Hawkins was Lambert’s Plan B... but never came to fruition
- Credit: PA
Oli Hawkins has left Ipswich Town after just one season, joining League Two side Mansfield Town. Andy Warren looks back at his short career at Portman Road.
And with that, Ipswich Town’s class of 2020 is gone.
Oli Hawkins’ exit for Mansfield means every player recruited by Paul Lambert for his final season in charge of Ipswich has moved on after less than 12 months.
Hawkins, David Cornell and Stephen Ward all signed for Town on the same day last August but, now the only three permanent signings of the season have departed, none will live long in the memory of Ipswich fans.
This wasn't Town's first brush with Hawkins. Back in 2017, Mick McCarthy was in the market for a big striker and, with Dagenham quoting £500,000 for Hawkins' services, the former Ipswich boss turned to Kieffer Moore at £10,000 instead.
This time around the capture of Hawkins, a man who found himself behind former Ipswich striker Ellis Harrison in the Portsmouth pecking order prior to his release, represented an attempt at a plan B.
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Though Lambert shuffled formations and personnel like a deck of cards during his first crack at League One, Ipswich’s play had become predictable whichever system they were in.
Will Keane brought height but not the physical presence needed to rough it with League One centre-halves so, in theory, signing 6ft 5in target man Hawkins was a sensible move. Again, in theory, it gave Ipswich the chance to go long and mix things up when their attempt to play football hit a brick wall. There were reasons to be optimistic.
He came with questions - most notably regarding his low goal return and the fact he hadn’t netted for nearly 18 months - while the fact he had fallen behind Harrison at Pompey, who Town had jettisoned a year earlier, represented something of a decline in quality.
But, rightly, Hawkins was given a chance to prove himself, starting with a blank canvas.
He arrived with ongoing niggles and took a while to get going, not appearing at all until the final pre-season game and finding himself off the pace following a disrupted summer schedule.
But, during his cameo roles in a side playing well and scoring goals, the early signs were good as he looked neat and tidy in his link play and brought others into the game.
His first league start was a good one as he impressed at home to Rochdale, but he could never truly force his way into Lambert’s side. He had two bursts of three-successive League One starts, which included his only goal for the club at home to Crewe, but that was it. He didn’t start back-to-back games outside of those bursts and didn’t do so at all after October 31.
There were some good cameos from the bench, showing glimpses of what he could do, but in truth Ipswich’s slow, possession-based football simply didn’t suit a striker used to roughing it in the air.
In many ways, the writing was on the wall for him.
A niggling knee injury finally got the better of him in January, requiring surgery, and after that he never really got another look in.
His only start under Paul Cook came in toothless Town’s 0-0 draw with AFC Wimbledon and, when the Town boss told the vast majority of his Ipswich squad they were free to leave, Hawkins was always going to be one of those deemed surplus to requirements.
He leaves for an undisclosed, nominal, fee, having scored just one goal in 23 Ipswich appearances.
What went well
Things didn’t go to plan but Hawkins did show flashes of what he could do.
He had ‘decent feet for a big man’ and showed that well in his early games, laying the ball off to others and creating space for midfielders to take advantage of.
A good example of that came at Blackpool, when he took Andre Dozzell’s pass from deep, setting up Gwion Edwards’ opening goal, while his first start against Rochdale saw him cause the Spotland side’s defence plenty of problems.
His one goal was a match-winner, as he rose in a crowd to head home against Crewe, in what was a perfect example of what he’s all about as a player. Sadly, that’s all we got.
He won the game that day and helped turn it at Plymouth in December, coming off the bench and quickly inspiring a dramatic turnaround, masterfully chesting into the path of Kayden Jackson to fire home the winner as the Blues came from a goal down.
His contribution in his own box was extremely useful, too, as he defended corners well.
Hawkins played a significant amount of football as a centre-back during his time at Pompey but we never saw him in action there in Ipswich blue.
Areas to improve
Hawkins needs to play in a team that suits him. He never had that at Ipswich.
How much of his struggles were down to that and how much was a result of his limitations as a striker is up for debate, but he averaged less than one shot at goal per game during his time leading the line.
Ipswich needed better from their centre forward and, in turn, Hawkins probably needed better from the creative players around him. Either way, it didn’t work.
It’s clear Hawkins doesn’t fit Cook’s desire to have high energy strikers so it wasn’t a surprise to see him moved on.
What the future holds
In Mansfield manager Nigel Clough, Hawkins has a boss who will now play to his strengths.
Speaking since he’s moved, the big striker has admitted he simply needed to leave Ipswich in order to play football this season and is now with a team who will be hoping to challenge for promotion from League Two next season.
His exit suits all parties.