fair chance to shine and won't be dropped wily nily.
Personally, I'd go with the latter.
Last weekend clearly isn't a fair reflection of Davis and Harness as players. They have been signed to be key men for a reason and it's prudent to get them up to speed as quick as possible.
We saw last season how a good player like Joe Pigott couldn't get his Town career back on track after such a stop-start beginning. We don't want the same to happen again.
In the meantime, the likes of Leigh, John-Jules and Jackson can keep pushing from the bench. They'll probably get a chance from the start in the upcoming League Cup game against Colchester too.
It might be that, eventually, one of them plays so well that they are impossible to overlook from the start. John-Jules certainly looks like he might be heading that way. One game isn't enough to make those sort of decisions though.