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So I began my FM22 experience with a go at Newcastle United, given my favourite team had that high profile highly controversial takeover in real life to see how I could do. 4 years and £750million+ in transfers got me a PL title, a Carabao Cup, an FA Cup runners up medal, a Europa Conference League semi (damn you Club Brugge) and a revamped squad featuring a litany of mega-talented players. Not as great as others have managed on FM, but you know - I'd take it after the Ashley mediocrity.
I decided that after doing that, the time has come to do something I enjoy doing on Football Manager, in managing an EFL side with little cash. At one point I very nearly started a career for this display with Bristol City, seeing as I wanted to see if I could manage to get them into the Prem as they usually seem to get there on FM, while on another event, I thought about Reading and a points deduction that seems to have gone under the radar compared to Derby's nightmare. But I had a pretty enjoyable career mode on FM20 starting with MK Dons below the Championship, so opted for League One, and after thinking of a few to start with, I went for…
Last seen in the Premier League in 2002 after a crazy 2 years that involved nearly reaching the Champions League only to totally fall apart in 2001/02, and stranded in League One after a humiliatingly poor 2018/19 season with just 5 wins in total.
This is a project and a bit, no doubt. I'm not saying the goal is to replicate Alf Ramsey in winning the Premier League (which he did at Ipswich in 1962 on the first try in the season that got him in the England job), or win FA Cup and UEFA Cup titles like Bobby Robson did (also turning out to be a successful England job audition), but let's see what we can do.
Upon taking the gig, I of course had to meet and consider the club vision. Image isn't uploading, so I'll just say the opening season expectation is to make the play-offs, as well reaching the FA Cup Third Round and Carabao Cup Second Round. The Papa John's Trophy isn't being considered. Attacking football and bringing in the academy grads is desired for the club culture.
The board seem relatively relaxed about the idea of this being a promotion-or-bust campaign, as I suspect it may be with some of the other former Premier League clubs who have fallen down to this level. The expectation for the marathon that is a League One season is play-offs. I feel like the right tactics and a decent run of form could see us go one better and reach automatic, but they have that as the season 2 expectation.
I wouldn't mind giving winning the Papa John's Trophy a go, but that's likely just gonna be used for reserves and youngsters. Least until I get to the point where I might get to the latter stages, then we'll see what we can do.
Before making any attempts at signings, we can see that we are expected…
… to just miss out on the play-offs, and finish 7th. The league is open imo - in real life, Oxford, MK Dons and Plymouth are all in the play-off hunt yet we're expected to just be better than them, with Charlton and Bolton rated much higher in the fold.
Bit of a busy pre-season, starting with the standard first v second 11 contest and then arguably the biggest contest in the form of West Ham United, followed by Championship sides.
All eyes ofc on making sure I've got something coherent in mind tactically for the season opener against Morecambe, and a busy opening month with 5 league games, a Carabao Cup tie, a possible second one if we beat Forest Green Rovers, and maybe a Papa John's tie, depending on whether the first game comes after the AFC Wimbledon home contest.
All that assessed, let's meet the playing squad at my disposal.
Pretty good for L1 level imo. I was tempted to do this without making any further signings if need be as I think this could be as much about finding a tactic that suits what I have at my disposal, but we all know the temptations of going into the transfer market for a rip it up and start again process. How beneficial that can be is another matter, given Ipswich made an absurd amount of summer signings (and more in January) so this will feel like bedding in a new team anyway.
I had considered trying Ipswich in a back 3-based formation, as I'm aware new manager Kieran McKenna has been playing it this way. As it is, I started off trying out a 4-2-3-1 as that seems to be my FM22 default, and when fitting it into that, it produced this as my assistant's first instinct.
If I was being nit-picky, I think it's close. Ideally I could use an extra CAM to allow Celina to play wide-left. What I can get on a budget of £300k and a wage bill of £5k-a-week is another matter, to say nothing of trying to squeeze it into the surprisingly restrictive requirement that an L1 squad is 22 man.
Ironically the real Ipswich's dealings have caused problems with trying to play this way, as Rakeem Harper and Scott Fraser were at Ipswich in the first half of the season and both could play there but both moved on in January (Harper on loan to Crewe, Fraser on perm to Charlton), and both could've been useful to playing there. To say nothing of Celina being unavailable until late August. It may be that we use something else to start then switch over to the 4-2-3-1.
If nothing else, failing to get play-offs at least is an ill-advised thing to do. So we'll see if I can make it work… maybe I can? If my FM skills are that good I think I might have a shot.
According to the transfer window screen, Ipswich's combined transfer work on this update (I'm using the new update with the post-Jan database) amounts to 21 new players in and 30 out. So merging all of this into a new system is something that I may have to be patient over. It may also explain why I only had a budget of £300k and spare wage capacity of £5k a week, and with few options appealing, the only bit of business I did was loan out a striker in our academy.
In any case, we have completed pre-season and I would say things were mixed…
Leaving aside the closeness our first and second 11s managed, we did manage decent enough showings against West Ham and PEC Zwolle, but fairly meh showings against 2 teams promoted from last season's League One and the Championship outfit QPR. So there may well be work to do if, as we aspire to, we get promoted to face them.
We alternated between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, and it seems to me as though our most positive performances were using the latter of those two formations.
One other intriguing thing came in just as we were about to say lights out and away we go. I do have to do some backroom building as, while we did have a full quota of first team coaches, we needed to build up scouts and youth coaching. I'm happy enough with the scouts I bought in, which included former Spanish international Vicente and ex-Reading defender Nicky Shorey, but I decided to outsource things in search of an U18s coach, and well, this guy decided to answer the Batsignal we put out…
Not gonna lie - this did make me giggle when I saw that he'd answered our job advert (as did Sami Khedira and one of Villa's Spanish compatriots who I sadly can't quite remember) and I instantly just felt “OK, he has to join”. Admittedly it would've been a lot cooler if we'd been able to bring David Villa the player to Portman Road. Promotion to the Championship might be a simpler ask if we were feeding supply lines to a lead striker from Spain's tournament-dominating squad of 2008-12, or who won Champions League and La Ligas with Barcelona. Still, this might count as an inspiring player for our under-18s, right?
The reason why this is presented out of chronological sequence is that we agreed the deal before our season opener, but it would be after we'd played our first two games of the season when we got the work permit approved and his appointment confirmed.
Moving on, our first assignment for the 2021-22 season had arrived and it bought us a home tie against Morecambe, who had been promoted from the League 2 play-offs in real life. So a mildly intriguing contest, as a team making their debut at League One level had the long-trip south east to Suffolk and our rebooted squad.
I felt the 4-3-3 was the way to go for this one while figuring out formations, so I used that, naming:
Walton - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson, Evans - Burns, Bonne, Chaplin
So, what would matchday one bring?
Fairly mediocre if I'm being totally honest. Unless I'm being really thick, I can't find the text report that I used to use to do full length match report like things, which is a bit of a disappointment to my mind, but in truth, even if I still presented it like that, this would be a fairly simple recap. Christian Walton marked his start by making a couple of decent stops when required though Morecambe's sub-0.5xG indicates that he wasn't put under a crazy amount of pressure.
Our goal came through fairly self-explanatory circumstances. Conor Chaplin won a penalty, and duly scored it, with the former Portsmouth and Coventry man looking livelier after we switched at half-time to a 4-2-3-1 with him playing off Bonne as a second striker. Which if nothing else might negate my interest in finding an extra CAM if he can do that effectively.
In any case, while the board were less than impressed that we didn't kick-off the season with a gung-ho attack-heavy victory, the truth is I'm satisfied enough we started with a won. It's certainly more than the real world version managed - it took Ipswich 8 games to win their first contest of the current real-life 2021-22 season, so doing it in one is absolutely a boost to my ambition that I can get Ipswich back into the Championship. Just 45 more games (and play-offs) to go… lucky me.
Before then, a distraction. The board ambition was just to get to the Second Round of the Carabao Cup, which can be achieved just by winning our first round tie. So, all in for trying to do that. For this one, we're hosting Forest Green Rovers.
Nine changes for this one, as I wanted to do more squad assessment. We picked:
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Stewart, Penney - Evans, Carroll - Jackson, El Mizouni, Aluko - Piggott
Just the centre-back Luke Woolfenden and midfielder Lee Evans are carried over from our season opener - the former as we lack centre-backs, the latter as I don't intend to use him a starter in the weekend game against Burton Albion. We also change to the 4-2-3-1, allowing Idris El Mizouni and Sone Aluko chances to stake a claim that I don't need to buy in extra attacking midfielders if they can do the job. Or so they hope. As we're also thin on the ground on centre-backs, I also gave teenage defender Cameron Stewart a squad number and sent him in.
An upset would absolutely not be helpful, but such is the risk when I make 9 changes and we're playing League 2 opposition who named more or less their first choice team. But how would we do?
Well… a win's a win. In truth, we could, maybe should, have registered a more comfortable victory. We played well, we looked comfortable at dealing with Forest Green Rovers' threats, and we were able to adequately protect an early lead, picked up when Joe Pigott turned in Kayden Jackson's cross.
I guess it would've been greedy to ask for more, but that's football. We always want more.
It would be nice for our finances if we could land a decent draw in Round 2 of the Carabao Cup that we are now there - as in, home against a Premier League side, get some decent gate money, maybe even live TV coverage. We'll see how generous the draw is on that front next time around.
Good to know that I was able to meet the board ambition early on, although in fairness, just reaching the Carabao Cup Second Round isn't the most difficult to fulfil and we did the bare minimum at fulfilling it. Also worth noting this is more than the real Ipswich managed, as they were dumped out straight away by League 2 Newport County.
Anyway, we are in the hat for Round 2. I had been hoping for a home tie against a PL team to test our mettle against one of the big teams and maybe get a TV slot. So, did we do that?
No. Not at home, not against a PL side, although Fulham being Fulham this is due to it being in the “Champ” setting of their PL-Champ back & forth. No matter. We'll have to see if we can give it a shot.
Anyway, with that confirmed, we move back to building up a head of steam in the league. With 2 wins in our opening 2, we've certainly started this journey on the right track. Something like 20+ wins would get us into the play-offs, so having got off the mark against Morecambe on the first day, it's time for number 2 and our first competitive match outside Suffolk as we travel to face Burton Albion.
For this one, we give the 4-2-3-1 it's first league outing as we opt for:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Jackson, Chaplin, Edwards - Pigott
From the opener against Morecambe, we made four alterations, giving Vaclav Hladky the nod over Christian Walton, and bringing in Kayden Jackson and Kyle Edwards as wide-men to flank the midweek goalscorer Joe Pigott.
So, would our first away day bring us some great reward?
Yes. Jolly good show all round.
For all I talked up using Conor Chaplin as a shadow striker and was eager to see Edwards back in action after a pre-season injury kept him out of the opening game, it was the option to start Jackson over Wes Burns that paid dividends. He was a dangerous presence on wide right and it was he that proved decisive, turning in a Dominic Thompson cross for a very early opener before receiving and finishing Pigott's through pass for number 2.
Our gegenpress approach is working so far. We've dominated all the games we've taken part in, and I think we have the runners to make it work. But then admittedly it's only been 3 games.
Back-to-back away games for us to see if we can continue to create a kind of momentum, as we travel over to Cheltenham Town and test ourselves against a side who won promotion from the previous season's League Two - the second time in our opening 3 we will be doing that.
Named for this one were…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Jackson, Chaplin, Burns - Bonne
Manging player fitness is going to be a big challenge in a league with all kinds of games in close proximity to one another, so there will be changes made on a more routine basis. As is for this one, however, we were OK to run with just the two, bringing in Wes Burns and Macauley Bonne.
So, what would be the result of our trip to the fascinatingly named Jonny-Rocks Stadium?
This is going well so far. 4 wins in all competitions, and a comprehensive attacking performance. So, you know - good stuff.
Admittedly it didn't look like that early on, as a brain fade from Cameron Burgess saw him turn a rebound past his own goalkeeper. But clearly after that we were in take no prisoners mode. As happened on the opening day, Chaplin won and then scored a penalty, before a lovely move saw Jackson make it 3 goals in 2 to go with his brace at Burton.
