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EFL Player in Focus: Kayden Jackson

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A great start to the season for Jackson

Kayden Jackson has begun the League One campaign in sizzling form.

The Bradford-born striker bagged four times across August, making him the joint-second highest league goalscorer in the division – behind only fellow Tractor Boy James Norwood.

Jackson has started five of the six league games so far – and the one game in which he was not present from the outset, against AFC Wimbledon, he made a pivotal difference from the bench and scored a dramatic winner as Ipswich came from behind to snatch a 2-1 victory.

18/19 was difficult

And yet, go back to Jackson’s 2018-19 campaign in the Championship and it was clear he was struggling hugely.

Jackson looked isolated for long spells of games and even when he did get his big chances, as we saw in November’s 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest, he lost his touch in front of goal.

Was Stanley spell a freak?

The striker, released as a youngster by Bradford City due to a back injury, has spent much of his career in non-league with Swindon Supermarine, Oxford City, Tamworth and Wrexham.

Given that Jackson did not necessarily pull up any trees at Grimsby, one could not help but wonder, watching his struggles at Ipswich, whether his star, title-winning campaign in League Two with Accrington Stanley, where he scored 16 goals in 44 appearances in 2017-18, was a freak.

Had Jackson merely gained a bit of confidence for one season under the brilliant management of John Coleman, got on a bit of a run – and thus fooled Ipswich into signing effectively an average League Two striker?

Well, not quite.

Setup the key

Rather, Jackson’s problems had more to do with the setup in which he played in 2018-19, with the midfield a long way apart from the front-man.

The team played a forward ball down the channel at any opportunity, hoping that Jackson would be able to get the better of four defenders and reach the ball first.

Of course, Jackson does possess raw pace – he is one of the quickest players in the EFL – but maybe the collective lack of creativity meant their was an overreliance on his speed, which was perhaps unhealthy.

Better service

This season, though, there appears to be better, more precise, service into him.

If we look at the 25-year-old’s opener in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Shrewsbury, it came not from a long ball in behind, but from a through ball from James Norwood.

Similarly, the cross Jackson produced for the third goal, Flynn Downes’ diving header, came about after a driving run from right-back Kane Vincent-Young and then, from right-winger Gwion Edwards, another placed through ball down the channel.

The goal and assist against Salop shows that Jackson is benefiting from two things: firstly, having a strike-partner and secondly, playing in front of a midfield that is now operating closer to him.

The need for a strike-partner

With a strike-partner, there is somebody close by with whom Jackson can combine.

That great season he had at Stanley came alongside Billy Kee, a stocky focal point who held the ball up and flicked on for him to run in behind.

Sometimes when Jackson, himself, is asked to be that focal point, he does not get the opportunities he would like to stretch his legs – with Norwood next to him, the burden of holding the ball up is shared and that frees him up.

Equally, with just Norwood up top, when he grafts out wide as he likes to there is no-one in the box; with Jackson up top with him, Ipswich can pose a direct goalscoring threat at any point.

Closer midfield

Additionally, it helps Jackson that the midfield in League One is operating closer to him so that, when he hassles and harries defences, there are teammates at hand to pick up the second balls.

The front-man’s form this season shows that we should not judge players to quickly: often, what a footballer can and cannot do depends hugely on the structure in which they are playing – and this current Ipswich team looks geared up to get the best out of Jackson.