Owning his mistakes, protecting the jewels and signing a left back - Lambert’s key summer jobs
Paul Lambert may be under fire after Ipswich Town’s poor season, but he’s not going anywhere. Mark Heath looks at the key tasks on the Blues boss’ to-do list this summer if Town are to improve next season.
1) Own your mistakes
It’s well-documented that Town raced out of the traps at the start of last season, charging to the summit of League One and sharing unbeaten status with only mighty Liverpool as late as October.
But then it all fell apart, for largely self-inflicted reasons - and Lambert simply must be big enough to accept his mistakes and learn from them.
According to our post-season polls, fans believe the much-maligned rotation system was chief among the culprits, and Lambert himself acknowledged recently that it’s something he would change.
But there are more lessons than just that to learn - Lambert needs to identify a consistent style of play and formation (more on that soon), plus think about whether postponing games for international breaks, as Town did last season, thus stunting their own momentum, is a good idea.
If Lambert can’t admit his errors and learn from them, Town won’t be getting any better next season.
2) Protect the crown jewels
If Town were the Tower of London, Flynn Downes and Luke Woolfenden would be housed within, resting upon plush cushions in a perspex box as visitors filed by and marvelled at their splendour.
And teams higher up the league pyramid haver certainly had their heads turned by Town’s diamonds, with midfielder Downes linked to West Ham and defender Woolfenden to Sheffield United, among others.
If Town are to mount a promotion push next season – and they must – the local lads will form the backbone of that team and lead the charge. To lose either would be a blow. Signing Woolfenden to a new long-term deal last week was a great start, but that still doesn’t guarantee he’ll be staying - just perhaps increases his value should a bigger boy come calling.
Of course, there are some offers which can’t be refused, and should Town be offered the proverbial ‘silly money’ for either or both, then Lambert and Marcus Evans will have some big decisions to make.
If one or both of the diamond duo are moved on, it’s vital that the funds raised are ploughed back into the team, and not just painting the Portman Road turnstiles.
3) Sign Luke Garbutt/a left-back
Loanee Luke was a revelation last season, wielding his wand of a left foot with aplomb to fire in some fantastic free-kicks and corking crosses.
But his loan has now expired, and Garbutt is without a club having been released by Everton.
Town would love to sign the dangerous defender, but you’d think he will be in high demand, with offers surely coming in from the Championship too.
Garbutt said himself that, while he wouldn’t rule out a return to Town, he wants to play at the highest level possible, so it seems unlikely he’ll be back.
If Town can’t sign him, Lambert needs to fill that gap with quality - the jury’s stil out on whether Myles Kenlock is up to the task of making that spot his own.
4) Find a formation
As mentioned earlier, one of Lambert’s faux pas was undoubtedly not sticking to a formation and tinkering too much.
To be fair, his hand was slightly forced on this one - Town likely wanted to play a 4-2-3-1 going into the 2019/20 pre-season, but the form of Kayden Jackson in the warm-up games made it hard to leave him out when the matches mattered.
Thus Town ended up going with a 4-4-2 to begin with, but Lambert tried all sorts during the season to try and kick start their crumbling campaign.
Consistency is the hallmark of successful sides, as well as being something which Town fans crave, so Lambert needs to get his ducks in a row.
Whatever he decides, build that identity throughout training and pre-season, and keep the faith.
5) Decide on your best XI
Every side is going to make changes during the rough and tumble of a football season, but you got the feeling at times last year that Lambert was flinging mud at the wall and seeing what stuck when it came to team selection.
While the odd switch here and here is to be expected, your key men have to know that, when the chips are down, they are the generals whom you expect to put the side on their shoulders.
Downes and Woolfenden aside, it wasn’t at all clear who Lambert’s most-trusted were last season.
When Mick McCarthy’s side of proper blokes reached the Championship play-offs against all the odds, the team barely changed - and you knew they would all stand up and be counted.
Obviously you need a bit of luck injury-wise to replicate that - but that should be the aim.
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