Ipswich Town school report: Grading the Blues players' seasons in 2021/22
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Ipswich Town's season is over, with the Blues finishing 11th in League One.
It's been a season of change at Portman Road, with the Blues signing almost an entire new squad in the summer with Paul Cook at the helm, before the club's new owners appointed their first manager by bringing in Kieran McKenna in December.
Here, Andy Warren grades each Ipswich player's performance over the course of the campaign, with players included if they have made at least five league appearances.
Here we go.
Christian Walton – A+
It was a coup for the Blues to sign Walton on loan in August and it was an even bigger one to secure him full-time in January. He’s been supremely solid, come up with stunning saves when needed and has given belief Town can be settled between the sticks for years to come. An excellent season.
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Vaclav Hladky – C
What a tough start Hladky had to his Ipswich career. His pre-season was solid and included an excellent display against Crystal Palace but he couldn’t take that form into competitive action, with mistakes and nerves seeming to hamper him. Lost his place to Walton but played well as he returned to help Town beat Wycombe in Kieran McKenna’s first game. Remains to be seen if he will still be here for the start of next season or look to move in search of regular games.
George Edmundson – B+
Injury in pre-season meant Edmundson’s campaign didn’t begin until September but, once he found his groove he proved himself to be a top end performer in this division and a player capable of moving through the levels. Hopefully with Town. Had a stunning run of form prior to Christmas and continued to play well once the Blues moved to a back three, though was perhaps overshadowed a little by other defensive colleagues. Sadly, his season was ended early by an ankle injury. Part of the core moving forward.
Luke Woolfenden – B+
A tough season ultimately turned into a prosperous one for the academy graduate. A mistake on the opening day against Morecambe was costly and it was clear Paul Cook didn’t feel like he could rely on the 23-year-old after a tough opening month in which Woolfenden was part of a Town defence which conceded 10 goals in five league games. But once Kieran McKenna arrived the whole picture changed, with Woolfenden playing full of confidence and to the best of his ability. He’ll be a central part of things next season.
Janoi Donacien – A
In many ways this was Donacien’s breakthrough season at Ipswich which, given it was his fourth campaign at the club, is a little odd to say. Cook gave him the summer to make an impression as he just about avoided the cull and he went from there, first of all providing a calming presence at right-back, as the former boss calmed down his cavalier approach, before becoming a solid and dependable figure on the right of the back three. Made big strides in his attacking play as he formed an excellent partnership with Wes Burns.
Cameron Burgess – C+
You can split Burgess’ Ipswich season into four quarters. He played regularly after he arrived, looking solid enough without being spectacular, before dropping out of the side and becoming a ‘cup only’ player in the final days of Cook. That wasn’t a great spell, as his big flaw became exposed as he began to get pinned high and then turned by attackers. Then the bench phase, as he waited three months for a first game under McKenna before finishing the season in solid form once he took advantage of Edmundson’s injury. The red card lunge at Shrewsbury didn’t help but, after a hugely up-and-down season, he’s shown he can be part of Town’s defensive package next season.
Toto Nsiala – D
Nsiala’s Ipswich career ended in January, when he was allowed to join Fleetwood, but he made 15 Town appearances prior to that. Injury struck on the opening day, meaning he missed two months of football and never really got a foothold in the campaign. His final two Ipswich appearances saw him clash with supporters at Charlton before he started the miserable FA Cup loss at Barrow. Not a great way to end.
Kane Vincent-Young – C
Another tough season for the wing-back, who again missed long spells through injury and never really established himself in the side despite bursts here and there. Had some extremely difficult games, like when Dapo Afolayan tore him apart for Bolton at Portman Road and also some others where he served a reminder of the player we know he is when in full health. We’ll all be rooting for him in 2022/23.
Wes Burns – A+
The first man through the door during the summer rebuild ended up being the stand-out performer. Burns has taken to life at Ipswich superbly, both on the pitch and in the way he represents the club off it. He’s swept the board in terms of awards, also finishing as top scorer on 13 – not bad for a man who played half the season as a wing-back. At his best he’s an exciting runner who can tease full-backs, deliver low crosses to the back post for strikers to finish and also arrive inside the box to score himself. Was getting special attention from teams by the end of the campaign, highlighting Town’s overreliance on him. It will be interesting to see how Burns and McKenna look to solve those issues in season two.
