Exit Interview: Huws fought hard to win the first battle but couldn't conquer the second
- Credit: Pagepix
Emyr Huws has left Ipswich Town at the end of his contract. Andy Warren looks back at the Welshman's four years in blue.
Emyr Huws’ Ipswich Town career will be remembered for two very different reasons.
The first was joyous, scoring one of the Blues’ most iconic goals of the last five years as he arrived in the box to thump home a Brett Pitman cross, raising the Portman Road roof as Mick McCarthy’s men saw off Newcastle United in front of packed stands.
That’s what the Welshman was all about, driving through the middle of the pitch, giving Ipswich the true box-to-box midfielder the club had been lacking for so long. He proved himself to be a Rolls Royce of a midfielder, arguably the best at the club, with the humble, likeable demeanour to match.
He was on loan from Cardiff at the time, with his three goals in 13 appearances offering a rare bright spot in a poor season for McCarthy’s side and creating a clamour for his temporary move to be made permanent.
A deal, worth a reported £1million at the time, was ultimately done, though McCarthy later insisted it was in fact closer to £250,000 as he headed through the Portman Road exit door, at a time when the former boss was getting credit in the national media for the job he had done on a tight budget in Suffolk.
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It was a coup for the Blues. Huws signed a four-year contract, a deal the Welshman would soon become thankful for. Because that’s when things started to go wrong.
And that’s when the second thing Huws will sadly be remembered for roared into view.
Expectation was high when he signed permanently in the summer of 2017, but his campaign never got started as an Achilles injury kept him out until November. His return comprised of 228 minutes across five appearances in just 18 days, before a knee injury at Middlesbrough ended his season and, ultimately, kept him sidelined for the next 20 months.
There were dark times for the midfielder, failed comebacks and moments where it seemed all options had been exhausted, with the Welshman feeling ‘grey’ and wondering what the future held through a mix of pessimism and realism.
He and fellow midfield injury-victim Tom Adeyemi became afterthoughts, whose health was checked in on every couple of weeks in press conferences but, unlike Adeyemi, who never played competitive football again, Huws was able to fight his way back.
His re-emergence in pre-season ahead of Town’s first attempt at League One added to the optimism which filled the air ahead of the curtain-raiser at Burton, where the Welshman made the first of 25 appearances during a season in which he stayed largely injury-free.
Staying fit was goal number one. He deserves great credit for that after negotiating the most difficult of roads. But goal number two was to make himself a central figure in Lambert’s side and begin to prove he could be the player who made such an impact during his loan spell.
He showed flashes of that, during his 37 games over the last two seasons, but at times it was hard not to feel he was playing within himself. As a result, Huws was never able to nail down the regular starting spot he craved and gain the vital momentum he needed, while the extensive list of midfielders available to Lambert certainly didn’t help.
As it turned out, his exit at half-time of a January game against Swindon which passed him by for long spells, was his last Ipswich appearance.
Lambert had seen enough and he never got a look in under Paul Cook, with discussions resulting in him effectively leaving the club weeks before news of his release was made public.
In total he made 55 appearances in an Ipswich shirt, scoring five goals.
What went well
It’s hard not to hark back to Huws’ loan spell at Portman Road when thinking about the Welshman’s impact at Portman Road.
He arrived as a player with a great reputation, following his schooling at Manchester City and performances against the Blues for Huddersfield, and his start was a fast one as he scored a dramatic winner at Aston Villa in just his second game.
The drive was there for all to see, providing a dynamic link between defence and midfield which had been lacking for much of McCarthy’s time in charge of the Blues.
The pictures of his goal against Newcastle will last for many years to come, given his strike was the icing on the cake of an excellent win against a very good side on a special day at Portman Road, as Sir Bobby Robson was celebrated.
His second coming had some good moments, too, let’s not forget that. He scored an excellent goal against Gillingham in the EFL Trophy, on a night where he put in his first ‘complete’ display since his return, before putting in four good displays on the spin in January 2020, as the Blues took 10 points from 12 to force themselves right back into the promotion race.
He also netted the winner against Burton just before Christmas in one of his final games for the club.
Areas to improve
After easing himself back into action with 16 appearances at the end of 2019, Huws started the New Year’s Day draw at Wycombe at the start of 2020 and put in a solid midfield display.
After that game, though, he admitted it was time to step things up. “I'm not injured anymore,” he said. "I need to perform consistently to get in the team and stay in the team now, simple as that."
He delivered on that initially, with the excellent run mentioned above, but a knock on a poor night at Rotherham cost him his place in the side, while the season being cut short by coronavirus certainly didn’t help.
He was never able to achieve his goal in 2020/21. He looked understandably rusty early on and never got going. When he did play, he wasn’t able to fully exert himself on contests and looked like he was playing within himself on occasions.
If he is to recapture his form of old, he needs to influence games more.
What the future holds
Huws is a hard worker and a good character to have around, but any side looking at him will need to be convinced he has enough in the tank to come in and influence the team. He’s been largely injury free for the best part of two years now but his long absence between 2017 and 2019 will still leave questions to answer.
His ability on the ball means a club at League One level will surely take a chance on him, while he's also understood to have been the subject of interest from the United States..
A fresh start in an environment where he needs to prove himself all over again could be the best thing for the 27-year-old.