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What would Ipswich look like if they appointed Ryan Lowe as manager?

Ryan Lowe is one of many managers being linked to Ipswich
Ryan Lowe is one of many managers being linked to Ipswich

Ryan Lowe is currently Plymouth Argyle manager, he is doing an excellent job at Home Park and very popular with the Green Army.

After all, Argyle are fourth in League One – seven places above Ipswich Town – and the Liverpudlian will not be in a rush to leave.

The Tractor Boys, however, have the capacity to go on to reach the Premier League in 5-10 years, something that cannot be said of the Devon club, so the long-term potential may sway Lowe to jump ship mid-season, even if the timing is not ideal.

Lowe is currently 16/1 to take over in Suffolk, having previously been 20/1, so he could make the move – and what might his Ipswich side look like?

EFL pundit Gab Sutton discusses...

Walton: Goodnight, Vaclav

Having been the stand-out goalkeeper in League Two last season for Salford City, Václav Hladký was sought after reportedly by Championship clubs in the summer, so when Ipswich added the Czech goalkeeper it looked like a great signing.

Alas, Hladký has not made the step up anywhere near as well as expected, but Christian Walton has fared well since coming into the side.

Walton can get criticism for taking a long time to distribute the ball, sometimes from Paul Cook, but it’s something Ryan Lowe might be more likely to encourage within reason.

Wide Centre-Backs: Janoi and KVY look strong

One of the givens about Lowe’s philosophy is that he always plays with three defenders, with the wider two expected to operate as almost half-full-backs, being quick, confident on the ball and comfortable in one-on-one scenarios out wide.

Kane Vincent-Young and Janoi Donacien look strong contenders for the right-sided role because, without quite being technical enough to operate as a wing-back in a Lowe side, they have enough ball-playing confidence from their time as full-backs.

Furthermore, both have a strong build and are reliable in the recovery phases, which is especially important given that Lowe’s sides tend to be vulnerable to quick transitional play out wide.

Cameron Burgess, meanwhile, is not quite as athletic as Vincent-Young or Donacien but he progresses play very well and has played on the left of a back-three previously for Accrington Stanley.

Elkan Baggott is left-footed and might be considered worthy of being the back-up option to Burgess for the left of the back-three, if Lowe thinks the Indonesia international is quick enough and can play out from the back.

At 6’4”, Baggott would at least add to Town’s aerial strength, when defending balls into the box as well as attacking set pieces.

Middle centre-back: can Edmundson lead?

Toto Nsiala would be a no-go for a Lowe side.

That is, not because he cannot be a competent defender at this level – he was outstanding for Shrewsbury in 2017/18 and clearly has physical qualities – but because he has next to no ball-playing ability and would therefore be transfer listed in January and go somewhere like Gillingham.

That would leave George Edmundson as the only option for the middle centre-back role, and it remains to be seen whether the former Rangers defender has the organisational qualities to lead the Tractor Boys to promotion.

Nonetheless, Edmundson has huge potential and, crucially, his passing ability is excellent, so the 24-year-old would be monitored until January, when Lowe can assess whether he needs a more seasoned option.

The current alternative to Edmundson is Albie Armin, who is impressing for the Under-23s and has an aptitude for a thumping challenge, which is not a bad thing for somebody operating in a back-three.

Is there a deep-lying playmaker?

Central midfield is one of the areas where Lowe’s philosophy differs from that of his would-be predecessor.

Cook likes a fundamentally solid double-pivot, with the bulk of the creativity coming from a trio of attacking midfielders in his 4-2-3-1.

Lowe, meanwhile, likes a deep-lying playmaker to operate at the base of midfield in his 3-1-4-2, through whom much of the play goes through.

The problem he would have at Portman Road is that Ipswich do not have the ideal deep midfielder in their current squad, which was built last summer for 4-2-3-1.

Rekeem Harper would keep play ticking over with neat and tidy passes, but he arguably lacks the defensive awareness for the role that Jordan Houghton does for Plymouth Argyle.

Conversely, Sam Morsy would bring more defensively but it remains to be seen whether he could be the team’s go-to player in possession, or offer enough going forward to operate as one of the dual number eights.

The other option is Tom Carroll, who has higher league experience, but has played just once since September and there are question marks over his durability.

Burns, baby, Burns

Just how quickly Lowe goes to his favoured 3-1-4-2 – first game, pre-season, or somewhere in between – depends on the fitness of Wes Burns.

The former Fleetwood man brings boundless energy and, having played the role previously in his career whilst still having attacking instincts as a former striker, would be the perfect player to build on the right-sided platform laid by Donacien or Vincent-Young.

Lowe has a tendency to pick languid technicians as wing-backs, having done so with Nicky Adams at Bury and George Cooper at Plymouth Argyle, so it would not be beyond the Liverpudlian to go super radical and pick Bersant Celina on the right.

