Nydam is back after 580 days out... patience is needed but the forgotten man can still be a real asset for Ipswich Town
- Credit: ITFC
Tuesday was a momentous day for one member of the Ipswich Town squad.
I’m not talking about James Norwood, who proved the match-winner at Hull that night and I’m not talking about Myles Kenlock, who again enhanced his growing reputation with a stunning assist and another solid display at left-back.
And I’m not even talking about Paul Lambert, who finally led his side to a statement victory against one of the League One big guns after two years of misery in those contests.
But for Tristan Nydam, a windy afternoon at Playford Road was the low-key setting for a long-awaited comeback.
The Under 23 game with QPR came 580 days after a nasty ankle break at Notts County in July 2019, with the youngster requiring oxygen on the pitch before being rushed to hospital in the closing stages of the pre-season friendly.
Recovery has been slow, not helped by football shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning medical and physio support has not been as readily available as usual. It’s taken hours in the gym and plenty of patience and, surely, moments where he wondered if it would ever happen for him.
He managed 52 minutes in the 1-1 draw and is said to have looked sharp, considering he hadn’t played for nearly two years and was flying into tackles, proving there is no mental block after such a bad injury. All positive signs.
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There was a sense he wanted to play longer before being replaced in the second half, with coaching duo Kieron Dyer and Terry Butcher keen to ensure the 21-year-old wasn’t pushed too hard, too soon.
The road back to the first-team is still likely to be a long one, with no need to rush.
“There’s no pressure from me to come back too quickly but it’s good to see him progressing,” Lambert said recently.
“We don’t know the level he’s going to come back at because that was a nasty injury. I was right next to it when it happened and it really wasn’t nice at all.
“The great thing is he’s back playing football and hopefully he can hit the heights people expect. But there’s no pressure.”
The injury in July 2019 came at a particularly cruel time for the Zimbabwe-born academy product, as he was pushing for a first-team place ahead of Town’s League One season following a year in the wilderness.
A wasted, lonely five months on loan at St Johnstone during the second half of 2018 meant he was unable to back-up a breakthrough 2017/18 season, in which he made 20 appearances during Mick McCarthy’s final campaign.
Those appearances came in the centre of midfield, where Nydam showed tenacity, good positional sense and plenty of ability on the ball as he broke into the first-team picture alongside Flynn Downes.
Then, in the final dress rehearsal for Paul Hurst in a pre-season friendly against West Ham, he lined up in a midfield three alongside Downes and Andre Dozzell. The picture of them, as well as Luke Woolfenden, taken before the game felt iconic and the future looked bright at the start of a ‘new era’. That was even before they put in an excellent performance as a unit against Premier League opposition.
Downes and Woolfenden have become mainstays of the Town side, watched by Premier League clubs, while Dozzell has had admirers from above since he was 14. But unhelpful loan moves, managerial changes and his nasty injury have combined to see Nydam left behind a little, having been rated just as highly, if not higher, than his team-mates as they came through the ranks together.
The quartet have never all appeared in a competitive game together for the Blues. Nydam’s loan to St Johnstone and Woolfenden’s temporary spell with Swindon put paid to that in the short term, but the prospect looked very real during the summer of 2019 as Town prepared for the third tier.
By this point Nydam was playing at left-back, impressing on the tour of Germany and offering a very real solution to an area which had proved problematic for the Blues, prior to the signing of Luke Garbutt.
It’s in that position that Nydam reappeared on Tuesday at Playford Road, with the 21-year-old's tenacity, ability on the ball and impressive engine meaning he is equally comfortable playing on the left of a back four or in the middle of the field.
Nydam is out of contract in just four months but the Blues do hold the option to extend his stay by a further 12 months. It’s an option Town are almost certain to take.
He’s one of more than 30 players whose deals don’t run past the end of June, at which point there is likely to be a significant turnover in the Town playing squad, regardless of what division the club is in next season.
And that’s when the real work will start for the academy graduate as he bids to pick up where he left off in the summer of 2019.
If he can, a forgotten man could be a real asset for Ipswich Town.