Matt Penney – C
Signed from Sheffield Wednesday in the summer, Penney is probably the left-sider who fits the bill the most for McKenna’s system, given his attacking play perhaps outweighs his defensive consistency. His crossing of the ball can be excellent and, when the situation is right, he can get up and down the left flank well. But he can leave too much space defensively, which is perhaps why he’s been out of the Town side for long spells under both Cook and McKenna. It remains to be seen what role he plays next season.
Dominic Thompson C+
Thompson, signed on loan from Brentford, was the final attempt to find a left-sided option of a season which saw eight different players line up there. Thompson is clearly a solid defender, though there have been mistakes in there, notably at Morecambe, but he wasn’t able to offer the same attacking threat from the left as Burns did from the right. Burns is a winger playing at wing-back while Thompson is a defender. There’s the difference. It’s an attacker’s position which Ipswich will surely address this summer.
Hayden Coulson – D
Oh what could have been. The Middlesbrough loanee could potentially have been the left-sided answer to Burns, but instead spent the majority of the season on the sidelines. His excellent cross provided Macauley Bonne with the chance to head home Town’s first winner of the season at Lincoln in September. We were denied the chance of more. He finished the season at Peterborough, where injuries continued to bite.
Sam Morsy – A-
Town’s new skipper arrived right at the end of the summer transfer window and was given an incredibly big build-up by Cook, who declared ‘everything that we lacked today will be there times 10 from him' in the wake of the 5-2 loss to Bolton. Morsy had yet to make his debut by this point and was a positive influence when he came into the team, but he has taken things up several levels since McKenna’s appointment. He controls midfields and contributes both on and off the ball. He's starting scoring goals now and could probably add even more in that department. The best midfielder in League One? I think so.
Lee Evans – B
Sadly the Welshman, who captained Ipswich for the first month of the season before Morsy arrived, was limited to only 29 appearances in his debut season as injuries tripped him up. He and Rekeem Harper didn’t really click in the early days but, once given the ability to play in a role he’s used to alongside Morsy, he looked solid in the middle of the pitch. He can switch the ball with ease, has a good passing range and is also good in the tackle. Ipswich missed him. A big highlight was his hat-trick against Doncaster – his only goals of the campaign.
Tyreeq Bakinson – C+
Town wanted a midfielder in January and, in Bakinson, they found one with good pedigree and Championship experience. We’ve seen some really good games from the Bristol City loanee, in which he is confident on the ball, can move it around and does a good job of landing on loose balls to win the ball back for his team. He’s had other games (as well as both of these extremes in the same match) where he can be loose in possession, lose concentration or pull out of tackles. He grew into his loan spell and scored an excellent goal in his final game. Town can make this deal permanent if they wish – it remains to be seen whether they do.
Rekeem Harper – C-
A strange old season for a player who arrived with plenty of hope but quickly found he, playing alongside Evans, didn’t tick enough of Cook’s midfield boxes. He went from playing deep to being used as a substitute at No.10. He looked completely lost at times before going out on loan to Crewe. He’s clearly got talent and it will be interesting to see whether McKenna is able to work with him this summer and help him truly get his Ipswich career started. There is a player there.
Tom Carroll – D
It’s a case of ‘one-and-done' for the former Tottenham and QPR midfielder, who never got going during his one season with Town. He never made himself first choice under either Cook or McKenna, largely because he doesn’t bring the midfield intensity either manager is after. He clearly has technical ability, that’s not up for debate, but he just didn’t fit. Didn’t look like he was enjoying his football.
Idris El Mizouni – C
It’s been another stop-start season for the one-cap Tunisia international, who made 12 appearances, of which 10 were starts. The majority were in the cups, meaning long waits between matches which made it hard for him to get any kind of rhythm. He played well in many of his games, showing ability on the ball, with his long-range winner at Oldham in the FA Cup an obvious highlight. He turns 22 at the start of next season, meaning next year will be a big one for the academy product.
Conor Chaplin – B+
Chaplin’s right up there when it comes to the impact of summer signings on the club as a whole. On the pitch he’s a hard worker who is adapting to a new role in the team, playing a little deeper than he’s used to, so scoring 11 goals is a great achievement. He’s the man you want when it comes to finding space to shoot inside a packed box. There have been quiet spells and games where he’s not been able to influence the contest, but that’s never been due to a lack of effort. Has also become an ambassador for the club’s Community Trust – an important role which shows how highly he’s regarded as a character.
