Exit Interview: Wilson was Town's 'Mr Consistent' during two solid years
- Credit: PA/Archant
James Wilson's Ipswich Town career has come to an end, with the defender winning the club's player-of-the-year award in his final season. Andy Warren assesses his time in blue in the latest in our 'exit interview' series.
James Wilson began his Ipswich Town career with low expectations but ends it with a player-of-the-year award.
He arrived as a stopgap and as something of an afterthought, at a time when the Blues had been ravaged by injuries at the back and simply needed defensive bodies to start the season.
He earned that contract the hard way, going against the better judgement of many by trialling throughout the summer of 2019, at a time when the Blues were also looking at Jon Guthrie, who was training with Town after leaving Walsall. He ultimately joined Livingston.
Luke Chambers and Toto Nsiala were suspended and injured for the Blues’ League One opener at Burton in August 2019 but, once one or both returned, Wilson would surely slip away and ultimately depart at the end of what was initially only a five-month contract?
He didn’t, though, and though he was in-and-out of the side during his first three months at the club he quickly earned an extra 18 months on his deal as Paul Lambert opted to keep him around.
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He was solid and dependable, quicker than he gets credit for and a calm head who took defensive responsibilities seriously. He was a good influence around the squad, too, acting as something of an understated leader who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind or push others to be better.
Lambert had five transfer windows as Ipswich Town manager and it’s hard to argue Wilson wasn’t the best signing of them all. Yes, the bar was low, but in terms of what Wilson delivered against what was expected, his levels were high.
That’s not to say he was a world-beater in blue, clearly nobody who has represented Ipswich over the last two years has been. But he didn’t let the club down.
He knows his strengths and is able to play to them. He knows his weaknesses and is able to hide them. In so many ways he’s what you want in a League One centre-half.
Wilson made 31 appearances in his first Ipswich season and just 18 in his second, but those 18 games were enough for him to earn the club’s player-of-the-year award.
He was restricted to so few games in part due to niggling injuries, latterly to his knee, while Lambert also favoured the young pairing of Luke Woolfenden and Mark McGuinness for a long spell covering Christmas and New Year.
All of Wilson’s appearances came alongside Nsiala, with the pair the club’s best central defensive duo last season. Town averaged 1.76 points per game with those two in the side and, though this is maybe a little simplistic, if you extrapolate that over a full 46-game season Ipswich would have ended the campaign third on 81 points.
We’ll never know how different things could have been had they been used together more often. They probably wouldn’t have helped Ipswich’s chronic like of firepower, though, even if Wilson did contribute two goals of his own late on.
Being voted player-of-the-year was his final act as an Ipswich player before he was released by boss Paul Cook, in a move which will raise some eyebrows from those on the outside looking in. Players winning that award aren't allowed to move on very often.
But for those well aware of the goings on at Town, it’s become clear Cook wants to rebuild his squad from top to bottom, with those given new contracts only getting them in order to be sold to help fund the revolution.
Wilson is undoubtedly good enough to be a solid member of a promotion chasing squad but, at 32, Cook has made it clear the Welshman doesn’t fit with his Portman Road rebuild.
Given Cook is likely to recruit at least two central defenders this summer, it seems right Wilson exits after two good years of service, during which he overdelivered when compared to initial expectation.
He leaves after playing 49 games, scoring twice.
What went well
Wilson’s strength was undoubtedly in his consistency.
He as-good-as averaged 7/10 in our player ratings (the best of any player) during his final season at the club and never let his manager down.
He isn’t exceptional in the air, on the ground or with the ball at his feet. But he’s good enough at all of those things to be a solid League One defender. He’s quick, too, deceptively so, while his positional sense meant he often found himself in the right place at the right time.
He covers well, which is perhaps why his partnership with Nsiala worked so effectively, as the former Shrewsbury man attacked the ball and he swept up afterwards, while he was also adept at putting his body in the right place at the right time to make blocks. Wilson’s presence brought the best out of Nsiala, who himself enjoyed an excellent season when compared to summer expectations.
Whichever club signs Wilson next will be acquiring a solid performer.
Areas to improve
The 32-year-old doesn’t always catch the eye, with a lot of his work going unseen.
And while that’s a compliment in many ways, it may also explain why he hasn’t always received the acknowledgement he deserved.
He has areas where he can improve, like all players. He’s decent in the air but not always dominant and has been caught out of position on a few occasions.
He’s comfortable enough on the ball and, on occasion, has been known to spray balls out to the flanks for team-mates. But he isn’t necessarily what you would call a ‘ball-playing’ centre-half.
He doesn’t try to be, though.
What the future holds
Clubs in League One are already showing interest in the 32-year-old, who has plenty of miles left in the tank and looks after himself well.
It’s almost certain Ipswich will be facing him next season, wherever he ends up, with the Welshman likely to select his next club carefully with playing time, level of responsibility, location and length of contract all set to come into the equation.
It will be interesting to see where he ends up.