Exit interview: Earl was the masked man who was a safe pair of hands in a struggling Ipswich Town team
- Credit: Archant
Josh Earl has left Ipswich Town after his loan spell from Preston ended. ANDY WARREN runs the rule over the defender’s short spell at Portman Road.
When Josh Earl’s arrival from Preston North End was announced in the middle of January it wasn’t immediately clear what role he was destined to fulfil at Portman Road.
It wasn’t much clearer by the end of it, either.
He joined soon after Toto Nsiala’s loan departure to Bolton, with the fact Earl is left-footed pointing to the possibility he could slide into the back four and offer balance at a time when the Town backline was packed with right-footers.
But he spent as much time playing as either a left-back or a left wing-back as he did in the middle of the defence.
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It was clear Earl would need to be patient upon his arrival as the triumvirate of Luke Chambers, James Wilson and Luke Woolfenden performed well as a unit in the three games immediately following, conceding just once as Town picked up seven points from a possible nine.
A facial injury, suffered in training thanks to a flailing arm of Wilson, certainly didn’t help and left him sidelined for a brief spell, leaving him to make his debut as a substitute at Sunderland wearing a protective mask.
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But three successive defeats to promotion rivals (Rotherham, Sunderland and Peterborough) meant his chance did eventually come.
His first start, at Wimbledon, came at left-back and he operated as wing-back, in a defensive three and a back four during the remainder of his time at Ipswich.
From a personal point of view he’ll surely feel he performed well enough, showing he has a rounded game, without making a major impact on his side’s fortunes.
Results during his time at Portman Road were poor as Town slipped from top spot down to their current position of 10th.
In all, Ipswich took just four points from the 21 available during his seven appearances.
What went well
After a false start, Earl was able to show flashes of what he was all about.
It was clear he is a defender comfortable on the ball, is mobile and versatile. He’s decent in the air and can track runners. He looks a good all-rounder.
His first start at AFC Wimbledon was quiet yet promising, as he got forward on a few occasions, before moving into the back three and impressing in the 4-1 victory over Burton. He was solid defensively that day, producing an excellent late block to deny Lukas Akins.
He looked a particularly good one-on-one defender.
Further good blocks came against Oxford and then Fleetwood, as he put in solid displays in all of his Ipswich outings.
Areas to improve
Aside from his facial injury, another issue which looked to be holding Earl back was the fact he never truly nailed down one position in the team.
He played as a left wing back, a left back, on the left of a central defensive three and the heart of a back four. His versatility helped Ipswich but possibly hindered him.
While he’s comfortable on the ball and confident in possession, when he was deployed in the wide defensive roles, he didn’t offer the same attacking threat as Luke Garbutt and wasn’t able to get forward and cross as often as you would like.
There were one or two wobbly moments in possession, notably one at Blackpool which needed Chambers to bail him out defensively before Earl couldn’t cut out the cross which led to Joe Nuttall’s late winner at Bloomfield Road. He was also unable to stop the ball into the box which supplied Matty Taylor’s goal for Oxford at Portman Road, despite doing well to get out to James Henry initially.
What the future holds
Earl heads back to Preston at a time when Alex Neil’s side are, once the game resumes, still fighting for a Championship play-off spot. They currently sit sixth.
He won’t be playing, though, given he’s already represented Ipswich and Bolton this season and can’t turn out for his parent club due to FIFA’s three-club rule.
He’s well thought-of at Deepdale and looks to be part of their future plans, although it’s not impossible that could include a further loan next season.
Were that to be the case, don’t completely rule out the Blues coming calling again.