Bersant Celina – B+
Celina is a man who knows how to provide big moments. His goal against Crewe was stunning, his late, late winner at home to Fleetwood was expertly-timed and invigorating, while his strike at Oxford produced away end celebrations not seen for many a year. He created many, many chances for his team and showed real quality on the ball in the majority of his appearances but, given how driven he is he would have expected more output across the campaign. Wasn’t always a first choice but became just that by the end of the season under McKenna. Hopefully he’s back here next season.
Sone Aluko – B
Signed in the summer, Aluko has proved to be an important figure around the squad all season-long, showing undoubted pedigree on the pitch as the intelligent footballer displayed great touch and control. Scored three goals, with a brace at Cambridge followed three days later by a strike at Portsmouth, but if there is one knock on the attacker it’s that Ipswich want more production from their attacking midfielders. But he’s a real asset and it’s a positive he will be here next season, whatever role he ends up playing.
Kyle Edwards – C+
After his first few Ipswich appearances, we were all asking ‘how have Ipswich signed this guy in League One?' We weren’t used to seeing Ipswich players glide with the ball and beat men with clever touches. It was great, before injury kept him out for five games. He returned and contributed but questions soon began about his final product, before a change in shape and the removal of the two advanced wide players from the equation made things tough for him to get on the pitch. A quad injury ended his season but he will be back in contention later this summer. It will be interesting to see how McKenna uses him.
Scott Fraser – C-
It started so well for Fraser as he raised the roof off of Portman Road with the equaliser against Morecambe on his debut. But things started to go wrong from there, with a missed penalty at Burton costing his side. It was hard to see where he fitted in Cook’s 4-2-3-1 formation, given he was neither a winger or a deep midfielder – two roles he tried and showed quality touches without stamping his mark on games. Both Chaplin and Celina were ahead of him as a No.10 for much of his time at the club - another door closed there. That’s largely why he was allowed to join Charlton in January, with the Scot departing without us ever seeing the best of him.
Macauley Bonne – B-
This proved a very tough school report to write. His first three months were truly stunning – 11 goals in 16 and a run of form which captured the imagination of everyone. His sneaky contribution against Sheffield Wednesday, his warm personality and the fact he was a boyhood Town fan living his dream formed a wonderful aura around him. He built and carried the positive mood through what was actually a really poor start to the season for his team. But the wheels eventually fell off his season, with just one goal in his final 30 appearances, his starting place lost and his confidence drained away. It was sad to see. His loan spell is over and a return feels unlikely. Oh what might have been.
James Norwood – C+
The striker’s final Ipswich season ended with seven goals and the perfect sign-off on final day, as he netted against Charlton and then paraded four mates as part of the lap of appreciation. But the campaign was a rollercoaster which included a long spell in exile before he marked his return with a goal at Wigan. It marked a streak which earned him the division’s player-of-the-month award for December, but he spent long spells on the bench before starting five of the last seven. It will be fascinating to see where he ends up.
Joe Pigott – C-
With the No.9 shirt on his back, it looked as though the stage was set for Pigott to be Ipswich’s main man. He started on opening day, scored at Burton in game two and netted three in his first seven. But Bonne’s electric form saw him drop to the bench and, aside from a few occasions, he never really left it again. Chances were rare (successive starts only once all season) and the loss of his father during the season of course hit him hard, so there are mitigating factors. But it’s hard to argue he truly took the opportunities when they came, either. He doesn’t seem to fit the striker mould McKenna looks to like, so it remains to be seen if here’s here beyond the summer.
Kayden Jackson – C+
There was very little expectation surrounding Jackson in the summer. In fact it was a surprise he was still here, with his contract option seemingly only taken in a bid to sell him on. He started the campaign training with the Under 23s but slowly worked his way back into the picture, earning a place on the fringe and perhaps benefiting from Norwood’s exile. That looked as good as it would get, before McKenna took a shine to him and he eventually managed a run of six starts in seven league games. He played well in those games and deserves huge credit for the way he kept himself in shape, both physically and mentally, during the tough times. His season cruelly ended through injury but he appears to fit the manager’s system and will be here next season if a new contract can be agreed.