Ipswich Town 2020 Awards: Marking the highs and lows of a turbulent year
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It’s been a year of few highs and plenty of lows for Ipswich Town.
An 11th-place finish at the end of a curtailed League One season has been followed be an opening 18 games of 2020/21 which at times promised much but also exposed the same old weaknesses which continue to hold Paul Lambert’s side back.
The end of the year is a time to reflect on what’s gone before and so, in that vein, we’ve handed out some awards to mark the high moments and some of the low ones as well.
Player of the year
There’s no stand-out candidate, or even candidates, for this award which perhaps highlights why it’s been a pretty miserable year in the world of Ipswich Town.
Plenty of players have had hot streaks, such as Teddy Bishop at the start of this season and Andre Dozzell during the 2020/21 campaign to date, while Gwion Edwards enjoyed a prolific scoring run in addition to some handy displays at right-back early in 2020 as he grew into the position. They were all under consideration.
Even Luke Woolfenden and Flynn Downes, the latter hit by injury, haven’t been able to ensure their high standards have stayed the course for the entire calendar year.
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So, this award goes to a man who has maintained a level of consistency throughout the entire 12 months, has made the most appearances by a fair distance and has enjoyed a resurgence in a right-back role he last played regularly four years ago.
My player-of-2021 is captain Luke Chambers.
Young player of the year
This one goes to Andre Dozzell.
We’ve been waiting for the midfielder to reach this point, playing regular games and making a spot in the side his own to enable to show off his undoubted talent.
He’s done that, particularly during the opening months of the new season where he has time-and-again displayed the fact he’s the best passer of the ball at the club by a significant distance.
The hope must be now that the return of Flynn Downes, and a potential partnership in the middle of midfield between two young men who have played together for a decade, will bring out another layer of Dozzell’s ability.
Honourable mentions to Armando Dobra and Brett McGavin in this category.
Comeback player of the year
This is an award handed out in major American sports to players returning to the game after a long spell away, often due to injury but sometimes due to temporary retirements or other periods of inactivity.
Ipswich’s version goes to Jack Lankester who, after 20 months away, returned to competitive action in September following two difficult years with a back injury.
He’s had some big moments, while not always hitting the heights we know he can, but to be back on the field, playing regularly, scoring two great goals and not struggling with knocks can only be seen as a positive.
Roll on 2021, where hopefully Kane Vincent-Young is the overwhelming choice for this award.
Ridiculously, Town’s top scorer is a shared prize between three players who netted just five goals each.
It’s shared between Gwion Edwards, Jon Nolan and Kayden Jackson, with the trio of James Norwood, Teddy Bishop and Freddie Sears one goal back.
‘Own goal’ was in the running throughout, having contributed three.
Much better is needed in 2021.
There’s a correct answer to this question – and it’s Luke Chambers’ rocket volley at Blackpool earlier this season.
The build-up play is excellent, with Andre Dozzell playing an incisive ball into Oli Hawkins to change the tempo of the attack, before Gwion Edwards was freed to bustle away down the left wing to cross for the skipper. Then there’s the finish, with the veteran getting over the ball and rifling it into the net. Beautiful stuff.
Honourable mentions must go to Edwards’ second goal in the same game, coming with the help of an exquisite Chambers pass and perfect touch, as well as James Norwood’s chip against Accrington, Armando Dobra’s rocket against Gillingham and Teddy Bishop’s long-range winner against Gillingham.
Luke Chambers’ goal was superb and aesthetically the best of 2020 but, full disclosure, this award has been created so I can shoehorn the goal which was actually my favourite into this.
As it happens, it’s the first goal Town scored in 2020 and came thanks to some quick thinking from Alan Judge and Luke Garbutt at a free-kick, which saw the latter cross expertly for Norwood to head home superbly.
This won’t tick all the boxes for everyone, especially when compared to the other goals in the list, but it certainly gets me going.
This award goes to a surprise which was sprung just 13 hours into 2020, as manager Paul Lambert signed a new long-term contract to the summer of 2025.
A new deal was in the works in the final months of 2019, with discussions starting during Town’s stunning start to the campaign, but the actual announcement was a shock given what had happened in the seven days (and, indeed, weeks) prior.
