Exit Interview: Sears' fast start drifted sideways before injury struck
- Credit: Archant
Freddie Sears has left Ipswich Town after six-and-a-half years at Portman Road. Andy Warren looks back at his time in blue.
As stalwarts Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse headed through the Ipswich Town exit door on May 10, Freddie Sears’ departure went a little under the radar.
There are reasons for that, of course. Chambers and Skuse were both knocking on the door of a testimonial, have both been front and centre at Ipswich for the best part of a decade and, for a generation of Ipswich fans, they will not have known anything other than the pair in blue.
The fact Sears’ departure had seemed inevitable for several weeks prior to his exit also played its part, as did the levels of intrigue after some players surprisingly had their contract options taken when it looked like they too were heading to the exit.
But for Sears, ‘Demolition Monday’ marked the end of a six-and-a-half years stay in Suffolk which can be neatly split into three acts.
The first was exciting, as he joined the party late as the Blues sat third in the Championship in January 2015, with Mick McCarthy’s men targeting promotion following an excellent start to the season.
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Sears had had his own good start, too, netting 14 goals for Colchester before making the move in a £150,000 deal. He hit the ground running, netting in his second game at Brighton and then adding eight more before the end of the campaign as the Blues narrowly missed out in the play-offs.
He was deployed centrally, buzzing around behind striker Daryl Murphy and causing problems for opposition back lines as he picked up possession in dangerous areas and pulled defenders around. His good form continued into his first full season, too, with four goals in his first six games. But things were about to change.
And so begins act two of Sears’ career in blue.
The first stanza came at a time when David McGoldrick was sidelined through injury but the following season, with the No.10 fit, available and up to speed a few weeks into the campaign, Mick McCarthy wanted to fit ‘Didzy’, ‘Murph’ and Sears into his side. That meant the latter shifted into a wide left role he struggled to really move away from.
He performed selflessly whenever selected, with his effort never in doubt, but whenever asked about his new role he would always insist he saw himself as a central striker. He still does.
Sears continued to contribute heavily but just didn’t bring the same goal threat from the left flank, with two separate runs of 38 games without a goal coming during the next three seasons as he continued to work up and down the left flank for McCarthy. It wasn’t just the positioning which went against him – he was playing in a side finding it harder and harder to score and was asked to put in the hard yards in defence just as much as follow his natural instincts and link up with the Ipswich forwards.
It was the same story under Paul Hurst before the appointment of Paul Lambert brought Sears to life, with an excellent run of five goals in the Scot’s first seven games proving the forward could contribute goals and assists from wide areas, if given the freedom to play on the front foot and come inside on his right foot.
Then, sadly, came act three of Sears’ Town career.
His sixth goal of 2018/19 was Town’s best of the season as he fired home a rocket at Villa Park but, just a few days later, his campaign was over as he suffered an ACL injury in a fiery East Anglian Derby at Carrow Road.
It was a hammer blow for the former West Ham youngster, just as he was enjoying his football again, with Sears admitting news of his setback reduced him to tears.
The next time he would appear for Town would be in League One and, with James Norwood now signed and Kayden Jackson impressing, he would struggle to get a look in up top and would again have to make do with his wide left role.
He returned to action in December of 2019 but took a few weeks to get back up to speed, only for the coronavirus pandemic to end the season early.
That meant another six months off, but Sears started the new season well with two goals on opening day as the Blues beat Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup at Portman Road, including one superb finish as he showed his instincts once again.
He never really got up a head of steam, though and only Sears will know just how much his nasty knee injury had taken out of him. There were certainly periods where he lacked the ‘zip’ and instinctive ability to beat a man and finish which had been the hallmarks of his best periods at Town.
He drifted out of the Ipswich side before the end of the campaign, making just five starts in 2021 prior to his release as a solid stint in Ipswich blue came to an end.
What went well
The club marked Sears’ exit with a highlight video the day after his release and there are some excellent strikes in there, including his goal 16 seconds into the game at Fulham in 2015, an excellent sweeping finish against Newcastle and a brilliant goal against Middlesbrough on the final day of the 2017/18 season.
None, though, topped his strike against Villa. That was sublime.
At his best, Sears played off the cuff, instinctively and with direct running which caused so many problems for opponents.
The purple patch he enjoyed in the early weeks of Lambert’s tenure was a joy to behold as the shackles came off and he played to his strengths once again to serve a reminder of how he burst onto the scene back at the start of 2015.
There was another reminder at the start of 2020/21, with goals against Bristol Rovers and then a superb finish in the home victory over Accrington.
Sadly, that proved to be his final Ipswich goal.
Areas to improve
The third act of Sears’ Ipswich career just never really got going.
He made only three starts during the second half of 2019/20, following his return to action following his nasty knee injury, and was in-and-out of the side during his final campaign at the club. He did make 29 appearances, but only two starts under Paul Cook.
Sears lacked conviction during much of time post-injury, playing without the zip and last-shoulder threat which made him such a handful, while he also found it hard to beat his man.
Hopefully a fresh start will help him recapture that.
What the future holds
Sears is now a free agent and is looking for his next club at the age of 31.
He’s got miles on the clock but plenty of time left, with a fresh start elsewhere hopefully something which will give a forward with plenty to offer a new lease of life.
Sometimes a change of scene is what’s needed.
He will be hoping, too, for a return to a central striking role.
Colchester United is a real option as he contemplates a return to the club he left in January 2019, with a move back to Essex reuniting him with Dean Gerken, Tommy Smith and potentially skipper Luke Chambers, should the latter opt to join his old friends at the U’s.