Stuart Watson: My 2022 wish list for Ipswich Town

The Town players huddle at Cambridge.

Ipswich Town will start 2022 with a game at Gillingham on Saturday. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town will get their 2022 underway at Gillingham on Saturday. STUART WATSON outlines his wish list for the year.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

MCKENNA TO LAST

Five different men took charge of matches during a chaotic 2021 - Paul Lambert (11 games), Matt Gill (one caretaker game), Paul Cook (44 games), John McGreal (four 'interim' games) and Kieran McKenna (one game).

That's not very Ipswich Town - a club who only had 10 permanent managers between 1936 and 2002. Since George Burley there has been 10 in the last decade. 

I dearly hope that McKenna is still in charge come the start of 2023.

If he is then it will hopefully mean the Blues are heading in the right direction.

Town players celebrate James Norwoods first half goal.

Ipswich Town won 19 games in 2021 - the most recent of which was a 1-0 home victory against Wycombe. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

WIN MORE THAN LOSE

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This is a simple one - for Ipswich to win more games than they lose in the calendar year.

You have to go back to 2015 for the last time that happened.

Last year, the Blues' record across all competitions read: P61 W19 D22 L20.

That balance needs to tip if Town are going to get anywhere.

Previous annual records (all competitions) - 2020: W16 D5 L17; 2019: W16 D17 L20; 2018: W8 D16 L24; 2017: W16 D14 L21; 2016: W5 D16 L18; 2015: W21 D14 L18.

Bersant Celina celebrates his late winner

The last time Ipswich Town won back-to-back games when Bersant Celina netted a late winner against Fleetwood. - Credit: Ray Lawrence

A WINNING STREAK

What would really help the above is a notable winning streak. 

The last time Town won three games on the spin was back in February/March last year (at the end of the Lambert reign). They've only won back-to-back league games once since then (Portsmouth 4-0 away followed by Fleetwood 2-1 at home in October). 

Whenever the blue touch paper has been lit, it's quickly been allowed to fizzle out before we reach the explosion of excitement.

This one steps forwards followed by several back cycle has to end.

FINISH STRONG!

The easy thing to wish for would, of course, be promotion.

I'm a realist though. The Blues - 11 points adrift of the play-off places - have probably left themselves with too much to do.

A lot of games still to be played, yes, but the margin for error is miniscule.

Instead, I'll wish for Ipswich to better their previous League One finish of ninth (69 points) and, at the very least, be occupying a play-off spot come the end of the calendar year. 

George Edmundson applauding fans after the game.

George Edmundson will hopefully play the vast majority of Ipswich Town's games in 2022. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

CORE TO EMERGE

Toto Nsiala and Luke Woolfenden were the men to start the most number of games for Town in 2022.

They achieved that feat by getting picked for 30 of the 61 games played.

In total, 57 different players were used.

That speaks volumes about the high turnover of players at Portman Road over the last 12 months.

Things need to settle down. The answer can't always be change. A core of the team needs to be established. 

Town players after conceding the first goal at Barrow.

Ipswich Town were dumped out of the FA Cup at Barrow in 2021. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

STILL BE IN A CUP OR TWO

Town should be gearing up to play at Barnsley in the FA Cup third round this weekend.

Can you imagine the excitement? We'd all be talking about whether McKenna's men could beat a struggling Championship outfit and, if that were to happen, who we'd want out the hat.

Last month's embarrassing televised defeat at League Two side Barrow has robbed us of that conversation though.

Town enter 2022 out of all three cup competitions thanks to defeats against League Two side Newport in the Carabao Cup and Arsenal's U21s in the Papa John's Trophy.

I'm convinced that knockout misery has been a major contributing factor to supporters' growing apathy and anger over recent years.

A cup run can seriously lift the spirits and make an otherwise forgettable season live long in the memory.

I'd like to see Town end 2022 still in at least one cup competition so that we can dream of a Wembley final, big away day or giant-killing feat.

Jumping for joy: Macauley Bonne celebrates giving Town a 1-0 lead.

Will Ipswich Town sign popular loan player Macauley Bonne in 2022? - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller

SIGN A LOAN PLAYER PERMANENTLY

You're kidding yourself if you think clubs at League One level can be successful without one or two key loan players. 

