Opinion: The New Season is here… finally
In this week’s column, Matt looks ahead to the start of the League One season being finally with us and a potentially missed opportunity for Town this summer in the transfer market.
League football is back. This Saturday, after 6 months of anticipation, frustration and pretty much every other emotion possible being felt in the footballing world, League One football finally returns. Granted, Town will have to wait until Sunday lunchtime before they can get underway and with the promise of a decent performance against a Wigan team with very few professional players, Town should be taking advantage and starting the new season in victorious fashion.
However, this week, I want to look at how Town have failed to take advantage. Whilst I’m remiss to sound consistently negative about the new season, I can’t help but feel like a massive chance was missed for Town to take advantage and make the necessary requirements to boost our promotion hopes.
The coronavirus pandemic tore a hole through the footballing landscape, with many of Towns fellow promotion hopefuls feeling the bitter consequences. Many clubs have been forced to part with their most valuable assets and that leaves Town with a unique opportunity. Of course, Town have felt the effects in different ways but, when compared to many other sides in League One, the damage has not been so detrimental. In all, Town were forced to part with three players (so far) and the real detriment to Town this summer has been the introduction of the salary cap. In general, I’m hopeful about the new season… Let me tell you why.
Recently, I was asked to submit a league table prediction. I sat trawling through squads and form etc and realised one thing, the league is wide open. On paper, Town have one of the strongest squads in the league and I truly believe the only thing holding back an aura of genuine optimism is the ineptitude of the manager.
The same could be said for fellow hopefuls Sunderland. Portsmouth have suffered, Peterborough have parted with their most talented player, Oxford are once again trying to build a team from a pool of individuals, Wigan are suffering with administration, Charlton are struggling to focus on their football and Hull have ownership issues of their own. There are dark horses that could stake a claim but, on paper, Town are in a perfect position to take advantage of such a misfit division. So why haven’t we?
We have issues of our own of course. Lambert clearly isn’t the right man for the job and the majority of our players need to sort themselves out and lift their performances. However, we’ve kept our best players (for now), we have a wealth of talent rising through the ranks and our senior players should be more than capable of stamping their mark in this league. Last season was a disaster, but we have to try and discount it.
This season should be viewed as a completely fresh start, with everyone pulling in the right direction, but I am left dumbfounded by our lack of activity in the transfer market. Money is tight and the pandemic has made deals more difficult to complete, but couldn’t we have sorted the Garbutt deal out? Couldn’t we have invested small fees into good players, like we did with KVY! When assessing the credentials of our rivals and comparing them to our own, we are in a good position. What we needed, and what we still need, is one or two quality players to enter the squad and lift the fans. Hawkins, Cornell and Ward are all shrewd additions, but are they going to be the difference between promotion and stagnation? I’m not sure.
Ultimately, on the eve of the brand new season, I am feeling both excited and nervous. The Wigan game is a slight false promise, but I am hopeful that we show no mercy. For far too long this club has been the home of the nice guys and Jose Mourinho is right, nice guys don’t win anything. We have to show fight and a willingness to succeed and that should be the ultimate drive to boost us forward. I want to believe in this team but a large part of me feels like we missed the perfect chance to aid our promotion hopes.
Another contentious issue lays at the feet of Lambert, who is continuously proving himself to be short of ideas. As I said before, I want him to succeed because he is manager of Ipswich Town Football Club but does anyone see his sacking as anything other than an inevitability? There are clear rumbles of discontent behind-the-scenes and the actions of the manager don’t aid our hopes of a return to the Championship.
We are on the cusp of something special. Our squad is young and full of fight and a new generation of talent is sweeping into the first team. We are at a key juncture in our history and harnessing that is incredibly important. Ultimately, this football club needs to be boosted and the youngsters are the key to that locked door. Slight changes within the club will have seriously changed the surrounding atmosphere. Whilst pre-season was as exciting as a broken radiator in winter, the chance to challenge at the top is very much alive.
As we edge closer to the big kick-off, I find myself torn between the anticipation and apathy that I articulated last week. I’m excited for the return of football and I truly believe there is something special about this group, but the apathy overtakes when thinking about the missed opportunities that we allowed to pass this summer. Ultimately, Marcus Evans must take responsibility this season.
If Lambert is going to be sacked, he needs to have a long, serious search before making the next appointment. If we’re doing well at Christmas time, he needs to stump up the cash and gamble on our momentum. If we fail to get promoted, he needs to openly speak to the fans and address the disappointments and failings of the club, the players, the coaching staff, and the board.
There is always hope. I truly believe that the likes of Dobra, Dozzell, Lankester, Ndaba and Nydam will prove themselves to be valuable assets and will have breakthrough seasons for the club. Whilst changes are still needed across the board, a steady start would lift the spirits and make football exciting again. We’re a fanbase in desperate need for something special and with there being no hope of such news in the transfer window, the burden of responsibility falls on the shoulders of the players and the manager; I just hope they have the fight to reignite that spark.
Images: Richard Calver / TOTT