The Ipswich-born striker Bonne then got off the mark to give us a further advantage and when Jackson struck again for back-to-back braces, it genuinely seemed like we could go on and win by a bigger margin. As it was, our live xG tracker stat does indicate we eased off the gas a little, even moreso when we had the sweet relief of an offside flag disallowing a Cheltenham goal that could've made life more interesting in the final stages.
So far so good then, and making me raise my spirits that my promotion ambition isn't impossible. Something that might well please our shirt sponsor - some obscure local Suffolk businessman called Ed Sheeran.
As it is, we were back at Portman Road (no record of whether Sheeran would be enticed to come along or not) to host MK Dons, who have just 1 point from their opening 3 games. In theory, we should be up for this - we're in form and against a side who conceded 10 goals in the first 2 games.
My selections this time around featured:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Donacien, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Jackson, Chaplin, Edwards - Bonne
Two changes, with Janoi Donacien bought in after Burgess had a weak game at Cheltenham, while Edwards returns for the left-wing role to take over from Burns, who looked out of position there against the Robins.
Decent chance imo to make it 4 wins out of 4 to start this league season off, and indeed 5/5 overall. Would we do it?
Hmmm… our first real mis-step so far this campaign. Not great.
I'm not going to blame the fact we lost Chaplin to injury pretty much straight from kick-off, though that was a really unfortunate situation and robs us of one of our best players for a few weeks. We were very good in the first half and could well have taken the lead long before Bonne made it 2 in 2 by doing just that. But we seemed to just sit off after doing that, allowing MK Dons a good start to the second half that produced an equaliser by Tennai Watson from a corner.
That did wake us up a bit and the second half was fairly open, with ourselves racking up a ton of chances without beating Jamie Cumming and in truth MK Dons did have one or two half-decent chances late on. But it still adds up to our first dropped points of the new campaign.
Still, on the bright side, we're unbeaten, we've scored in all our games and I feel like the players are getting my requirements. So this is a setback, but I'm not gonna see it as a sign we're about to suddenly turn to shit.
… least I hope not anyway. All we have to do is to keep plugging away. I'm not expecting to shock Fulham in the Carabao Cup, which will be our next fixture after this one, but we have to build momentum. September already looks like a busy month in prospect, with some of the other teams expected to feature in the promotion mix coming up on our fixture list, along with the arrival of the Papa John's Trophy to throw in another curveball.
The transfer deadline will also be coming up. I'm not expecting much - I'd like another attacking midfielder, especially thanks to Chaplin getting injured, but with Celina about to become available, it may not be all that necessary. I'm also trying to get rid of the unwanted James Norwood, who is 5th choice striker, but that's proving difficult as nobody wants to meet his wages or the £50k transfer price-tag. So we might be lumbered with him until January. But that's something to see if we can resolve in the next few days.
For all that I found Fulham away to be an underwhelming Carabao Cup tie, at the end of the day, it's worth trying to have a go anyway. Beating a side with Premier League worthy players would absolutely be proof we're beginning to do stuff that would put us on the right track, and even if it's optimistic, we still had to go anyway.
Named to at least give a giant-killing a go were…
Walton - Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess, Penney - Evans, Morsy, Carroll - Burns, Bonne, Edwards
A couple of changes but still a core that I would consider first choice. Fulham, for their sins, are top of the Championship in the early stages and like us, opted to make a couple of switches for this relative distraction.
If nothing else, we were up for having a go. So, could we do it?
Nope. First defeat as Ipswich manager in a competitive fixture, though I can't lie - it's not as if it was entirely unexpected.
We weren't entirely outclassed tbf. I would say we did create a healthy number of chances - indeed we had more shots on target than our opponents. But they had the players to score and we didn't. Alas.
Mitrovic made it 1-0 in first half added time and we were unable to make the most of a number of decent chances in the half hour or so after the break, before Neco Williams put it out of reach, and with that, we bow out of the Carabao Cup for the year. So Fulham get the reward of a trip to Leicester in Round 3, while we go away to focus on the league. And also the Papa John's Trophy.
Our return to league action would come the following Saturday, as an AFC Wimbledon team who have begun the season in fairly healthy form travel to Suffolk. Quite something to think that the previous league opponent we had was MK Dons, so close ties against the two post-Wimbledon clubs.
We reshuffled our team back to something closer to our usual league set-up. Namely…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Jackson, Edwards, Aluko - Bonne
That hallmark of how successful teams grab rewards despite playing poorly very much applies here. We did not play well at all, but held out in the first half, scored right at the end of the half, and saw it through. Take what I can get I suppose.
AFC Wimbledon had begun the campaign very well and did pose plenty of problems for our defensive line at first. But we kept them out, and duly nabbed a goal when Tyreeq Bakinson headed in a Sone Aluko corner.
We kept in more or less the same pattern before seemingly getting a break when AFC Wimbledon's George Marsh was sent off for a bad tackle. That advantage was negated, however, when Aluko went off injured after we'd made all 3 subs.
That game bought to an end the opening month of the season, and while it's still very early on this campaign, let's have a look and see the nascent table.
Of course, it's still stupidly early to be looking at this. But we might as well anyway. Might not be top come season's end.
The following Saturday was due to see the Ipswich squad travel to Wycombe. However, both ourselves and the side from Buckinghamshire had international call-ups, so it became more convenient to ask for a reschedule, which the EFL duly granted. However, we do have the Papa John's Trophy to look forward to, and with it for us, a test against the West Ham academy side.
This came on transfer deadline day, which might well have been much more inconvenient had we actually been in the market to bring anyone in. We did make two attempts to do that, but neither came off. One was a fairly ambitious deal which would've seen us sign Bristol Rovers centre-back Alfie Kilgour and send the unwanted James Norwood to League 2 Rovers, but while Kilgour agreed to our terms, Norwood couldn't agree terms in Bristol so the plug was pulled. Meanwhile, Swansea's attacking midfielder Yan Dhanda was a target after being transfer listed and we had agreed a fee with his club. But in a 4 way bidding war, he rejected ourselves, Portsmouth and Shrewsbury to join a side in Serie A. So we've kept our powder dry for now, and we'll see if January is when we actually make our first signing as Ipswich Town Manager.
With the signings not coming off, we turned attentions to the Papa John's Trophy instead, and a tie against West Ham's Under 23s. Although the Hammers clearly saw it as an excuse to get players fit, given their side contained Argentine playmaker Manuel Lanzini and loan signing Takumi Minamino in key roles. Which… dubious.
Our more modest resources saw us pick the following:
Walton - Vincent-Young, Stewart, Burgess, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Burns, El Mizouni, Edwards - Simpson
Youngster Tyreece Simpson is perhaps the main inclusion of note, given a first start. In real life he was excellent at Swindon Town in the first half of the current season, so I figured it was worth giving him game time.
So, in this weird tournament that gets a hard reputation, could we get off to a decent start by beating the invited guests?
Yeah… not this time. While we did beat a West Ham team featuring a couple of these guys in pre-season, this proved a bit of a step too far, unfortunately. We did very well in fairness to come back and came close to winning it, but the shoot-out proved costly.
It didn't exactly start well, as two near-identical moves resulted in Minamino feeding Lanzini to score. But our attack did at least indicate we carried a goal threat and a Simpson double either side of half-time levelled things up. From there, if anything, we were the team that looked likelier to pick up the win but we just seemed to run out of steam late on, so it went to penalties.
All of the first 8 penalties were flawless, meaning somebody was guaranteed to be the fall guy and unfortunately for us, they were wearing blue. Dominic Thompson's kick was saved, West Ham scored their final kick, and we were done. Sad times.
Still, the Papa John's Trophy is all well and good and does come with a trophy (albeit sadly not one served with a complimentary garlic bread for the winners) but the main essential is the league, and trying to continue a bright start that has us as the early League One leaders. So we had time over the international break to assess ourselves, then go again in September with some big games, starting with Bolton at home.
Taking to the field against a Bolton side without a win since the opening day but still likely dangerous opponents were:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Jackson, El Mizouni, Edwards, Bonne
The return of Conor Chaplin to the bench was also a bonus, while we're also looking to continue threading in Celina, with this period seeing our talented loanee from France effectively having a pre-season.
Victory here would absolutely cement the idea that we're going to be at the forefront of the push for promotion. So we took to the field and…
… had to settle for a draw. Hmmmm. In fairness a Bolton win would've been a full-on smash-and-grab.
For most of this game, we were on it. We had chances, we forced their goalkeeper James Trafford into saves, and we did all the right things. But that first goal just never came and even though we introduced subs and tried different things, it threatened not to work and really backfire when Bolton broke, Elias Kachunga headed on a cross and sub Dion Charles couldn't miss.
That came with so little time outstanding and it did look all over, But pretty much straight away, a foul on Celina in the box gave us a penalty and Chaplin equalised. Obviously I wanted more and our display was worthy of more, but you know… take what you can get I guess.
This isn't an ideal start to what could already be a big month at this early stage. The rearranged Wycombe trip is the following Tuesday, taking us to the side that were 2nd at the end of August to our 1st. Then we have an away day against Lincoln City, who were play-off runners up last season, and then face another side relegated with Wycombe in the form of the pre-season promotion favourites Sheffield Wednesday.
I'm not saying that promotion to the Championship hangs already on September, but you know - points mean prizes, and this is a chance to show we could be setting the foundations for a real go at the top 2 places, nevermind top six. I think we have the quality to try and get important points, so now we've gotta see if we're worthy of this hunch.
With our trip to Wycombe pushed back by 10 days, Bolton was the de facto start of a fairly intense September including several sides forecast by pundits to be promotion challengers. After the relative disappointment that was failing to beat Bolton, we now had the delayed move west from Suffolk to Buckinghamshire and with it a contest against Wycombe at Adams Park - our first of the season against somebody relegated from the previous season's Championship.
We named the following people to try and demonstrate we're worthy of featuring in the promotion chase:
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Jackson, El Mizouni, Celina - Pigott
Couple of alterations, including notably a first start for George Edmundson after his move from Rangers.
Wycombe away had the air of a difficult contest. So, how would we fare?
Pretty well overall imo. Overall we seemed to manage the game pretty well and we recovered very well from the setback of conceding the equaliser.
In truth it was not a very good match. Kayden Jackson's early goal saw us take the initiative, but there were precious few opportunities from there. It looked like we'd be made to pay for not doing enough to grab a decisive second goal when Luke Woolfenden gave away a penalty and Joe Jacobson equalised. But pretty much straight away, Tyreeq Bakinson turned in from a set-piece to put us back in front and when Jacobson got sent off, we were pretty much home and dry.
If nothing else, that result demonstrates in my mind that promotion this season is not an unrealistic ambition. It also continues our unbeaten start to the season and the challenge is now to keep going. Test one on that road - Lincoln away, and a trip to the side beaten in last year's play-off final, albeit one who have started slowly.
Looking to make it 2 away wins in quick succession were…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, El Mizouni - Burns, Chaplin, Edwards - Bonne
I'm pleased I have the options to rotate if nothing else, with Conor Chaplin returning, captain Sam Morsy sitting this one out and a few other shuffles around.
So, could we get another good result to continue our bright start?
Two 2-1 victories in quick succession, this one with the added satisfaction of coming from behind to do so… I'll take it.
In truth we were looking in danger of being on the wrong end of the result. We were the better side in the first half so naturally conceded first when Liam Cullen stole a march on our backline. Salt was duly added to the wound when Macauley Bonne had what would've been an equaliser disallowed.
Curiously, both our goals came just as I was about to substitute the scorer. I was about to remove Wes Burns when he met Bonne's through-pass and slid the ball into the back of the net, and then 20-odd minutes later, Kyle Edwards was about to be taken off when he was in the right place to turn the ball into the goal after a goalmouth scramble.
Still, it doesn't matter who scores them, long as the goals are flowing and the wins are coming, and so far, they have been. 6 wins from 8 League One games so far has us at the front of the queue of bright starters.
