Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town's 3-1 win against Fleetwood
- Credit: Steve Waller-www.stephenwaller.c
Ipswich Town have finished ninth in League One following a final day 3-1 home win against Fleetwood Town. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
GOOD WAY TO FINISH
It was hard not to walk away from this game with a frustrating sense of 'what if?'
Ipswich Town burst out the blocks, playing with energy, tempo, calmness and quality.
Armando Dobra's bamboozling footwork led to James Norwood drilling home inside three minutes.
Gwion Edwards' perseverance allowed him to clinically drill in a second with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
Troy Parrott then produced a cool finish following Dozzell's clipped pass over the top and Norwood's perfectly-weighted assist.
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This match was won inside half an utterly dominant opening half hour.
Wes Burns pulled one back in the second half, the attack-minded right-back again impressing against the Blues (note: he's out of contract soon).
And while Fleetwood had plenty of other openings in a wide open game, Ipswich could and should have added to their tally too.
A Town team that recently went more than 11 hours without scoring would have hit five had Norwood not fluffed a golden chance and Dobra not been denied one-on-one.
So where had this team been all season? Why had they waited until a final day dead rubber to put on a show like this?
As Town fan Mick Lumley pointed out on Twitter, this felt a bit like when Jim Bowen wheeled out the speedboat at the end of Bullseye and said 'here's what you could have won' (a reference which may be lost on the club's new American owners).
It's yet more evidence that the problems this season have largely been psychological.
In the end, Town finished the season ninth and, incredibly, just five points adrift of the play-off places.
Had they converted just three of the recent six goalless draws into wins then we'd be talking about the play-offs right now.
A case of so near, yet so very far.
SAD WAY TO FINISH
There's every chance that this was the last time we'll have seen club stalwarts Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse in Ipswich Town shirts. The big hug between them at the end suggests as much.
If that is the case then it was a really sad way for them to go.
Whatever you think of the pair as footballers, and how big/small their roles in the club's decline over the last few years has been, they deserved a proper send off in front of supporters.
I'd like to think that even their harshest critics would have stood and warmly applauded a duo who have made almost 700 appearances between them during a combined 19 years' service. That sort of longevity is very rare in football these days.
Having sat on the bench for five successive games, Chambers returned to the starting line-up for the injured Kane Vincent-Young. Perhaps fittingly, he produced a more than capable display filling in at right-back - something he's done many a time during his 396 appearances for the club, including in the Championship play-off campaign.
Skuse was introduced in the 78th minute for only his fourth appearance of the season. That looked very much like a sentimental gesture. He will almost certainly bow out on 277 appearances for the club.
Both men, now 35, have invested a great deal of physical and emotional energy into this club. They may yet have roles to play, in some capacity, going forwards. We'll see.
I just hope they get some sort of testimonial when the gates to Portman Road re-open in the future.
NOT ALL ARE FINISHED
Tomorrow will be Paul Cook's version of the 'night of the long knives'. With opinion polls at an all-time low, the Liverpudlian has made it patently clear that a major reshuffle is about to happen.
Chambers and Skuse have been mentioned. We've also got James Wilson, Toto Nsiala, Janoi Donacien, Emyr Huws, Teddy Bishop, Tristan Nydam, Gwion Edwards, Freddie Sears, Kayden Jackson and Aaron Drinan coming to the end of their contracts, with Mark McGuinness, Luke Matheson, Keanan Bennetts, Josh Harrop, Luke Thomas and Troy Parrott's loans all up.
And yet, a core of players will remain that you can feel enthused by.
Kane Vincent-Young, Luke Woolfenden, Andre Dozzell, Flynn Downes, Armando Dobra and James Norwood should all be part of a tighter squad for 2021/22. All have shown their worth in recent games.
Woolfenden admits he has been 'completely average' this season, but has offered a reminder in recent games of the calm qualities that had him linked to Premier League clubs in 2020. Traditionally, Cook likes a ball-playing centre-back.
Dozzell and Downes have started to complement each other nice at the base of the midfield in Cook's preferred 4-2-3-1. Downes barely put a foot wrong today, while some of Dozzell's first time forward passing was sumptuous.
Norwood's finished on double digits for goals for the ninth successive season of his career. Despite all the injury set-backs, he's still managed to score almost every other game in a stuttering side. That has to give hope that he can still live up to true talismanic status with the right service.
And Dobra may just have played his way firmly into Cook's plans for next season with another livewire display on and off the ball. His raw enthusiasm for the game is infectious.
Of the loaness, it's not impossible to see McGuinness and/or Parrott returning. The latter has worked well off Norwood on occasions.
One who definitely won't be coming back is Bennetts - he suffered the ignominy of the sub being subbed after a nightmare afternoon. Town's recruitment certainly needs to be a hell of a lot better than it has been over the last two windows.
Ipswich Town have now recorded finishes of 11th and ninth in the third-tier of English football.
There's no way of dressing that up. To miss out on the play-offs twice is simply unacceptable.
For context, no 'big' clubs have recorded worse back-to-back seasons at this level in modern times without severe financial problems.
Nottingham Forest (05-08) finished 7th, 4th and 2nd. Leeds (07-10) finished 5th, 4th and 2nd. Sheffield Wednesday (10-12) finished 15th and 2nd. Sheffield United - the posters boys for 'good things come to those who wait' - finished 3rd, 5th, 7th, 5th, 11th and 1st between 2011 and 2017. Sunderland have now finished 5th, 8th and 4th. Portsmouth haven't finished below eighth over the last four seasons.
And of course the likes of Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Wolves and Blackburn all bounced back rapidly.
No-one's saying Ipswich have a divine right to promotion (some of the above examples show how tough it is to return to the Championship), but nothing - key injuries, Covid, bad luck - excuses the complete failure of the last two years.
BUT IT IS FINISHED!
Now, mercifully, we can draw a line under a campaign that will be remembered almost exclusively for off-field drama.
It was a season that started with players sticking their fingers in their ears and ended with them putting their tails between their legs.
Behind-closed-doors football has been soulless. The misery of a global pandemic has seen football frustrations heightened behind keyboards.
A soap opera season has included Christmas Covid call-offs, fans' protests, a drawn-out manager change, long-awaited takeover and news that Ed Sheeran will be sponsoring the shirts.
Oh, and there was that time a referee head-butted a player too.
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It's always darkest before the dawn. Let's all hope that brighter days are ahead.