The Ipswich Town quartet who could get a lease of new life under Hurst
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town’s players start pre-season training today. Stuart Watson looks at those who could get a lease of new life under new Blues boss Paul Hurst.
Had Mick McCarthy still been in charge, there is a good chance that Freddie Sears would have been seeking a move this summer.
It would have been a heart-wrenching decision for the 28-year-old to make, but he recognised he needed to be playing games regularly in his favoured position if the career he worked so hard to get back on track was not to falter.
Let’s not forget how good Sears was when he first arrived from neighbours Colchester United for a £100k fee in January 2015. The West Ham academy product scored 13 goals in his first 29 appearances for the Blues, scampering off the last shoulder of the defence as physical strike partner Daryl Murphy proved the perfect foil.
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The decline started when McCarthy started playing him on the wing. He became a victim of his own selflessness, never sulking and always putting in a real shift, but his killer instinct in the final third – be that shooting or the final delivery – diminished.
He netted just nine times in 119 appearances. More than half of his 36 league appearances last season were off the bench. That’s enough to knock anyone’s confidence.
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It was great to see Freddie finish last season on such a high under caretaker boss Bryan Klug with those goals against Reading and Middlesbrough. Can he now carry that momentum into the new campaign?
Hearing new boss Paul Hurst talk about his teams being ultra-fit, pressing high and requiring pace and positivity will be music to Sears’ ears. The question is, will Hurst play with two up top? At Shrewsbury last season it was generally a lone striker with two wingers and one in behind.
It’s up to Sears to prove he can be more than just a super sub heading into his final year.
The ‘players’ player’. The unsung hero. The man who shields the back four, reads the game, intercepts and treats the ball with care. Most sensible-minded Town fans very much appreciate the job Skuse has consistently done for the team over the last five seasons, but is the 32-year-old – as fit and durable as ever – capable of even more?
I think his displays last season, particularly towards the end of the campaign under Klug, showed he can be a genuine box-to-box midfielder. Him being encouraged to press higher and be more involved in the final third could change the whole dynamic of the team.
One man who should be particular excited about Hurst’s arrival is Rowe given the new Blues boss has expressed his like of traditional wide players and has a track record of giving players from a non-league background a chance.
McCarthy signed Rowe for a not insignificant £100k from National League side Macclesfield in January 2017. The 26-year-old produced some eye-catching cameos for a struggling side at the back end of that season – games at Cardiff and Rotherham stick in the memory – but he was subsequently barely given a sniff in his first season at Portman Road.
From what we’ve seen he’s direct, glides across the turf and technically very good. A right-footer who loves to cut inside from the left. His set-piece deliveries look decent too.
The 26-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at League Two side Lincoln City, making 13 starts, three substitute appearances and picking up a Checkatrade Trophy winner’s medal after a Wembley victory against Hurst’s Shrewsbury Town side.
He underwent ankle surgery towards the end of April and will be itching to get back out on the training field to convince Hurst that he could be the answer to a winger shortage.
Ward started 25 league games last season and was a regular under McCarthy, but I sense that he too is a player who could get a new lease of life under Hurst.
Ward has talent. There is a reason he came through the ranks at Tottenham and cost the Blues £600k two years ago. We haven’t seen him produce consistently enough though since that memorable debut hat-trick.
At times last season it felt as though he was playing too conservatively. If Hurst can take the handbrake off and encourage him to make more of those darting runs to the byline then the 23-year-old could become a key part of the jigsaw.
Forget central midfield, forget wing-back – he needs to concentrate on nailing down a wing role.