|ITFC - Season Preview|
Written by willrigs16 on Wednesday, 22nd Aug 2012 14:28
Hi, my name is Will Ridgard and I'm an aspiring sport journalist studying Sport Journalism at the University of Brighton, where I am now entering my third and final year. A keen Ipswich Town fan, I have written my own preview for the season ahead below. Feel free to comment, I welcome any feedback you might have. Hope you enjoy the read. COYB
Following Coventry City’s relegation into League 1 last season, Ipswich Town are now the Championship’s longest-serving side. This will be their 11th consecutive season in England’s second tier.
The aim has always been to get back into the ‘promised land’ of the Premier League but after several flirtations with the play-offs, these never really materialised as The Tractor Boys have now acquired a name as a mid-table side, settling only for mediocrity.
Last season was Paul Jewell’s first full season in charge and arguably little if no progress was made following Roy Keane’s disappointing tenure. Town mustered a 15th placed finish and Jewell was heavily criticised for his transfer policy of brining experienced ex-Premier League players in, who, to be honest, looked to be on their last legs, earning a nice little wager to go with it.
Ivar Ingimarsson, Ibrahima Sonko, Jimmy Bullard and Lee Bowyer all failed to live up to the hype of their ‘former-selves’ in their careers and have now been moved on by Jewell, who after realising his transfer inadequacies, has sought to bring hungrier and younger players to the club this summer.
And although Jewell has found it another hard pre-season to identify and sign certain targets, he has added four new faces to his squad so far.
18-year-old right back Elliott Hewitt looks to be a promising bit of business following his arrival from Macclesfield while goalkeeper Scott Loach will challenge Arran Lee-Barrett for the number one berth. Former Nottingham Forest captain Luke Chambers should also tighten up a rather leaky back-line while high hopes are held for Tottenham midfielder and loanee Massimo Luongo following his impressive performances so far in pre-season.
There is no doubt that the Tractor Boys are still a few faces short of a squad capable of competing in the demanding 46-game long haul of the Npower Championship.
I will now take an in-depth look at the current playing squad and highlight where they may be room for improvement.
A position which arguably hasn’t been resolved for a number of seasons, Jewell spent most of his summer targeting and signing an established number one who will give the club and defence the stability and security it needs.
And although Lee-Barrett has proved that he is a more than able shot-stopper, question marks still surround his consistency, something which Jewell obviously had his concerns about.
After seemingly dozens of apparent trialists and transfer targets such as highly rated ex-Hearts stopper Marian Kello and former Red Devil Tomasz Kuszczak, Jewell finally ended his search for a new number one with the signing of ex-England under-21 ‘keeper Scott Loach from Watford.
A boyhood Ipswich Town fan, Loach made his dream move for an undisclosed fee and although Watford fans often criticised Loach for some of his displays, he is still young and maybe just needed a fresh start at a new club. Having performed for the England Under-21s and even been called up to the senior side, he obviously does have the talent, let’s just hope he fulfils that at Ipswich.
New signing Hewitt will add competition for current skipper Carlos Edwards at right-back. The Wales under-21 international, who has also captained the under-17 side, is currently recovering from a hip operation and is expected to be fit in September.
At centre-half, the versatile Chambers should settle alongside Tommy Smith, who has just returned from the Olympic Games with New Zealand. Damien Delaney will start as cover, although there has been speculation that the lanky Irishman could be on his way out of Portman Road, with Nottingham Forest reportedly expressing an interest.
I still think we need another quality centre-back to stern up our back-line, which has had a nasty habit of conceding an awful lot of goals in recent seasons. A physically and mentally excelling leader is needed who can vocally shore up and organise not only the back four but others in front of them. Although not everybody’s cup of tea at Town – Gareth McAuley was exactly this and has proven this after his excellent debut season with West Brom in the Premier League. Going back further than that, the last centre-back we had of this calibre was Jason de Vos, and what a defender he was!
At left-back, Aaron Cresswell will look to add to his impressive displays last season which rightly saw him crowned our Player of the Season. Defensively solid, comfortable on the ball and with a sweet left-foot, it is no surprise that Aston Villa inquired about his availability – thankfully though Town managed to push off their interest by setting a price target (reportedly of £6 million) which Villa weren’t prepared to meet.
The promising 18-year-old Joe Whight will look to challenge Cresswell and make his Town debut this season having featured in most of Town’s pre-season fixtures while the versatile Jack Ainsley will look prove that he is more than just a back-up squad player.
Town are worryingly thin of options in central midfield following the departures of Bowyer and Bullard. 19-year-old Luongo looks to be a real gem, and hopefully he will be able to stay for the duration of his season-long loan. Fellow youngster Luke Hyam found his chances limited under Jewell when the ex-Wigan and Derby boss first took charge but after impressing during a spell last season, the academy graduate will look to push on this season and win himself a long-term deal with his boyhood club.
