Not only is Town’s squad good enough, it’s potentially great
- Credit: Picture: Stephen Waller
EADT and Ipswich Star sports editor Mark Heath shares his thoughts on the season ahead - and who he thinks holds the key to success this campaign.
All things being equal, a fully-fit squad and no late transfer departures, Paul Lambert could field an Ipswich Town first team this season which looks like this...
Tomas Holy, Stephen Ward, Luke Chambers, Luke Woolfenden, Kane Vincent-Young, Andre Dozzell, Teddy Bishop, Flynn Downes, Freddie Sears, James Norwood and Jack Lankester, fitting his now favoured 4-3-3 system.
The second team could be: David Cornell, Myles Kenlock, James Wilson, Toto Nsiala, Janoi Donacien, Cole Skuse, Emyr Huws, Alan Judge, Gwion Edwards, Oli Hawkins and Kayden Jackson.
And that still leaves the likes of Corrie Ndaba, Idris El-Mizouni, Armando Dobra, Jon Nolan and Aaron Drinan as options coming in.
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Two things are clear from the above - one, less interesting observation, is that Town’s squad is still too big.
The second, far sexier conclusion, is that Town’s first team, on paper, should be contending for the League One title this season. A midfield trio which could boss the league, the electrifying Vincent-Young striking terror into the opposition with his rampages from right back, Norwood bagging goals with a system built around him, Sears and Lankester crafting from the edges, experience and leadership from Ward and Chambers. What a prospect.
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In fact, you’d still expect that second team to be pushing for the play-offs in League One - having back-ups as talented as Huws, Judge, Jackson and Edwards leaves Town with an embarrassment of riches in the third tier.
And that convoluted journey through the selection process brings me to my first point. Stop any talk about Town’s squad not being good enough - not only is it good enough, it’s potentially great.
Of course, that all comes with the usual disclaimers - injuries, transfers, global pandemics which bring football to a halt, that sort of thing.
So, Ipswich Town once more stand on the cusp of a season where they simply must push for promotion. This season, even more than last, going up is vital - the yawning chasm opening between the Championship and League One, aided further by the lowly £2.5m third tier salary cap, is not a divide Town can risk being on the wrong side of for much longer.
When Premier League 2 becomes an actual thing - it surely can’t be long – Town have to be in it.
Last season, as we all know, was unacceptable. Paul Lambert rightly took most of the heat – cooled, it must be said, by Covid-19 – but in reality he was never going anywhere.
It’s encouraging to hear him acknowledging he made mistakes last campaign, and to be fair to the fiery Scot, he’s backing those words up with actions so far this pre-season and in the cup and trophy games.
A consistent formation is in place, a style of play too, and the boss is insisting the baffling rotation of last season is also a thing of the past, stressing that once players have earned the shirt they’ll keep it until their play demands otherwise.
All of which brings me to my second key point. The success of this season falls on their shoulders.
If Lambert sticks to his word and plays his best XI every week, they simply must stand up and be counted. Last season, one couldn’t blame them too much for things falling apart when no-one really knew who the first choice, every game generals were on the field.
As long as that changes this campaign, the players are the ones who will make or break the 2020/21 season. And, as a player, a professional athlete whose job it is to thrive in high-pressure situations. that should be exactly how you’d want it.
All of them, to a man, are good characters. All of them, to a man, would accept that last season wasn’t good enough – that they weren’t good enough.
But that’s the beauty of football, and sports in general. Every new season is a reset, a chance to go again.
And thus we arrive at my final point. If Ipswich Town’s success this season is truly allowed to rest on the shoulders of the players, then we’re in business.
Like I said, not only is this squad good enough, it’s potentially great.
Now it’s time to prove it.