Failing Barton’s mental test, hammer blows and peer pressure - the moments where Town’s season failed
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town’s disappointing season came to an end earlier this week. Here ANDY WARREN looks back at the big moments that cost Paul Lambert and his side.
Things had started so well and momentum was building. Any threat of a relegation hangover, the greatest fear over the summer, had seemingly been swatted aside.
Ipswich were 10 unbeaten in the league when they travelled to Fleetwood Town on October 5 and, while Paul Lambert’s men came away with the win, was this the day some of the cracks were beginning to be prised open?
Prior to the game at Highbury Stadium, Fleetwood boss Joey Barton described the Ipswich squad as being ‘the worst group of players in the club’s history’, questioned whether they should be saluting the crowd after victories just 10 games into the campaign and asked whether Ipswich’s promotion push was ‘built on solid foundations’.
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Town took three points that day, thanks to Kayden Jackson, but their unbeaten start to the campaign ended in the very next league game.
Ultimately, Barton’s words ended up haunting Lambert and Town.
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All good things must...
When Town’s unbeaten start did ultimately end, in front of the nation on live television at Accrington, nobody would have guessed quite how big Town’s fall would be.
Lambert’s men were well-beaten at the Wham Stadium, even if Luke Woolfenden had a seemingly good goal ruled out, and the Blues could have had no complaints that day.
Defeat at home by Rotherham just a few days later was just as limp and, despite back-to-back wins at Southend and Rochdale seemingly settling the ship and getting things back on track, the two losses had rocked Ipswich.
Such was the damage, Ipswich won just four of their remaining 21 league games as the Blues’ form dropped off a cliff.
A body blow
Town started the season well but their beginning to the campaign reached the next level following the arrival of Kane Vincent-Young.
He was electrifying during his first six games in Blue, which included excellent goals against Gillingham and Tranmere.
He was dynamic, positive, attacking and smooth - adding a new dimension to the Ipswich attack and being solid enough defensively to enable a successful early foray into a wing-back system.
But that win at Fleetwood wasn’t only notable for Barton’s comments, for this was the day Vincent-Young was first struck down with a groin injury which ultimately required surgery.
He played against Rotherham but was a long way from the player we had seen initially, before hobbling off again at Southend. That was the last we saw of him, with a second surgery following.
In his absence, Lambert still attempted to deploy the wing-back system using Janoi Donacien and converting winger Gwion Edwards, but despite their best efforts it just wasn’t the same. It was Vincent-Young who made that system tick. We will never know if things would have turned out differently had the full-back managed more than nine games during his first Town season.
The man in black (well, fluorescent pink)
Despite things drifting downward, Ipswich’s November clash with Wycombe at Portman Road was still a battle of League One’s top two. It was the Chairboys who occupied top spot, though.
Lambert entered the contest bullish but left it fuming, after referee Alan Young’s horrorshow under the Portman Road lights.
He first failed to award Town an early penalty following a clear Joe Jacobson handball, before head-scratchingly ruling out a perfectly good Luke Chambers goal. He also awarded a late penalty after a Chambers foul on the edge of the box, which was arguably committed outside the area. Thankfully Tomas Holy produced a wonderful save to keep hold of a point.
Three would have taken Ipswich top again and would surely have instilled real belief.
But how did this night impact the Blues? They didn’t win again until mid-January.
Ending on a low note
Defeats were becoming a regular occurrence for Town now but, remarkably, they still were second heading into the final game of 2019 away at Lincoln. That’s where such a good start to the season can take you.
So as Town headed to Sincil Bank, where they had already won in the FA Cup just a few weeks earlier, they had a chance to settle things down and end the year on a high before again taking on leaders Wycombe on New Year’s Day.
But instead what followed was a horrorshow on par with Mr Farmer’s display at Portman Road. The 5-3 scoreline may seem like Town ended on the wrong side of a thriller, but Ipswich were always second best in this game.
Such was the nature of the loss, Lambert kept his players in the dressing room for an hour after the final whistle.
Town played well at Wycombe just a few days later but, for the second time in as many games, goalkeeper Will Norris was caught off his line as the Chairboys equalised.
2019 ended badly and 2020 started only slightly better. Worse was to come.
The game is up
The descent down the table had begun, with Town in fifth after that draw at Wycombe, before a mini recovery saw them return to the top on January 25 following victories over Accrington, Tranmere and Lincoln.
This always felt a little false, though, given teams below had games in hand and Town’s schedule was now packed with games against promotion rivals.
This is where the season really fell down, because Lambert’s side ultimately won just two of the 18 matches they played against the 10 teams which finished above them. That’s just not good enough.
Ipswich lost to Rotherham, Peterborough and Sunderland in the space of 10 days to end January and start February, before another losing streak against Oxford, Blackpool, Fleetwood and Coventry ultimately rounded out the campaign.
By this point it all felt a little inevitible. The game was up.