This set up an intriguing curio for the next game, and for this one, I will need to post up the table, even if it has been only 8 games of the season:
Our next match is at home to Sheffield Wednesday, putting us against the only other unbeaten side so far.
It is absolutely too idea to entertain the idea that this meeting counts as a promotion six-pointer. But it would be rude not to acknowledge that there is a significance to this one and that our ambitions at the end of the season would be well served by winning this one. At the very least, it would be a decent psychological boost if our antics can make us the last unbeaten team in the league.
After a week of building ourselves up, it was time to take on the Owls (exploits with whom I covered here in an FM20 career mode) and the squad picked for this contest would be…
I made the following shuffle:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, El Mizouni - Burns, Celina, Edwards - Bonne
This is going to be an interesting game. One suspects in a higher tier it may well have got itself a TV selection, but we have to be content with those who made their way to Portman Road. Could we justify the home fans' faith?
All we need is one goal and we did get it. We got the defensive side spot-on, limiting them to one shot on target. If I was being critical I'd say we could've got more, but beggars can't be choosers.
The winner was pretty much straight away. Barely a few moments on the clock, win a corner, Celina to Woolfenden, boom.
Wednesday did have players that, as the second half progressed, did begin to make life difficult for us. But overall I'd say we had the measure of the pink-clad visitors, ensuring they returned to Yorkshire with a first defeat of the new season. So I'll take it.
That also means that our Ipswich squad is now the only team standing in League One with an unbeaten record intact. Which is a plus point in our favour. Again, this ain't a nailed on sign we're gonna make it to the Championship as is my goal for season one, but I can't wish for a better start.
It's now all about keeping it going and just a few days later was the next attempt to do that as we welcomed another representative of Yorkshire to Portman Road. This time it's Doncaster Rovers making the trip to our neck of the woods.
Names on the timesheet this time were:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmunson, Donacien - Morsy, Bakinson - Jackson, Chaplin, Celina - Pigott
Would we grab ourselves two home wins in a week, and four in a row overall?
Boy would we. This wasn't even close. We were just on it and Doncaster had nothing in the tank.
It took a while for things to kick into gear, mind, with Celina grabbing us an opening goal after 20 minutes following decent work by Pigott. The number 9 then grabbed a goal just after the half-hour mark from close range. Doncaster had actually in truth had the better of the play between the first two goals, but crucially, couldn't take their chances.
As the game wore on, however, we began to show more muscle. A quickfire double by Chaplin put us further into the lead - one after good work by Celina, the other a penalty, before El Mizouni came off the bench to score a very nice goal and make it 5-0.
We're pretty good imo. So if nothing else, we're beginning to show our hand as a team where the players buy into the gegenpress 4-2-3-1 and can even have a ruthless streak with the right opponent in front of us. So you know, yay us.
With our upcoming game at Shrewsbury Town pushed back, it means we have an upcoming pause in league football. But we still had one for the road, as we make a long old run to face Accrington Stanley up north. Some might class this as being a difficult place to go like Burnley is at a PL level, but I'm just up for 3 wins in a week.
Aiming to land such a goal were:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Chaplin, El Mizouni, Celina - Bonne
Could we meet the ambition of 3 wins in a week?
Just about. Thank the Lord for the reckless concession of a late penalty.
At that point, it was looking like it might be a day of frustration for us and our travelling supporters. While we'd taken the lead through Woolfenden in the opening 3 minutes as we did against Sheffield Wednesday the previous Saturday, we hadn't taken advantage of numerous chances, we'd lost Chaplin to another injury, and duly conceded an equaliser when nobody picked up Harry Pell at the back stick.
It all made me think that after so many good times this season, it just wasn't gonna be our day. And then suddenly, we win a penalty at the death for a foul on Celina, and sub Pigott beats the keeper. 2-1 and a win for us.
We do need to do some work on shooting to have more of a ruthlessness. What made the thumping win over Doncaster stand out is that the big chances all went in whereas most of our other wins remain by single goal margins.
That day may yet come. Or indeed we might just keep doing enough to grab single goal successes and grind out promotion, attacking football dreams be damned.
Guess for now I'll just enjoy being top, not wonder too hard if I could have it so much better, and see if we can get our unbeaten record in League One football to carry on through October. A few tough games will lurk, don't get me wrong, but I want to believe the good times can carry on for a little longer and maybe if I do that hard enough, dreams can come true. Or you know, quit without saving and try again until I do, given that's the FM cheat stereotype.
After opening October with our trip to our Accrington, our league programme was subject to a reshuffle. We had over 10 players called up for internationals - admittedly some from our youth team but still a good few first teamers - so had just cause to postpone our Shrewsbury match. However, before our free weekend, we did have an assignment in the Papa John's Trophy to get through first.
That would be a trip to Colchester, and a rendezvous with some familiar names and faces to those at Ipswich longer than I and most of our squad. Colchester contrived to sign 5 of Ipswich's discards, with including Alan Judge and Freddie Sears. 4 of them would face us - Emyr Huws the one observing rather than competing.
Making the team for the short trip from Ipswich to Colchester would be…
Walton - Vincent-Young, Burgess, Edmundson, Penney - Morsy, Evans - Burns, El Mizouni, Edwards - Pigott
Having lost our PJT opener to West Ham's kids, would we fare better against the League 2 outfit?
Yes we would, if in the end.
Despite our domination it would take the half-time arrival of Tyreece Simpson off the bench to tilt this in our favour. But once we got the first, we just looked more relaxed and assured, and two good goals from Edwards and then Evans did the job.
So you know, I'm happy enough. The Papa John's Trophy isn't necessarily the biggest fish to fry - or chicken dippers to fry, to be more menu appropriate - but it'd be nice to win and all.
In any case, League One is still my priority and as we enter October, we still proudly nursed an unbeaten record in the third tier of English football. Of course, we're not going to be resistant forever, but it would be nice to develop a cushion on everyone below us first.
With this in mind, we returned from the international-enforced break by making the relatively short away day trip from Ipswich to Cambridge, and come up against a side from the university city that were promoted last season.
Looking to teach the new boys a lesson were…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Jackson, Edwards, Celina - Bonne
So, three more points for our total?
Not this time, although not for a lack of trying.
We absolutely should have won this game. Cambridge offered basically nothing going forward, so kudos to our defence for a successful containing exercise. But we had enough shots for each starting player to have 2 each and have change for more, tried throwing on strikers, tweaked combos and just had no way past the Cambridge goalkeeper.
This frustration was even more tangible given Cambridge played roughly half an hour or so a man light when Adam May got a dismissal for a bad tackle, but even after that, they just couldn't be beaten. It happens, but there's a difference between accepting it happened and being annoyed we let it.
One bit of housekeeping was noted - we drew Oxford United away in the FA Cup First Round. Curiously, we just had to reschedule our game at Oxford as it came on the November international weekend, and the organisers tried to put it in the slot that will be occupied by the FA Cup Second Round. Which, talk about not working as a schedule.
But that's a worry for later. For now, could we take out our frustrations from failing to break down the Cambridge wall on our next opponents? Well, it would be useful if we could. We had a Tuesday night trek down to Portsmouth, who are going to be a big rival in our push for promotion, and winning there would be a good sign we are serious about our promotion project.
Aiming to do better at scoring the goals were:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, El Mizouni - Jackson, Celina, Burns - Pigott
Would we managed to do better at the lost art of beating a goalkeeper?
Well… if we're gonna fail, fail in style, clearly.
I knew we would not go the season unbeaten, and that a team like Portsmouth was a potential place for us to suffer our first slip-up. But for fuck's sake we really didn't do well at all. This was an even game on possession, shots, shot quality, etc, yet we just couldn't control Pompey's attack.
It may well be that the late double by Aidan O'Brien to add to Tyler Walker and Alex Newby's first-half double was just adding salt to the wound and gave Portsmouth a much more handsome result than their performance deserved. Either way, it's a profoundly aggravating way to slip up.
Certainly, given I was fuming at how we'd failed to do the business in limping to a 0-0 at Cambridge and was hoping for a big result to make up for it, a big defeat is clearly not what I had in mind.
So, we've lost a league match for the first time in our Ipswich Town stewardship. But this sport is about getting back up again after being knocked down, so we'd have to see if we could do better against Fleetwood Town.
Looking to batter the Cod Army would be…
Walton - Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Burns, El Mizouni, Aluko - Simpson
A few changes to this one, some through tiredness, some as penance for being crap at Fratton Park. So, could the reshuffle pay dividends?
Win's a win. A Woolfenden header from a set-piece and a smart strike by El Mizouni.
Defensively we were sound too, keeping Fleetwood from doing anything in the second half and seeing out a much-needed win in relative comfort. First win in 3 games means we're still in the place we wanna be.
Our game in hand also provided us with an opportunity to get back ahead of the competition. Having been pushed back due to the international issue, our home match with Shrewsbury would be next in the fixture sequence, and with it, a chance to right a few wrongs.
Looking to make the most of things were…
Walton - Vincent-Young, Donacien, Burgess, Thompson - Morsy, Evans - Jackson, Celina, Burns - Bonne
This had the air of being a game we'd be advised to win. But would we?
Now, I could blame quite a few things here. I could blame captain Sam Morsy, who has an irritating habit of getting bookings that really came back to bite us here. I could blame doziness as we tried to close ranks but ended up getting exposed. I could blame a sub-par display from Christian Walton in goal, or our goal-shy strikers leaving it to the attacking midfielders to do their job. But ultimately, it's a tapestry of failing to turn this game into the win it should've been.
At one stage, the narrative was looking good for us. We'd been giving a tough start when Daniel Udoh took advantage of some crap defending to put Shrewsbury in front, but dusted ourselves off when Jackson equalised and then Celina put us in front just before the break. Indeed, for a lot of the second half, the story was firmly about us doing the work to extend our advantage.
Then we duly tripped ourselves up. Already on the tightrope after yet another yellow, Morsy got sent off, forcing us to go defensive. It did seem to be working as Shrewsbury, like Fleetwood the previous weekend, offered next to nothing in the second 45. But as it built on, the unease and doubt crept in, and sure enough, right at the end, Udoh turned in a cross from one-time Norwich winger Elliott Bennett and we were level. Crap.
That left me pretty annoyed. So, naturally, I decided changes were in order for our final game of October, as we made the long cross-country schlep from Ipswich to Plymouth.
I may not have been fired - something I can't say the same about for several clubs including Lincoln, MK Dons and Bolton, who used October to change boss - but I'd felt like after a great start that this month saw us get bogged down a bit. So I wanted us to end the month well.
Aiming to get us back on song were…
Hladky - Donacien, Edmundson, Burgess, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Edwards, Celina, Aluko - Jackson
Yeah… that was no good at all. At least Portsmouth away was close. In this one, we just offered nothing of interest. Plymouth's Azeez was the outstanding player, scoring a fine free-kick just after the break and a clinching second goal in the final 10 of normal time.
The match at Portsmouth was at least close on xG, stats and possession, with their finishing substantially more clinical. This one was more defenceless. We really did offer nothing like enough of a threat to keep our fans' spirits high for the long trip back east, tails between our legs.
So, as Halloween rolls around, where do we find ourselves in the grand chessboard that is the League One table?
The good news is we are still top, lording it over the rest of the league. But losses at Fratton Park and Home Park have demonstrated we are not infallible and it means our advantage is not a substantial one. So it's too soon to coast and expend as little energy as possible knowing our Championship place is secure.
Can we push on now? Well, we have distractions in the FA Cup and Papa John's things to look forward to in the not too distant future. But with Sunderland, Rotherham and surprise package Crewe as delights in November, we're certainly going to have opportunities to try and push on.
Tune in next time to see how we deal with the next stage as the season continues to hot up.
November has come, and with it, a fairly quiet schedule as far as the league front goes after we got our home game with Oxford pushed back due to another international break. Still got the FA Cup and Papa John's to ensure we're not short changed though.
First up for our November fixture list was the FA Cup First Round, which was a bit too familiar for me. There would've been a novelty in going away to a non-league club, but instead, we've got ourselves a trip to a fellow League One side in the form of Oxford United.
