24: Season Review, Part Three: IPS to NEW
Four clubs whose fans will regard any spell in the second echelon as purgatory are the next on our assessment sheet. All, remember, have competed in European competition within recent memory and will feel they don’t belong here. Genuine national personalities have peppered the wage bill at this quartet this season, an underlining of the Football League’s central place in British sport.
Much more was expected of Ipswich Town in 2009-10 and only a post-Christmas process of resurrection saved the season from being labelled a complete disaster. Early on, it was a case of too many draws and too many duff signings. Tamaš Priskin was recently pronounced the worst acquisition by any club this term, let alone the Tractor Boys themselves and he and Lee Martin conspicuously failed to justify expectations.
Add to that some dressing room clashes that Jon Stead, Pablo Couñago and Owen Garvan had no hope of winning and the ambulance chasers were queuing up the A12 in the hope of witnessing a certain Corkman’s implosion. Then, albeit slowly, the ties started being converted into wins and Ipswich trundled into a mid league position, albeit never seriously threatening the play offs.
As one might expect from a club directed by the ultimate all-purpose midfielder, it was between the boxes that recovery came. Jon Walters put an injury damaged 08-09 behind him to once again become the Suffolk club’s main creative threat, Grant Leadbitter was awkward for opponents, David Norris, also returning from injury, was tigerish and adept, and Jack Colback signalled his arrival as a hope crowned talent, albeit one that would be returning from whence he came. Behind, Tommy Smith capped everything with a ticket to South Africa. Ipswich finished much lower than their supporters expected but the vessel has been steadied.
Final League Position: 15
Our Pre-season Prediction: 4
Marks out of 10: 4
TTU Player of the Year: Jack Colback
Although one expected momentum to provide the Foxes with spirit following their rampant domination of League One, few would have expected them to gel so remarkably well. Nigel Pearson, hitherto a man with the stamp of a Number Two about him, showed immense tactical nous and smart cookie team selection to elevate the East Midlands club into the play offs.
Although the good results continued, Matty Fryatt’s injury is the probable cause for Leicester’s kicking off another year in the Cocaleague. The ex-Walsall striker looked well on his way to a Golden Boot after a series of media-attracting goals, including a particularly memorable brace at Loftus Road. Around him, Richie Wellens and loanee Martyn Waghorn proved to be effective acquisitions and Andy King purred as a forward lying midfielder.
Jack Hobbs’ Liverpudlian antecedents earn him the headlines but in reality, it was 21-year old Michael Morrison who contributed most to the defence, his having displaced the unlucky Wayne Brown from the starting XI. Pearson deserves ample plaudits for his careful piecing together of an inexpensive squad. The play-off semi finals are the worst place to lose, but the manager should swell with pride at his achievements.
Final League Position: 5
Our Pre-season Prediction: 12
Marks out of 10: 8
TTU Player of the Year: Andy King
Few clubs can have performed to far below expectations as Boro, 09-10 vintage. A few months ago, Gary O’Neil and future World Cup provo Adam Johnson were swatting Swansea aside at the Liberty as Gareth Southgate steered the team to a place but one point off the top of the table. Even some wage bill attrition in August’s phoney war looked good business at the time, with Tuncay Sanli, Robert Huth and Alfonso Alves following Stewart Downing through the Riverside portals.
But an injury to Matthew Bates and one or two dodgy results followed – most notably a 5-0 horror show at home to West Brom – and Steve Gibson pushed the panic button. In came Gordon Strachan and although a 5-1 red herring of a win at Loftus Road inspired hope, Strachan’s recruitment of ex-Royals Leroy Lita and Dave Kitson looked a shaky strategy.
Plan B came in the transfer window and no fewer than six signings from north of the border. Of these, Barry Robson performed creditably but £3.5 million for Scott McDonald recalls the spendthrift days of yesteryear. As the season wore on, glum acceptance of decline increasingly made way for outright anger as Strachan’s reputation began to develop a tattered look. It’s been a miserable, misfiring sally into Championship waters for Boro and the ginger Scot may be required to work with what he’s got rather than waste more money.
Final League Position: 11
Our Pre-season Prediction: 1
Marks out of 10: 3
TTU Player of the Year: Barry Robson
It’s hard not to feel jealous of Newcastle. In the Summer, we were all roundly proclaiming that we a) didn’t fancy them and b) that they might even flirt with a second successive relegation. At our recent TTU get-together in Camden Town, their subsequent efforts were damned with feint praise – “of course they were always going to win the league with that money”.
We shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways. Several factors behind the Magpies’ cruise to the Football League title impress. Chris Hughton has behaved respectfully all season in the teeth of ludicrous calls for Alan Shearer to reinstate tactical mayhem and heavily maligned players of the relegated side have dusted themselves down and produced outstanding campaigns: Jose Enrique and Hair Metaller Fabricio Colloccini chief among them. Nor have the likes of Kevin Nolan or Alan Smith ponced around like fancy dans on dropping a level. From the word go and an unfortunate point at the Hawthorns, Newcastle looked like they meant business.
The league has provided youngsters such as Andy Carroll and Mike Williamson the chance to establish themselves as first team members, something that may have been denied them in the EPL. Jonás Gutiérrez has been as electric a winger as we have seen this year and a points tally above 100 speaks for itself. Bravo!
Final League Position: 1
Our Pre-season Prediction: 6
Marks out of 10: 9
TTU Player of the Year: Jose Enrique