A quick note: These pieces are intended to be profiles/fact files of our new opponents* – aimed more at Wycombe fans. I hope they’re useful, but if you’d like more depth, there are numerous great, league-wide previews out there at the moment – I particularly recommend Sideways Sammy’s (excellent Coventry City blog). I may well do my own full preview next year, but time has been of the essence this summer – as such, these may spill over into the weekend. Anyway, enjoy!
*That’s Ipswich, Rotherham, MK Dons, Tranmere and Lincoln. I don’t feel that it’s right to discuss Bolton and Bury in footballing terms right now given what’s going on at those two clubs, but I offer my full solidarity with all those affected.
Nickname: The Blues/The Tractor Boys
Ground: Portman Road
Manager: Paul Lambert (previous clubs managed: Stoke, Wolves, Blackburn, Aston Villa, Norwich, Colchester, Wycombe, Livingston)
Honours: First Division (1961/62), Second Division (1960/61, 1967/68, 1991/92), Third Division South (1953/54, 1956/57), Southern League (1936/37), FA Cup (1977/78), Texaco Cup (1972/73), UEFA Cup (1980/81)
Have we met? Nope. Ipswich are one of only nine current EFL teams** who Wanderers have never faced in any competition.
When were they last here? So long ago that ‘Que Sera, Sera’ hadn’t even entered the football lexicon. Doris Day’s terrace chant in waiting topped the charts at the start of the 1956/57 season, a yet to be knighted Alf Ramsey’s second in charge of Ipswich. The legendary orchestrator of England’s finest hour guided the Blues to the Third Division South title, having narrowly missed out the previous season. Legendary striker Ted Phillips – feared for his ability to strike the ball with terrifying power – bagged a club record 42 league goals (and 46 in league and cup) for a side which found the back of the net 101 times in total, finishing ahead of Torquay thanks to a significantly superior goal difference.
What happened last season? The bookies’ third-favourites for the drop made the Championship’s bottom spot their home for most of the campaign, with relegation confirmed by mid-April. Most fans were glad to see the back of previous boss Mick McCarthy towards the end of 2017/18, and there was a widely felt acceptance of their fate in 2018/19 under Paul Lambert – a man who needs little introduction in these parts. With 25 losses, only five wins, and the third-lowest points total in the club’s history, it should have been a season to forget – and it was in many ways – but it might come to be looked back upon as the catalyst for a long-awaited revival in Suffolk.
Any connections to Wycombe? Aside from the aforementioned Paul Lambert, there is one quite major link, as it happens. A fresh-faced midfielder by the name of Matthew James Bloomfield left his boyhood club in December 2004 after a solitary appearance. The rest is Wycombe history. Less than two weeks earlier, a certain Darren Currie moved to Portman Road from cash-strapped Brighton, who he’d only joined that summer after leaving us. Other players to have turned out for both clubs include Janoi Donacien, Dean Bowditch, Gus Uhlenbeek, Sam Parkin and Ian Westlake.
How will they fare? Unlike the fallen giant in League One last time around – Sunderland – Ipswich don’t appear to be burdened by the weight of expectation or a sense of entitlement. That should count in their favour. Recruitment-wise, James Norwood has made the headlines so far – the striker arrives having bagged almost 100 goals in four seasons at Tranmere – while collosal ‘keeper Tomáš Holý earned a move after some fine displays for Gillingham in this division last season. There have been no devastating departures as yet and the squad should be competitive at this level, but consensus seems to be that a few more additions need to be made.
Ipswich don’t find themselves in League One as a crisis club and their summer business has been solid – if slow. In Lambert, they have themselves a manager who knows what it takes to get out of this division – he won it with rivals Norwich in 2010, before guiding them back to the Premier League a year later. When all is said and done – not that I’m a fan of pre-season predictions – a play-off spot seems within the Blues’ reach. That will certainly be their aim at the very least.