It's nice to see some of those deals turn permanent from time to time though.

Town are currently trying to do just that with goalkeeper Christian Walton. Time will tell if the time/price is right. The same can be said for Macauley Bonne and/or Bersant Celina.

There's every chance that McKenna signs a young loanee or two this window. Who knows, maybe one of those deals will end up turning into something longer-term?

Keeping hold of a successful loan player is, for me, the sign of a happy camp and a club with a plan.

Town fans pictured at the Shrewsbury Town game.

Ipswich Town's average attendance for League One games this season is above 20,000. - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller - stephenw

PUT BUMS ON SEATS

The success of the 'Pack Out Portman Road' campaign saw Town finish 2022 by playing in front of bumper home crowds of 29k and 26k when welcoming Sunderland and Wycombe respectively.

The task now is to make sure plenty of those new or returning fans become regulars.

It's been sad to see average attendances at Portman Road steadily dwindle over the last two decades.

Hopefully the days of regular 20,000+ crowds can return.

Town's average league attendances - 02/03: 25,455; 03/04: 24,519; 04/05: 25,651; 05/06: 24,251; 06/07: 22,444; 07/08: 21,934; 08/09: 20,960; 09/10: 20,840; 10/11: 19,614; 11/12: 18,266; 12/13: 17,526; 13/14: 16,654; 14/15: 19,605; 15/16: 18,989; 16/17: 16,980; 17/18: 16,271; 18/19: 17,764; 19/20: 19,549; 20/21: Behind-closed-doors; 21/22 (current): 20,821.

Cameron Humphreys at Dartford

Will 2022 prove to be a breakthrough year at Ipswich Town for Cameron Humphreys? - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

A HOMEGROWN BREAKTHROUGH

Ipswich Town has a proud tradition of developing homegrown talent.

Luke Woolfenden is the only academy graduate in the first team fold at the minute though, with Bailey Clements having got a few games back in November.

Last summer, Flynn Downes, Andre Dozzell, Teddy Bishop, Tristan Nydam and Jack Lankester all departed to make way for a raft of Paul Cook signings. Others such as Liam Gibbs, Ben Knight, Marcelo Flores and Harry Clarke have been spirited away by Premier League clubs at an early stage.

It would be nice to see that trend bucked in 2022.

McKenna, whose coaching career has been forged at the elite end of youth coaching, could be the man to make that happen.

There's certainly no shortage of talent at Playford Road.

Town's U18s reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup last season under Adem Atay, with former England international Kieron Dyer readying the U23s for transition to senior football. 

Cameron Humphreys, Tawanda Chirewa, Elkan Baggott, Zanda Siziba, Fraser Alexander, Albie Armin, Matt Ward, Edwin Agbaje, Nico Valentine and Jack Manly are all names to keep an eye on.

It'll also be interesting to see if Corrie Ndaba, Armando Dobra and Tyreece Simpson can kick on following loan spells away.

Macauley Bonne and James Norwood after the final whistle at Wigan

Macauley Bonne and James Norwood were Ipswich Town's topscorers in 2021. - Credit: Phill Heywood

SPREAD THE GOALS AROUND

Town's top-scorers in 2021 were James Norwood (13) and Macauley Bonne (11).

The temptation is to wish for someone to bag 20 in 2022. That would be nice, but I think I'd actually like to see the goals spread out a bit more.

Of the 70 goals Ipswich scored last year, only 12 came from players you wouldn't describe as attackers.

Town's goals and assists from midfield output has improved this season, but I'd still like to see Sam Morsy and Lee Evans contribute more on that front.

I definitely like to see centre-backs chipping in with a few more at set-pieces. The days when Luke Chambers, Christophe Berra and Tommy Smith used to regularly find the net seems a long time ago. 

Town scorers in 2021 - 13: Norwood; 11: Bonne; 6: Chaplin; 4: Judge, Burns, Celina; 3: Aluko, Evans, Pigott, Own Goal; 2: Wilson, Edmundson, Jackson, Parrott; 1: McGuinness, Drinan, Woolfenden, Chambers, G.Edwards, El Mizouni, Fraser, Penney. 

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