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Lessons to Be Learned From Last Season
Written by BossMan on Tuesday, 28th Jun 2022 16:58

I spend a decent chunk of every day pouring over footy stats and thought I’d take a look at what if anything might be learned from the Town stats of last season.

Before a ball was kicked Ipswich and Sunderland were joint-favourites for the title. Interestingly from Town’s point of view we were deemed title favourites prior to the additions of Christian Walton, Bersant Celina and Sam Morsy.

We are again title favourites and possibly/probably our biggest transfer business of the summer is yet to come. Did it backfire on us leaving the signing of three such important players until the very end of the transfer window? And is there a lesson there we should avoid repeating?

In the final league table Town finished 13 points off Wycombe in the final play-off spot and 20 points off Rotherham in second. By the time Walton, Celina and Morsy were signed we had already played five league games, we had won none and dropped 12 points from the 15 that were available.

I’m not slagging off CEO Mark Ashton (who I rate very highly) for why these deals weren’t done before the season started but there is an argument to say let’s try and get our biggest signings done a bit earlier this season.

There is a tired old cliché trotted out by fans and managers about there being a lot more points to play for and promotion isn’t decided in August which may be true, but it can certainly be lost especially if the players you sign on deadline day aren’t match fit and can’t contribute immediately.

Pub quiz question. When do you think Walton, Celina and Morsy first featured together on the pitch at the same time in a league game? Walton made his league debut first in the home loss to Bolton on 11th September, which was our first league game after the transfer window.

Celina had his debut against Lincoln on 18th September and Morsy had his against Doncaster on 28th September. We played eight games prior to Doncaster and won only one, dropping 17 points from the 24 available.

Celina came on and scored against Fleetwood on 23rd October but there was still time for us to lose more points away to Plymouth before all three started for the very first time in the away win at Wycombe on 2nd November.

We played 15 league games before those three started a game together. By this point we had dropped 25 points from the 45 that were available. At that stage we were seven points behind sixth and 13 points behind first. Surely we would of dropped fewer than that if Celina, Morsy and Walton had been signed four weeks earlier than they were.

After that win at Wycombe we played Oxford, Sunderland, Rotherham, Crewe, Charlton, Wigan and Sunderland with the only win coming from the Crewe game, and Sunderland was Cook’s last league match before his sacking.

I never rated Cook and wanted him long gone but he was unlucky in that by the time he got those three fit and all in the team together we hit one helluva tough set of fixtures.

However, it should be remembered we were pre-season favourites for the title without those three so in my opinion Cook should have captured so many more points than he did in what was such an easy first seven fixtures leading up to the Sheffield Wednesday game.

Did the management team look at those games leading up to Sheffield Wednesday and think they had plenty of time to get their transfer business done for those three important players? From those first seven games, five of those teams were to finish in the bottom 10 and yet we only managed to beat Lincoln.

This is potentially another mistake I hope we don’t repeat. By comparison to last season we play Sheffield Wednesday in game 10 this season. They are currently second favourites for the title and it will be a tough game to get anything from.

The nine games before that though look at least as easy as the ones Cook faced 12 months ago. Ranking each team by its odds to win the title we only face three sides from the top half of the table and all three of those are at home, Bolton (ninth), MK Dons (seventh) and Barnsley (fifth).

Hopefully by the time we play Sheffield Wednesday that’s a top two clash and we aren’t reading comments on here from fans and management about how there are a lot of points to play for.

Prior to Kieran McKenna joining Town had played 23 league games and pulled in 29 points. McKenna took 41 points from his 23 matches and while he was a breath of fresh air compared to Captain Chaos, that shows how difficult it can be to drag a teams points haul upwards.

Another perspective on McKenna’s performance is that if you double his points tally of 41 to get a whole season projection then that 82 points would have got you to seventh last season.

Another way of looking at McKenna’s performance would be a form table from his first game in charge, which was Wycombe on 29th December. From that date until end of the season Town rank sixth.

Of the five who outperformed McKenna’s team over the period of his 23 games Rotherham and Wigan have been promoted. The three remaining sides to outperform him were Bolton (our opening fixture), MK Dons (our second home fixture) and Sheffield Wednesday, who we visit in game 10.

I totally accept that players like Morsy, Celina and Walton may only become available on the last day of the transfer window and I totally accept we would of dropped points even with them at Town from the start of August, but last season we spent a big chunk of budget on three players who didn’t start together until after one third of the season had gone up in smoke.

But even if we get everyone through the door and contributing a quicker there is still a gap to be bridged between McKenna’s points haul from last season and the level required for automatic promotion.

It appears that McKenna will stick with the same formation as last season, three at the back, two wing-backs, a double pivot, two attacking central midfielders and a striker.

I’m in a pretty small minority that believe this is way too defensive for many of our home games and some of our away games. I don’t buy into the 'it’s all fluid' thing and I don’t think that new signings alone will deliver a top-two finish.

