Stuart Watson's big kick-off verdict: 'I get the feeling there will be a mixture of fun and frustration'
PUBLISHED: 06:00 03 August 2019
The time has arrived - Ipswich Town are kicking off life in League One at Burton Albion. STUART WATSON previews the Blues' voyage into the unknown.
In many ways it still doesn't seem real. Ipswich Town in the third-tier of English football.
God knows we've had long enough to get our heads around it. Paul Lambert's men were effectively relegated on the very first day of this calender year. A full 214 days have passed since then.
The fixtures are there in black and white. New logos are on the sleeves. It's happening. Still feels strange though.
If you think I'm padding, you're correct. It's on these pages that I'm meant to tell you - having watched all the games and interviewed all the players - how I see things panning out. I'll be honest, I haven't got a scooby doo.
I can convince myself that hitting the reset button at this level is just what the club needed following a largely joyless, death by a thousand cuts decline in the Championship.
Paul Lambert has had six months to get his feet under the table. Town matched the likes of Derby, Stoke, West Brom and Leeds on their way to relegation. Now they'll be playing, with respect, the likes of Bury, Shrewsbury and Wycombe.
There's experience down the spine of the side. A proven goalscorer has been signed in James Norwood. Emyr Huws is fit again. Alan Judge has stayed. Toto Nsiala, Jon Nolan and Gwion Edwards have done the business at this level. Homegrown talent will have chance to grow.
The wage bill, even following massive cuts, is still big by League One standards.
No more battling the odds. No more tiresome treading of water. Bring. It. On.
We've been here before though haven't we? I admit to being among those excited about the appointment of Paul Hurst and #anewera. Perhaps we only see what we want to see? Perhaps we should be wiser this time around? A healthy does of pessimism does protect against the pain.
Golfers will know the feeling of playing a brilliant 18th hole at the end of a dire round. It tricks you into coming back for more when, just moments earlier, the clubs had almost been chucked in the lake. Maybe that's what the Leeds game was?
Town won five games out of 48 last season. They've won just 14 of their last 80. That's a hell of a bad habit to change overnight.
The Blues went into last season short of senior centre-backs. They do again. The Blues went into last season scrambling to sign a striker. They do so again.
And then there's the injuries. So, so many injuries. Mainly to key players too. Nsiala, Nolan, Teddy Bishop, Jack Lankester, Edwards, Freddie Sears - they'd all be starters if fit. But they're not.
To make matters worse, the fixture computer was not kind. Burton, Sunderland and Peterborough straight off the bat... All three of them should be in the promotion mix. A slow start could see that feelgood factor quickly dissipate.
Where else will the competition come from? Portsmouth and Rotherham should certainly be up there. Blackpool, Fleetwood and Coventry will all fancy their chances following their summer recruitment too.
That doesn't even mention Doncaster, who finished sixth last year, or Lincoln, who enter the division from below with serious momentum.
There are just as many examples of 'big' clubs getting stuck in the third-tier following relegation as there those who have used it as a springboard to bounce back stronger. For every Norwich, Southampton and Wolves, there's a Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Sheffield United.
History, stadium and fanbase could be an advantage. It could be a weakness too. Town will have a target on their backs. Let's see how they deal with the pressure.
This is a voyage into the unknown. One thing I am confident about is that is this team will be set up to win and to entertain. That will buy the manager and players goodwill.
Ultimately, you have to say, not finishing in the top six would be a failure. A plea for patience will have a shelf life.
I get the feeling there will be a mixture of fun and frustration along the way. We'll all have to navigate those bumps in the road together.