Exit Interview: Loanee Garbutt was the poster boy for early-season optimism
- Credit: Archant
Luke Garbutt scored six goals in 30 games for Ipswich Town during his loan from Everton. ANDY WARREN looks back at the left-sider’s season at Portman Road
Ipswich have had success with Everton loanees in recent years, in the form of Callum Connolly and Matthew Pennington, so hopes were high when Garbutt signed on the dotted line.
He joined up with the Blues for their pre-season training camp in Germany and, once he took to the field, it was clear to see Paul Lambert had acquired a player who added something different to his side.
The Town boss said he ‘had a plan’ for a player who had spent the majority of his career as a left-back, but operated in an advanced role during the second half of a loan at Oxford the previous season.
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Injuries to Town’s wide players saw him take up the latter role from the start and things couldn’t have begun better, as he eased the tension in the air with a deflected goal which secured three points on the opening day against Burton. Another goal followed against Sunderland a week later as Garbutt’s stock continued to rise, but he limped off with a knee injury 20 minutes which kept him out for seven games.
He was back with a bang, though, netting a stunning free-kick on his second game back against Tranmere. All was rosy in table-topping Ipswich’s garden. Talk had already moved towards a permanent deal for Garbutt with Town back in the Championship, with his record now reading three goals in just four games. He was providing them, too, with his free-kicks setting up strikes for Kayden Jackson against both Tranmere and Accrington as the unbeaten run went on.
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Having slipped back into a more defensive role he had to wait two months for another goal, though, as he struck from the spot against Blackpool before a header in the FA Cup against Coventry and another excellent free-kick at Lincoln in the final game of 2019.
His clever free-kick brought Town’s first goal of 2020 as he crossed for James Norwood to head home but, by this stage, the wheels were beginning to fall off Ipswich’s promotion challenge as they slid down the table.
Garbutt was being hindered by injury now, too, with a thigh issue causing a nagging issue before he suffered a knee injury which would have kept him out of Town’s visit to Bristol Rovers had it not been cancelled on March 13.
His season started so promisingly, just as Ipswich’s did, but while he maintained high standards throughout, he and his team simply couldn’t maintain their blistering form at the beginning of an extremely promising campaign.
What went well
When Garbutt was at his best, Ipswich were too.
His start to life in Suffolk was blistering and he epitomised early day optimism.
He was confident, direct, always looked a threat and, while he and the team couldn’t keep it up for the entire season, Garbutt continued to perform well.
He’s excellent on the ball, looks to use it positively whenever he gets it and is capable of putting dangerous balls into the box and shooting from range in equal measure.
His set-pieces were of course a real plus and gave the Blues an additional threat, with a murmur of expectancy creeping throughout Portman Road whenever he stood over the ball from range. It was exciting.
He really embraced his move to Ipswich, too. Plenty of players say the right thing when they join clubs on loan but Garbutt clearly understood the Ipswich fans’ expectations and looked to thrive on them. His upbringing at Everton clearly helped in that regard.
He was asked about his long-term future regularly throughout the campaign and always spoke positively about the club and its supporters.
Areas to improve
Garbutt was a consistent performer for the vast majority of his loan spell but any criticism that did come his way related to his defensive ability, rather than for his attacking contribution.
Despite starting the campaign as a left winger he played the vast majority as either a left-back or at wing-back. It will be interesting to see where he ends up playing for his next club and whether he’s given the opportunity to show off his attacking tendencies or whether he is still regarded as a defender.
He could sometimes be caught out positionally at the back, perhaps due to a desire to get forward, and could have done more to stop crosses into the box on a number of occasions throughout the campaign. The loss at Blackpool highlighted some areas to improve, as he was involved in both goals conceded due to lapses in concentration.
His set-pieces weren’t always on point, particularly in latter days of the season as the threat dried up, when compared to the extremely high standards he set earlier in the campaign, while nagging injuries made things difficult during the latter weeks of his time with Ipswich.
What the future holds
Garbutt will be a free agent in just a few days at the expiration of his Everton contract, with the 27-year-old knowing this day was coming for some time.
He has insisted he won’t close the door on a full-time move to Portman Road, having enjoyed his loan spell, but did also admit he wants to play at as high a level as he possibly can.
So will we see him in an Ipswich shirt again? A lot of that will be down to finance.
Can the Blues’ afford to push the boat out for a player who would surely be one of the club’s higher earners? Are Championship clubs interested to the extent they can offer him both football at a higher level and a bigger contract? The coronavirus pandemic and its impact on football at all levels will of course play a major role.
At 27, following years of nomadic existence during six loans, Garbutt is ready to find a new home to kickstart his career. Some big decisions lie ahead.
Landing Garbutt full-time would be a major coup for Ipswich but you have to feel they will have their work cut out.