Frank de Boer departed in the drizzle with a puff of the cheeks, a lecture for his match-winner and a first success in English football to improve his mood, although the more impressed of the two managers arguably left in defeat.
Mick McCarthy had selected the youngest outfield side in Ipswich Town’s history, a team crammed with teenagers, debutants and exhilarating potential. As a glimpse of the quality being developed in that corner of Suffolk, this was hugely encouraging.
Two sumptuous finishes from James McArthur, a player catching up from a disrupted pre-season at Crystal Palace, ended up jettisoning the visitors’ bright young things despite Bersant Celina’s last-minute consolation, but Ipswich can live without a League Cup run while their Championship form is so buoyant. McCarthy put the late concessions down to his own charges being “knackered”. Injuries to eight first-team players had forced his hand but his 11 changes from the weekend included five full debutants and teenagers aplenty.
“Some of them surprised me but they’ve set themselves a standard now,” McCarthy offered in the aftermath. “I know a game like this will enthuse and excite them but they’ve got to stay at that level now. I am extremely proud of them all and they should be proud of themselves. Some of those lads might get one game in the first team, some might get 150, but I told them all they could not let this chance pass them by. They’ve all wanted this and they’ve made their mums and dads proud because of how they played. We gave them a scare.”
Flynn Downes and Adam McDonnell were a classy presence in central midfield. They were also sprightly on the flanks, with Ben Folami unsettling Scott Dann and Martin Kelly at times. Tristan Nydam, a midfielder playing at left-back, had the pace to compete with Palace’s wingers until Andros Townsend was introduced and the tiring limbs finally began to show.
McArthur exploited the sudden sloppiness in possession as exhaustion crept in. “Premier League punishment,” the Ipswich manager added.
The Scotland international had played for his own club’s under-23s last week and scored a fine goal against Burnley but these two were better: the first curled in with his left foot and the second dispatched with his right. The excellent Dean Gerken denied him a hat-trick, with Jason Lokilo striking a post, but the home side were only truly dominant in possession. They had lacked a cutting edge until McArthur forced them ahead, with Christian Benteke unused on the bench – and no focal point to their front line.
Ipswich still managed to prompt late panic with Celina’s finish from Ben Morris’s cutback, although McCarthy joked he was relieved to be denied extra time. “They’re all due in bed anyway,” he added. “Far too late for them. Health and safety and all that …” Palace were grateful to be spared that ignominy.
They remain a work in progress but could point to the contributions of McArthur and Yohan Cabaye as reasons for optimism, and evidence this group can adapt to De Boer’s tactical demands after their early teething trouble. These were the first goals of the Dutchman’s tenure, with the manager walking off in deep conversation with his scorer. “Always hit it with the inside [of your boot] and it’s easier to score – but he’s a very smart player who understands,” he explained. McArthur may just fit into this set-up now he is fit.
Reinforcements are still required. The arrival of a new sporting director, Dougie Freedman, should be followed by a bid for RB Leipzig’s Oliver Burke, who worked with his fellow Scot at Nottingham Forest. There is interest, too, in players from Roma’s Lukasz Skorupski to Munir El Haddadi at Barcelona and Ognjen Vranjes at AEK Athens. Theirs will be a busy last week of the window. For Ipswich, even in defeat, the long term looks promising.
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