Realistically, that would probably waste the Kosovan’s main strengths, which are cutting inside from the left, but a dynamic midfielder like Lee Evans or a flying winger such as Kyle Edwards may get retrained.

The other left-field option on the right is to convert right-footed youngster Zanda Siziba into a right wing-back until January, when Lowe may want to recruit someone like CJ Hamilton at Blackpool.

Lowe after #8s

At Burton Albion, there were question marks over whether Scott Fraser – though he has a wand of a left foot - had the work ethic to step up to the Championship.

When the Scot went to MK Dons, therefore, we saw a more industrial version of Fraser, who made sure he ran more average kilometres than all his teammates in every game.

For that reason, there is hope that the 26-year-old can produce the work ethic required to be part of a three-man midfield, and is not a mere luxury player who has to be in a system tailored solely to suit his needs.

One option could be to deploy Fraser as the left-sided number eight and encourage him to overload the flank, much like he did at MK, and create inside space for an inverted left wing-back like Kyle Edwards to drive into. 

That way, the former Dundee creator could be released in the final third late on in Town’s attacking moves, allowing him space to cross for two strikers.

Although Lowe’s promotion-winning Bury and Plymouth Argyle sides were extremely attacking, with goalscorers, creators and dribblers in the number eight positions, he has adapted his philosophy with the Devon club this season.

Ahead of Houghton are two athletes in Panutche Camara and Ryan Broom, neither of whom are particularly technical but both have strong physical qualities and can run all day.

If Lowe favours that template and Evans cannot recapture some form, then Tawanda Chirewa may not be too far away from the first team scene.

This, though, would leave Town with the dilemma of what to do with Bersant Celina, who best suits operating on the left of the trio of attacking midfielders behind the centre-forward.

Celina would not be deployed up top, so the only options would be for him to play the Danny Mayor role – i.e. a ball-carrier who can create or curl shots at goal – as a number eight, or operate as a left wing-back and drift infield, underlapping Fraser.

The latter option, though, would be risky…

Celina: ball coming back to me now

Celina is right-footed, but does not have the searing pace to take on an opponent one-on-one, so it could work for him to play on left wing-back and drift infield to work his natural magic.

That, though, would require the left-sided midfielder as well as Burgess or Balkott to make enough outward runs to overload the flank, so that the pitch remains wide for Ipswich.

Edwards, meanwhile, would bring more drive and verve to the inverted left wing-back role, but the inclusion of either is by no means a given.

Bailey Clements has been excellent as a more orthodox wing-back, while the likes of Matt Penney and Hayden Coulson could also come into the equation under new management and one or two of the aforementioned may need to be offloaded to ensure the squad does not get too top heavy.

Top-heavy squad

One of the criticisms of Cook previously has been his reticence to go two up top, even when chasing a goal in-game, so it seemed a strange move for Ipswich to load the squad with strikers in the summer.

Lowe’s arrival might, at a push, give Kayden Jackson fresh hope of reviving his career with the Suffolk club, due to his ability to run in behind and stretch defences.

The defence of Jackson throughout his profligate stint at Portman Road has always been that he would play better with a strike-partner, yet neither Paul Hurst, Paul Lambert nor Paul Cook favoured two up top – Lowe does, so the former Accrington Stanley man may get his moment.

Jackson would have competition, though, in the form of Conor Chaplin, Macaulay Bonne, Joe Pigott, James Norwood and Louie Barry, with the latter two also hoping to benefit from fresh eyes in the dugout.

Wrexham are reportedly targeting Pigott, who starred for AFC Wimbledon last season, but Chaplin and Bonne have scored 16 goals between them in all competitions and are strong, willing runners to boot.

Ipswich have an array of potentially excellent strikers and a switch to 3-1-4-2 under Lowe would maximize this strong part of the squad.

Conclusion

Lowe would not come cheaply, being under contract at Home Park, and Argyle will not readily let go of the man who has met or bettered expectation in every season in management in which he has started in the dugout.

Ipswich, however, have money behind them now thanks to Brett Johnson’s takeover and if the new regime are willing to spend the best part of £3 million on transfer fees in the summer – and possibly more than that on wages – then why not go big on a manager who would oversee the whole operation?

Lowe is not only a serial promotion winner, with a huge drive for success, he is also young enough at 43 to understand how to motivate the modern footballer and not so set in his ways that he cannot readily adapt to the Head Coach/Director of Football structure that is planned.

Lowe would likely need to bring in another ball-playing defender, a deep-lying playmaker and perhaps a right wing-back depending on the fitness of Burns, but those tweaks will prove worthwhile this season or next.

Ipswich should go all out for Lowe – they will not regret it.

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