Stuart Watson: Some context to League One finishes of 11th, 9th and 11th...

Disappointed Town players head for the changing rooms after the draw at Crewe Alexandra.

Ipswich Town have finished 11th in League One again following a rollercoaster season. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

A rollercoaster season full of fun and frustration in equal measure.  

Ultimately, what the history books will show is three early cup exits and an equally embarrassing 11th place finish in League One. That, quite frankly, is simply not acceptable given the resource and fanbase that this club has. 

Before I elaborate, first, let me say this. 

I’m enthused about the impact impressive rookie boss Kieran McKenna has made. His first four months of calm and quick developmental work is chalk and cheese to Paul Cook’s demolition job.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna pictured during the Charlton game.

Rookie manager Kieran McKenna has made an instant impact at Ipswich Town. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

I’m also excited about the structural improvements being driven by Mark Ashton and funded by ambitious owners. 

You all are too. The bumper attendances reflect that.  

But I’m also getting increasingly fed up with words and phrases like ‘project’, ‘patience’, ‘gelling’, ‘trust the process’ and ‘transitional period’. 

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We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.

Sam Morsy and Kane Vincent-Young during the lap of appreciation.

Ipswich Town duo Sam Morsy and Kane Vincent-Young acknowledge supporters following Saturday's 4-0 home win against Charlton. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Here’s a bit of context to just how bad Town's successive finishes of 11th, ninth and 11th have been. 

Since the third-tier was rebranded ‘League One’ in 2004, 18 different ‘big’ clubs (a subjective term, I know) have fallen into it. 

Discounting the struggles of Coventry, Blackpool, Portsmouth and Bolton – which were born from financial issues – no-one has started as badly as Ipswich. 

Sheffield United served the longest term in third-tier jail – six years. Three of those seasons ended in play-off finishes though. 

Sunderland are in season four of their League One stay. They’ve finished fifth, eighth, fourth and fifth. Could play-off glory beckon for them this time around? At least they’ve got a chance.  

Wigan Athletic players with the trophy after being confirmed champions of Sky Bet League One at Mont

Wigan Athletic went into administration in July 2020 - they've just won the League One title. - Credit: PA

Of the other 11 clubs (Nottingham Forest, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton, Barnsley, Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Wolves, Blackburn and Wigan) no-one has taken longer than three seasons to get promoted. 

All of them, bar Charlton in their current stint, finished inside the top-six in either season one or two. 

Bolton went into administration in May 2019. Wigan went into administration in July 2020. Yet both have just finished above Ipswich. That rather dulls the ‘time is required to undo previous damage’ argument. 

Ipswich Town Football Club can’t keep flat-lining. The false dawns have to stop.

Thsi was Ipswich Town's more inclusive celebration gimmick at the start of last season. Photo: Pagep

Life in League One got off to a flying start for Ipswich Town in 2019. - Credit: Pagepix

Saturday's fun in the sun left us all skipping off into the summer quietly confident that next year could be special. 'Could' is the operative word. Remind yourself that we've felt this way before.

Town were clapped to relegation in 2019. The 3-2 home win against Leeds on the final day of that campaign sparked talk of a 'League One tour'. Paul Lambert's face was mocked up as iconic film action man Rambo on a huge banner come August. But the wheels soon fell off.

When football finally restarted in September 2020, the theory was that the Blues should have a competitive advantage over smaller clubs hit harder by Covid. Again, it started so well. Players blocked out the (non existent) noise with fingers in ears. Again, the wheels came off.

New owners, new manager, another new era. Paul Cook's drastic reset was what was required. His straight talking was refreshing. That's what we tried to convince ourselves, anyway. Third time lucky. Starter gun fired... false start.

Silencing the critics? Teddy Bishop with his fingers in his ears after scoring in Saturday's 2-0 hom

Silencing the critics? Teddy Bishop with his fingers in his ears after scoring in Saturday's 2-0 home win against Rochdale. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Late transfer business and a winless eight-game start in all competitions set the tone. Another change in manager, followed by big improvements. Five wins in the last 15 shouldn't be overlooked though. Ultimately, a group packed with Championship experience underachieved over the piece. 

And so, another 11th place finish. Ipswich Town haven't finished lower than that in the pyramid since 1952/53. 

We can’t keep living in a land of fluffy clouds and unicorns, constantly declaring ‘we’ve got our club back’ at various intervals and that next year ‘will be the one’.

This club is funded by pension money now - a lot of it. A return on significant investment will be expected sooner rather than later. This is a moment in time that simply has to be taken. 

Be optimistic, be supportive, but also don’t feel guilty for demanding more.

Town fans applaud the fans.

Ipswich Town regularly attracted crowds of 20,000 plus on their way to an 11th place League One finish this season. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Don't get me wrong, there's no divine right to success. It certainly won't get any easier next season. 'Big' clubs are coming down and 'big' clubs are staying down. Others will look to park the bus and frustrate. The standard of refereeing will still be the same.

We've seen enough of this division now to know the challenges ahead. It's up to everyone at Ipswich Town to find the answers. This squad needs to become more consistent, robust and adaptable over a 46-game campaign.

McKenna feels like the real deal, the core of a very good squad is in place and the football's easy on the eye. Improve at set-plays, add some left-sided balance, level up the attack and the Blues could be in business. 

There's that word again... 'could'.

The bottom line is this: There are absolutely zero excuses for not finishing inside the upper 25th percentile next season. 

Town to be title contenders? Right now, I'd take sixth. 


‘BIG’ CLUBS WHO HAVE DROPPED INTO LEAGUE ONE 

Sheff Weds (21-present): 4th. 

Wigan (20-present): 20th, 1st. 

Charlton (20-present): 7th, 13th. 

Sunderland (19-present): 5th, 8th, 4th, 5th. 

Bolton (19-present): 23rd (relegated), 3rd (promoted L2), 9th. 

Barnsley (18/19): 2nd. 

Wigan (17/18): 1st. 

Blackburn (17/18): 2nd. 

Bolton (16/17): 2nd 

Charlton (16-19): 13th, 6th, 3rd (won POs). 

Wigan (15/16): 1st. 

Blackpool (15-21): 22nd (relegated), 7th (promoted from L2), 12th, 10th, 13th, 3rd (won POs). 

Barnsley (14-16): 11th, 6th (won POs). 

Wolves (13/14): 1st. 

Portsmouth (12-present): 24th (relegated), 13th, 16th, 6th, 1st (promoted from L2), 8th, 4th, 5th, 8th, 10th. 

Coventry (12-20): 15th, 18th, 17th, 8th, 23rd (relegated), 6th (promoted from L2), 8th, 1st. 

Sheffield United (11-17): 3rd, 5th, 7th, 5th, 11th, 1st. 

Sheffield Wednesday (10-12): 15th, 2nd.

Charlton (09-12): 4th, 13th, 1st. 

Southampton (09-11): 7th, 2nd. 

Norwich (09/10): 1st. 

Leicester (08/09): 1st. 

Leeds United (07-10): 5th, 4th, 2nd. 

Nottingham Forest (05-08): 7th, 4th, 2nd.