After finishing above East Anglian rivals Norwich City last season and ending a six-year marriage to manager Mick McCarthy, things were beginning to look up for Ipswich Town.
Fans had been pushing for a managerial change for a few seasons after the club had started to stagnate, and the appointment of former Shrewsbury Town manager Paul Hurst gave Town fans reasons to believe their club was on the up.
Fast-forward six months and he’s long since out the door. Hurst and his side only managed to pick up one win in their opening 14 league games, and just nine points in the process.
Hurst left the club after a 2-0 defeat to high-flyers Leeds United, with their only win coming against Swansea in a hard fought 3-2 away victory. Where had it all gone wrong for the Tractor Boys?
Swapping experience for inexperience
The transfer policy seemed strange from the outset. Experienced players were shipped out and sold to clubs in the same division, strengthening those clubs and weakening Ipswich.
David McGoldrick was released by the club and picked up by Sheffield United. He’s gone on to form a prolific partnership with Billy Sharp and the Blades are pushing for automatic promotion.
Martyn Waghorn was sold for a mere £5m to Derby County, and has gone on to become a starter in Frank Lampard’s side, who are once again pushing for at least a play-off spot.
Other experienced heads that were shown the door include Joe Garner, Stephen Gleeson and Mustapha Carayol. Although they may not have been guaranteed starters, squad depth is important in the Championship. But Town seemed happy to hand it off.
Transfers in were few and far between, with most players being brought in from lower leagues.
Jon Nolan and Aristote Nsiala joined Hurst in East Anglia from his former side, Ellis Harrison joined from Bristol Rovers, with Giwon Edwards and Kayden Jackson joining from Peterborough United and Accrington Stanley respectively.
The youngest of those shipped out was Waghorn at 29, with the oldest brought in Nolan at 26. While three years may not seem to be a significant age difference in terms of experience, consider they’ve not played at the same level and it makes the world of difference.
Reliance on Premier League loans
With little money to spend in the windows, Ipswich resorted to bringing in Premier League youth players on loan to fill the voids left by those experienced departures.
Trevoh Chalobah joined from Chelsea on his first league loan, Tayo Edun came from Fulham to gain similar experience and Matthew Pennington joined from Everton to keep gaining experience in the EFL pyramid.
Jon Walters joined on loan from Burnley, but injured his Achilles in his third appearance. It was another issue the Tractor Boys didn’t need.
In the January window, Callum Elder was brought in from Leicester City, Will Keane from Hull City and Collin Quaner from Huddersfield Town.
With the side struggling for inspiration and goals at the top end of the pitch, the club turned to two players who had only notched one goal in 35 games between them during the last campaign.
Lambert’s lacklustre impact
Since his appointment in late October, Paul Lambert hasn’t quite had the influence that Town owner Marcus Evans had pictured.
The club still sit rock bottom of the division and have failed to make strides on the game between themselves and Rotherham United in 21st.
After Hurst only picked up nine points from his first 14 games in charge of Town, he was sacked. Lambert has only managed nine points from his first 15 games in charge.
If Lambert didn’t know then what he was in for, he surely does now. Three league defeats on the bounce since their last victory, their task doesn’t get any easier.
Next up for the Tractor Boys? Their closest and oldest rivals who are flying high at the top of the league, Norwich.
If there is any game Lambert should be able to get his team ready for, it’s this one. A victory could fill the entire club with confidence and encourage a push for survival.
But they’ve not beaten Norwich in the last 11 games, stretching back over 10 years.
They’re already 1/20 favourites for the drop, so lose this one, and it looks like being a bleak season for Ipswich – with the next stop likely to be League One.
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