2020/21 Preview – Ipswich Town

The countdown to the 2020/21 season continues with the host of Express FM’s Football Hour and Pompey Live pundit, Jake Smith turning the spotlight on Ipswich Town.

Intro: Ipswich Town spent 17 consecutive seasons in the second tier of English football between 2002 and 2019, one of the longest periods of time a club has endured without either suffering relegation or enjoying promotion.

Only Oldham Athletic (below the Premier League), who played in what is now known as League One between 1998 and 2018, can “boast” a longer stretch playing in the same division year in, year out.

Ipswich are known by the nickname ‘The Tractor Boys’ and traditionally wore blue shirts, white shorts and blue socks, though the first colours officially registered by the club featured a blue and white striped shirt with black shorts, though a strip of an all-blue shirt and white socks has featured consistently since it was first worn at the start of the 1936/37 season, the club’s first campaign as a professionally registered team.

The club were formed almost 142 years ago in October 1878 and have called Portman Road their home ever since they moved there in 1884, playing their home fixtures at two different grounds in the town, Broom Hill and Brook’s Hall, for the first six years of the club’s history.

Fans of the club could consider Ipswich Town as a sleeping giant of English and even European football. Top honours include becoming champions of England in 1962, winning The FA Cup in 1978 and the UEFA Cup (now referred to as the Europa League) in 1981. The club are commemorating that continental success this season with an old-school badge appearing on Town’s home strip, donning the words ‘UEFA Cup 40 Years’ underneath.

Home Ground: Portman Road, Ipswich (Suffolk), 159 miles (by car) from Fratton Park – Capacity: 30,311

2019/20 Table Position: 11th (League One) – 52 points after 36 games with an average of 1.44 points per-game.

Overall Head-To-Head Record: Ipswich Town Wins: 19 – Draws: 12 – Portsmouth Wins: 13

Previous Meeting With Pompey: Portsmouth 1-0 Ipswich Town, 21st December 2019, League One

2020/21 Fixture Dates:

Saturday 12th December, 2020 – Portman Road

Saturday 20th March, 2021 – Fratton Park

Manager: Paul Lambert has 15-years’ experience in football management, first appearing in the dugout at Livingston during the 2005/06 campaign. He landed the job having studied football coaching earlier that same year, however his tenure at the Scottish club lasted only until February, when he stepped down as a result of winning just 2 games in 8 months.

As a player, the Glaswegian came through the youth set-up at St. Mirren, before going on to control the midfield as a pro at five different clubs: St. Mirren; Motherwell; Borussia Dortmund; Celtic and Livingston – making over 570 senior club appearances over the duration of 20 years.

After leaving Motherwell in 1996, Lambert had trials at PSV Eindhoven and Borussia Dortmund, signing in the end for the latter after PSV decided not to pursue him, as they were looking for a winger instead. At Dortmund, Lambert was expected to play second fiddle to fellow new kid on the block Paulo Sousa, however the Scot performed well in the early stages of the campaign in Germany and kept his place for the large majority of that season ahead of the Portuguese international.

Lambert went on that season to become the first British person to win the European Cup with a team outside of the UK, as well as the first Brit to win the tournament since its reformation as the Champions League in 1992. His Dortmund side beat a Juventus team which featured a young Zinedine Zidane by 3 goals to 1, and his role as a defensive midfielder in that game earned him a Man of the Match award.

Since turning his hand to management in ’05, Lambert has taken over as gaffer of nine separate clubs, making the biggest impact at Ipswich’s arch-rivals Norwich City between 2009 and 2012. Within that time he led the Canaries to a double promotion from League One and into the Premier League, securing promotion to the top-flight in 2011 after a 1-0 victory against Pompey at Fratton Park on May the 2nd.

At Portman Road, Lambert has a win percentage of 26.9%, securing just 21 wins from 78 competitive games in charge since taking over as boss in October 2018.

One To Watch: Idris El Mizouni is a player tipped for a big future at Portman Road and the forthcoming League One campaign could prove to be a breakthrough season for the Ipswich youngster.

The 19-year-old was born in Paris, France and represents Tunisia on the international stage, so far making one senior appearance. El Mizouni still qualifies to play for the Under-23s, for whom he has run out for twice.