So… better get on with it. Our board's goal as far as the FA Cup goes is to reach round 3, so looking to take a step on the Road to a Third Round Exit were…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Edmundson, Burgess, Thompson - Bakinson, El Mizouni - Burns, Celina, Edwards - Pigott
With Woolfenden injured, Morsy still on the naughty step and a sense we're still trying to work out who is the best striker, we did have a few shuffles around.
Would we have the stuff this time?
Well, yes we would. I honestly wasn't confident pre-game after a fairly erratic October so this is a nice surprise.
Tyreece Simpson was the hero. The striker is proving a handy cup striker, having got a few Papa John's Trophy goals and here he was the saviour, scoring a winning goal after coming off the bench just after I'd bought him on a triple substitution. Seeing as the FA Cup was kind enough to let use 5 subs.
This had the air of a difficult game in my mind's eye, but we were able to do a decent job at containing Oxford after a few chances had come their way in the opening minutes. After that, they offered little, and we got the job done.
We had been scheduled to host Oxford for a league game the following weekend but it got shoved back due to internationals. Paradoxically it was initially rescheduled to the weekend of the second round, which was a guaranteed reschedule given the winner of this tie was gonna be busy. So, naturally it won't. Our second round opponent was gonna be Port Vale or FC United of Manchester, who needed a replay, so we'd be waiting a bit while they worked it out amongst themselves.
As for us, we wrapped up the Papa John's Trophy group stage by taking on Gillingham in the last of our 3 assignments.
Looking to end this afterthought on a high was this selection:
Walton - Vincent-Young, Andoh, Stewart, Penney - Evans, Morsy, Carroll - Jackson, Simpson, Edwards
The headline attention is the defence, as we opted to name youngster Levi Andoh alongside Cameron Stewart, although a failure to clear this with our U23 squad meant Andoh didn't play the full 90.
Anyway, there was still a risk of a group stage exit if results went the wrong way, but a win would shrug that doubt off. So, could we win?
Huh… not only do we win, we come out on top of a pretty good game. This was actually quite a lively contest, featuring 5 first half goals, our first six, and a hat-trick for a first half substitute.
With the score at 1-1 after a Lee Evans piledriver had been cancelled out, I bought on Conor Chaplin after an injury lay-off. That proved the right answer, with the attacker grabbing a hat-trick and the assist to one of Kayden Jackson's double. So we book our progression in a rather swashbuckling entertaining fashion. Certainly, I won't complain if we win promotion from a game that we grab six goals in.
It also books our progress to the knockout round of the Papa John's Trophy as group winners, which is pretty good going for a competition we weren't fussed by. Our reward is a home contest against Tottenham's juniors, although that may not be the easiest sell. Still, we'll worry about that later.
After all, the main focus is the league, and we had a big contest to welcome us back as we made the long trip north to face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light for our role as background extras in the next series of Sunderland Til I Die on Netflix. Probably.
Sunderland did play ahead while we pulled the international call-up excuse against Oxford, and a draw at home to Lincoln means we start below them in the league table. So looking to reassert our place above the Black Cats were…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Burns, Chaplin, Celina - Jackson
The return of Woolfenden after his injury absence was definitely a good thing, along with a start back for Chaplin, who has probably been our best attacker so far. I was also interested in trying out Kayden Jackson through the middle, to see if he can finally be the striker who nails down the ever-changing role up front given none of our strikers seem to assert themselves.
Could we pull this off?
Turns out yes we can. Given how badly we crumbled against a promotion rival in the form of our 4-0 thumping by Portsmouth, this was a fantastic result.
The catalyst for taking control of a pretty even game ended up not being the recalled Chaplin, an off-colour Celina or an ultimately out of position Jackson, but Wes Burns. The ex-Fleetwood man has had a relatively quiet run but here he was the MVP, grabbing a well-struck opener and an assist for El Mizouni's second shortly after his goal.
This could've gone either way if I'm being totally fair, with both of our two tribes who went to war nearly scoring the points. But in the key moments it went our way, allowing us to hold out Elliot Embleton's injury time goal and move back south to Suffolk three points richer for the experience.
Of course EFL football rests for no man, and no sooner could we toast a job well done here was it back in action against Rotherham United, against a side who have been a bit flaky in their goals of getting back in the Championship.
Making the starting line-up for this occasion was this group:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Penney - Morsy, Evans - Burns, El Mizouni, Celina - Chaplin
Having got our win against Sunderland, I was looking for Ipswich to push on and continue their signs as a promotion challenger. So, basically, win. Would we do so?
Well… we won, but Christ we made it hard for ourselves.
We'd started off as the better side and grabbed a goal through Burns, making it 2 in 2 after his opener against Sunderland. But then Morsy, for whatever stupid reason, decided to get himself a sending off and what has turned out to be a 4 game ban. Given he was dropped for his red against Shrewsbury before getting a chance taken on him, what a stupid decision.
We also lost the impressive Vincent-Young to injury while Edmundson got a late yellow card that rules him out of the weekend visit from Crewe. In truth, however, Rotherham were pretty ordinary facing 10 men for 60-odd minutes. I was expecting them to come at us in waves to try and force in an equaliser, and spent a lot of the game expecting that moment to come. But it never did, we held on and got a pretty handy three points despite ourselves. In this game, good will not be the enemy of great and we'll toast the win.
Rounding out November and a good chance at making it 5 wins from 5 in all competitions was a visit from early surprise package Crewe. The side who are bottom in real life are here making a decent fist of challenging for the play-offs.
Named for this one would be:
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Burns, Chaplin, Edwards - Jackson
Plenty of changes with injury, suspension and poor form to contend with. But would our reshuffled squad do something good?
Hmmm… maybe the Rotherham game required us to expend so much effort that for this one, we just didn't have anything in the tank.
We were pretty abysmal in the first half, hitting the bar with our only real chance but not doing much else. Crewe did look for a while like the better side in all truth, but couldn't get past Hladky in goal. The same could be said for us, however, when we missed some great chances late on, and we ultimately couldn't find the redeeming feature of a late goal that would've grabbed us a somewhat unconvincing win.
And that brought our fixture commitments for November 2021 to an end. A month that if nothing else was better than our messy October, even if a 0-0 draw with Crewe is an underwhelming full stop to the enterprise. So, league table…
This is going to continue to be a close and hard-thought fight to keep ourselves in the hunt for promotion. But so far so good imo. After all the bookies said 7th is the height of our ambition so 2nd at this stage is positive, even if we have had some underwhelming results of late.
December of course means Christmas and the ludicrous hullabaloo that is football in the festive season. This is the stage when we'll see if we do have the stamina to keep this promotion push going, likely through rotations, absolutely through a lot of differing levels of opponent.
Of course, one thing I'd like to do is try and achieve revenge on Portsmouth for that walloping they handed us a few weeks back. But we'll have to wait for that. In saying that, we have Wigan, Oxford and Sunderland as upcoming league opponents, and beating all 3 of them will do this promotion ambition a world of good. So let's see if we've got the legs in us to keep this good thing we've got going.
Our odyssey with Ipswich still had one final November commitment to play, in the form of the Papa John's Trophy. Playing for the coveted glory of a trophy named after Pizza Hut and Domino's main competitor was a clash with the Spurs academy.
I don't think I needed the game to tell me that this was not going to be a big ticket seller. Still, unlike West Ham, who sent some first teamers our way, Spurs largely stuck to the playbook of sending their academy lads, with the most prominent first teamer being Joe Rodon.
Looking to advance in this contest of contests would be…
Walton - Donacien, Edmundson, Burgess, Thompson - Bakinson, Carroll - Jackson, Celina, Aluko - Pigott
6 changes, basically.
While the board aren't that arsed, I'm still up for making it to Wembley. So, would we get one step closer to the arch?
Yes. The first half was kinda meh, but as was the case for a previous tie, the arrival of Conor Chaplin woke everyone up, with our top scorer adding another two to his collection before Jackson added a third.
I wanted a win, and I got one. So, you know - super.
The next round won't be played until just after Christmas, so we have a while to think of some unfunny pizza puns with extra cheese in time for our trip to AFC Wimbledon. This won't be our first visit of the season to New Plough Lane, however, as our last fixture before Christmas does take us to that corner of South West London.
There is still a lot of football before that day though, starting with the FA Cup Second Round.
Initially, we were handed a meeting against either League 2 side Port Vale or non-league outfit FC United of Manchester. Of course, a replay was needed and it went Port Vale's way, so we welcomed the League 2 Valiants to Portman Road for the next test.
The starting squad for this game was:
Walton - Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess, Penney - Bakinson, Evans - Edwards, Chaplin, Celina - Simpson
Our board request is to reach Round 3. Would we do it?
On stats, we should've won this game by a greater margin. As it was, we only won by one goal, having failed to build on a 2-0 lead we built up through quickfire goals by Chaplin and Kyle Edwards.
We had dominated until our goals and blew plenty of chances to run out as greater winners. Luckily for us, it took Port Vale 89 minutes to beat Christian Walton, and they simply didn't have the time to craft that one extra chance to grab an equaliser. So as much as I wasn't entirely happy or convinced by what we did, we did the job of booking our place in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup and I guess we'll just take the win.
The FA Cup 3rd Round draw followed, naturally, and it gave us a fairly unremarkable prize but maybe one we can win. We'll be travelling to face Championship strugglers Coventry City at the CBS Arena.
Of course, there is a fuck ton of football to go until that trip to the West Midlands. This after all is December, which means a Christmas schedule full to bursting with game upon game upon game.
First up in this marathon over-indulgence for football fans, Charlton away.
The starting 11 for our trip to South London read like so:
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Evans, El Mizouni - Jackson, Celina, Edwards - Chaplin
With our team still in the tussle to get promoted, I wanted a win. Would we get it?
Two goals, a clean sheet, and the points. Bully.
This was probably Bersant Celina's best game of the season so far, scoring a screamer to put us into the lead and an excellently worked goal shortly after the half-time whistle. Even aside from our double scorer, however, we controlled this match really well. Charlton barely got close to troubling us, and we were able to see the game out in comfort.
Certainly, December is off to a fantastic start. Now for the part about trying to keep the good times rolling, and with it, the first of a big week of games against sides who lurk behind us in the promotion picture.
First up was Wigan Athletic, who are hovering in the play-offs and one of a few teams that have the players to try and reel us in.
Making the team for our trip to another ex-Premier League team would be…
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Burns, Chaplin, Celina - Pigott
A victory would have to be the target against a direct rival. Could we do so?
Phew. In truth, Ipswich's goal from Josh Magennis shortly after half-time woke us up. We'd been pretty sleepy until that point, if perhaps slightly better, but the goal and a few changes had the effect of kicking our arses into gear.
Even then, it took a while for that effect to really get going, but we sure as hell made Wigan aware when we did. It was subs with the big impact as well, with Kyle Edwards and Macauley Bonne coming off the bench to grab our goals - the latter scoring his first since August, would you believe.
This result felt like a big deal to me in getting one over a promotion contender and solidifying our growing promotion credentials. But we have to keep it going, starting with the next assignment as we welcomed Oxford United in a twice delayed rematch against our FA Cup First Round opponents.
Looking to beat Oxford again were…
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Penney - Bakinson, Evans - Jackson, Edwards, Burns - Bonne
Of course, Oxford warmed up for us by thrashing MK Dons 4-0, so they would be on a high. But could we overcome them all the same?
Hmmmm… not quite this time. This was a game we should've won, but a failure to build on our goal and a cheaply given away equaliser cost us.
Things of course may have been even more in our favour had an early Wes Burns goal not been ruled out for offside. But we looked to have the upper hand anyway when Jackson opened the scoring.
However, we didn't do enough to bury Oxford, and a defensive mistake ultimately gave them an equaliser. We had plenty of chances after that to make amends for that error and win, but we didn't do enough to get the rewards.
Still we're unbeaten since the misfire at Plymouth in late October, and couldn't dwell on this unfortunate one for too long. After all, it was time for another big one.
Not even a month on from beating Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, we would be having a rematch with the Black Cats in Suffolk.
