Picking Ipswich Town's shining light in a dark season - the contenders for the player of the year award
PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 March 2019
Voting for the Ipswich Town Supporters' Player of the Year has begun. ANDY WARREN looks at the names in the frame to win the award.
Ipswich Town’s Supporters’ Player of the Year prize will be awarded in front of a backdrop of disappointment.
The Blues look destined for relegation, sitting 13 points adrift of Championship safety with just eight games remaining, after what has been a disastrous season on the field.
Despite the disappointment, the club’s annual Player of the Year awarded will be handed out once again, with voting set to take place at this weekend’s home game with Hull as well as online.
Bartosz Bialkowski has won the award in each of the last three seasons, but there will be a new winner at the end of this campaign.
Freddie Sears leads the club’s scoring charts with six goals, but is now sidelined with a knee injury, while loanees Matthew Pennington and Trevoh Chalobah have impressed.
Midfielder creators Alan Judge and Teddy Bishop have only played a handful of games each but have added a new dimension to the centre of the field.
There have also been calls for Luke Chambers to be awarded the prize as an appreciation of his leadership during tough times.
Ultimately, though, the fans decide.
A new name on the trophy
This award has been firmly placed on Bartosz Bialkowski’s mantelpiece since the summer of 2016, with the Pole winning player of the year honours at the end of three successive seasons.
They were fully deserved, with the Pole’s inspired form over a prolonged period rightly launching him to the forefront of the ‘best goalkeeper in the Championship’ conversation.
But that form has dipped this season, with Bialkowski dropped on two occasions as errors crept in, while he’s struggled to maintain his supremely high standards.
He’s back in the side now and his form has been good of late, but there will be a new name on the player of the year trophy this season.
Had Freddie Sears not suffered a knee ligament injury at Norwich in February, surely he would have been the leading contender for the trophy?
He still leads Ipswich’s scoring charts on six goals, with five of those coming in a seven-game spell at the very beginning of Lambert’s reign.
That hot streak ended but he continued to be effective on the left side, much more so than he had been during the final months of Mick McCarthy’s time in charge – a time including a 38-game goal drought.
His thunderbolt strike at Aston Villa will surely end up being the Blues’ goal of the season, but has the fact his season ended in February precluded him from winning the overall award?
It’s never a particularly good look when a loanee walks away with the player of the year award, as Jimmy Bullard did in 2010/11, but there are surely a couple of contenders from this year’s crop of temporary signings.
Head of that queue has to be Matthew Pennington who, starting from when he was thrown into the fire of the East Anglian Derby for a debut in September, has not let Ipswich Town down.
There have been errors along the way but the Everton loanee has stood up to the physical challenge of some of the division’s most physical strikers, performed at both centre-back and right-back and has been the most proficient Ipswich defender when it comes to playing out from the back.
The improvement of Trevoh Chalobah during his first senior season has been vast, with the Chelsea man beginning the season as a bright spark and an accident waiting to happen in equal measure. He is now capable of dominating Championship midfields and looks destined to have a career at the very top of the sport.
Paul Lambert has spoken of his desire to limit the use of short-term loans going forward but, even in a season where the club is set to lose second-tier status, these two temporary signings have undoubtedly been a success.
The midfield sparks
The centre of Ipswich Town’s midfield has been lacking creativity and spark for many a year.
Teddy Bishop and Alan Judge have brought that to the heart of the Ipswich side since the turn of the year, with Bishop’s direct running driving his side forward and Judge’s creativity offering hope as he drifts around the field in search of the ball.
It may not have translated into goals and wins, but Bishop and Judge give Ipswich a new dimension.
The problem is Bishop has made just 13 league appearances and Judge 11, so is that enough to earn the award?
Bullard’s player of the year victory, as a loan player in 2011, was soon followed by the Blues’ tying him down to a full-time deal. Alan Judge’s short-term contract is up this summer, what chance Ipswich ensuring the Irishman’s long-term future is at Portman Road?
Another midfielder who surely must be in the conversation is Flynn Downes.
His best spell of the season came during the early weeks of Lambert’s reign, with the academy product a key part of the midfield at that stage.
He’s seen his involvement lessen of late, in part due to illness, but has still shown promising signs throughout the campaign.
A reward for growth
Jon Nolan is arguably the player to have made the biggest strides since the arrival of Lambert.
The midfielder, playing in the Championship for the first time following his summer arrival from Shrewsbury, has shown signs throughout the season that he has what it takes to be a consistent second-tier performer.
But in recent weeks he has begun to take games by the scruff of the neck and operate further up the field.
His goals against Derby and West Brom earned Ipswich good points, highlighting the progress he’s made and the fact he can be a real asset for the club going forward.
Gwion Edwards is another experiencing second-tier football for the first time, starting like a train, cooling off and then showing signs of recapturing early season form.
His highs have been high but, much like the rest of his side, there haven’t been enough of them.
Then there’s captain Luke Chambers.
In this most disappointing of seasons, there is already talk amongst supporters that the skipper’s loyalty, heart, commitment and leadership should rewarded at season’s end.
This has not been Chambers’ most impressive season in an Ipswich shirt but he has led from the front, played through the pain and never shied away when tough talking is necessary.
He’s signed up for two more years at Portman Road and has spoken of his desire to be the man to lead the club back from the third tier at the first time of asking.
On-field highlights have been few and far between, so would it be fitting to reward a man who has taken the club to his heart since his arrival in the summer of 2012?
IPSWICH TOWN SUPPORTERS’ PLAYER OF THE YEAR
2017/2018: Bartosz Bialkowski
2016/2017: Bartosz Bialkowski
2015/2016: Bartosz Bialkowski
2014/2015: Daryl Murphy
2013/2014: Christophe Berra
2012/2013: Tommy Smith
2011/2012: Aaron Cresswell
2010/2011: Jimmy Bullard
2009/2010: Gareth McAuley
2008/2009: Richard Wright
2007/2008: Jonathan Walters
2006/2007: Sylvain Legwinski
2005/2006: Fabian Wilnis
2004/2005: Shefki Kuqi
2003/2004: Ian Westlake
2002/2003: Matt Holland
2001/2002: Mark Venus
2000/2001: Marcus Stewart
1999/2000: James Scowcroft
1998/1999: Jamie Clapham
1997/1998: Matt Holland
1996/1997: Mauricio Taricco
1995/1996: Simon Milton
1994/1995: Craig Forrest
1993/1994: John Wark
1992/1993: Mick Stockwell
1991/1992: John Wark
1990/1991: David Linighan
1989/1990: John Wark
1988/1989: John Wark
1987/1988: Frank Yallop
1986/1987: Romeo Zondervan
1985/1986: Terry Butcher
1984/1985: Terry Butcher
1983/1984: Trevor Putney
1982/1983: Paul Mariner
1981/1982: Alan Brazil
1980/1981: Paul Cooper
1979/1980: Frans Thijssen