He made his professional and EFL debut on March the 12th, 2019 in a 1-1 draw with Bristol City at Ashton Gate and has since featured on just six more occasions. This season could be different however, El Mizouni has been one of the standout performers for the Tractor Boys in pre-season, described by our featured supporter Liam Harding as having “An absolute rocket of a shot from distance in his locker, he makes things happen and is skilful, as well as pacey with a good work rate.”

The midfielder came through the youth ranks at French sides Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt (ACBB) and AS Meudon before crossing the channel to start a new life in Suffolk, where he began to make a name for himself within the Ipswich Town academy between 2017 and 2019.

League Two outfit Cambridge United took El Mizouni on loan for the second-half of the 2019/20 campaign, however game-time was restricted as a result of injuries and the eventual postponement of the season due to COVID-19.

Keep an eye/ear out for the No. 26 when Pompey meet Ipswich in December and March.

Signing of the Summer (So Far): Of the three signings made thus far, former Blues forward/defender Oli Hawkins stands out as the most useful based upon what is needed to improve Lambert’s side.

The 28-year-old is the big, physical presence Ipswich need to partner either one of James Norwood or Kayden Jackson, who both returned 11 goals last season, in attack. Hawkins’ hold-up play, knock-ons and ability to lure defenders away from the main threat up-front could create the ideal formula needed for Norwood and/or Jackson to improve on their goalscoring tallies.

Whilst Hawkins does not have a prolific record in front of goal, we know too well as Portsmouth fans what he can bring to the team in other areas, including those mentioned above.

The man from Ealing made 77 appearances for the Blues between 2017 and 2020, scoring 14 times and playing in both attack and defence. His time at Fratton Park was overshadowed largely by the goals being scored by counterpart Brett Pitman, as well as the arrivals of John Marquis and Ellis Harrison in 2019, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Oli’s Portsmouth career.

He has been handed Squad No. 26 at Ipswich ahead of the new season.

Season Expectation: The Play-Offs should be a minimum expectation for Paul Lambert and his side in 2021. Immediate promotion back to the Championship was the aim for the Tractor Boys last time out, but the curtailment of the League One season with just under ten matches remaining dumped Ipswich into 11th position, after the decision was taken to place teams based upon an unweighted points-per-game system.

Though supporters may not be too keen on Lambert and the style of play he implements at Portman Road, I struggle to see many teams competing with the diverse and talented squad the 51-year-old has at his disposal.

A good start to the campaign will be required of Lambert’s side, who will then need to ensure that form continues consistently throughout the duration of the season – something they failed to do last term, finding themselves 1st in October and falling down to 11th come March. Owner Marcus Evans will also be tasked with convincing hot-prospect Flynn Downes to remain at the club, amid interest from a number of Premier League clubs.

A Play-Off push is the minimum expectation for Ipswich Town, who should be aiming to compete for a spot in the automatic promotion spots.

My Predicted Finish: 3rd

A Fresh Start at Portman Road – From the Eyes of a Tractor Boy

Lifelong Ipswich Town supporter Liam Harding is the latest to share his views and predictions relating to his club as part of the pre-season build-up!

To begin with, the 24-year-old highlighted what makes Ipswich Town stand out from the rest of the teams in the division: “For me, the three massive clubs in the league are us (Ipswich), Pompey and Sunderland. Our history is the main thing for us, just look at the rest of the division in regard to honours and fanbases, that’s the main stand-out of the club in this division.

“Another thing is the style of football we can play, slick passing football that cuts apart teams, albeit we did not play this way much last season but when we did, we were magnificent!”

Discussing his expectations ahead of the new season, Liam was quoted in saying: “Play-Offs at a minimum, I think, is the main perception for our fanbase, but it may be last season all over again. It’s just a case of wait and see really but this year is a crucial one for us.

“It’s really difficult to explain what the problem is.” – Liam added, now attempting to piece together what went wrong last term. “It’s all parties really – Lambert’s tactics are quite often insufficient, square pegs in round holes come to mind, he tends to use players in positions that they are not comfortable in.”