Making the team for this one were:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Burns, Chaplin, Celina - Bonne
A few big team picks of note, with Sam Morsy back after his suspension and bench time after his idiotic red against Rotherham, while the excellent wing-back Vincent-Young returned after injury.
Could we grab the big result and beat Sunderland again?
Big result, achieved.
We should probably address the elephant in the room as to how this victory's path was reached. Sunderland were good in the first half, pressing us hard and scoring first through Jermaine Defoe and all his PL experience. I did wonder on a path back for a while until Sunderland's Man City loanee left-back Callum Doyle was sent off.
Morsy then justified his recall with an outstanding equaliser - his first for the club - before Jackson came off the bench to put us back in front. Sunderland did little with 10 men even after going behind, and Celina scored a lovely third in added time.
Six points from six against Sunderland in quick time is a significant combination. Both of these were tough, but I think we could win the league based on some of our best results and performances, and winning both of these is the kind of thing we'd need to do to support that.
So, what's next in the diary? Well, before Christmas and the Boxing Day bouts, we had a rearranged trip to AFC Wimbledon added in the diary as the last commitment before Christmas Day.
Making this selection were:
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Evans - Jackson, Celina, Edwards - Pigott
Could we continue a fine start to our time with Ipswich with one win for the road before Christmas?
Call it an extra present for the fans. This was not an easy game at all, but my half-time changes rectified things in our favour.
Our first half was pretty abysmal if truth be told, but the slightly unorthodox choice to bring in wing-back Matt Penney as an extra winger was the right call. The former Sheffield Wednesday man turned the game on its head entirely, scoring our equaliser before setting up former AFC Wimbledon striker Joe Pigott to grab our second.
AFC Wimbledon gave it a good fight but lost momentum even before Adam Woodyard was sent off, as our gegenpress 4-2-3-1 again did the job in controlling the opposition and settling things in our favour.
That ended our pre-Xmas commitments, and with it, this was where we leave the League One table.
As you can see, the situation has progressed very nicely in our favour. It helped that at the same time that we were beating AFC Wimbledon that Portsmouth crashed to a heavy defeat at home to Wigan - we had been level on points but we now enjoy a 3 point lead on the South Coast club, to say nothing of a 7 point lead on Sunderland and a 12 point gap to 7th place, which is currently occupied by my one time FM project Sheffield Wednesday.
I'm not going to say we're going to the Championship and we should be booking our away days to teams in that league just yet. But we are building up extremely nicely thus far and should feel confident we can do good things.
Our next 3 games will no doubt keep us on our toes, as we face a trip to Gillingham and home ones with Wycombe and Lincoln. But based on our fine form so far, I feel confident we can keep this good thing we've got going on going further on.
Good start here mate - though tough I'd imagine that Pompey and Sunderland are keeping pace with you! Be interesting to see how you deal with a promotion if it comes. I always find that jump into the Championship the hardest to deal with - even if you've only been down there a year!
Thanks very much. I'm more concerned by Portsmouth, given they inflicted on us one of our worst and indeed only defeats thus far. Beating Sunderland home & away does give us a psychological advantage if nowt else.
The jump to the Championship is gonna be tough if we make it, yeah. My main concern being that we have 4 key players (Bonne, Celina, Bakinson and Thompson) on loan, so replacing them is going to be a bit tricky, and that's before getting in more Champ-worthy players. My ambition next season will just be survival if we make it.
We've absolutely made a wonderful start to the campaign, getting Ipswich into top spot at Christmas time. That however might well be the easy bit, and the next step is about making sure we don't get caught up with.
First step for the post-Christmas fixture pool, a Boxing Day trip to Gillingham in Kent and an assignment against a struggling side.
Looking to avoid a slip-up would be this group:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Edmundson, Burgess, Penney - Morsy, Bakinson - Burns, El Mizouni, Chaplin - Pigott
We're in form at the moment. Would we carry this streak onwards?
Yes. It's not our most swaggering display, but a win's a win.
Without exactly dominating, we did look like the better team in the first half, but it was proving a challenge to find that first goal. It would eventually come, however, just after the break, as Pigott broke the offside trap and finished Bakinson's through ball.
It was likelier for the most part that the game's second goal would go our way and eventually it would come late on. We bought on Thompson to go into the back 4 and push Penney forward as a defensive winger, but he is good going forward too, and proved it again when he turned in Morsy's cross to give us an injury time second goal.
The Christmas turnaround as it is, we had a single day to rest up from that, then another to plan things out, and then the day after, we'd take on Wycombe Wanderers and a side that are in the play-off chase evolving below us.
Making the team to take on the Chairboys were…
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Jackson, Celina, Penney - Pigott
5 changes to the starting line-up. Could've gone further but didn't want to disrupt the momentum we're building that much.
So, would we have what it takes to beat off the self-proclaimed rock n roll football team?
Yes we would. It was a tight game in all, as was the reverse fixture in Buckinghamshire many months earlier, but we end 2021 with another win and maintaining our spot in pole position to make the Championship next season. So you know - yay.
The first half was one where we build our way into it and had looked good near the end of the half. We maximised it after the break, as Bakinson turned in Evans' through-pass to put us into the lead.
Wycombe didn't take it lying down and they absolutely posed us some questions, but we managed to do enough to stop them equalising, then substitute Chaplin sealed the win late on. So we take the win.
New Year's Day would see us again at Portman Road, this time against Lincoln City for our third game in six days. Not that there's much scope for rest after, given we have Papa John's Trophy and FA Cup games in the first week of 2022 to look forward to.
In any case, we ran with this lot:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Donacien, Edmundson, Penney - Morsy, Evans - Jackson, El Mizouni, Edwards - Chaplin
6 changes to keep it fresh. We're taking our commitment to squad rotation strongly.
Having excelled in the 2021 part of the 2021-22 season, would we start the next bit on the front foot?
Yes we would. Lincoln offered very little and indeed Hladky in goal had nothing to do all afternoon, while second half goals for Jackson and the substitute Bonne did the job. We would have another disallowed.
Nothing much more to say about that one, so a look at the New Year's Day league table…
If anything, we have strengthened our hand and look in a great place to challenge for promotion. A 9 point gap on second place Portsmouth, and a 12 point advantage on the play-offs.
We would be thoroughly pissed off if from here we blow promotion. But we can't pretend that's a possibility, so we'll have to manage it and make sure we don't carried away to our own detriment.
Following on from that, it's Papa John's Trophy time. This time we'd get a familiar opponent, as we were handed a trip to face AFC Wimbledon, and with it a second visit to New Plough Lane in quick succession after we won there just before Christmas.
We opted to shuffle the pack for this one…
Walton - Vincent-Young, Donacien, Burgess, Thompson - Evans, Carroll - Ward, Celina, Penney - Pigott
The headline features of this included a start on the right-wing for young prospect Matt Ward, a rare start for Tom Carroll and an outing for back-up keeper Christian Walton.
Would we advance and get once closer to Wembley and the potential for some silverware?
Absolutely job done.
Former Wimbledon man Joe Pigott was the hero here, scoring a composed hat-trick. Jolly good. Jackson got the other goal after replacing the fairly pedestrian Ward. Basically, we were very good. AFC Wimbledon's xG was not terrible, and they did give us a few moments to worry about, but we got the job done. All we can hope for, so you know - yay.
Our reward for this is our third Premier League academy side draw in this competition - this time, Everton's junior team, which will be coming up in the not-too-distant-future and will hopefully be us getting one step closer to Wembley and fighting for the trophy.
It also seems to indicate we may be able to adapt to a selection issue. This is African Cup of Nations time and we have now fewer than 4 players heading out to Cameroon for African football's showpiece event. One, admittedly, is a Zimbabwean attacking midfielder in our youth ranks who I'm surprised was entrusted with a call up. But fellow Zimbabwe international Macauley Bonne, Egyptian Sam Morsy and Tunisian Idris El Mizouni are all in Africa, so will not be called upon for a bit.
This will require some selection workarounds as we adapt, but that'll wait for our return to league action. Before then, a big occasion loomed, as we travel to face Championship side Coventry City in the FA Cup Third Round, where we take on a side who are now under the management of Aitor Karanka. Which… cool.
Looking to make a big impression against a Championship-level opponent were…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Jackson, Chaplin, Celina - Pigott
Would we succeed in getting people to take note?
Holy shit that went so so well. Maybe one of our best performances so far, as we tore into the Sky Blues on their own patch and victory never looked in doubt.
Sure, it helped we won a penalty effectively straight away, with Chaplin scoring from the spot after just two minutes. But still, we could easily have succumbed to a fightback from there. Instead, our defence managed Coventry's attack well, our midfield rose to the challenge - if helped by Shipley's injury - and we would plunder two more goals in the first half. Jackson and Celina joining their fellow attacking mid Chaplin in doing so.
Coventry's Bapaga was dismissed but it had no real bearing on the result. We were just so good at controlling this match.
This result, in my mind's eye, does hint our gegenpress 4-2-3-1 would not be overwhelmed upon promotion and may even give us a decent springboard at competing. But of course I'm not thinking we're guaranteed going up just yet - still time for us to get some shit results and get reeled in by the team's below.
The day after our win at the CBS Arena, we would have a new signing to add to our ranks - my first as Ipswich manager, as we spent £100k to add an extra midfielder. Specifically, we signed Ethan Robson from Blackpool.
It may seem counterintuitive as we have options in the midfield area. But I've not been sold on Carroll, I'm wary of Bakinson being a loanee and Bristol City potentially recalling him, Lee Evans and El Mizouni are better in creative midfield roles - the latter is arguably better as a CAM - and Sam Morsy gets too many cards. So it made sense, particularly as Robson was happy to accept Fringe Player status.
I'm considering also adding another central midfielder in the form of Rekeem Harper. He is regarded as one of the best midfielders I could have at my disposal, but is out on loan right now with Crewe. It is tempting to recall and reintegrate him as he could provide me with another option, but I feel like to justify his return to the fold, one other player will have to leave first.
Those assignments are something to worry about another time. Next on our plate, we had to travel to face Bolton Wanderers and a side the media had talked up as a promotion contender before the season kicked off, but which have since flattered to deceive, stuck in midtable after an early managerial switch.
Making the team this time…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Burns, Chaplin, Edwards - Jackson
Will we keep our good times going?
Hmmm… That wasn't any good.
Our first defeat in 12 League One games was an emphatic full stop to a streak of 7 wins in a row in all competitions. This time, we just didn't turn up going forward, never really responded to conceding in the final moments of the first half despite throwing on attackers, conceded again late on, and sunk to a rare defeat.
If nothing else I guess there's a useful quality to this one in stopping us getting carried away that we are an infallible team whose promotion is assured. It may only be our third League One defeat of the season, and we are still unbeaten at Portman Road, but if any complacency was creeping in, this is a good way to put a full stop on it.
Maybe next time out against Accrington Stanley we will be better. It has to be given a big game against Sheffield Wednesday is looming on the horizon and I would like us not to fall flat on our faces in that one.
Having come unstuck against Bolton on a long trip to Lancashire for no reward, we had to just take the loss, lick our wounds, and do better in our next assignment.
In theory, this should've been a good game for doing just that. Accrington Stanley arrived in a lower mid-table spot, and in theory this should've represented a decent chance for us to get things going again.
Making the team to do that would be the following starting 11…
Walton - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, Robson - Jackson, Chaplin, Celina - Pigott
New boy Robson gets a start, as does Walton in the league for the first time in quite a while after Hladky had a fairly poor game at Bolton.
So, would we get things back on track here?
This better not be a sign of a slump… Not a good game at all.
We had our chances, and we just couldn't take them, no matter what combo we could've used. So let's move on.
The Papa John's Trophy was next on our fixture diary, and this time we got our third different academy side as we took on the Everton U23 team at their academy stadium, not Goodison.
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess, Penney - Bakinson, Robson - Burns, Chirewa, Edwards, Simpson
Perhaps the headline grabbing starter was teenager Tawanda Chirewa. With Zimbabwe out of AFCON and doing enough to play at the tournament, I felt it was rude not to give him a shot. We also gave Simpson a go up top and a few other shuffles.
