A new cult hero, errors and plenty of change - a strange season between the Ipswich Town sticks
- Credit: Archant
ANDY WARREN looks back at a season of change in Town’s goalkeeping department following the arrival of both Tomas Holy and Will Norris in the summer.
It’s been a funny old season in the Ipswich Town goalkeeping department.
Following five years of stability with the combination of Bartosz Bialkowski and Dean Gerken, the summer of 2019 brought real change which never really settled down throughout the course of the campaign.
Gerken departed, Tomas Holy came through the door and then the Bialkowski saga began as the Pole’s permanent move to Millwall collapsed before ultimately being rescued as a loan deal. That prompted the arrival of Will Norris and the start of a new battle for the No.1 jersey which never produced a clear winner.
“We’ve had great competition between the two of them,” goalkeeping coach Jimmy Walker said of Holy and Norris.
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“Tomas started superbly and looked like he was going to stay in there but credit to Will, he trained every day to a really good level and it was a good battle for the jersey. Will played a couple of games in the cups and did well and eventually deserved a chance.
“From then it was chopping and changing and it was difficult to pick who was going to cement the No.1 spot. It was great, though.”
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Neither keeper truly established themselves as No.1, with Holy playing 21 of Town’s 36 league games and Norris taking the remaining 15. Norris had the shirt when played was halted in March, having just reclaimed it from his Czech team-mate.
Holy’s ride was somewhat smoother as his giant frame and infectious character helped him become a fan favourite from day one, even if he was initially brought in to serve as the back-up goalkeeper. The protracted nature of Bialkowski’s departure meant his replacement, Norris, didn’t arrive until the eve of the season, meaning the starting role was Holy’s to lose.
The fact the 6ft 9inch keeper equalled a long-standing club-record run of consecutive clean sheets soon after arriving certainly helped his cause.
“We were given a certain budget we had to work to and Tomas fitted the bill,” Walker said of Holy’s signing.
“We weren’t sure how high he would go but since coming in he’s worked tirelessly and he’s fantastic to work with. He wants to learn every day and sometimes he does too much meaning you have to slow him down a little bit.
“He’s bought into everything and started the season fantastically well, so for me it was really pleasing.”
His season wasn’t without fault, but Walker and the rest of the coaching staff are pleased with Holy’s progress in terms of his movement, starting position and shape, meaning he’s likely to enter the new campaign as No.1,
But Norris’s presence certainly helped Holy along, even though the ‘wolf from Wolves’ took his place in the side.
Whichever goalkeeper Ipswich signed to replace Bialkowski (Remi Matthews and Matt Ingram were serious options) was always primed to be the club’s new No.1, but Norris’s late arrival and Holy’s impressive start meant the Wolves man had to wait until the middle of October for a chance.
“I’m not always a fan of having goalkeepers on loan and I’d rather develop my own, but he’s one who has been a real asset to us and we’ve used the loan window really well there,” Walker said of Norris.
“He’s a fantastic guy to have around and he’s a solid trainer every single day.
“It’s not always happened for him in games with the odd blip but he’s been consistently great throughout. He’s come off after games thinking he can do better but then we work on it.”
Norris’s time in an Ipswich shirt was rocky, with the loanee caught off his line for goals at Lincoln and Wycombe before a bad error in the mauling by Peterborough at Portman Road. Sadly, this is how he’s likely to be remembered, rather than for the series of solid performances he did put in.
“When mistakes happen we all feel it,” Walker said. “Any coach’s role is to have their players’ backs.
“If one of my goalkeepers makes a mistake then I feel like I’ve made a mistake. I’m there with them. Likewise when they do well I like to think it’s because they feel strong because we’re together as a group.
“Mistakes always happen but it’s about how you react to them during the game because there’s no hiding place. You have to be mentally strong – I know that because I’ve chucked so many in my own net during my own career – and it’s about trying to react to the mistake. Hopefully, if you’re solid for the rest of it then you have a chance to redeem yourself later on in the game.”
Town boss Paul Lambert changed his goalkeeper 18 times between games last season, including for cup competitions, with the Scot making the switch between Holy and Norris five times in League One. So how were those decisions made?
“The way I see my job as coach is to get them both into the best position to be available for selection for the manager,” Walker said.
“We analyse the games and work on things in training for the next week, making sure they’re all right for Saturday, as well as working on things with the one not playing so that they are ready if they’re needed.
“Then come the Friday or the Saturday they’re both in the position to play games. It’s an ideal scenario for me, really, in that they were both in such a good place to give the manager a headache. It makes me feel like I’m doing my job right.
“Then we sit down together to go through things ahead of games but at the end of the day that’s what the manager’s there for, to make decisions and live and die by those.
“We all have an input but I try to get them as fit as possible, in as good a shape as possible and then hand them over on a Friday and ask the manager which way he wants to go.
“Both brought different things to the table and that’s why it’s been hard to choose between the two of them. Tomas and Will both had so much to bring to the team so it’s been a real tough one.”