Elaborating on top of that, the Town supporter went on to place some responsibility also on those who represent his club on the field of play, as well as the men running the club from the very top: “The players are partially to fault as some have not stepped up, continuing to make silly mistakes. The owner (Marcus Evans) has failed to invest in the team for years, we are a big club like Portsmouth and Sunderland yet have the investment of smaller teams, which in my personal opinion has led us to this situation.”

Going forward, Liam believes that manager Paul Lambert has to prove himself within the first 5 games of the new league campaign – failing to do so, in his opinion, could result in curtains for the Scotsman: “If he can’t do that then it’s time for a change. That’s the only thing that I think could change to help the club move forward, as well as more opportunities for the younger talent coming through – players like Armando Dobra and Idris El Mizouni are more than capable of playing at this level but seemed to get overlooked last season by Lambert.

“Both have had good pre-seasons and, for me, are vital to Ipswich’s progression.” – Liam underlined.

Paul Lambert has secured the signings of three new players so far during this transfer window – Former Blues players Oli Hawkins and David Cornell made the switch to Portman Road this summer, alongside experienced Irishman Stephen Ward, who left Stoke City after the expiration of his contract at the end of the last season.

Liam predicts 28-year-old forward Oli Hawkins to make the biggest of impacts out of those who have signed up to the time of writing, claiming his presence up-top is just what the Town need to bolster their chances in front of goal: “We need a big lad up-front to hold the ball up and think about going forward all the time – he could be the missing piece in the jigsaw left incomplete from last season!

“Stephen Ward’s experience will also be key to Corrie Ndaba and Luke Woolfenden’s development, the ex-Premier League defender will help them move in the right direction.” – he included.

With the new League One campaign just over a week away, Liam is unsurprisingly targeting an improvement on last term’s mid-table finish, but is not entirely confident of that being accomplished under the current management regime: “Is Lambert the right man to take us forward? It’s a firm no from me. His style seems to shift from a total football approach to route one with no in-between. He got us relegated from the Championship with a large amount of games left to play and, don’t get me wrong we were not good enough, but it did make me wonder if we had a different manager a Pulis or a Warnock, would we have stayed up?”

Liam, along with he claims many other Town supporters, is fed up of the inconsistencies within the Welshman’s record at the club: “The benefit of the doubt last season was for us fans to see if he had it in him to do something with this team but come February, a large majority had had enough, me included. But with a five-year contract signed in January, we seem to be stuck with Lambert for the foreseeable future – ideally I would have liked to have seen a change in February, but here we are.

“Last season seemed as if he was picking the team out of a hat at times with the amount of changes made. Consistent teams win more games and titles, we just could not do that with the amount of alterations made on a weekly basis.”

A prediction was then asked of Liam, who further went on to emphasise his concerns with Paul Lambert in the dugout: “If we stick with Lambert and he gets the tactics wrong like last season, I’d say anywhere between 6th and 10th, but the optimist in me is saying 3rd. There are some decent and big clubs in the division again, it doesn’t get any easier that’s for sure but 3rd is where I’d say we will finish.

“There are very few rumours linking us with any more signings and, on paper, we should have enough to get us back into the Championship.” – he revealed, before linking in his thoughts on the new wage cap: “It hasn’t really affected us yet because we have only moved for three players but going forward, if we don’t get promoted, then it could be bad for us. We’re a big club, Portsmouth on par and Sunderland are slightly bigger I believe, making it more difficult to replace players. As an example, James Norwood is on nearly triple the wage allowed now so to try and replace a striker of his calibre for just £1,600 a week would be near-on impossible.”

Liam concluded the conversation by dwelling on the prospect of future seasons under the ownership of Marcus Evans, predicting a lack of top-flight football under his rule: “He does not spend anything to push for something that ambitious, a club the size of ours should be chasing this! He uses Ipswich as a business as opposed to a football club.

“IF we get back into the Championship, the aim I think all fans would agree on is to stay in the division and build a team for promotion back to the Premier League within a few years, though as I say, I can’t see that happening with Evans at the top.”

You can follow Liam on Twitter – @liamharding96

Photos: Graham Hunt / Ipswich Town FC

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