Verdict on Paul Cook, improved form and the players who could hurt Sunderland: The inside track on Ipswich Town

Sunderland will face promotion rivals Ipswich at the Stadium of Light this weekend – but what can they expect from Paul Cook’s side?

Saturday, 20th November 2021, 8:56 am

The Tractor Boys went six league games without a win at the start of the campaign, yet performances have improved since then.

We caught up with Ipswich reporter Stuart Watson from the East Anglian Daily Times to get the inside track:

Town endured a tough start to the season, where was it going wrong?

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SW: “Realistically it was always going to be hard to hit the ground running after such a major squad turnover in the summer. Paul Cook signed 19 new players with several of the key ones not made until late in the window.

“Goals against was clearly the problem during that eight-game winless start across all competitions. Ipswich dropped a lot of points from winning positions. Costly individual errors kept happening and the team always seemed most vulnerable right after they'd scored.”

Does it feel like they have turned a corner now?

SW: “Yes, I think so. There's undoubtedly still room for improvement, but it does feel like things are coming together.

Ipswich's top scorer Macauley Bonne has scored 11 league goals this season.

“In goalkeeper Christian Walton, centre-back George Edmundson, midfield captain Sam Morsy and striker Macauley Bonne a solid spine has emerged. Around them Paul Cook has an embarrassment of attacking riches to select from. It's now just two defeats in 14 games.”

What system are Ipswich likely to play?

SW: “Paul Cook is a staunch 4-2-3-1 man. He wants his full-backs to play like wingers. It's an attacking, entertaining brand of football.

“Having won 4-0 at Portsmouth and 4-1 at Wycombe, there's no doubt that Ipswich will look to get on the front in this game given Sunderland's recent poor form.”

Who are the key players for Ipswich?

SW: “Macauley Bonne has been a real Roy of the Rovers story. Released by Ipswich at the age of 14 he cried his eyes out. He dropped down into non-league, worked his way back up the pyramid and has ended up back at his beloved hometown club on loan from QPR. He's already scored 11 goals this season and never gives defenders (or goalkeepers) a minute's peace.

“It's hard to know who Cook will pick to play as three support players behind him. Options include the direct and pacey Wes Burns and Kyle Edwards, the mercurial talent of Bersant Celina, infectiously energetic Conor Chapin, silky pass-master Scott Fraser or quick-footed Sone Aluko. All pose a threat at this level on their day.”

What is the feeling among supporters about Paul Cook?

SW: “There was a time not so long ago when, judging by social media at least, some were questioning him. That was understandable given how spectacularly last season petered out and then how poorly this season started. Many began to wonder whether he was missing his trusted long-term assistant in Leam Richardson (given how well Wigan were doing).

“Recent results have seen a mood shift though. Cook sees the game through fans' eyes. He's honest and passionate about the game. People buy into that. His record (titles at Chesterfield, Portsmouth and Wigan) speaks for itself.”

Can you have a go at a predicted line-up?

SW: “That's a tricky one given the squad's strength in depth! I'll go for: Walton; Donacien, Edmundson, Nsiala, Clements; Morsy, Evans; Burns, Chaplin, Edwards; Bonne.”

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