Fan Insight with Rich Woodward (@IpsRich)
You’re at this level for the first time in 72 years – several generations of your fans will only ever have known Ipswich as a top flight or second tier club. Was it a case of needing to go down in order to really stop the rot and rebuild properly? It’s difficult to say. Despite what the neutrals may think re. McCarthy, the club has been on a downward spiral for some time under Marcus Evans’ ownership. Some Town fans have cited the likes of Southampton and, dare I say Norwich, who went down to the third tier, reset, and bounced back rapidly, as a model to follow. I’m not so convinced. My fear is that we will ‘paint over the rot’ rather than fix the underlying cause (lack of strategy/structure off the field, and lack of identity on it) and we’ll be set for a prolonged stay. I hope I’m wrong. So far this summer I’m yet to see anything to convince me that the building blocks are being put in place for sustainable longer-term success. Maybe being a relatively big fish in a smaller pond will aid our recovery though, but it should go without saying that no-one *wanted* to be relegated. It’s all new for most of us as you say, so honestly, no one knows right now before a ball has been kicked!
Another ‘fallen giant’, Sunderland, found League One tough going last season. There was a sense that they felt they had a divine right to make it straight back to the Championship, which may have held them back. Of course, you’ve got to be aiming for promotion, but do you think there’s a danger you could be hindered by a similar mentality? (To me, as an outsider, that doesn’t seem to be the case.) Despite pockets of hubris from some of our fans on social media, I’d say that most, if not all, true Blues have no expectations of strolling League One. We have the stench of defeat about us after last season (a campaign statistically worse than Sunderland’s in 17/18 if you can believe it) which needs to be got rid of first and foremost. We are *hoping* for promotion of course, but are realistic that it is most likely to be via the play-offs if it happens. 6th is considered par right now. Anything above and beyond that will be a pleasant surprise. My prediction is somewhere between 6th-10th, but I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy!
Who do you expect to be your standout performers in 2019/20 and why? There are big hopes that James Norwood, signed on a free from Tranmere after a 29-goal haul in League Two, can fix our goalscoring problems. Largely our goal-shyness stems from a lack of midfield creativity though. It’s therefore hoped that Jon Nolan (back at a familiar level), Teddy Bishop (if fit) and Alan Judge (if he stays) can do more to unlock defences a division below. 19 year old Jack Lankester, yet another bright prospect from the ITFC academy, could have a big season out wide if he can sustain some of the bright moments from his debut season. Flynn Downes is another home grown player who could be important in anchoring the midfield.
What do make of your transfer dealings so far? Are there any areas which still need strengthening particularly? Quite limited at this stage, but those moves have been positive. Norwood is obviously the marquee signing, and frankly a bit of a coup for us. I think another option up top would be helpful to take the pressure off him though. Luke Garbutt on loan from Everton is necessary reinforcement at LB (despite largely playing LW for Oxford last term we’ve heard), but our RB options don’t currently fill many with confidence (including Paul Lambert). Keeper Tomáš Holý signing from Gillingham was seen as good business with high earner Bartosz Białkowski expected to leave (though now likely to stay after issues with a medical at Millwall); it’ll be interesting to see who Lambert goes for there. Our central midfield is pretty well stocked, but an enforcer might be useful there for when teams look to mix it up against us (we’re probably a little naive against wilier sides). I also hope for a loanee wide man whilst we wait for Freddie Sears to return from injury.
Finally, what’s been the best moment in your time as an Ipswich fan? Our Division One play-off final win in May 2000 – the last competitive Football League game at the old Wembley. A stunning fifth place finish in the Premier League followed in our first season back, and the UEFA Cup run after that, are of course great memories too (even if that UEFA Cup season ended in relegation). I can only sympathise with Town fans born after the millennium whose only proper highlights will be more play-off defeats (including Norwich in 14/15) and a League Cup semi-final (10/11). Hopefully new positive memories can start from 19/20!
** Those of you who followed the old Chairboys Trivia account may already know this, but the other teams are Arsenal, Blackburn, Bolton, Derby, Everton, Man United, Newcastle and Salford.
Main image: John Fielding via Wikimedia Commons. Used under license.
Donacien image: Ncadc2004 via Wikimedia Commons. Used under license. Cropped to fit.