So football is back and it still seems like yesterday that Swansea City were celebrating their play-off final win over Reading to reach the promised land – something 24 clubs in the Championship will be craving to emulate from August 6th.
For Ipswich Town, this season is already being viewed as a crucial one by many supporters. They say patience is a virtue and it would be fair to say Town fans have had theirs somewhat tested in recent seasons. 2011/12 will mark the clubs 10th consecutive season in the Championship since Premier League relegation. Only Coventry City have remained at this level for longer, a whole twelve months longer to be precise.
That extended stay in the division has been highlighted by how our neighbours up the road in Norfolk have done in the last two seasons. Whilst they have been relegated and then enjoyed two successive promotions, Town have finished 9th, 15th and 13th in the last three Championship seasons. Their last play-off appearance came in 2004/05 at the end of a campaign in which automatic promotion should have been sewn up weeks earlier.
The man in charge of the Wigan Athletic team who pipped Town to second place that spring was none other than Paul Jewell. Now firmly settled into the Portman Road manager’s office after taking over in January, fans will be hoping the club now has a boss who can instil some much needed steel and backbone to performances. The Roy Keane era came and went without little change in terms of league position and promotion prospects – in fact relegation became a very strong threat during the Irishman’s unstable tenure. But Keane did help bring in some key players who remain after his departure. Perhaps most significantly, his willingness to throw Connor Wickham into the limelight went a long way to raising the young striker’s profile and his price tag.
Connor’s departure has been the most significant this summer and all Town fans wish him well at Sunderland, a club which will not only give him the time on the pitch he deserves, but also mentor him in the right way. Other key faces who headed out of the exit door were Gareth McAuley, David Norris and instrumental loanee Jimmy Bullard. In their place have come, amongst others, Michael Chopra, Nathan Ellington, Ivar Ingimarsson and Lee Bowyer. Jewell has also secured the services of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas from Arsenal and keeper David Stockdale from Fulham on a season long loan.
That means optimism is high with fans, who feel the new additions will give Town an extra cutting edge. However, pre-season performances have yet to show that additional goal threat. Draws against lower league opponents have done little but raise an air of negativity amongst some supporters. Many still want to see the club go all out and get hold of Bullard again, but instead Jewell should be identifying a player already in the squad who can feed off the energy the charismatic midfielder brought to the dressing room.
In Chopra, Town should have the man to bag 20+ goals this season, something which a striker in blue and white hasn’t managed since Darren Bent in 2004/05. What will probably go a long way to determining the side’s promotion prospects though will be the defence. Shaky and inexperienced at times last season, Ingimarsson should add some much needed steel alongside Damien Delaney, who put in impressive performances last season, most notably against Arsenal in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg. Highly-rated full back Aaron Cresswell has also arrived on a free from Tranmere and could be the man to add a bit more flair on the counter attack.
What perhaps will be more telling in weeks to come is who else leaves the club before the transfer window closes. Jason Scotland struggled to settle following his arrival from Wigan last season and has been linked with a return to Swansea. Stockdale’s arrival as keeper may also signal the end of Marton Fulop’s time as Portman Road’s no.1. Despite securing seven new faces already this summer, Jewell has also admitted he’s looking to bring in at least two more. This will please supporters after Keane’s forays into the market proved protracted and often fruitless. What we all want to see now is that vision turned into points and impressive performances.
Written by Adam Williams, We Are Going Up’s Ipswich Town Blogger
Adam tweets at @adam_j_williams