‘I lost focus... but now I’m back in contention’ – Ndaba has his sights set on league debut
Ipswich Town defender Corrie Ndaba has his sights set on a first team breakthrough this season.
The 20-year-old centre-back was a player who quickly caught Lambert’s eye when the Scot first took over at Portman Road in 2018, with the Blues boss insisting a senior debut was not far away.
Lambert soon went back on that decision though, saying the Irishman’s performances in the Under-23s had ‘tailed off’. Ndaba was subsequently out of the picture last season, having a couple of brief loan spells at non-league clubs Hemel Hempstead and Chelsmford, as well as a trial at Ayr United.
Another loan exit looked likely this season, following the arrival of Mark McGuinness from Arsenal, but an injury to Stephen Ward saw that called off and Ndaba, who Lambert says ‘came back to pre-season with a real maturity about him’, has started all three EFL Trophy group matches.
Speaking after last night’s 2-0 loss at Crawley, which put Town out of the competition, Ndaba – who currently has McGuinness, Luke Woolfenden, Toto Nsiala and James Wilson ahead of him in the pecking order – said: “I’ve just got to keep working hard every day and try and give the gaffer a problem when picking his team for league games because ultimately that’s what I want to do.”
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Looking back on 2018, he said: “That was a tough time for me because I thought I was going to play then obviously I didn’t do as well as I should have done. I dropped out of first team training.
“I did need that. I probably wasn’t as focused as I was when he first came in. Obviously I was trying my best, but sometimes as a young player you can have ups and downs. I had a bit of a down time last year, but I’m happy to put that behind me.
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“This season I’ve got myself back on it. I worked really hard every day during lockdown. I started the season with the 23s and I told myself ‘I need to be the best player, I need to get up with the first team’. I’ve got myself back in and I am hopefully back in contention again.”
He added: “I don’t regret that period because it’s showed me that I have to keep on it every day and not slack off because you can easily lose your place and drop down the pecking order.
“I just want to work as hard as I can and do it every day in training. The gaffer says I’ve got to give him a problem, so that’s my goal. I have to give him a problem and get myself in contention to start a league game.
“There are some very good young players here and the gaffer gives them a chance in training and games like this. It’s up to them to prove what they can do and today they’ve done that.
“I like the way the gaffer plays. He wants to play out and that suits me. I like playing and I’m comfortable on the ball. Hopefully I can keep doing well and get myself into the team.”
On the potential for a loan exit in January, he said: “I did think I would have to go on loan to get some experience this season, but the gaffer spoke to me and said there was going to be chances for me to play in these sorts of games (EFL Trophy). He told me to stay because Wardy (Stephen Ward) had got injured.
“If a loan is a possibility in January I’ll speak to the gaffer and see what he thinks. I want to play at the best level I can, but I also want to play at the right club for me.
“Ultimately I want to play for Ipswich. I’ve been here since I was 15 and that’s my goal. Hopefully it can happen soon.
“We have a lot of good young players and the breakthrough can easily happen for anyone. Brett McGavin got his chance the other day in the FA Cup against Portsmouth and did well so it’ll be interesting to see what happens next for him.”
Meanwhile, Ndaba praised the role of senior defenders Luke Chambers and Stephen Ward in his recent progress. He said: “I used to live with Chambo and he’s always been good to me. He’s a funny guy. He’s chilled out, but he kept me on it as well. He wanted me to do well and I appreciate everything he’s done for me. He’s helped me a lot and always given me advice.
“Stephen Ward coming in has been brilliant. He’s an Irish legend, I’ve grown up watching him on TV, and he’s put his arm around me. When he came in I thought he was going to be one of these old pros moaning and stuff, but he’s been great! It’s good to have him in.
“Even the likes of Totes (Nsiala), Willo (Wilson), JD (Janoi Donacien) – they’re all good. It’s good to have players like that around the team.”