Ipswich Town Season Preview: patience waning?

ipswichOn paper, Ipswich Town finishing 7th in the Championship with one of the division’s lower budgets is not a bad result. And yet, a combination of increased expectations from last season and uninspiring football have led to frustration in some quarters. Can Super Mick make Portman Road the fortress it was in previous seasons? Or is familiarity breeding contempt? Sharing his views is supporter and excellent comedian Tony Cowards. You can follow him on Twitter @TonyCowards and buy tickets for his Edinburgh Fringe show Daft Pun.

Looking from the outside, I get a sense that Mick McCarthy is no longer uniformly loved by Ipswich fans, as he was 12 months ago. If so, has he become a victim of his own success by raising expectations on a low budget?

Yes, I think that is exactly it. Also I think a lot of Ipswich fans brought up on the fantastic footballing sides of Robson and later, George Burley, feel that playing Mick’s more pragmatic style of football was okay when we were doing well but if we’re going to sink back to mid-table AND be playing unattractive football then what’s the point?

You played more long balls per game (98) than any other team in the Championship last season, but new signing Adam Webster is a ball-playing centre-back. Does this imply that McCarthy is considering changing the playing style? And what could Webster’s arrival mean for Tommy Smith or Christophe Berra?

Hopefully, I think Mick has realised that the fans need to see a bit more flair and entertainment rather than a team who are perhaps too hasty in trying to get the ball from the back to the front players, often missing out the midfield entirely. Webster’s arrival will provide much needed competition in the centre of defence and could mean that the ever willing but technically limited Tommy Smith may become more of a squad player.

Midfielder Cole Skuse got the nod to be captain against MK Dons last season ahead of Smith and Berra. Is he an important player?

Cole Skuse is one of those players that you don’t really notice until he misses a game. He’s the engine room of the midfield, picking up the bits and pieces and playing the simple passes to a blue shirt. It was noticeable last season that we had a massive dip in form when he was missing.

Goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was excellent last year. Do you hope to get a full season out of him?

Definitely. Ipswich have struggled to find someone to make the goalkeeper’s jersey their own in recent years but Bialkowski has started to look consistent and could well become a fixture between the sticks for quite some time. He also has one of the best beards in the squad.

Bialkowski joined two years ago. Is there a case to say that he and Freddie Sears are the only two signings since 2013 that have improved the squad? If so, is poor recruitment down to McCarthy, or the funds available to him?

I’d argue that Brett Pitman has given us another option upfront and was joint top scorer with 10 league goals. I guess the jury is still out on young Danish fullback, Jonas Knudsen and ex-Brentford skipper, Jonathon Douglas. The lack of funds definitely limits Mick’s options and we’ve definitely seen a lot of solid, if uninspiring, signings over the last few seasons.

Right-back Luke Chambers is not the best going forward while left-back Jonas Knudsen has had a underwhelming debut season. Could young full-backs Josh Emmanuel and Myles Kenlock stiffen competition?

Both Josh and Myles have looked full of potential whenever they’ve played although I think the full on nature of the Championship can make it difficult to blood youngsters. Of course, it is good to have competition across the team and, hopefully, they can press their claims to get in the starting XI.

Paul Digby joins from Barnsley. What did you make of his six performances in his loan spell last season?

To be honest, apart from his two appearances against Portsmouth in the FA Cup, I didn’t really see a lot of him, so I’ll reserve judgement for the moment. He does look a little like another of Mick’s solid but uninspiring signings though.

Set pieces had been Ipswich’s main strength in previous seasons, but you scored just 8 goals from those situations last term and looked vulnerable defending them. Why has such a key forte become a weakness?

It think we struggled to keep a settled back four due to injuries and changes to the fullbacks. As for scoring from them, I’m not sure why we dropped off so much, we seem to have become smaller as a team although maybe it just looks that way because pocket rocket, Ryan Fraser, massively brings the average down (he’s 5’4″!).

Freddie Sears was shipped out wide in a few games last season. Do you see him being better down the middle?

Hmmm, it’s difficult, he probably would do better down the middle but trying to accommodate him, Murphy, Pitman and McGoldrick is always going to be tricky. He definitely has something the other strikers don’t have, genuine pace, which could probably be better utilised better.

You missed Teddy Bishop and David McGoldrick to injury for long spells last season. Would Town benefit from keeping those players fit for a whole season?

Definitely, both players were sorely missed last season, Bishop for his creativity in midfield and McGoldrick for his hold up play and goals.

Daryl Murphy scored 10 goals last season. Can he rediscover his shooting boots from the year before?

Every season Murphy gets written off as too old and too slow and yet he still manages to score the goals. I do think, however, that he’ll play less this season which might work in his favour, keeping him fresher for the long and arduous season.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I know it’s a cliché but as always I think it’ll be a ridiculously competitive division, the relegated teams all look strong (well maybe not Villa!). I’ll be interested to see how Burton Albion get on, I’ve got a feeling that they could be a bit of a surprise package and, maybe, an outside bet for the play offs.

Where will you finish?

I think it’ll be a bit of a struggle this season but I’ll be optimistic and say we can possibly nick the last play off spot, 6th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Despite a seventh place finish, Ipswich Town’s performances deteriorated last year as fans begun to grow unsettled. This could be the season the club’s lack of investment catches up with them. 12th