A weekend of potential departures as Town finish up their disappointing season
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Ipswich Town take on Fleetwood Town in the final game of the 2020/21 season tomorrow. Andy Warren takes a look ahead to the game.
There’s very little to really say about this game as a contest.
It’s a game between two sides certain to be in League One next season, with Ipswich able to climb no higher than their current ninth position but able to fall to 14th, a spot Fleetwood could jump into with victory.
That’s about it. It’s been a miserable season but, once this game is over, the summer rebuild can well-and-truly begin.
To that end, there are likely to be a few members of the Ipswich Town 18 this weekend who will be playing their final games for the club.
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Of those named in the squad at Shrewsbury on Tuesday night, eight are not contracted beyond the summer and plenty of those will depart.
Loanees Mark McGuinness, Troy Parrott, Keanan Bennetts and Josh Harrop will head home while it remains to be seen whether Town will look to keep any of Gwion Edwards, Toto Nsiala or Teddy Bishop.
But undoubtedly the most intrigue surrounds two club stalwarts who could both be playing their final Ipswich Town matches tomorrow afternoon, after many years of distinguished service.
Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse have made nearly 700 appearances between them in Ipswich blue during their time at the club, with the pair combining to give 17 years of service since their arrivals in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
How sad, then, that their exit may well come in front of an empty stadium when they deserve to leave Portman Road one final time to the applause of a crowd who have watched them perform for the best part of a decade.
The duo split opinion, of course, having been at the club during a period of decline, and their legacy is one which will be discussed and written about at length if and when they do depart. But it’s surely hard to argue they don’t deserve real recognition for just how much of themselves they have given to the club over the course of their careers.
In Chambers’ case, his Town career has seen him break into the top-10 all-time appearance makers for the club, securing his place in Ipswich Town history.
Both have been out of the side in recent weeks, Chambers on the bench for the last five games and Skuse not featuring since the home draw with Wimbledon at the end of April. But Kane Vincent-Young's shoulder injury means Chambers is a likely starter at right-back, while Skuse could potentially return to the 18 for what could be his final outing as an Ipswich player.
Freddie Sears, another long-time Town player, and Kayden Jackson were both left out of the 18 on Tuesday night and it remains to be seen whether they will be involved both this weekend and going forwards.
A summer of change is coming and it’s certain the team which begins next season will look very, very different to the one which finishes this.
One player who will be at the club next season is James Norwood, who leads the club’s scoring charts on nine goals and has had the captain’s armband for the last two games.
The striker has hit double figures in each of his last eight campaigns and needs one more to reach that mark this time around.
“I would be massively disappointed if I don’t get into double figures this season, especially after missing the penalty at Swindon last week that would have put me on 10 for the season so far,” he said.
“For me it’s a numbers game – goals to minutes played – and that’s how I have to look at it this season.”
For the record, Norwood’s nine goals have come in a total of 1,611 minutes, meaning he averages almost exactly one goal for every two full 90 minutes he plays. That’s pretty good.
It’s fair to say things haven’t gone to plan for Paul Cook since taking the Town job, with his new side slipping away from play-off contention.
But the Ipswich boss does hold an unbeaten home record, winning two and drawing three of his matches at Portman Road.
“I was going to mention that, none of you lot were going to mention that!” Cook joked, when the unbeaten record was highlighted during Friday’s pre-match press conference.
“I’ve told our new owners to keep me at home and we’ll get a new manager in away. Now we’ve cracked it, haven’t we? Now we’ve smashed it!
“I’m delighted with that. As a manager, I enjoy little things like that. While I’m very conscious of my record both at Ipswich and everywhere else, our home should be a fortress.
“I’m delighted and that’s something I’ll be looking to make sure we cement on Sunday.”
Overall, Town are unbeaten at home since the televised defeat by Sunderland at the end of January, a run of nine games in which they have won four and drawn five, picking up 17 points from a possible 27.
Hull and Peterborough are up, Blackpool, Sunderland and Lincoln are in the play-offs while Northampton, Rochdale, Swindon and Bristol Rovers have been relegated.
That means all of the big League One issues are sorted, apart from who takes the final play-off place.
Portsmouth hold that at the moment and will take sixth spot with victory over Accrington, but both Oxford and Charlton are waiting to pounce if Danny Cowley’s side slip up. They host Hull and Burton respectively, knowing only a win will do.