Victory in this one would put us into the Papa John's Trophy semi finals. Would we be able to do the job?
I mean… this was just infuriating.
When Simpson struck to put us into the lead after 10 minutes, I could perhaps be forgiven for thinking this would be an easy one. But then Everton's kids equalised 4 minutes later. Still, we were creating chances, so I figured the goal would come, so we created chances to miss. And then some more. And more. And more and more and more.
It wasn't even a surprise when Higgins made it 2-1 as we blew so many chances. We had an xG of nearly 4 goals, yet it took us a late equaliser from sub Bonne (also back from AFCON) to take it to penalties.
Even less of a surprise was it taken to penalties, with defensive sub Edmundson (on for the tired Woolfenden) being the unlucky one. Everton youngster Billy Crellin just kept out everything and no surprise he also did it from the spot.
So you know… fucking ridiculous stuff. We truly got FM'd in this one, and duly miss out on the chance to win the Papa John's Trophy. What a caper.
This also meant no wins in 3 straight assignments, so that ramped up the pressure for a big game as we visited Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. The Owls are one of the sides that are hoping to reel in the top 2 (and by extension us, as the division's long-time leaders).
Seeking something better, I elected on the following 11 starters:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Jackson, Chaplin, Celina - Bonne
Something closer to our overall best 11.
Would this be the tonic after a few recent mis-steps?
Yay. Much better. This wasn't a game we truly ran away with, but we god damn we were clinical.
Bonne turned us in front early on to give us an advantage, we controlled a Wednesday fightback, then two goals in quick succession from Evans and then Jackson truly tipped the balance in our favour. El Mizouni rounded off our scoring on a truly excellent trip to South Yorkshire after coming off the bench, even from comparatively low xG chances, but this was a necessary win for us.
There is disappointment that substitute Burgess gave away a late penalty that Barry Bannan scored to deny us a clean sheet, but by that point I think Wednesday had accepted it wasn't gonna be their day.
This brings us nicely to the melodrama of transfer deadline day. Or what little you can do when your budget is under £200,000.
We had already done two nuggets of business to note at this point, selling youngster Dylan Crowe to non-league Ebbsfleet for £4,200. Then we sped up the deal to offload Sone Aluko.
The former Hull, Fulham and Reading winger hadn't really done enough to impress me in 9 competitive appearances in Ipswich blue and he had already agreed a deal to join Nigerian side Enyimba. But we were able to agree a £4,500 fee to allow the deal to take place immediately and send him out there a few months early. This sees him make something of an Ipswich connection, joining a team managed by one-time Ipswich winger Finidi George.
Younger Ross Crane was also sent on loan to League 2 Stevenage, and on deadline day, we also moved on Zanda Siziba, who made the somewhat unusual loan move upwards to join Championship outfit Peterborough.
But the biggest out on deadline day was Tom Carroll. Having said I didn't feel his performances were enough when I signed Ethan Robson, Carroll was moved on, joining Sheffield Wednesday for 20 grand.
These are all small beer fees - indeed Carroll and Aluko were once worth multi-million fees so its a comedown for them - but it raises a little towards next season's budget and frees up squad space.
Carroll's exit, meanwhile, lead for me doing a move I had been considering. Namely, the recall of Rekeem Harper from his successful loan at Crewe. He looked good there and is regarded as one of the best mids on my books, so it made no sense to me to not recall him and put him back in our first team bubble. So he's back.
Harper would start on the bench for his first game back in the fold, as we welcomed struggling Gillingham to Portman Road in a game bought forward due to our presence in the FA Cup Fourth Round, where we would be taking on Championship midtable outfit Stoke City.
Named for this one was the following selection:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Edmundson, Burgess, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Burns, El Mizouni, Celina - Bonne
Would we get 3 more points and take advantage of playing before everybody else?
We again made it difficult for ourselves, as Bonne missed an early penalty that would've put us in front. But we did pick ourselves up reasonably enough. El Mizouni marked his recall from AFCON with the opener, before Bonne made up for his penalty miss with a second 12 minutes.
Gillingham missed a penalty of their own, but aside from that we kept them at arms length and while there was a degree of irritation we couldn't grab more goals, we'd done our job.
With this all done and out of the way, let's take a peek at the League One table as we move into February.
Admittedly this is skewed by the fact we've played ahead of everyone else. But a 12 point lead on Portsmouth and Oxford, and a 16 point lead on 7th place Rotherham means it's looking good for us and our project to get back into the Championship.
Speaking of the Championship, we welcomed one of their number to Portman Road for our next contest, as Stoke City made the trip to Suffolk for the FA Cup Fourth Round.
I have no expectations on progressing, but as was the case for the previous tie against Coventry, proving we can compete with this stature of club is something to justify us taking this seriously.
So I decided to take it seriously, naming a strong side.
Picked for this one were
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Burns, Chaplin, Celina - Bonne
No squad space for Robson or Harper, with both having played FA Cup ties for their previous clubs. But this is still a strong starting 11.
Would we manage to take down the Potters?
Fifth Round here we come. This was a less flashy performance than our demolition of Coventry, but we sure as shit still know how to score goals.
Bonne set us on our way with a fine early goal, and as was the case, we managed to limit Stoke's attempts to get back at us while searching for most of the afternoon for another, with the five subs helping us to manage the game.
Stoke were better in the latter stages but the pressure reliving second would eventually come in fortunate fashion, as Edmundson's header hit the post, hit Stoke keeper Joe Bursik and crept into the goal. No good for him, but yay for us.
Our board expectation was just to reach Round 3, which we've well and truly surpassed. So I guess that will go some way to keeping the board happy with me.
Making it to the Round 5 draw after knocking out two different Championship sides is an excellent achievement, and generates a decent bit of cash for us. And we got an interesting tie to follow, given our reward for making it to Round 5 and now being the lowest ranked team still in the FA Cup is an away match against either Spurs or Southampton, with the two Premier League teams playing out a 1-1 draw at the Spurs Megadome and needing to go to St Mary's for a replay.
But our position is still good and we'll look to see if we could maybe, just maybe, pull off something a bit special when it comes to it. Still no fewer than 5 L1 games packed into February's lean 28 days to get through first.
February had started off well enough, by virtue of the win that maintains our position leading the way in the league and the FA Cup triumph against Stoke. Now it was a case of building momentum.
In theory, we had some games to do just that coming up, with away games against struggling Doncaster and MK Dons as a back-to-back.
First up was the winding road up to South Yorkshire to face Donny at the no-longer-known-as-Keepmoat Stadium, taking on a team who we pummelled 5-0 in our biggest win of the season so far.
I'm not saying I'm out for another 5-0, but avoiding defeat is where to start, and picked to go for that goal were…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Penney - Bakinson, Evans - Jackson, El Mizouni, Celina - Bonne
Would we grab ourselves another 3 points?
Well it's safe to say that Donny got their revenge for that pummelling we handed out earlier this year.
We absolutely made life harder for ourselves than we needed to. Kayden Jackson missed a penalty inside the opening five minutes, we blew through many other chances, Jordy Hiwula scored an excellent goal from way out, and we ended the game by running out of ideas.
It's a second defeat in quick succession, and 4th overall in a League 1 game, and this was just annoying. At least in the other 3 at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Bolton, we didn't turn up, but this was closer to that infuriating game against the Everton kids in the Pizza Cup a few weeks back.
Anyway, next up from that disappointment was a trip to MK Dons. Unlike real life, we didn't get to bring 7,000 away fans, and unlike real life, MK Dons are struggling to stay in the division.
Looking to pile on the misery were:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, Harper - Burns, Chaplin, Celina - Bonne
A new midfield not available to me in the first half of the season got the gig here in Ethan Robson and Rekeem Harper - the former actually spent time on loan with the Dons in real life, though not in game due to the Jan patch's structure.
Anyway, as we dropped points to this team early on in the year, would we get 2 more this time?
This was a crazy game. I can vouch for it being among one of the best FM matches I think I've seen a team of mine play in, but I can't help but be aggravated we haven't won. Our attack was phenomenal. Our defence, by contrast, let us down quite considerably.
At half time we were in total control. A Bonne double and one from Burns put us 3-0 up, we'd routinely tested Jamie Cumming with more shots, our xG was high and I thought this would be an easy victory.
But whatever Lee Johnson (now MK Dons boss in this save) said at the break clearly motivated Connor Mahoney, as the Millwall loanee scored two very good goals to start the comeback, and before long, a passing move released Scott Twine (a transfer target for next season if I get the cash) to finish past Hladky.
Still we threatened to win it as Harper, who had already registered an assist, scored from a corner and we largely controlled MK Dons attempts to equalise again.
And we did that right up until the 92nd minute, at which point, we fucked it again. Mahoney bagging a birthday hat-trick, and denying us three points right at the death.
So, that's quite a lot of irritating and infuriating results in quick succession to get me worried we might be trying to blow our handsome advantage on the rest of the league. Let's see if we can get things back in the right place.
Another side near the bottom end of the League One table is first on the agenda, as Burton Albion made the trip to Portman Road.
Aiming to put things back to something more normal were…
Walton - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Evans - Jackson, Harper, Chaplin - Bonne
Let's see what we can do then…
This was better from us after the failure to see off Doncaster and spectacularly failing against MK Dons.
We polished this one off very quickly. Woolfenden scored the rebound after a shot was saved, Jackson scored a very nice goal just after half-an-hour played, and Chaplin struck home a penalty in second half time.
Walton was sadly unable to make the most of his rare start with a clean sheet, thanks to Maddox grabbing a late goal. But by then we'd done enough, and while not adding more goals in the second period was a disappointment, we did the job.
Having happily returned to winning ways, it was another home game for us a few days later. Cheltenham Town would be making the trip across to our corner of the world.
Making the teamsheet was this 11…
Walton - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Penney - Bakinson, Evans - Jackson, El Mizouni, Celina - Chaplin
Would we deliver back-to-back home wins then?
Well… just about got the job done.
This wasn't the most convincing result that we have ever achieved, but a few things got it all done. Lee Evans scored a great goal only for Kion Etete to cancel it out as Cheltenham pushed us hard in the second half and equalised.
This was a tight game that could've gone either way in the end until eventually, Penney - who I pushed into a left-winger role after starting at left-back - got onto Vincent-Young's cross to get the job done. Chaplin's late disallowed goal nearly made it look rosier than it was, but I guess one will just have to take the win on this one rather than necessarily being at our best.
If nothing else, this is good for building the momentum back into our campaign and it will be useful. March is going to be a bit of a crazy month, with the glamour game that is our FA Cup meeting with a Premier League side, and in perhaps more important stuff for our golden opportunity to get promoted, we have Portsmouth and Oxford United back-to-back.
Making up for things I attempted to get into the last update but couldn't due to problems with my infuriatingly inconsistent WiFi, attention turns to our next game as part of this project.
This is now the reverse of the opening game of the season. We kicked off our tenure at Portman Road with a fairly meh 1-0 win over Morecambe at home, and now make the trip all the way up to the North West to see if we can make it a home and away double.
Aiming to do just that would be…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Evans - Jackson, Celina, Penney - Bonne
Was this to be our day?
A win was the target, and was duly achieved.
This nearly didn't work out so smoothly. We'd been looking like the dominant team in the game and scored through Bonne just before the break, when a penalty was cheaply given away by Penney. However, Hladky won the penalty battle of wits, and we managed to strike ourselves further ahead through a fine strike by Evans with 20 minutes to go.
This was a bit of a tricky test in fairness to Morecambe, and there were moments where I did think they might force their way back into play. But we got the job done, and delightfully so.
League table then…
As February turns into March, our Ipswich project is still on course for promotion at the first attempt, as we hold an 8 point lead on Portsmouth and 10 points on Oxford and Sunderland.
March will be a big month for this ambition, given that back-to-back games are looming against first Portsmouth at home and then away at Oxford.
Before we could think about any of that, however, we had the glamour of an FA Cup Fifth Round tie against Premier League opposition. If not the opponent we thought we'd get.
