Mark Heath: Do the right thing, EFL - suspend the season now

Ipswich Town boss Paul Lambert has always expressed a desire to complete the season when safe to do so. Picture: ARCHANT

Ipswich Town boss Paul Lambert is one of six playing staff to test positive for the new strain of coronavirus - Credit: Archant

Sports editor Mark Heath believes the League One season should be suspended as soon as possible - and here's why...

"With so many clubs affected by this presently and this new strain development, football may benefit from a ‘circuit breaker’ before a return to playing securely."

There's a lot of hot air which comes out of Portman Road - usually the type which promises that things will get better, the players are hurting just as much as the fans, and Town are playing incredible football.

Over the last two days though, I've been incredibly impressed with the club's stance on the resurgent coronavirus crisis.

The words above come from Town physio Matt Byard, following the news that six of the club's playing staff - including boss Paul Lambert - plus general manager Lee O'Neill, had tested positive for the new mutant strain of Covid-19.

Manager Paul Lambert and general manager Lee O'Neill have both tested positive for coronavirus

Paul Lambert and Lee O'Neill have both tested positive for Covid-19 - Credit: Steve Waller

With their match at Peterborough already called off due to a positive test in the Posh camp, and their Boxing Day clash with Northampton, plus trip to Wimbledon on Tuesday, now also off, Town won't play again until January 2 at the earliest.

Of course, plenty of other sides in League One have also been affected - Sunderland and Portsmouth, plus Peterborough, have also had to postpone games in recent days. 

It is, let's be honest, something which is only going to get worse - the new strain transmits more rapidly, with Pompey CEO Mark Catlin saying earlier in the week that it 'seems to spiral out of control' once it has taken hold in a team setting.

Ipswich keeper David Cornell in action against Portsmouth.

Town and Pompey have both had Covid-19 outbreaks since they met on December 12 - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

The EFL, who were found woefully lacking in the leadership stakes back in lockdown one, insist that there are no plans to suspend the season - but, once again, they are wrong.

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Not only should the season be suspended now, it should be extended.

Firstly, purely from a scheduling point of view, it will fast become a nightmare - clubs, already playing Saturday/Tuesday most weeks to fit games in a shortened season, will soon be faced with cramming yet more postponed fixtures into their calendar.

There's also the integrity issue - to continue with a season where multiple teams are suddenly left with blank weekends and then asked to play catch-up demeans the notion of fair competition.

But, far greater than the procedural argument, is the simple fact that continuing to play is irresponsible amid the current national crisis.

Players and staff at Town's level aren't routinely tested. Surely, to allow teams to continue to jump between tiers to play games, without knowing if any of of their number are infected, is just plain unsafe?

Add to the fact that players and managers rarely wear masks for post-match media duties, and you have a potential pandemic powder keg.

Lambert himself, who's offered a number of baffling assessments of Town's fortunes so far this season, spoke perfect sense when discussing the Covid-19 situation.

“We are getting led on a wing and a prayer with the testing," he said. "Since we’ve been back in July, I think we’ve been tested six or seven times. In between those times it’s been mayhem.

“Nobody knows if they’re going into games with the virus or not with the virus. That for me is where it’s wrong. 

"You’re putting everybody at risk. The Government are telling you not to go out, not to travel, stay at home if you can. 

“Well, here’s a good idea, go and play football and get some more cases on your books. It’s wrong. That’s just my opinion."

The Town boss also suggested: "I think you could extend the season into June because, no disrespect, League One and League Two don’t have too many international players that need to go to the Euros this summer.

"Could you extend it? Yes, you possibly could to that. I don’t think anybody would have any grievance about that."

Unless regular testing can be introduced - and who pays for it is another big issue - then for me, the solution is clear.

Suspend the season until February, and extend it into June.

Please, EFL top bods, show some leadership. Do the right thing.





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