Football is a funny old game. Ipswich Town, a club that not that long ago was arguably one of the top teams in Europe, last year, dropped into the third tier of English football for the first time in 62 years. Still, if you were to walk around the training ground, talk to the staff, speak to the fans, there is a buoyancy, even excitement that is hard to fathom. Scratch a little deeper below the surface, especially within the fan base, and the reason becomes apparent.
In the footballing encyclopedia, listed under stagnation would sit the Ipswich Town of the last decade or more. As footballing finances have spiralled, not only in the EPL but in the Championship as well, the Suffolk outfit was unable — or unwilling — to compete on equal terms. Falling through the trapdoor was the last thing anyone wanted, but now, it has happened; it has presented the club with several opportunities. It has also given the fans and the club a new lease on life. That will, however, be short-lived if Paul Lambert can’t engineer a quick return to the Championship.
New League, New Expectations
For the next 10 months, Ipswich will once again be a big club. Maybe not by the larger footballing world but by the clubs and fans in League One. They are the second favourite’s to get promoted, including in the States where for the first time, punters will be able to bet come October at the likes of FOX Bet.
It is a mentality that the players will have to learn to cope with and use to their advantage. They will be a scalp by the “lesser” clubs and rivals for promotion by the ones scrabbling for a top-six birth. That will be as big a shock to the system as the difference in style employed in the new league. Opposing players may possess less skill overall, but the frenetic pace of play exceeds even that in the Championship. Any dallying on the ball will be given quick work by opposition midfielders and centre-halves. A lack of that nastiness and steel in the midfield, along with a porous defence, is what could be Lambert’s undoing.
Righting Last Season’s Wrongs
With the arrival of James Norwood, the league’s top scorer last season, Ipswich has made a good move to correct one of their glaring deficiencies last time out, namely, to put the ball into the opposition’s net (something they only managed to do 36 times). Getting a striker who can do that is only half the issue, though. Last season, whoever they played up front was far too often left isolated. Whoever plays that role will not prosper if they don’t get the ball often enough in the final third.
Ipswich has quite a few creative players. Alan Judge should be one of the best players at that level. Meanwhile, Ipswich fans can only hope that Emyr Huws will find full fitness. The Welsh international signed for a fee rumoured to be in the region of £1 million two summers ago but has since suffered from almost permanent injuries. If so, along with Judge and talented homegrown youth players such as Andre Dozzell, Jack Lankester and Teddy Bishop, they have enough to unlock any League One defence. However, the problem could be how much of the ball will they get?
The ugly side of the game, and perhaps the overreliance on it, was what cost Mick McCarthy his relationship with the fans and ultimately, his job. Paul Lambert has made much of playing the game the right way, the Ipswich way. Those who enjoyed watching the great Ipswich sides of the late 1970s and early 1980s will point to the mercurial talents of Muhren and Thijssen. They will also point to the steel that is the likes of Terry Butcher and the sadly departed Kevin Beattie provided.
Sunderland discovered last season that the league is not one where a big club merely needs to turn up to take all three points. Every game will be a battle. And Ipswich will need to find the players to have and win those battles. Only then, will the likes of Judge, Huws and Norwood be able to truly play their part in firing Ipswich back to at least the Championship.