Exit Interview: Norris was the loanee whose high-profile errors sadly overshadowed his strengths
- Credit: Archant
Following the end of his Ipswich Town loan spell last month, ANDY WARREN looks back at the Wolves goalkeeper’s rollercoaster season in Suffolk.
July 30, 2019 was a busy day in the Ipswich Town goalkeeping department.
Bartosz Bialkowski moved to Millwall on loan and, at the same time, Will Norris came through the door on a season-long deal from Wolves.
What followed was a rollercoaster year for all the Town glovesmen, during which things didn’t go according to plan.
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Much of that plan centred around a belief Norris would be the club’s No.1 goalkeeper, at least for one season and hopefully more, but the early form of Tomas Holy proved a welcome spanner in the works.
Norris made 20 appearances as Holy made 25, with neither fully cementing the starting spot, but before the Wolves loanee had even made his league debut Ipswich were making noises about wanting to sign him full-time should they achieve their goal of returning to the Championship.
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What’s clear is that Norris wasn’t helped by the good form of Holy between the sticks, with the Czech goalkeeper impressing early on and being the man with the gloves as the Blues equalled a club-record run of five-successive clean sheets. The fact Holy was a full-time Blue, with Norris only on loan, also comes into the equation when it came to the court of public opinion.
He also wasn’t helped by the fact Holy was in goal as Ipswich won 32 of their 52 league points, with Norris present for the other 20 and in the side as Ipswich’s season came off the rails. It certainly wasn’t all down to him.
Supporters were already beginning to become frustrated by Lambert’s rotation system by the time Norris played his first league game, at Southend, so the fact the Blues’ goalkeepers now appeared to be included in that was confusing and counted against Norris.
Norris had been solid in all of his early cup outings, if not spectacular, and continued in that vein during his first two league matches before making a vital penalty stop in the home FA Cup draw with Lincoln.
He was one of Ipswich’s best performers in the home draw with Blackpool in November before dropping out of the side again, allowing Holy to perform heroics with a dramatic penalty stop against Wycombe just a few days later, before Norris again played well in back-to-back visits to Coventry City.
This was now a peak period for goalkeeper rotation (18 total changes throughout the season, five between League One games) and, with Holy having done little wrong and being a full-time Ipswich player, the reasoning for the regular changes were being questioned.
Much of that questioning related to the potential presence of a clause in Norris’s loan, stating he was required to play games, but no such clause existed. It’s likely Lambert’s desire to play Norris was centred around the fact he was originally viewed as the club’s No.1 for the season, trained to a very high level, fears Wolves could recall him in January if he wasn’t playing games and the fact the Town boss was keen to make the deal permanent should Ipswich win promotion.
His best Ipswich performance arguably came at Portsmouth in November, as he put in a man-of-the-match display in a 1-0 defeat, but things started to go downhill from there.
He looked uncomfortable during the Boxing Day draw with Gillingham, so nearly presenting Mikael Mandron with a goal with a sloppy pass out from the back, before being caught coming off his line for goals at Lincoln and then Wycombe over New Year.
His form picked up, particularly as he mastered terrible conditions at a wet Kassam Stadium, and Norris had a good game in the 1-0 home win over Lincoln and then was unfortunate to end on the losing side as the Blues were beaten at Rotherham. He was perhaps harshly criticised for his part in the Rotherham goal that night, as two Millers were allowed to win free headers inside the Town box.
His error against Peterborough, as he was robbed of possession by Sammie Szmodics, will sadly go down as the lasting memory of his time with the Blues. He will be the first to admit the ball should have been punted into the stand, rather than chopped around the Posh forward on an afternoon where every Ipswich player was well off their best.
Perhaps more than most, he will be disappointed the season ended early, given he ‘had the gloves’ and looked set to complete the run in between the posts and take him close to the 30-game mark.
What went well
While the errors are black marks, it’s easy to forget Norris was solid enough in the majority of his Ipswich appearances. He is a good goalkeeper.
His penalty save against Lincoln was a highlight as his stop from Walker breathed new life into his side, before they eventually found an equaliser, while he showed great reflexes to make important saves in draws with Blackpool and Coventry (x2). Those two Coventry games saw Ipswich play through the thirds and build from the back, with Norris a big part of that. Sadly it wasn’t replicated.
His handling is good, his positioning is good and he is a clear communicator. He’s clearly a strong character as well, fronting up after mistakes, and a popular member of the dressing room.
His excellent display at Portsmouth included three good flying stops, with even more coming at Rotherham.
Areas to improve
Clearly Norris’s costly errors were the source of much frustration, both on the pitch and in the stands, with the period over Christmas and New Year particularly tough.
His decision to charge off his line just before the break at Lincoln was made far too late, allowing Tyler Walker to lob him for a vital goal which undid Town’s good work to battle their way back into the game. They eventually lost 5-3.
An error at Wycombe three days later was less blatant but his dash from the line was needless as he allowed David Wheeler to lob him again. Nothing more needs to be said about the Peterborough mistake.
Clearly, Norris isn’t as imposing a goalkeeper as Holy in terms of size and while he had good games in the air he had some difficult ones as well. It was the same story with his footwork. He had good games playing the ball out from the back but equally had moments where it didn’t happen and he put his side in danger – Peterborough being the most obvious.
Sadly, that’s how goalkeepers are going to be judged.
What the future holds
Norris returns to Wolves at a time when the Molineux club is radically different from the one he joined from Cambridge back in 2017.
These days the men in old gold are pushing for a Champions League place and are still in contention to win this season’s Europa League, with Portuguese icon Rui Patricio between the sticks and England international John Ruddy sitting on the bench.
Both of those will be at the club next season, meaning Norris will at best return to his parent club and be Wolves’ third choice keeper.
He has a year to run on his own contract so a summer move, either loan or permanent, isn’t impossible at a time when he needs to play games.
The Town management like Norris and, as previously stated, had been keen to do a full-time deal following promotion, but the fact the Blues fell so far short and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means that is unlikely to still be on the agenda.
It’s likely Wolves’ thoughts regarding a new contract will have an impact on whether Norris moves on again this summer.