North Stander: Facing another season in a division we don't belong

Town fans in the sunshine at Oxford.

Town fans in the sunshine at Oxford. Another season in League One, North Stander suggests, awaits. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Fine margins.

If we hadn’t conceded that heartbreaking 95th-minute equaliser at Oxford, our play-off hopes would just about still be alive. As it is, I’m afraid the gap is too wide.

Of course it’s still mathematically possible, and while that’s the case then we can cling to some hope. But deep down, the realists among us know that we’ll still be in the third tier next season.

Wes Burns is consoled by Cameron Brannagan after the final whistle at Oxford.

Wes Burns is consoled by Cameron Brannagan after the final whistle at Oxford. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

A great shame, especially when you consider the really attractive football Kieran McKenna has us playing. The goal at Oxford was the latest example. Slick, calm passing, great movement, and a cool finish from Bersant Celina.

But, let’s be honest, there are reasons why we are seemingly cemented into ninth place.

The first, as has been well documented, is the very poor start we made to the season under Paul Cook. It left us constantly chasing the play-off pack, and as the campaign has progressed, it has meant that what in other circumstances would have been decent draws, just haven’t been enough.

The second issue is our old, old Achilles heel in this division: We are unable to beat the top teams. This season, as in previous campaigns, we simply can’t seal those vital victories against the teams in and around the top six. Yes, we came so agonisingly close at Oxford, but couldn’t get over the line.

That failure has meant that, despite some really good performances and an astonishing number of clean sheets, we’ve never been able to close the gap on those play-off places.

Town players huddle up before kick-off at Oxford.

Town players huddle up before kick-off at Oxford. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Most Read

The third reason is that, in recent weeks, we’ve drawn far too many games. Five of our last matches have ended level and, in the current circumstances, that hasn’t been good enough.

Lastly, there’s the ongoing issue in front of goal. Ever since Macauley Bonne’s early season goal-scoring spree came to a shuddering end, we’ve struggled to score enough.

We’ve had to rely on goals from other sources, like Wes Burns, Conor Chaplin, and Bersant Celina. A team without a regular goal-scoring striker is unlikely to be a serious promotion candidate, I would suggest.

The sad tale of Joe Pigott’s struggles at Portman Road still doesn’t look like having a happy ending. As I’ve said before, sometimes it just doesn’t work out for a particular player at a particular club. It might be good for both parties if he moves on in the summer.

He only has to look at Will Keane for inspiration. When he was here, I always thought Keane was a really good footballer, with a lovely touch, but I could never envisage him scoring many goals.

What a contrast this season. Playing for high-flying Wigan, Keane has so far netted 19 league goals, with more to come, no doubt.

I can’t help thinking that McKenna might have unlocked the potential in Keane, if the pair had worked together at Portman Road. Another of those ifs and buts which are so common in football.

Joe Pigott is fouled again during the first half at Oxford.

Joe Pigott is fouled again during the first half at Oxford. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Talking of strikers, and McKenna getting the best out of them, I feel desperately sorry for Kayden Jackson. Just as he was finding his best form after so long in the wilderness, along has come what seems to be quite a serious hamstring injury. It will be interesting to see whether he stays or goes at the end of the season.

All of which brings me back to young Tyreece Simpson. What is going on with him? If he’s still injured, then fair enough. But if he’s fit, then surely he must be worth a place on the bench? We’re struggling for goals!

There are suggestions that he wants to leave. Well, then surely putting himself in the shop window would be ideal wouldn’t it?

Bersant Celina celebrates scoring for Ipswich at Oxford.

Bersant Celina celebrates scoring for Ipswich at Oxford. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

If all of the above comes across as rather negative, I suppose it’s because I’m frustrated we are now facing another season in this dreadful division. We simply don’t belong here.

But, in common with other Town fans, I have huge faith in the current regime. They are making so many good decisions, both on and off the pitch. The wilderness years under Marcus Evans are over. We just have to remain patient.