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Stuart Watson’s Verdict: Ipswich Town are in the wrong place at the wrong time – and they have only themselves to blame

PUBLISHED: 06:00 05 July 2020 | UPDATED: 15:23 09 July 2020

Ipswich Town's curtailed League One season finished on March 7 with a 1-0 home loss to Coventry - a fourth straight defeat. Photo: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town's curtailed League One season finished on March 7 with a 1-0 home loss to Coventry - a fourth straight defeat. Photo: Steve Waller

Stephen Waller

How are the aftershocks of the coronavirus crisis going to affect Ipswich Town? STUART WATSON takes a look at why being in League One right now is a case of bad timing.

Ipswich Town players leave the field to boos following a 1-0 home loss to Fleetwood on March 3. Photo: Steve WallerIpswich Town players leave the field to boos following a 1-0 home loss to Fleetwood on March 3. Photo: Steve Waller

Person a says to person b ‘ask me what the secret to comedy is?’, then duly interrupts the prompted question with a premature shout of ‘timing!’.

I’ve been thinking of that joke in relation to Ipswich Town. Only it’s no laughing matter.

For 16 years the Championship felt, often frustratingly, like ‘Ipswich Town and friends’. Then, just in time for a global pandemic, the Blues managed to drop down a level and royally mess up a quickfire promotion chance.

Wrong place, wrong time.

Ipswich Town owner Marcus Evans is facing up the club losing as much as  £10m in revenue due to the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Ross HallsIpswich Town owner Marcus Evans is facing up the club losing as much as £10m in revenue due to the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Ross Halls

The EFL umbrella may cover three divisions, but not everybody is enjoying some protection from the rain. Tiers one and two, chasing the vast TV pay cheques, are back underway. Tiers three and four, reliant on gate receipts, have stopped indefinitely.

Ipswich have been caught the wrong side of the gap as the tectonic plates of the English football pyramid begin to shift and potentially drift apart.

Brace yourself for another dull deadlock as League One and Two clubs, each with their own set of financial circumstances and agendas, fail to agree on a start date for the 2020/21 campaign. Just like with ‘Project Restart’, Ipswich Town could find themselves outnumbered.

Word has it that several clubs, keen to fully maximise the relief provided by the government’s furlough scheme (which runs until the end of October), would favour staying in hibernation until the new year and resuming only when all restrictions on mass gatherings are lifted.

MORE: ‘There is no massive urgency there’ – O’Neill on whether Downes will be next to sign long-term deal

Getting out of sync with the Premier League and Championship could have serious ramifications. There’s already been talk of regionalising tiers three and four, while discussions around salary caps are advanced.

Championship clubs will, it’s been reported, be restricted to £15-20m. League One’s cap would, it’s said, be set at just £2.5m. That’s a hell of a difference.

For context, Town’s last wage bill in the Championship was a reasonably modest £19m, so they would have been rubbing their hands at the prospect of their over-reaching rivals being brought in line with that should they still be there now.

Town’s current wage bill is, at an educated guess, around the £6m mark following last summer’s significant slashing. So their divisional rivals are going to be rubbing their hands at the prospect of Ipswich being brought into line with them.

Paul Lambert said his team 'paid the price for two bad months' after a points per game model left Ipswich Town with an 11th place League One finish. Photo: Steve WallerPaul Lambert said his team 'paid the price for two bad months' after a points per game model left Ipswich Town with an 11th place League One finish. Photo: Steve Waller

Marcus Evans must be spitting feathers. For years he’s banged the drum for Financial Fair Play and self-sustainability. Introduced in 2011 the rules should have prepared football better for this unprecedented current crisis. Yet the punishments never had bite.

MORE: ‘Completely different from anything we’ve ever worn’ - Town hope to unveil new away kit next week

This is no time for self-pity though. Ipswich have only themselves to blame.

Today, we should be looking back on their involvement in a behind-closed-doors play-off match. Cole Skuse has admitted not making the top six was ‘outrageous’. He’s not wrong.

Forget injuries and forget refereeing decisions. Neither helped, but there are no excuses.

Cole Skuse admits it's 'outrageous' that Ipswich didn't finish in the top six. Photo: Ross HallsCole Skuse admits it's 'outrageous' that Ipswich didn't finish in the top six. Photo: Ross Halls

Paul Lambert overplayed the youthfulness of his squad. And he’s deluded if he thinks his team ‘paid the price for two bad months’. The reality is that Town were in relegation form from early November onwards. A total of 19 points from 21 games was only marginally better than Bolton and Southend’s tally from the same period.

Peterborough and Sunderland have every right to feel aggrieved at missing out on the points per game method of deciding the table, but Ipswich’s suggestion that the play-offs might be expanded to include them was embarrassing in the extreme.

MORE: Big interview: ‘I was a complete Space Cadet’ - Luke Woolfenden on coming through the Town academy, transfer rumours and Premier League goals

The hope, and there always is hope if you look hard enough, is that some harsh lessons have been learnt.

Maybe the current climate has made it easier for Ipswich to hold onto rising stars such as Luke Woolfenden and Flynn Downes. Maybe, it will provide an opportunity for them to pick up some decent free agents as clubs reluctantly let contracts expire in a cost-cutting exercise.

Perhaps, the returns of Kane Vincent-Young and Jack Lankester, plus a fully fit James Norwood, will prove a catalyst for success. We’ll see.

This is not the first time Ipswich Town have found themselves in the perfect storm.

They were hit hard by the collapse of the ITV Digital deal in 2002, that loss of money compounding some expensive mistakes and relegation from the Premier League. Administration followed and that took some recovering from. Fingers crossed the club is not feeling the aftershocks of this current crisis for even longer.


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