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North Stander: 'We should be good enough for a play-off place, but there are so many unknowns'

Martin Reuser celebrates during Town's famous play-off final win over Barnsley back in 2000 - Terry Hunt fancies a return trip next May! Picture: PA SPORT

Martin Reuser celebrates during Town's famous play-off final win over Barnsley back in 2000 - Terry Hunt fancies a return trip next May! Picture: PA SPORT

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Here we go, then - our first taste of life in football's third tier for 62 years. A journey into the unknown. New grounds, new teams. Will it be a single season, or is this our new reality?

Town owner Marcus Evans (left) and general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill watch on.    Picture: STEVE WALLER     WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COMTown owner Marcus Evans (left) and general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill watch on. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

Here we go, then - our first taste of life in football's third tier for 62 years. A journey into the unknown. New grounds, new teams. Will it be a single season, or is this our new reality?

To be honest, for me the summer has been a welcome break from the trials and tribulations of being a Town fan.

I've enjoyed watching other sports, most notably the cricket World Cup, and I've managed to put football to the back of my mind.

Of course, that blissful state has occasionally been interrupted, like the day when the fixtures were announced. That was a bit of a wake-up call!

MORE: 'If he wants a quick fix I may as well just pack my bags... You need three or four transfer windows' - Lambert reveals his strong words for Evans

But, as we head for August, football is back and now I'm relishing the new season. What am I expecting?

To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. I know what I'm hoping for, which is for Town to get off to a good start and quickly establish themselves in League One's top six.

I believe we should be good enough for a play-off place, but there are so many unknowns as we count down to the big kick-off.

Will Emyr Huws stay fit? What will our back four look like? Will James Norwood play as a lone striker, or will Kayden Jackson join him? Will Andre Dozzell join Norwich? (Surely not...!)

Most of all, how will we adapt to the rough and tumble of life in what I still call the third division? It's certainly no place for faint hearts! One massive positive is that Alan Judge looks as though he's staying. A huge boost.

Another big bonus for the team is our fantastic support. Paul Lambert has performed miracles getting the fans on board after the toxic end to the McCarthy years.

MORE: What the season holds for every member of the Town squad

The atmosphere at games as we faced relegation, the number of season tickets sold, the extraordinary attendances at what are, let's face it, pretty meaningless pre-season friendlies. All have been remarkable, and that momentum will be taken into the beginning of the league campaign.

But, like all of us, Lambert is well aware that his honeymoon period won't last forever. If we find ourselves languishing in mid-table, or worse, after a dozen games or so, then that goodwill is going to be severely tested.

(L-R) Mark Venus, Tony Mowbray and Jim Magilton celebrate as Town make it 4-2 against Barnsley at Wembley back in 2000. Picture: PA SPORT(L-R) Mark Venus, Tony Mowbray and Jim Magilton celebrate as Town make it 4-2 against Barnsley at Wembley back in 2000. Picture: PA SPORT

As I said, top six is a realistic expectation. We've signed a proven goal scorer in Norwood, whose ebullient personality has already established him as a fans' hero - and that's before the vast majority of us have even seen him play!

Talk of automatic promotion is, I believe, fanciful. We will need time to adapt, and our team is still a work in progress. We will, of course, have a very early opportunity to benchmark ourselves against one of the top teams when Sunderland come to Portman Road for the first home game.

Off the field, there are encouraging signs about the club's commitment to the community. I'm delighted by the appointment of Lee O'Neill to his very senior position.

Lee is an Ipswich person through and through. I watched his dad, Tommy O'Neill, play for Town's FA Youth Cup winning team in 1975, alongside the likes of John Wark.

Lee understands Ipswich and Suffolk, and is well aware of the club's long tradition of being at the heart of the community, something which has been lost to a great extent in recent years. Now there is a determination to restore it, and that is to be warmly applauded.

Back to the team. In my first column of last season, I said I really wanted this corner of the newspaper and websites to be a happy place.

Well, very sadly, that didn't happen for reasons we all know and are too painful to dwell on.

MORE: Dave Gooderham - Lambert's nailed the PR - now he has to start winning

So, I'll say it again. I want this season to be successful, I want it to be fun, and I want the restored connection between team and fans to be strengthened further. I want us to score lots of goals, I want Alan Judge to be the classiest player in the division, and I want James Norwood to be the top scorer.

Oh -- and I want to go to Wembley for the League One play-off final next May.

It will be 20 years on from that memorable day in May 2000.

Has a certain ring to it, don't you think?

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