Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 2-1 EFL Trophy defeat to Arsenal U21s
PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 September 2020
Ipswich Town lost 2-1 to Arsenal’s Under-21s in their EFL Trophy group opener last night. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts on the Portman Road action.
HOW GENEROUS DO YOU FEEL?
This was a strong Blues team filled with Championship and League One experience against an Arsenal outfit with zero experience of men’s football and whose average age was a smidge over 18.
Did Town have plenty of chances in the game? Yes. Aaron Drinan and Emyr Huws both hit the woodwork, Alan Judge was denied by a fine save, Jon Nolan fluffed a golden chance, while James Norwood saw an effort cleared off the line.
But could you say they played really well despite the result? I’m not sure about that.
There was a major dip in tempo about the performance three days on from that impressive 3-0 victory against Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup.
After Arsenal had scored their two goals either side of half-time, to overturn Nolan’s scruffy opener, they were really on top for a spell. The game was very much drifting away from Town prior to a late flurry of chances.
Steve Bould’s youngsters celebrated hard at the end. And who can blame them? They’d come from behind, played some good stuff and then defended manfully to see out the win. A few of them may well get some decent loan moves off the back of this. Irish centre-back Mark McGuinness was particularly impressive.
This was a young, fresh set of players in one of the biggest games of their fledgling careers. Ipswich, by contrast, were a team who maybe had used up a lot of their adrenaline boost at the weekend. This match, for them, was just a building block towards the real stuff starting on Sunday in a televised League One opener against Wigan.
Does all that excuse the result given the mismatch on paper? That depends on how generous you’re feeling.
Elsewhere in the competition, Sunderland thrashed Aston Villa’s kids 8-1, while Accrington Stanley swept aside Leeds’ youngsters 7-0. There were also victories for Oxford, Leyton Orient and Cambridge United against Chelsea, Brighton and Fulham’s U21s respectively.
On the flip side of that, Swindon, Plymouth, Mansfield, Hull and Southend all lost to the academy sides of West Brom, Norwich, Man City, Leicester and West Ham.
THE PASS MASTER
On several occasions in the first half, Andre Dozzell had the home bench bursting into rapturous applause with some sumptuous passing.
One fizzed reverse ball out to the right was genuinely world class. He sees things that others simply don’t.
Finally being trusted to dictate play from his preferred deep-lying midfield role, the 21-year-old is playing with real confidence.
In the second half, we were reminded of the risk that comes with him playing that role though. A couple of times he was late to tackles or interceptions, leaving Arsenal with gaps to exploit.
Every good quarter-back needs protection though. And that’s where Flynn Downes is missed.
THE DOOR OPENS
Originally, Paul Lambert named a team that contained just two changes from Saturday’s win against Bristol Rovers – David Cornell and Myles Kenlock in for Tomas Holy and Stephen Ward.
That soon became three changes though after Toto Nsiala reported a tight hamstring during the warm-up.
You have to feel for Nsiala, who had followed up a very solid pre-season with a faultless display last weekend. Given he suffered a torn hamstring during a pre-season tour of Germany last summer though, it was sensible for the Blues to pull him out.
One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. Step forward Corrie Ndaba.
The confident young Irishman has really caught the eye in recent weeks. Left-footed and ultra calm in possession, he looks perfectly suited to Town’s new way of playing out the back. He’s also rapid, as one sprint and saving tackle in the second half showed. The coaching staff have all spoken about how much he’s matured of late.
It was a real shame, therefore, that his evening ended through injury.
Thankfully, a hefty collision with the keeper wasn’t as bad as it first looked. He was helped off the field with a bad dead leg.
If Nsiala or Ndaba aren’t ready for the weekend, then James Wilson – someone who has had an injury of his own over pre-season – would be next in line to partner Luke Woolfenden in central defence against Wigan. That’s unless Janoi Donacien returns from injury to free up Luke Chambers from his temporary role at right-back.
TWO DIFFERENT STRIKERS
Drinan kept his place up top following on from an impressive debut.
Again, it was a disciplined display from him as the lone striker in a 4-3-3. The young Irishman mixed up dropping deep to link play and running in behind. The wait for a senior goal goes on though. Last weekend he was denied by a point-blank save, this time he was denied by the post after beating the keeper with a curling effort.
Norwood replaced him in the 55th minute and spent his time on the field running around like a madman. The 30-year-old chased and charged down everything.
The fit-again forward headed just wide from an Emyr Huws cross moments after coming on, produced a brave flick-on for Nolan’s big chance and saw a reactionary stabbed effort cleared off the line in the final minute.
That’s 80 minutes in the bank for him now following the prolonged rehab from February’s groin surgery. You can tell he’s chomping at the bit.
Summer signing Oli Hawkins, it seems, is still being eased in. An unused sub last night, he’s had just over an hour of game-time since arriving three weeks ago.
NOLAN OR HUWS?
Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop look to be in pole position to claim two of the three midfield spots heading into Sunday’s game.
It remains to be seen whether Flynn Downes is brought back into the fold following his recent transfer request. If he’s not, then it looks to be a straight choice between Nolan and Emyr Huws.
Nolan may not bring the same controlled tenacity as Downes (indeed you always feel a terrible tackle is not far away), but he does bring a much-needed midfield goal threat.
He was there to force home the first half opener following Judge’s square pass. Sadly, he then got the ball stuck under his feet to mess up another golden opportunity late on. The point is though, he gets in the box. Nolan scored 10 goals in a season for Shrewsbury at third-tier level and, playing in this system, is capable of doing so again if given a run.
Huws came on for Bishop early in the second half and did his chances no harm. The Welshman is closer in style to Downes in that he adds a bit more physical strength and some box-to-box thrust. His left-foot is a weapon too, as was shown by the dipping, curling effort from outside the box which cannoned down off the underside of the bar.
He too got in the box regularly, setting up both the aforementioned good chances for Judge and Nolan.
This will be a difficult call for Lambert.
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