Will Sam show he's the man? And just how strong does Cook go tonight?
- Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller
Ipswich Town host West Ham U21s in the Papa John's Trophy tonight (7.45pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
Just a few weeks ago, Paul Cook was telling fans that the Papa John's Trophy was bottom of his priorities and a hindrance to the promotion push.
Mind you, that was at a time when he'd made 'just' 10 of his 19 summer signings and before his new-look outfit had made a seven-game winless start to the campaign.
With plenty of senior options, and a season to kick-start, he has now vowed to field a 'strong' team against West Ham's Under-21s this evening.
"Winning is a really important habit to get into, so this is a really important game," said the Blues boss, speaking after Saturday's morale-denting 5-2 home loss to Bolton.
FIRST SIGHT OF SAM
- 1 'Outstanding' former Ipswich teachers leave £2million to charities in will
- 2 Police find cannabis growing by the side of A14
- 3 'I want to train as HGV driver but there are so many delays'
- 4 New Starbucks coffee shop planned for Ipswich town centre
- 5 Woman's bank cards used minutes after being stolen in supermarket car park
- 6 Aldi looking for new site in north east Ipswich
- 7 Town sign 6ft 5ins striker as Nsiala, Jackson and Barry all start for U23s
- 8 Covid rules reintroduced at Ipswich school after cases surge
- 9 Ipswich man denies multiple rape offences as trial begins
- 10 Police release CCTV after wallet stolen from Aldi store in Ipswich
Sam Morsy will make his Ipswich Town debut.
The deadline day signing from Middlesbrough arrived at the Blues with a three-game league suspension to serve, but is able to play in other competitions.
There's already a bit of pressure mounting for the tough-tackling midfielder to be the missing piece of the Town jigsaw.
Following Saturday's loss, Cook said of his former Chesterfield and Wigan skipper: "Everything that we lacked today will be there times 10 from him. There will be no performances like that when he’s in the team. "
There are some big players still unavailable for Town tonight.
Bersant Celina, Scott Fraser, Kyle Edwards and James Norwood aren't far away from returning to action, but are unlikely to be risked ahead of Saturday's trip to Lincoln.
Toto Nsiala remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Even so, Cook has options.
There's a tricky balancing act here.
Playing preferred starters would boost fitness and chemistry. But, for some, those benefits may be outweighed by the risks of injury and leaving other members of a large squad unhappy.
Will it be Christian Walton, Vaclav Hladky or Tomas Holy in goal? Normally there's a change of keeper for these sort of games, but Town need to get new boy Walton up to speed and fast.
George Edmundson and Christian Burgess are clearly the preferred central defensive pairing of choice. Will Cook give them another game to gel? That depends on how big a risk Edmundson is judged to be given he's only just returned to action following an unspecified injury. Luke Woolfenden waits in the wings.
First-choice full-backs Kane Vincent-Young and Hayden Coulson have both spoken of needing games to get fully up to speed. Vincent-Young's long-term injury problems are well-documented, while Coulson missed a big chunk of pre-season after being laid low by Covid.
Vincent-Young should be fine to go again after playing only 21 minutes on Saturday. He'll be keen to do so, you would imagine. However, do bear in mind Cook said he picked this team before the weekend. So maybe Janoi Donacien plays instead.
Matt Penney for Coulson is a potential switch at left-back too.
We know the aforementioned Morsy will start in midfield. If the plan is to partner him with former Wigan team-mate Lee Evans more often than not, does Evans start again? Or is Rekeem Harper, someone who has faded in several games, given an opportunity to build his fitness levels?
Alternatively, is this a good time to take a look at Tom Carroll, a player Cook said was 'outstanding' in training over the international break?
Idris El Mizouni and Cameron Humphreys, who both impressed in the Carabao Cup against Newport last month, may struggle to get a look in. We've not even mentioned Jon Nolan, who is back in training after a lengthy injury set-back.
Wes Burns is managing a 'nagging Achilles' problem, so may well be rested. There's every chance that Sone Aluko and Conor Chaplin stay in the side from the weekend though.
Louie Barry, Joe Pigott and Kayden Jackson are all options to freshen up the front four.
Town are in Group A of the Southern Section.
They have matches against Gillingham (a) and Colchester (h) to come in October and November respectively.
The top two progress to a regionalised first knockout stage.
A reminder here that a penalty shootout follows any group game that ends in a draw. The team that wins the shootout claims a bonus point.
TOWN IN THE TROPHY
Last season, Town finished bottom of their group. After playing a senior side in the opening 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal U21s, Paul Lambert fielded inexperienced outfits for the subsequent two games against Gillingham (2-0 home win) and Crawley (2-0 away loss).
The Blues made it to the second knockout round the previous season, a senior team losing 2-1 at League Two side Exeter City. They'd got that far after progressing from a group containing Tottenham U21s (2-1 home win), Gillingham (4-0 home win) and Colchester (1-0 away loss) and subsequently winning on penalties at Peterborough (after a 1-1 draw).
West Ham's U21s started their season with a 6-1 thrashing of Arsenal - a game in which first-teamers Andriy Yarmolenko and Manuel Lanzini both started.
They currently sit fourth in the Premier League 2 table having also beaten Chelsea, drawn against Leeds and lost to Brighton.
A young Hammers side containing Dapo Afolayan (who tortured Town for Bolton on Saturday) topped their Papa John's Trophy group last season after winning all three games against Portsmouth, Colchester and Southend. They went on to exit the competition with a 3-0 loss at Peterborough.
Tonight's West Ham team is likely to be captained by Aji Alese (who was on loan at Cambridge United last season). Exciting winger Armstrong Oko-flex, recruited from Celtic this summer, is one to watch.