It was signed on the back of one win in 13 games, four points from the last available 21 in the league and after Ipswich had tumbled down the table. And then, in the days leading up to the deal being announced, Lambert had questioned his own future at the club on Boxing Day before overseeing a thumping at Lincoln which led to an hour-long lock-in. During that period, Neil Warnock was linked with the job, too.
To say the announcement, just two hours before a televised meeting with leaders Wycombe, was greeted by surprise was an understatement.
It did show Marcus Evans’ commitment to building for the future, though, something the Town owner has doubled down on recently as he backed his manager in the wake of calls for his departure from sections of the fanbase.
Ipswich won 16 games in 2020 against 14 different teams, with the average position of those sides 16th.
Three ended in 4-1 victories, with Accrington, Burton and Blackpool swatted aside, with the latter providing the best performance and the greatest footballing positives of what has been a miserable year.
All four goals were superb, as already noted regarding Luke Chambers’ and Gwion Edwards’ efforts, and Ipswich were in full control of a game against a side including some established names at this level and above.
Victory took Town back to the top of the table with growing optimism they may just stay there. They may yet get back there, of course.
Lowest of the low
There are a fair few to choose from here, sadly.
Ipswich lost seven of their final nine games before football shut down in March – and you could justifiably argue any of those could win this award.
Or, this season, any of Ipswich’s five league defeats to current top six sides would easily qualify. Especially given they’ve failed to score in four of them.
You could even give it to the day it was revealed that Town had tried to argue the 2019/20 season should be decided using an expanded play-off tournament, going all the way down to them in 10th.
But my vote goes to the 4-1 mauling handed out by Peterborough at Portman Road back in February.
Town were painfully off the pace that day as they were torn apart by their rivals, proving just how short of promotion quality Lambert’s side were at the time.
Sadly, that’s a theme which has continued throughout 2020.
Ipswich brought in six first-team players in 2020 – permanent deals for David Cornell, Oli Hawkins and Stephen Ward in addition to loans for Josh Earl, Mark McGuinness and Keanan Bennetts.
All have plus points and all have areas where they’ve struggled. In that regard it’s hard to argue that any have put their hand up and pushed themselves above ‘average’ to claim this award. At a push, I’d maybe go for Cornell.
But I’m going to cop out here and give the gong to Town’s success in tying Andre Dozzell down to a new deal, just six months before he was able to walk away for free. He’s a central figure in the team now and is playing regular games. The only way is up for him on a personal level.
Hopefully he can take Ipswich with him.
None of Ipswich’s 2020 recruits have moved the needle particularly, either positively or negatively.
Cornell took time to work his way in, Hawkins hasn’t found a groove and Ward started brightly before fading, all while bringing leadership to the group.
McGuinness has clear potential and Bennetts was showing signs of potentially coming good before suffering an injury just a few minutes after opening his account for the club. Earl served a purpose during his brief time in blue, covering Toto Nsiala’s departure at a time when Ipswich were sometimes playing with three centre-halves.
But the award goes to Earl, simply because it was never really clear what role he was signed to play and featured in a number of different positions (left back, wing back, CB in a two, left side of a three) without ever truly finding a position in the side. He’ll be one quickly forgotten.
No, nothing for all the ‘fingers in the ears’ stuff from the beginning of this campaign. The winner of this award goes back to February.
Alan Judge takes the gong for his celebration which followed his strike against Burton Albion, when he removed his boot and threw it in the direction of manager Paul Lambert.
"We're contracted to wear the new boots when they come out so I wore them last week in training," Judge said.
"The gaffer had a joke with me saying I was never to wear those boots again so I took it off and threw it towards the gaffer as a bit of banter. That kind of thing goes down well because it was just a bit of a laugh. There wasn't any aggression in it.”
Will Norris, look away now.
We’ve already mentioned the humping by Peterborough, with the abounding memory of that game coming in the 33rd minute when Norris took a Cole Skuse pass back and dithered, allowing Sammie Szmodics to steal the ball from his toe and tap in.
Sadly for Norris, who is now at Burnley, his time with Ipswich will be remembered for errors such as this one (and being lobbed at Lincoln and Wycombe) despite being generally solid during his 20 appearances for the club.