Friday, September 23, 2022

Can Ipswich Town make it back to the Championship?

ITFC ground

It’s been a rocky few years for Ipswich Town. Back in 2018, a string of defeats led to manager Paul Hurst being sacked after less than five months in the job, and new boss Paul Lambert failed to steer the Tractor Boys away from the impending cliff-edge of relegation.

The 2019/20 season sees Ipswich playing in the third tier of English football for the first time since 1957 – a turn of events which Paul Lambert described as “gut-wrenching for everybody” (well, everybody except Norwich City fans).

But how have they been doing since dropping down to League One? And what are the chances of clawing their way back up to the Championship? Let’s review the season so far.

A barnstorming start

If anyone thought the Tractor Boys would come out at the start of the season looking dejected and unmotivated after being relegated, well… the players were quick to prove they were ready to get on with the task at hand. Their first third-tier match in over six decades resulted in solid a 0-1 victory over Burton Albion.

This was a bit of a boost for Blues fans still stinging over what happened last season, and while they drew the next two games against Sunderland and Peterborough, those stalemates were followed by a triple-whammy of victories – including a 0-5 demolition of Bolton Wanderers.

True, the Trotters weren’t exactly in the best of places at the time, being embroiled in a messy takeover and lacking a full-time manager at the time. But this was still a reassuring reminder for Ipswich fans that their team may have been down, but they certainly weren’t out, straddling the top spot in League One.

The hot streak was to continue. Soon after putting Bolton in their place, the Tractor Boys won 3-0 against Shrewsbury Town and followed up a draw against Doncaster Rovers with another clutch of victories – including a 4-1 seeing-off of Tranmere Rovers.

All good things…

Must come to an end. And, after going 11 games unbeaten since entering League One, Ipswich Town suffered their first loss against Accrington Stanley in October. Being beaten 2-0 was a huge blow for the side and their fans, who must have had flashbacks to the bad old days prior to relegation.

To make matters worse, this wasn’t a one-off glitch. It was the first in a one-two punch, with Ipswich losing 0-2 against Rotherham just days later, and being knocked off the top of League One in the process.

Suffering the same losing scoreline twice in a row upset the powerful momentum that had built up since the start of the season, but the Blues were back on form in the following two games, delivering reassuring wins against Southend and Rochdale. Then the nerves seemed to kick in again, with the next eight games run of draws and defeats, including an edge-of-the-seat, eight-goal thriller against Lincoln City on 29 December.

Exciting it may have been, but losing 5-3 was a sorry end to 2019 for Ipswich, particularly as they’d seemingly overcome their post-relegation woes and hit the ground running when the season began.

New year, new start?

After the stuttering end to the previous year, 2020 got off to a slightly more optimistic start for the Blues. Yes, there was a paltry draw against Wycombe Wanderers on New Year’s Day, but their next match saw them thump to victory in a 4-1 thrashing of Accrington Stanley. Kayden Jackson, James Norwood, Alan Judge and Will Keane all deserved to take bows for settling fans’ nerves by delivering the first win for Ipswich since November.

A few more wins were to come, including a satisfying slice of vengeance served up to Lincoln City towards the end of January. Having been beaten by the Imps in that December thriller, the Tractor Boys came out on top on 25 January, with a 1-0 win that put Ipswich back at the top of League One.

But they weren’t destined to be there for long, and it’s been far from plain sailing for Ipswich Town as they’ve slipped down the standings in recent weeks. That win over Lincoln City was followed by three defeats, including a 1-4 bruising from Peterborough. Since that home drubbing there has only been one win out of seven, including four successive loses, which have piled the pressure on the boss. This has been the final straw for some fans, who were chanting “Lambert, sort it out” from the stands in recent games.

The frustration is understandable. Ipswich Town were expected to do well when they arrived from the Championship, but haven’t managed to make good on the promise of their successful early run in League One. The question is, do they have what it takes to turn things around get back in the crucial top six to stand a chance of promotion back to the Championship?

Well, not according to some comprehensive number-crunching by the website Sports Club Stats, which uses a clever bit of software to simulate millions of possible results for the remaining League One games, in order to work out odds of different outcomes.

According to this system, which is obviously far from ironclad but still not exactly music to the ears of Blues fans, they only have an 8% chance of promotion, and most likely won’t even have a chance of a play-off finish. Of course, anything is possible in football, and if you do fancy a punt backing Ipswich to make the play-offs or bag promotion, you’ll find some great odds at the bookies available at TopRatedBetting.com.

What can the Tractor Boys do? Ipswich journalist Andy Warren reckons some more ruthlessness is in order, saying: “It’s a story we’ve seen, read about, talked about heard about so many times before about playing good football and dominating – probably not taking chances, conceding a goal and then running out of steam.”

“It’s a familiar tale and it’s one that if things don’t turn around this season, that’s what we’ll look back on again. It’s probably like last season, actually, very similar”, he added.

At the time of writing, Ipswich Town are stuck at 10th, which highlights what an uphill battle they face to keep those promotion hopes alive. After so long in the Championship, fans will be forgiven for thinking that it should only be a matter of time before they re-take their rightful place up there. The pressure is on Paul Lambert to live up to their fevered expectations, and there’s all to play for. The coming weeks and months are going to every bit as nailbiting as the culmination of last season – but the Blues will be praying to the football gods for a better outcome.

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