When it was initially drawn that we would be facing either Spurs or Southampton away, my assumption is that we'd be travelling to the big shiny new stadium in North London to face on the likes of Kane and Son. As it was, however, a Spurs team now managed by Marcelo Bielsa crashed hard at St Mary's in a replay, losing 3-0 to the Saints.
So it's Southampton vs Ipswich instead. But we go in the spirit of thinking this could be a decent game. At this point, we are the lowest ranked team still in the FA Cup, and one of only 4 EFL sides still in it, so there's no point fearing this assignment.
Named to try and cause a big upset were...
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Bakinson, Morsy, El Mizouni - Jackson, Bonne, Celina
Perhaps the big surprise is a tweak. I wasn't sure if 4-2-3-1 was the wrong approach to take, so decided to go for tactic 2 in the form of the 4-3-3, which I will often switch to if I'm holding on to a one goal lead late on and expect to come under pressure.
Could this be a game where we pull off something special?
Ah so close but so far.
Our performance in this one was great - much as Ralph Hasenhüttl protested otherwise and said they were the better team. Our xG was better, we had a good chunk of possession and we really caused a Premier League top half contender problems, even if wing-back Dominic Thompson was regularly torn apart.
Southampton had struck through Armando Broja despite us having a few decent chances, but we kept going and got the break when Jackson was first to a spilled shot to tap in the rebound and bring us level.
In truth the bulk of our best chances came in the first half, but we did still have a number of decent tries to try and grab a second goal.
Alas it wouldn't come. Instead Broja turned in a Yann Valery cross, we ran out of ideas and were out.
Shame, but there's totally pride to be felt in pushing hard and coming close against opposition we had no right to be trying to beat.
Still, if we can carry on with that form, we should be easily wrapping up our promotion to the Championship soon enough. March was going to be a shorter month than intended - our home game against Plymouth fell on an international weekend so got pushed back - but we still had 3 games and the ambition was to grab 9 points towards this.
First up was Fleetwood Town, curiously now managed by Chelsea Women's boss Emma Hayes but struggling to get out of the League One relegation zone.
Aiming to see off the Cod Army were…
Hladky - Donacien, Edmundson, Burgess, Penney - Bakinson, Harper - Jackson, Chaplin, Edwards - Simpson
Would this rotated squad do the business?
For the second game in a row, we lose to a team in red despite having a higher xG. But while Southampton was a heroic failure, this was a crash landing.
Joe Garner scored early in each half to give the struggling Cod Army perhaps one of the best results of their season, and ensure we had another miserable afternoon to go with the one we endured at a similarly struggling Doncaster in early February.
jackson did grab a goal back, but rather than push on, none of our changes really worked and if anything Fleetwood could've added a third in added time.
We'll just have to chalk that one up as a misadventure then.
Moving on, we had some big things to address. Next up on our fixture list were Portsmouth in a huge game. Top two in the league, and looking to gain revenge on a team that were the first to beat us this season, dismantling us 4-0 in what remains our worst display so far.
That's more like it.
This wasn't a victory that came without cost, as our consistently impressive full-back Vincent-Young got an injury, Morsy got a ban after yet another cheap yellow, and we also did have players tired and jaded at the end. But ultimately, the cost was worth it as we bagged a pretty big win in search of this ambition of getting our promotion sorted.
A sweet strike by Burns put Ipswich in front just after 20 minutes, and as the half continued, we applied more pressure on Portsmouth before striking again through Bonne just before the break.
Aiden O'Brien, who'd scored twice in the reverse fixture, did make things interesting with a goal in first half stoppage time. But a few moments after the break, Celina scored an excellent goal on a break to put us two goals in front again.
Portsmouth duly had little in the tank after that, as we secured a major victory in this big deal of a game.
Another big deal of a game then closed off our March, as we travelled to Oxford United and a side who we'd beaten on their own patch already this season in the FA Cup back in early November.
Aiming to pull off a league and cup double from our trips to the Kassam Stadium would be…
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Penney - Bakinson, Evans - Burns, Chaplin, Celina - Bonne
Winning this one and I feel like we've all-but-done it. Would this be the case?
It was achieved indeed. Get the fuck in.
A tight and even game did threaten to get away from us but we were able to stop Oxford finding the game-altering breakthrough and then finally, with time running out, got it ourselves.
Bonne started the season slowly but since coming back from AFCON has been probably our most important player, scoring a ton of goals, and he did it again here, scoring twice in the final 10 minutes to tilt this match in our favour and win us three vital points.
At the end of our March commitments, the League One table has this look…
I think we can prepare for a promotion party. 11 points clear of 3rd and 17 points clear of 7th place Sheffield Wednesday with seven games to go are both mountains to climb.
True, we still can be caught, but I think a few more wins and we will no longer be caught, though one presumes most pundits and bookies would be discussing our promotion as all-but guaranteed by this stage of the season. Hell, some may well suggest us as in a great position to try and break the 100 point barrier, which would be an outstanding achievement.
Certainly, I didn't think we'd be entering the final month (L1's final day is in April) streets ahead of everyone else. 3 or 4 more wins should get the job done, and I feel damn happy that we should be getting this job done. So let's see if we have more in the tank to finish the job.
With the Plymouth game postponed, the first match of the final month would see us host Cambridge United at Portman Road.
All we need is a few more wins and we will have the job done, booking our return to the Championship at the first try. It's pretty decent going in fairness as I felt it might not be a first season run to get us up.
Making the teamsheet would be…
Hladky - Woolfenden, Edmundson, Burgess, Penney - Bakinson, Harper - Jackson, Chaplin, Celina - Bonne
Can we get our push for promotion off to a good start?
Smooth. Not keeping the clean sheet was unfortunate, but we did the job.
Chaplin missed a penalty at 1-0 and that could've bit us, but we kept pressing and grabbed a second courtesy of Bonne. Chronologically, that did turn out to be useful as former Norwich man Wes Hoolahan scored a minute after our second goal.
But we kept Cambridge at bay more than effectively, and a fine third by sub El Mizouni late on confirmed another 3 points towards the promotion pursuit. So you know - swish.
After a temporary delay, the Plymouth game was next up for us. A win would be nice, given it would be revenge over a Plymouth side who are one of the only teams to beat us so far
Aiming to get revenge on the side from the far end of Devon would be…
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Burns, El Mizouni, Celina - Bonne
Yay or nay for this one?
Ah… so much for getting revenge and defeating Josh Widdicombe's favourites.
This was a pretty low quality game in all. We had the best chances, but seemed to run out of ideas after Celina had a goal disallowed with 20 minutes to go. Indeed, that actually lead to Plymouth having their only real chances, and although we replied with a late response, no goals.
Nevermind. Not the end of the world. A win over Shrewsbury next time out and we are basically there. Certainly it is starting to feel more real that we can do it.
Making the trip for the trip to Shropshire was the following starting group
Hladky - Donacien, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Robson, Bakinson - Jackson, Chalpin, Penney - Bonne
Would be rewarded?
A victory was registered. Arguably should've been a more emphatic one, but we need results at this point.
One goal enough - great pass for the ever-improving Bonne released Jackson, who duly found the net. We really should've scored another at some point, but the defence did superbly well to neutralise the effect of not taking our chances by keeping Shrewsbury to speculative efforts that didn't go in. So you know - yay.
With the league season now in it's end game and 4 games of the regular season to go, I'd say we have a chance of going up…
I mean, you'd have to say it's looking good. We're 12 points clear of third, we mathematically booked a play-off spot, and one more win would put us out of reach of Portsmouth for good.
That game would be at Rotherham, and a Millers side who still have some ambitions of making it into the play-offs. Rotherham would still be a tough test, so another game where I'd say we can't take victory for granted.
Teamsheet would be:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Morsy, Bakinson - Jackson, Chaplin, Celina - Bonne
Would we do it?
And that means…
We are going up, say, we are going up! Load up the Freddie Mercury cos we are the fucking champions of the world. Or at least the third tier of English football.
Ironically the victory over Rotherham that confirmed our promotion was one of our weaker recent performances. Rotherham's xG, stat count and decent play did deserve something from the contest.
Ultimately though Bonne continued his excellent second half of the season to confirm that we would be promoted as champions, scoring a winning goal with 20 minutes to go, and we successfully held off a Rotherham advance that could've denied us.
So, my ambition for season 1 was merely a play-off spot at least, in line with the overall vision I was handed by the board. Instead, we will be ending it as League 1 Champions and heading into the second tier after a 3 season stint in the 3rd tier.
I'm happy with that. I'd like our final 3 games to get us to or even over the 100 point barrier, but that's just extra decoration on top of an excellent cake.
Of course it also means the difficult part is coming up - how to build a squad for the rigours of a stressful Championship campaign next season on a minimal budget, likely replacing the excellent 4 loanees.
The board may not have helped calm those anxieties when they straight away announced this…
Freebies and loans it is then.
Still, I said I wanted a challenge different to the one of spending Newcastle's millions, or indeed, the huge cash resources Premier League clubs now have to play with by default. Tick. Next season will absolutely therefore qualify as a big test indeed.
🎉🎉🎉 nice one mate. Look forward to some wheeler dealing here!
Yeah… I think as we proved some mettle in defeating Coventry and Stoke in the FA Cup that our squad is not a million miles away. How we replace our loan players is the key here.
Having secured our promotion to the Championship with a Good Friday win over Rotherham United in Yorkshire, and that we'd do so as champions, we arguably had little to play for in the final 3 games. However, breaking the 100 point marks would be an extremely satisfying way to put a full stop on an excellent season.
With that in mind, we hosted play-off chasing Wigan Athletic. This would likely be the biggest of our outstanding tests.
Named for this encore in front of our home fans were:
Hladky - Donacien, Burgess, Stewart, Vincent-Young - Morsy, Evans - Jackson, Harper, Chaplin - Pigott
A few shuffled around, including a league debut for Cameron Stewart and a rare outing for Joe Pigott, who had fallen down the pecking order of late.
Would we go one step closer to going unbeaten at home in the league this season?
Dang. We lose a competitive game at Portman Road for the first time (yes I know we lost to West Ham kids on penalties in the Pizza Trophy so first game people give a shit about).
We'd made a fantastic start when the recalled Pigott put us in front early on but from there it kinda just went south. Jack Whatmough, Jordan Cousins and Josh Magennis took opportunities when they came about whereas chances of similar quality that fell our way just didn't wanna go in the back of the net.
It left us all with a lot of work in the second period and ultimately that was unsuccessful. After a few changes, Celina set up Pigott for one back but we couldn't turn in a few more opportunities before Wigan grabbed one more on the break to seal it once and for all.
So, crud. Still, I guess that it hurts less than it did had it not been job done.
Our final away match of the season would take over us to play Crewe, who had briefly threatened a play-off push only to fizzle out, not least after our recall of Rekeem Harper.
Named in a rotated side were
Walton - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Donacien, Penney - Robson, Harper - Burns, El Mizouni, Chaplin - Pigott
In a bit of a gimmick, I decided to drop all of our loan players, purely to see what the core we have as permanent Ipswich Town players was capable of.
Would they prove to be successful?
Nope, as we end our away programme on a wee bit of a downer tbh.
We had a the better of the first half but ran out of ideas after Mikael Mandron put Crewe in front. No shots on target - a rarity for us this season - and if anything Crewe could've scored more late on.
So, bit of a whimper alas, which also means my hope of hitting the 100 point mark is over. Shame.
Our final game of the season would bring us back to Portman Road for one final time in a great campaign regardless of this late stumble. Charlton Athletic would make the trip to Suffolk as we waved goodbye to League One - and indeed, to Charlton - with the hope of managing one more win for the road.
The final teamsheet of the season read:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Thompson - Bakinson, Evans - Jackson, Celina, Edwards - Bonne
Yay or nay for our finale then?
We rocketed into an early lead thanks to a Jackson penalty and a goal through our loan players as Bonne headed in a Thompson cross. Working out what to do without them, along with Celina and Bakinson, will bee my biggest ask in the summer.
