Exit Interview: Once again Lambert's January signings didn't make the difference
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town's January loanees have now all returned to their parent clubs. Andy Warren looks back at Luke Thomas, Josh Harrop, Luke Matheson and Troy Parrott's careers in blue.
It felt like Paul Lambert was banking on ‘the cavalry coming’ in each of his three January transfer windows at Ipswich Town.
It was true in his first, as he brought in a group of experienced campaigners from the Premier League, many of whom were lacking in match fitness, in a desperate bid to beat the drop. It didn’t work.
And it was true in his second, with the Scot talking about his desire to do deals during the window, only to end up with just the arrival of Josh Earl from Preston. That didn’t come off, either.
And heading into his third, Lambert was certainly backed by then owner Marcus Evans when it came to bodies, even if he didn’t get the quality and experience he really wanted.
The Blues were right up against the salary cap, which was abolished not long after the window closed, and this lack of funds had a real impact on what Lambert was able to do as his side’s promotion bid was stalling once again.
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But as 2021 dawned, Lambert’s Covid-hit squad was bolstered by four new loan arrivals, firstly Luke Thomas and Josh Harrop and, just before the deadline, Troy Parrott and Luke Matheson.
On paper they all filled positions of need.
Thomas had been playing regularly in the Championship for Barnsley and had good history in League One, contributing well for Coventry on loan and bringing energy to the team from the all-important wide areas.
Harrop had great pedigree at Manchester United and an excellent highlight reel at parent club Preston, while Parrott arrived from Tottenham with a growing reputation and real promise.
Matheson was perhaps the most interesting, given his goal-scoring introduction for Rochdale at Manchester United the previous season, with that strike coming while he was still at school. He had since joined Wolves and was expected to bring energy to the right-back slot at a time when Kane Vincent-Young was still sidelined with injury.
His interview prior to his debut, in which he denounced his Norwich City past and spoke with clout beyond his years about his career and move to Suffolk, was a delight. His first appearance against Blackpool was even better, as he showed all the attributes we expected in a superb display, before finding his second outing against Northampton a little more difficult.
Lambert was gone a few weeks later and, not helped by an injury which kept him out for some time, it’s understood Cook quickly decided the teenager wasn’t quite ready to perform at the level required of him. His Ipswich career ended after just two games.
Thomas managed only five outings, never really getting going and had problems off the pitch, which resulted in him leaving the club just a few weeks after joining. Thankfully he’s in a much better place now.
Harrop’s loan was similarly fruitless as, despite making 15 appearances in total, he only managed three starts, never found his best position and will ultimately be best remembered for a red card at Wimbledon and a shot at Swindon which ballooned out of the Country Ground. The camera followed the path of the ball perfectly.
Parrott undoubtedly made the biggest impact of the quartet, showing plenty of qualities during his eighteen games and scoring twice.
Sadly, though, Lambert and then Cook didn’t get anywhere near the impact from the ‘January Four’ as they would have hoped.
What went well
Town had lacked presence in the final third and, credit to Parrott, he helped bring that.
He may have only been 18 when he arrived but he brought physicality and, when operating just off James Norwood, offered Town’s No.10 more support than the army of others who had tried to play that role before him.
The pair were beginning to develop a decent partnership, with Norwood hitting a decent scoring run and the young Irish international finishing well as he profited on poor defending by Plymouth at Portman Road. That goal secured his side three points at a valuable time, while his goal against Fleetwood on the final day came from an excellent Norwood pass, highlighting how the pair had begun to link up.
The sad truth is, Parrott and Matheson’s debut against Blackpool aside, that’s about it for highlight moments from the January loanees.
Areas to improve
Clearly all four have improvements to make.
Matheson is still only 18 and will hopefully have benefited in some way from his brief time at Town, but will also have learnt how tough and ruthless the adult game can be, as he returns to Wolves.
Thomas, with personal issues hopefully resolves, lacked consistency during his time in blue, with a lack of clinical finishing highlighted as one area of weakness upon his signing. That was in evidence as he had Town’s only real chance in the eventual 0-0 draw with Northampton, with which he failed to test the goalkeeper anywhere near enough.
Harrop just never got going. He played wide left, wide right in a deep midfield role and as No.10 and never found a way to impact games. We also didn’t see any real evidence of the set-piece ability he clearly possesses. The red card at Wimbledon came at a silly and costly time for his side, while the previously-mentioned shot at Swindon summed up his time in blue.
Then there’s Parrott. He’s raw but has talent, he just needs to make sure he is focussed on what he really wants and continues to take advice from those around him.
What the future holds
All four are back at their parent clubs and could all potentially be heading out on loan again next season.
Matheson just needs to play football, be that with Wolves’ Under 23s or on a temporary basis elsewhere. Could a return to Rochdale be on the cards there?
Thomas will be excited for the new season to roll around now he’s in a much better frame of mind. Whether that’s at Barnsley or elsewhere remains to be seen.
Harrop has a fight to get back into the picture at Preston while Parrott is the only one of the four you could realistically see returning to Portman Road for a second loan spell. At this point it seems unlikely, but never say never.
Whether it’s in Suffolk or elsewhere, a loan is likely once again given the traffic between him and a place in Tottenham’s starting XI.