Ipswich Town have hit a new low... now plenty of big questions need answers
- Credit: Archant
After Ipswich Town’s 11th-place finish in League One was confirmed yesterday, ANDY WARREN looks at what went wrong and what lies ahead for the Blues.
Ipswich Town’s 2019/20 season will go down in history.
It’s not the kind of history we were expecting back in October, of course, when the Blues were flying high in League One and thoughts of Luke Chambers lifting a trophy at Portman Road on May 3 seemed entirely realistic. There were dreams of a double success at Wembley, firstly in the EFL Trophy and then the back-up promotion option of repeating a play-off win 20 years on from the class of 2000.
Instead, the Blues’ 11th place finish is the club’s lowest since 1953. That’s what the history books will say.
But even more memorable than that will be the fact the campaign ended amid the greatest public health crisis of a generation, was ultimately decided using a formula concocted by suits in a boardroom and voted for by all-but four of League One’s clubs, at a time when the English game below the top flight is facing extreme financial pressures.
Ipswich fought for the opportunity to resume play when it was safe to do so, with a belief their favourable run-in and the return of key players from injury could yet see them crash the promotion party, but getting their wish was always unlikely.
The Blues had certainly given themselves work to do in that department and, while it’s likely they would have finished higher than 11th if their remaining eight games had been played, a top six place would have been a big, big ask.
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The season has of course been ended in the most unusual way but, while the final standings were determined in the boardroom and the likes of Peterborough and Tranmere can rightly feel aggrieved, Ipswich’s final position in the table does sadly reflect what came before.
A graph of Town’s position, above, makes grim reading. The season simply fell off a cliff.
If you’re struggling to remember, here’s how the season played out. Ipswich fought off any relegation hangover and won eight of their first 11 games during an unbeaten start to top the table but, after Bonfire Night, went more than two months without a win in the league. Lambert signed a new five-year contract on New Year’s Day. A brief return to the top of the pile in January was a false dawn, before a run of one win in nine saw them slump to 10th prior to football’s suspension. The last four of those were defeats.
Not good enough.
Now some statistics. Ipswich have the 18th best home record in League One, with only six wins in 17 games. Lambert’s side won just two of the 18 games they played against the 10 sides finishing above them, with the other 16 split evenly between draws and defeats. That’s just 14 points from a possible 54. Season-defining stuff.
Again, not good enough.
In a world full of so much heartache, worry and fear, it seems trivial to return to discussing whether Lambert’s rotation policy or the decision to postpone games for international call-ups halted momentum. Whether Ipswich’s squad was as strong as many thought at the start of the campaign or whether Marcus Evans should have opened the purse strings in January are genuine questions, just as the fact Lambert never truly settled on a formation or system was a genuine concern.
But it’s undeniable that the suspension of football had taken the heat off of Lambert at a time when pressure was building. The atmosphere throughout the 1-0 loss to Fleetwood in particular highlighted just how close to the surface frustrations were growing once again, with chants aimed at both Lambert and owner Evans throughout the game. Victorious boss Joey Barton described the atmosphere as being ‘sad to see’.
The closure yesterday’s decisions has delivered has put much of that heat back on, though.
So what now?
In normal times, an 11th-placed finish in League One would have prompted a thorough inquest. Despite the Town boss playing down expectations when things were good in August and September, the season can only be seen as a failure.
This is different to valiantly missing out in the play-offs or coming on strong and just failing to get over the line. Ipswich fell away and dropped from the top of the table to 10th in the space of six weeks, before dropping a further place on PPG.
Following the EFL’s decision yesterday, talk on social media quickly turned to Lambert’s future.
Evans gave Lambert a five-year deal just six months (15 games) ago and would surely be loath to pull the trigger so quickly after putting his club’s future in the Scot’s hands.
Does the fact Lambert didn’t get the eight-game run-in to try and change the mood and his side’s fortunes come into the conversation? Do the financial realities of making a change at a time when money is tighter than ever have an impact? Does the Town boss still have enough credit in the bank with the owner after bringing the club and supporters back together in the early months of his reign?
Ultimately it comes down to whether Evans sees Lambert as the man to take the club forward, on the pitch as well as off it, whenever that opportunity may arise again.
All the noises coming out of Portman Road, suggest no change is likely.
Beyond Lambert’s future, discussion regarding the end of 2019/20 will soon give way to debate over when 2020/21 will start.
Is September realistic? Can small crowds be accommodated? When will stadiums be full again? Can League One realistically start without fans given so many voted for the current season to be ended on financial grounds?
Bigger than that there is real concern about the survival of third and fourth-tier clubs.
The game will be changed forever by this crisis, with much of it painful yet some of it potentially for the better.
Where Ipswich Town sit in that remains to be seen but, for now at least, the Blues are slumped in their lowest position for 67 years.
That’s the sad reality of it.