Andy Drury was in a similar position to Hyam last season, shipped out on loan to Crawley, and with speculation rising about his future; Drury got his head down and fought his way into Jewell’s plans, becoming one of the stand-out performers from January onwards. With only three recognised central midfielders, there is certainly room for another – I think an experienced midfielder is needed to balance out the fresh but youthful and inexperienced pairing of Hyam and Luongo (this will be his first full season as a professional). However, although experience is key, the sought-after player must still be able to be fit enough to play this standard of football and certainly still have the urge to want to play, something Bowyer and Bullard failed to live up to during their one-year stays.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas will also look to build on the form he accumulated during 2012. Big things were expected of the Arsenal graduate when he signed last summer but like all players, he took his time to settle before finding his feet in the second half of the season. What you must not forget about JET is that at 21 he is still only young and learning the game. He has already expressed that he is feeling fitter than ever ahead of this season and will hopefully excel and add to the six league goals he scored last year from the right-wing.
Depending on the formation used, Lee Martin has a very important season in front of him. Signed by Roy Keane in 2009, the ex-Manchester United failed to impress and was soon cast out on loan to Charlton and made available for transfer. However, under Jewell, the wideman, who operates best behind the striker, has rekindled his career and is really proving to be a fan favourite with his dazzling, creative and full-of-running displays. Question marks still surround his temperament but with this being the last year of his contract, he will hopefully knuckle down and have a consistent run and good season.
Josh Carson appears the favourite to start on the left-wing if Jewell is to pick his revised 4-2-3-1 formation. Quick and willing to run at defenders, it is a big season for the Northern Ireland international, who has been in and out of the side since Jewell took charge. Daryl Murphy made the position his own when he was on loan last year but with the Irishman seemingly not returning despite interest from Town to make the switch permanent, the pavement is clear for Carson to step in. Ryan Stevenson, signed from Hearts in January, will have something to say about that though. Town fans have not really seen much from the Scot but from first impressions seems a bullish type player who is not afraid to have a shot.
The good thing about JET, Martin, Carson, Stevenson and Drury as well is that they are all versatile in the roles that they can play. If Jewell is to play the 4-2-3-1 formation then they can all play in any position of those three advanced places. Young Byron Lawrence will also look to break more frequently into the squads, having made his debut at the age of just 16 on the last day of the season.
Rejuvenated from his rehabilitation after his gambling problems, Michael Chopra starts as Ipswich’s main striker. After coming clean about his addiction, the talismanic forward has revealed that this is the fittest and hungriest he has felt in all his time in professional football. He accumulated 14 goals in 42 games last season, but admits he was far from his best and is targeting around 25-30 this year, nothing like putting pressure on yourself Michael.
Jason Scotland has proven to be a bit of a fan favourite at Portman Road, despite, like many others in the squad, a difficult start. Although not that once deadly fearsome striker at Swansea, the ex-Trinidad and Tobago international can definitely still have an impact at this level of football. At 33, he knows he is not going to start every game but accepts this and is just professional about his job. He can still play a bit too, transforming his game to bring others in to play. He will prove another valuable asset for Town from the bench or if Jewell opts for two upfront, from the start.
Beyond these two, Town are again worryingly short of options. Fresh from his successful loan spell at Swindon last season, academy graduate Ronan Murray should get more minutes for Town this year. Clever on the ball and with an eye for a pass, Murray is also very versatile meaning he could see game time in one of the wide berths or in the role behind the striker over the course of the season.
Nathan Ellington is surplus to requirements so it is clear to see that Jewell needs to add one, maybe two more frontmen to the equation. After being linked with every striker under the sun, I would personally like to see Town sign a big target man striker and a quick nippy one. I think Town fans really miss someone with the character, physical presence and mould of a Shekfi Kuqi/Alan Lee (before he turned to the dark side); they were crowd pleasers who also scored a few goals for the club. Free agents Emile Heskey and Dave Kitson have been linked but I’m not convinced they would do the business.
The trouble with Town’s strikers at the minute is none of them have much height or pace. If we have to go long for one reason or another, we’re not exactly going to trouble Championship defenders in the air are we? They will just gobble it easily. Likewise, if we play a ball over the top - Chops and Scotland are not going to pull away from defenders. When we had someone to bring on like Danny Haynes, the crowd again got excited, he was a fresh young talent who frightened the pants of opposing defenders with his blistering pace (just ask those neighbours down the road). I think we need someone like that again.
It is clear to see that although our starting 11 is strong and very capable of competing in the npower Championship, we do not have the required strength in depth to pull away from this mid-table fiasco we keep finding ourselves in season after season.
We need to add players desperately to our paper-thin squad otherwise it is just no good. Injuries and suspensions do happen over the course of the season, and if we get too many of these at the wrong time or to the wrong players, then you never know what might happen. We currently have 22 players signed on ready and raring to go but eight of these are under the age of 21 and have no or very little playing experience.
As mentioned, we still need around four more players to be able to really compete and fulfil our potential, because don’t get me wrong – we do have some damn good players here but it’s not just about the starting 11 any more, it’s about the whole squad, and at the moment that is only strong enough for a mid-table finish.
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Blogs 270 bloggers
Season's Beatings by Moggasknockdown
It is a bitterly disheartening experience supporting Ipswich. At every sliding doors moment in our recent history we have taken the wrong path, at every opportunity for schadenfreude an ex-player will decisively score, or create or generally remind us all that they are happier now, away from the depressing, soul-destroying experience that was their Ipswich career.
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It's hard not to see a club that has got nearly every big decision wrong and come out on the wrong side of almost every promotion or relegation fight over 19 years as being in anything other than terminal decline. The very obvious exception to that pattern of failure was the appointment of Mick McCarthy and his first few years here.
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