Jewell left with plenty to ponder over the summer
AFTER the the high-profile departures of Gareth McAuley and David Norris, Ipswich Town boss Paul Jewell faces a frantic summer of bringing new players in and deciding who should stay for a planned promotion push next season. This represents dilemmas and challenges for both the manager and his current squad.
Concerns but Jewell likely to stick with two
It is fair to say that neither Marton Fulop nor Arran Lee-Barrett have convinced the majority of the Town faithful. But with priorities elsewhere, it might be that Jewell looks to improve on what he has got rather than look elsewhere. A lot might depend on the influence a new goalkeeping coach, rumoured to be Mike Pollit, has on improving the current custodians. One thing is for certain, the battle for the keeper’s jersey could go either way.
Delaney stays but partner needed
MOST thought Jewell should build his side on the rock-like centre back pairing of Damien Delaney and Gareth McAuley. Only the club’s most consistent players of recent times have shown some signs of cracking near the end of the season. Delaney signed, McAuley left, meaning there is one space left to fill. The likes of Tommy Smith and Troy Brown will look to have a say but Jewell wants experienced characters at the moment, a bit of pace at the back will also help. Then there are doubts about the full-back positions. Carlos Edwards did well filling in under Jewell but the boss will surely want a more orthodox right-back. The other side should be Mark Kennedy’s to lose, but there remains doubts over his injury record. One hopes Shane O’Connor could be waiting in the wings but Jaime Peters’ future seems away from Portman Road, possibly as a makeweight for any new signing.
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Pace and creativity needed
Recruiting the right midfielders was always going to be a difficult job, even before David Norris decided to leave the club. Depending on who you talk to, Town need a defensive-minded player, some creativity in the middle and a pacy, skilful winger. Even Grant Leadbitter will need to improve on his underwhelming 2010/11 campaign. Jimmy Bullard would fill one of the holes, but doubts remain over any deal. Luke Hyam, Luciano Civelli and Colin Healy will look to impress but might have to settle for squad roles while much will depend on how former Luton man Andy Drury does in pre-season. The wide places could solve themselves with Edwards, Josh Carson and Lee Martin in the squad. But Martin and Edwards need to find greater consistency while it is a big ask for young Carson to play a full season in the demanding Championship.
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Wickham plus one
Having featured in 41 games last season, it must surely be Connor Wickham and one other next season. Put aside, for now, any unlikely but lingering fears he might leave this summer, the 18-year-old must be expected to lead the line next year, especially as Jewell has more than hinted at wanting to field a 4-4-2 next season. So who plays alongside him? Clearly heavy doubts remain over Jason Scotland and Tamas Priskin but I expect one to remain, probably the former. This means Jewell needs to bring in two new strikers and after unsuccessfully bidding �2.3 million for Doncaster’s Billy Sharp, it is clear he is looking to bring in proven quality rather than a risky up-and-comer.
Money to spend but on whom?
A striker is the number one priority, one who would “kick his granny” to quote the manager. The pursuit of Sharp was a great sign of intent and other irons in the fire could include the likes of Watford’s Danny Graham as Jewell goes after strikers successful in the Championships at relatively cash-strapped clubs. Alongside that, Jewell might be tempted into the lower leagues to get a back-up to his two or three main strikers. Pace and creativity across the whole team remain a massive problems – seen by the huge gulf between Town and three of the four play-off teams this week (minus Cardiff of course). Jewell has shown there is money to spend, but a large chunk will probably go on a forward and possibly a centre back.
Loans and frees could be key
Clearly, Jewell has not got a bottomless pit so he will hope to play the free market and the loan game. The thing is Ipswich’s curious position with regards to contracts is not isolated. Many clubs, for varying reasons, are faced with losing key players for free this summer. This will of course have the Premiership vultures sniffing, but Ipswich could also profit. Jimmy Bullard would arguably be the ultimate free transfer, if an agreement can be reached about his wages, but the likes of Neil Danns, Chris Burke and Nathan Tyson are other interesting possibilities. And with so many positions to fill, you can virtually guarantee Jewell dipping into the loan market – though one hopes with less regularity than his predecessor.
Uncertain shadow but hope offered
With such an uncertain shadow cast over Town’s starting XI next season, it would be easy to panic. But Paul Jewell is still learning about his players and will come to many conclusions over pre-season. The type of players he has been linked with is encouraging while Ipswich are not alone in their predicament – only this week Hull City came out and said they were looking for a whopping seven new signings. Some of the question marks around his first choice team will come from within and this should be grasped by any ambitious current squad member. And once rumours and speculation are replaced by concrete new signings, something that must happen sooner rather than later, the traditional pre-season excitement will grow and grow.