I’d like to see McKenna lose the whole Gareth Southgate mentality of being too cautious until it’s too late and switch to just one defensive midfielder in all but the toughest games.

I do realise that’s not a popular view and do understand that with McKenna potentially bringing in Tyreeq Bakinson later in the window it appears he plans on playing two defensive midfielders most of the time.

The last lesson I think needs to be learned from last season is that Conor Chaplin deserves more pitch time than he got from either Cook or McKenna.

I honestly don’t think McKenna rates him and as of the time of writing all his signings are strong lads of six-foot plus so I’m doubting he’ll get much more pitch time next season, which I think is a mistake.

He was our most fouled player last season comfortably ahead of Wes Burns and everyone else and I think if McKenna shows him some love he’ll be rewarded but you can’t bring players on once in a blue moon and expect miracles.

In other areas of the club I don’t think there are lessons to be learned from last year and just mostly more of the same. I think the owners and investors got the balance right between showing a public interest and yet not trying to become the stars of the show.

Well done to all five of them especially in not getting too close to Cook and therefore being pragmatic when the time for change came. Well done Ashton, who for me still hasn’t put a foot wrong. Same for chairman Mike O’Leary.

In McKenna we have a guy with all the right credentials to get us promoted this season and it won’t take much of an improvement from last year, and we’ll do it in style.

We’ll see some bumper crowds at Portman Road, an ever-growing away following and ongoing investment on and off the pitch. There is so much to be optimistic about but a repeat of last season's slow start is not what we want to see.

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Chrisd added 17:46 - Jun 28
The slow start certainly didn't help matters, but let's not forget Nottingham Forest had 1 point after their first 7 games in the Championship and still pushed strongly to finish in the top two going into the last two games of their league campaign last season. The main thing I feel is that we need to stop drawing so many games and turn that 1 point into 3 more consistently. Also, we really struggled to breakdown teams that sat deep and didn't come up with an effective solution to counter this game plan. In hindsight, we drew too games under PC and KM that was our Achilles heel. I certainly like the impact KM has made since his appointment, he's done plenty of good things, but he needs to find a formula for his team to win more games and score more than 1 goal in a game as that always gives the opposition the feeling they are still in the match which proved costly quite a few times last season. If he can address these issues, then we give ourselves a real good chance this coming season.

armchaircritic59 added 01:38 - Jun 29
Very interesting read, some points well made. What never seems to be mentioned is that KM is still learning his trade, he is still something of a rookie manager. By that reason and in my book, he's made a pretty impressive start!

ClactonTrueBlue added 08:46 - Jun 30
Very interesting read and well put that together analysis. Can you possibly use your stats to look at teams set piece taking both in attack and in defence. I suspect that would be an interesting read too!

Edmundo added 09:56 - Jun 30
Good point about the attacking v defensive midfielder roles. However I think Morsy was encouraged to attack more by McK, and pre season may help that evolution. Pre season has already seen Chaplin stake a strong claim for a starting berth!

Bluearmy_81 added 11:45 - Jun 30
Chaplin is quality

ChrisFelix added 13:42 - Jun 30
Very good blog. Hindsight is great & like do many I hoped we could make up lost ground. However even after we had a settled side we continued to lose games, & many we didnt deserve to. Accrington & Sunderland for example. Our problem was not scoring when on top & consolidating that position. Hopefully that problem will be resolved this season.

BossMan added 18:41 - Jun 30
@ChrisD You're right about Forest but their turnaround seems completely explained by the appointment of Steve Cooper in September whereas I was highlighting the impact of us waiting until deadline day before adding 3 of our most important players.

ElephantintheRoom added 14:19 - Jul 2
Interesting piece - but I think you’re overegging it. Town effectively wrecked their chances last season before a ball was kicked. Getting rid of a team that was (at least in league position) quite a bit better than last season’s team - bearing in mind a play-off place was possible with just a modicum of common sense when Cook arrived before his actions which were both insane and done with the full backing of your man Ashton. Simply not buying anyone at all this close season would probably have been a huge step forward as the players actually know each other now - and where Ipswich is. I agree with your thoughts on a too defensive line up and the apparent obsession with clean sheets. I’d add that the teams that were in the play off places last season don’t look as good, the teams coming up and down don’t look too worrying - and McKenna hopefully understands 3rd division football. I’d also hope the vast number of subs allowed might tempt him to try promoting youth. Flies in the ointment are that McKenna will be headhunted if Ipswich look good and the franchisees have clearly tightened the financial thumb screws after last year’s ineptitude and wholesale staff changes. And I don’t recall many Town fans being overly enamoured with Championship football if and when Town go up to a division where at least 15 teams think they belong in the Prem.

BossMan added 09:27 - Jul 8
@elephant I agree 100% about the damage Cook did I also think the Championship will be much tougher than many of us remember.

Browsie added 14:43 - Jul 18
Hi , all good points, but quite simply we turned too many winning positions into draws and losses. As you study stats, have you worked out how many points we dropped, in comparison to the teams above us? Would be interested? Cheers
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