Well, as pre-season friendlies go it wasn’t bad. And thoughts of being depressed by the memory of recent years when we would cherry-pick Ipswich’s best players were eased by the fact that there didn’t seem much on display this time around worth picking up. Fears that the Keane effect would see them flying out of the traps were quickly put to bed. Instead it turned into a decent encounter and workout for both teams. And for us at least there were some clues as to the likely starting team for the season, were it not for the inevitable further comings and goings.
We lined up with Elliot in goal and Randolph on the bench, Solly at right-back (presumably new signing Richardson has already picked up a knock, while Moutaouakil seems destined to leave, turning out for Portsmouth at the weekend), Basey at left-back (getting the nod ahead of Youga – who did come on for Solly in the second half and seemed to send a message by delivering a virtuoso performance going forward at least), with Llera surprisingly partnered in the centre by Christian Dailey (on trial I presume, but with Fortune appearing for Sheff Utd and presumably on his way, the need for at least one more centre-back is obvious). The midfield was predictable, with Semedo providing the anchor role alongside Racon, Bailey (captain on the night) still having to plough his trade for us wide left, and Sam on the right. Shelvey played in the hole, with Burton the almost lone forward.
With Ipswich looking sluggish and outgunned in midfield, where Semedo and Racon ran the game and combined very well at times (when they were not colliding), Llera marshalling the defence and Solly playing well, we really dominated the first half. The main attacking threat came from Sam and just as the game seemed to be lacking direction a superb crossfield ball to him saw him run into the box and get taken down. Clear penalty: Burton 1-0. The second followed not long afterwards, with a cross from the right being headed back and a flick towards goal by Racon hit an outstretched arm of a defender. Soft penalty: Burton 2-0. (Call me old-fashioned, but I expect a forward to take penalties; Killer was no great penalty taker, but he always took them as he was well aware that he would usually score and they all added to his tally.) A flashed header over the bar shortly before the break was all that Ipswich offered and the main concern at that stage were the regular knocks that Bailey was taking and the sight of Semedo and Racon going down injured.
Semedo did not appear for the second half and that made a difference. Spring replaced him, but we lost some of the muscle and he and Racon didn’t seem to combine to the same effect. Ipswich may of course have upped the pace after some hairdryer treatment. They got more of a grip on the game and were awarded a penalty of their own; the ball seemed to have gone away from their forward but a nevertheless clumsy looking challenge from Llera probably left the ref with little alternative after the two given to us. Elliot saved superbly to his left low down, but the rebound was put away (by someone who a colleague reliably informed we must have been encroaching).
After that the game was competitive despite the regular substitutions. For us Wagstaff came on for Sam, Youga came on to replace Solly (who was by then finding their speedy winger more of a handful), while Dickson and Fleetwood came on for Burton and Shelvey and Small came on for Racon (with Bailey switching inside). A few opportunities were created, not least by Youga’s readiness to get forward, but no more goals saw us run out winners. Basically with no points at stake it was just pleasant - and a total contrast with most of last season - not to be on tenterhooks going into the last 10 minutes holding a slender lead. Even the players didn't seem to panic. So, not enough to inspire a Chris Powell leap from the tunnel but sufficient to send the bulk of the 5,000 spectators home in good enough spirits.
Plus points if it came down to ratings would have gone to Elliot (penalty save and all else handled well), Solly, Llera (barring the penalty tackle), Dailey (I really didn’t notice him, which for a defender can be a good sign), Sam and Bailey (for continuing to plug away out wide before moving back inside). Burton took the penalties very well, while Youga suggested to me that the left-back spot is still a fine call. On the other side of the coin, Shelvey struggled to make an impact (maybe we already expect too much from every game, especially when fitness levels are still being built up), Fleetwood looked like he could use shedding some weight, while Wagstaff doesn’t yet look convincing.
There was enough to suggest that the starting midfield line-up at least (and available options) should be strong enough to make us promotion contenders, that with Llera and presumably Richardson the defence should be at least workmanlike. However, with Parkinson talking of bringing in perhaps another four players and with departures (in addition to Gray, who remains absent, and Fortune and Holland if new contracts are not on offer) inevitable if he does, nothing can be said with confidence at this stage. At least until .... well, we’re still waiting for the takeover news. I just want an end to it, one way or the other. Just where the funds are available for a new assistant manager I have no idea, but let’s hope bringing in Breaker proves to be an inspired move.
That’s it for me until Orient away. France awaits for a couple of weeks. May I return to find us top of the league with two victories under our belt and the club ownership situation resolved. We’re muppets really, aren’t we? A victory at home of any sort and suddenly the thought of sacrificing the south of France for Wycombe and Hartlepool doesn’t seem quite so daft.