Will Ipswich rue Lankester sale, or is there no room for sentiment?
- Credit: Steve Waller
Jack Lankester has joined Cambridge United for an undisclosed fee. STUART WATSON looks back on his time with Ipswich Town.
Born and raised in Bury St Edmunds, Jack Lankester was being dressed in mini Ipswich Town kits as a baby. His granddad Jim played for the Blues at youth team level, while dad Stephen was a schoolboy player for the club.
At the age of six, he was scouted by Ipswich when playing for Guildhall Feoffment Primary School. After starting out as a left-back he was converted into a No.10. Such was his talent that the club offered him a scholarship at the age of 14.
It was 2017/18 when things started to really take off. First there were some impressive performances for the Under-18s in the FA Youth Cup, the goals continued to flow for the U23s, then came a useful first taste of men's football on loan at his hometown club of Bury Town.
Newly appointed Blues boss Paul Hurst liked what he saw. Lankester came on to make his senior debut, at the age of 18, in the latter stages of a 2-0 Championship home defeat to QPR in October 2018.
Hurst was sacked five days later, but it quickly became apparent that new boss Paul Lambert rated the youngster just as highly. Lankester's full debut came at Nottingham Forest on December 1.
The next milestone moment - a goal - came on New Year's Day 2019 against Millwall at Portman Road. With less than two minutes on the clock, he chopped inside from the right and fried across the keeper with his favoured left foot. Ipswich went on to lose the game 3-2 - a major body blow in their attempts to avoid relegation - but there was a sense the club had a star in the making.
Less than a week on, Ipswich Town revealed Lankester had signed a new deal with a picture of him kissing the badge.
"This is my club - it will always have a big place in my heart," he said. However, two appearances later his season was finished by a stress fracture to the back.
Lankester returned for pre-season training that summer, but suffered a fresh back fracture during a friendly against Fortuna Dusseldorf. Then, just as he was closing in on a return to full fitness, Covid saw the campaign called off.
Finally, in September 2020, he was able to make his 12th competitive appearance a full 20 months on from the 11th.
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The youngster was never able to nail down a place in the team last season though. He scored an equaliser at Sunderland, then stepped off the bench to bag a dramatic injury-time winner against Shrewsbury, but faded from the picture around the turn of the year.
A loan move to Salford City didn't happen in January and Lankester went on to make just one start during the second half of the season.
He leaves having scored three goals in 13 starts and 17 sub appearances.
Lankester is confident, but polite and well-grounded. Off the pitch he has been a credit to the club.
For him to shine as a teenager during that miserable Championship relegation campaign is to be applauded.
It also took real character for him to keep working his way back from injury set-backs. Those 20 months out of action must have been really tough.
That cultured left-foot, which is so effective from dead balls or open play, can cut open defences in an instant.
Cambridge United have got themselves a versatile player too. No.10 is his favoured position, but we've seen him play wide right and central midfield too.
AREAS TO IMPROVE
Getting fully fit, obviously, is the big one. Lankester needs to prove the injuries are behind him and that he can maintain an intense level of training/playing week-in, week-out again.
Last season, perhaps understandably, he was guilty of trying a bit too hard when he did get in the team. Not every pass has to be a killer one. There are still some raw edges to round off there.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Do Ipswich need some battled-hardened pros to get them out of League One? Yes. Should they have loaned Lankester out instead of selling him? Possibly.
Time will tell if this is a deal that the club is left to rue. Mind you, the Blues have stuck with homegrown players for years and years before and never reaped the rewards. Sometimes sentiment can cloud the issue.
Lankester undoubtedly has the character and quality to go on and have a successful football career. At what level that is though remains to be seen.
Right now he just needs to play football regularly again. Like with Andre Dozzell, a fresh start might be what's best for everyone.
The 21-year-old has certainly got a good player to learn from at The Abbey Stadium in Wes Hoolahan.