There was palpable excitement when we initially signed Kyle Dempsey in January. His performances against us along with rave reviews convinced us all that we had signed one of the best in the league. Unfortunately for us and Dempsey, Gillingham had been playing him through injuries in the first half of the year which massively blunted his performances in the second half.
Pre-season showed glimpses of the REAL Dempsey. He’d come back fitter, stronger and a desire to finally ignite his career here. I was so impressed with him I named him as my key player in my season preview piece and on the evidence of yesterday I could be very correct.
Dempsey came in for Kieran Lee, who dropped to the bench and was undoubtedly our best player in what might be our best performance under Evatt. Dempsey didn’t give the opposition a minutes rest with his constant pressing, harassing and some of the finest tackling you’ll see. This defensive work would have been enough to earn him man of the match most weeks but he also offered the same levels when attacking. His dribbling was direct and purposeful, his positioning was perfect and his explosive running continued to the minute he was subbed. He capped off this performance with 2 goals: A well placed shot from the middle of the box following a Bradley run on the right. A beautiful defensive splitting run, picked out by Baka, to slot calmly beyond the keeper.
What we have here is a complete midfield performance from a complete midfielder.
Baka’s not backup
It’s crazy to think that a striker who scored 13 goals in all competitions last year (with an insane goals/minutes ratio) would be considered our 4th choice striker this year but to most fans Amadou Bakayoko probably was. The form of Jón Daði Böðvarsson (JDB) and Dion Charles last year made them early favourites to start up top and Dapo’s switch to striker has arguably made him first choice over Dion. Baka started to feel a bit like the forgotten man, to be used as a super-sub but not a contender to start. Yesterday blew that assertion out of the water.
Baka got the nod over Dion Charles after a slight strain and really seized his chance. He battled for every high ball, brought others in to the game well and did a grand job of pressing like Dion would have done. As always with Baka he took up good positions and was ripe for the pass should Aaron Morely have decided to do so rather than shooting (and scoring). He also provided a lovely assist for Dempsey’s second. Not to be outdone by Dapo, he also dropped deep, carried and showed which kept Wanderers on the front foot.
Baka has shown he can raise his game and that he is just as much a contender to start as anyone. Back up no more.
Depth part 1 - Quality throughout
The last two ‘things’ have in something in common - They both relate to players who didn’t start at Ipswich Town. The fact we were able to rest Kieran Lee and lose Dion Charles to injury and still put on an absolute clinic shows how stacked this squad is. I don’t think many teams can boast that sort of depth in this league and that will be our unique strength this year. It keeps our lads fresh and disrupts the game plans of opposing managers. Gareth Ainsworth attributed part of the cause of this defeat to Ian Evatt unexpectantly changing a squad that performed well last week. When the time calls for it we can now do this basically every game. Add Josh Sheehan back in to the mix and it gets even more competitive.
I have no doubt that the performance of Baka yesterday was in no small part due to him having to fight to keep that starting spot. The same will be true of every midfielder. The same for Jack Iredale. The same for Johnston. If they keep pushing each other, we’ll keep winning, simple as that.
Depth part 2 - Time to utilise the bench
One piece of constructive criticism amongst all this positivity.
I might well have written something similar for every ‘5 things’ under Evatt. I cannot shake the feeling massively underutilising our bench. In light of what I’ve written above, it seems like a massive advantage we’re forfeiting.
We play a style of football that carries a high energy cost. Constant pressing, selfless runs off the ball, constant repositioning to ‘show’ for the ball. Despite being one of the fittest teams I’ve seen we inevitably do not do any of those things as effectively by the time 60 minutes rolls around.
Here’s the crux of the gripe: We bring on fresh legs too late. Whilst this may be the source of some of our late goal magic, we too often see teams get a foothold when they aren’t pressed quite as hard and we become sloppier with possession. Bringing on a new midfielder or wingback just as the starter is tiring could ensure we stay as the dominant team. Whilst this didn’t hinder us yesterday we still saw very late substitutions: 70 mins, 81 mins, 81 mins, 89 mins & 89 mins. If we have the luxury of being able to change without a drop of quality, lets do it earlier to keep our players fresher, our tactics more consistent and our squad happier.
Absolutely amazing effort by everyone there yesterday. I can’t say how great it is to see attendances creep back up to levels that this club deserves. This is made all the more impressive by the fact Wycombe only brought 416 of that total.
Of course the first game brings a bumper crowd but I really hope seeing a performance of that calibre will get people coming back in bulk. Some decent away support should see us getting c.20,000 fans in the building, bringing the atmosphere that comes with those numbers. I absolutely cannot wait for the next game!