We could've won by a bigger margin but didn't, with Charlton offering little, seeing midfielder Jake Forster-Caskey get sent off and they duly sacked manager Johnnie Jackson straight after we were done.
So that ends the season, and one final look at the League One table…
As we already know, our first season as Ipswich Town manager proved to be a roaring success. 30 wins from 46 matches, meanest defence, 3rd highest scorers, and a very healthy 15 points clear off 3rd place Portsmouth.
Sunderland will join us in going up automatically while Portsmouth, Oxford, Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan will contest the play-offs after the pretty remarkable feat of all 4 finishing the season tied on 84 points. No such fun for the relegated MK Dons, Burton, Fleetwood or Gillingham, who slink into League 2.
We go the other way to Reading, Huddersfield and Derby, who fell through the Championship trap-door, as we contemplate the work needed to ensure we won't be in the same place as them next season.
With this done, some end of season awards to note…
It's highly unlikely I ever actually selected this exact 11 for a game, such was my high reliance on squad rotation, but this is a good looking squad. It shows the high level with lots of 7.0 or higher ratings, even if the centre midfield was a bit more mixed.
Interestingly it was Kayden Jackson that was top scorer, coming in from wide right to bag 20 goals, though Chaplin and Bonne were also regulars on the scoresheet that helped.
It was very much the defence that played its part though, with Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson forming an excellent central defensive partnership. Not bad for two players under 25.
Indeed, such was the excellent form of homegrown defender Woolfenden that he had one further accolade to collect…
Not bad at all. We also dominated the Player's Team of the Year, as indeed we should, given our status as League One's dominant squad for this season.
So that concludes season 1 of my tenure as Ipswich Town manager. But there was one last tidbit to confirm just before we begin the work for season 2 and with it the substantial task of trying to keep us up on our tiny budget…
Yup, Norwich City were relegated from the Premier League. So that means next season will bring me my first taste of the Old Farm Derby, and with it the grand rivalry that is Ipswich v Norwich.
Can't help but get excited for that can you?
Our second season with Ipswich Town is upon us and it's safe to say preparing for the Championship required something of a graft in the transfer window.
First, we have the question of what to do with our 4 loan players. Key roles last season were there for Dominic Thompson, Tyreeq Bakinson, Bersant Celina and Macauley Bonne, who we were borrowing from Brentford, Bristol City, Dijon and QPR respectively.
Thompson was keen to stay and Brentford were content for him to stay with us, so the left-back is sticking around. But none of the other 3 will be.
After a great end to last season, Bonne was wanted, but he didn't want to stick around and QPR weren't interested in another loan for the Zimbabwe striker, so he will return to QPR and sod's law will score against us this season coming up.
This won't be so much of an issue with Bakinson. He was keen to extend his loan from Bristol City with us, but the Robins wanted a bit of cash to justify doing that and it would've cleaned out our budget. With decent Championship-ready options already in our midfield and others available on free, I said “Thanks but no thanks” and he returned to Bristol. Which soon turned out to be the Scottish side Hibernian after an £850,000 sale.
Celina also couldn't come back, as Dijon dug their heels in, insisting they wanted the Kosovan attacking midfielder as an option going forward. We made a few bids, but nothing doing.
We also let go James Norwood but he played 0 games last season despite being one of our highest paid players, so… bye-bye him. Myles Kenlock and Tomas Holy also left after the end of loan deals, but I'm not fussed about that.
So we've had to go out and recruit.
The sole cash acquisition is the arrival of Chris Kane, signed for £100,000 from Scottish side St Jonstone. 27-year-old Scottish striker Kane is not known as a regular scorer but was highly regarded by scouts and data as an option for the Pressing Forward role we use as main strikers, so the theory is that he could be similar to some options last year, where his energy keeps centre-backs occupied while wingers score the goals. That, and I think it's funny we're bringing in a Mr Kane to wear the number 10 shirt like we're Spurs.
Three players then arrived on free transfers. The star acquisition is probably Nathan Holland. The 24-year-old spent last season on loan in League One with Oxford but was out of contract at West Ham United, and with Celina going, I wanted a new left-winger in. So, in he comes, and he looks like somebody who could be very good at making the step up.
Replacing Bakinson is a Championship-experienced central midfielder in the form of Jordan Shipley, who we signed on a free from Coventry City. The 24-year-old Irishman should provide another good option, albeit in an area of the pitch where we are pretty well stocked.
Not that it stopped us signing yet another centre-mid. Highly rated Chelsea prospect George McEachran has been signed as one for the future, though will start in our U23 step-up before we attempt to give him game time as the season goes forward.
The next signing was motivated by an out. Janoi Donacien wanted to explore his options at the end of his contract, so I decided to immediately offload him, raking in £95,000 from relegated Derby County.
Initially I wanted to bring in Bolton's Gethin Jones, but my board refused due to saying we had too many players aged over 23 and vetoed the deal. I decided to resort to a loan instead, plumping for Spurs' Portuguese youth international Marcel Lavinier as an option to challenge Kane Vincent-Young. Something I suspect Spurs want.
We also wanted an extra loan striker to come in. In truth it could've been 2, but despite receiving several bids, nobody met the valuation of Joe Pigott. We had some bids accepted, but rejections, with Man City's Liam Delap and Spurs' Dane Scarlett both turning us down. Maybe that was too high an ambition but it was worth a shot.
Ahead of our season opener, our squad is now shaping up like this…
For all I put in the work to sign new players, only Holland and Kane make the strongest rated side. If I'm honest, Kane already feels like a temporary fix.
It is also worth noting I see Shipley as an upgrade option on Lee Evans, while our Czech keeper Vaclav Hladky had been preferred to Christian Walton last season and will likely continue. This is despite Walton being on substantially more cash, being one of our highest paid players to boot, making me wonder if we should be either using him instead of selling him. But we'll muse on that as we go.
One extra striker is still desired. I wouldn't mind an extra option at centre-back as Donacien leaving means we only have 3 senior centre-backs, with youngster Cameron Stewart being hit and miss when tried out last season. But our wriggle room is limited with our squad being at the 25 man limit and further held back by the club's transfer policy.
This is in a 4-3-3 as we tried it out in pre-season due to our abundance of centre-mids, though the option remains to flick between that and the 4-2-3-1.
While some work may still yet be done before the deadline, the early season previews are in and they say…
… that we should have enough to stay up, with Blackpool, Peterborough and play-off winners Wigan Athletic the fall guys.
I'm not expecting to challenge Wolves, Brighton and Norwich, who as last season's relegated trio will be the lead as favourites for an instant return to the Premier League. Frankly, that 21st place finish is decent enough for me.
As for pre-season, here's what we got up to…
The cut-off for this is unusual. Our first friendly was actually against non-league side Cambridge City, but was held before the fixture release date as we were back very early to pre-season, so it technically counted as taking place last season. We won that 8-0, before playing out a low scoring draw with Doncaster and a random high-scoring draw with Rapid Vienna.
Beating a Reading side relegated from last season's Championship is arguably the result that indicates we are ready for this test tbf, even if some will be calling us as on the right track after 2 wins in 4 days against Premier League sides Newcastle and Spurs.
As for the new season, who will we be taking on early on?
So our first match of the new campaign, and our first in the Championship, will be against one of the Championship sides we have faced, as we take on Fulham at Portman Road in our first second tier game.
This was taken before our Carabao Cup draw, which saw us paired with MK Dons at stadium mk before our trip to QPR, and a busy August in a season with an early start due to FIFA's folly in Qatar.
While we do have early meetings with Wolves and Brighton sides relegated from the Premier League, and with the play-off winners Wigan, we have to wait until early October for our first East Anglian rendezvous, when we travel to Carrow Road for a contest against Norwich City. The return meeting will be in late January.
The pause down here isn't quite as long as it is for the division above. We stop after an early November meeting with Birmingham City but return on December 10th against Luton, with the theory being that most of the players at this level called up for World Cup duty being back in time. Maybe.
But anyway. Let's dive straight in to analyse our first match in the Championship, where we would start out the new season against Fulham. The Cottagers didn't get promoted in season 1 in this edition, beaten on penalties by Nottingham Forest in the play-off semi finals.
Making my first second tier starting 11 would be:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Harper, Morsy, Shipley - Chaplin, Kane, Holland
Full debuts then for Kane, Holland and Shipley, with Lavinier starting as a substitute. McEachran will be fed in gradually I think.
So, first day of a new tier. How would we do?
Well, it's safe to say we made quite the first impression, with Rekeem Harper scoring inside the opening minute from a Thompson cross.
Fulham offered astonishingly little against our newly promoted group. Indeed this felt like our games last season, where we dominated, could've scored more but didn't, and we ended up with the three points in our favour. Against a side this good, I'll take that.
Of course, we aren't going to stay up just on the basis of beating Fulham on a sunny day in Suffolk. There is a long way to go just yet, with plenty of games that will no doubt be full of twists and turns as we join what is arguably one of the craziest leagues in European football. Still, we're proving we can mix it with this lot, so let's get right on it.
Before our next match, we would add a new signing to our fold. I wanted another striker and with the board being such hard-arses on signing anyone over 23 (they wouldn't allow it), we looked young for it.
Enter Nikolaj Moller, a young Swedish striker signed on loan from Arsenal. I'm not sure if he's exactly what we needed, but with Liam Delap and Dane Scarlett turning down loan offers, we needed something different as I'm not sure Chris Kane or Joe Pigott will be the guy to score us the goals. So in he comes to give a try.
Moller would start on the bench for his first assignment with us, in the form of a Carabao Cup tie against an MK Dons side now in League 2. However, the Dons contrived to hold us to draws in both meetings last season, so nothing was taken for granted.
Making my starting 11 this time were this lot:
Walton - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Burgess, Penney - Morsy, Evans - Jackson, Harper, Holland - Pigott
Would we get into the next round?
A win's a win. It may have taken a substantial amount of time to break on through to the other side, but least we got there in the end.
This threatened to be us getting FM'd, if in a different way to last season when we threw away a 3-0 lead to draw at MK Dons. Here, we knocked on the door pretty much throughout, kept MK Dons at bay, but couldn't get through, with a tight offside call going against Jackson one of a myriad of problems.
But finally right at the end, substitute El Mizouni scored a great opener after MK Dons half-cleared, before substitute debutant Moller set up Holland to grab his first Ipswich goal and put this one to bed. Huzzah.
Moving swiftly on, the next thing in our diary was a trip to QPR. Our first away game would take us to West London for our first game this season against one we hadn't already faced, just for a change.
Making this team would be…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Harper, Morsy, Shipley - Jackson, Moller, Holland
By contrast, our friend Macauley Bonne would not feature for QPR. The striker that we had on loan to great success last season didn't even make the bench… if only we had him back.
Still, would we succeed here?
Hmmm… Can't help but think we should've done more.
We had ourselves the chances but just couldn't break past Seny Dieng to land that opening goal, ultimately got frustrated in that search, and duly gave up.
Oh well. I guess we have no choice but to try again, and for that, we had a clash against a Blackpool side that the media preview predicted would struggle with us.
This theory means that, while this is still the first match of August (our first 3 games all took place in to July to accommodate Qatar 2022), it could be a game we may well need to win by the end of the season.
Generally our home form has been quite good, and I'd be looking to do that again with the following selection:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Harper - Jackson, Chaplin, Shipley - Kane
Few slight tweaks, with a reversion to the 4-2-3-1 that served us so well last year and a few rotations.
Will we continue our unbeaten start to the season?
Alas, we lose for the first time this season. Bit of an about turn. Last season, we lost only the one home game but this time, it's 1 unbeaten game before the Ls ring in.
We ultimately had the chances but the highest quality opportunity was the one scored by Blackpool's Owen Dale, we failed to break Blackpool down in response, and that was that.
Bit of a disappointment in all truth, with some of the players bought in just not impressing. So clearly, work is required to turn this mishmash of players into the team we know it could be.
Before we can contemplate any further league results and how to do better in those, however, a distraction.
The Carabao Cup returned after only a few weeks passed from our win in Milton Keynes, and it bought us an all-Championship tie in the form of a trip to face Swansea City in South Wales.
Seeking to clip the Swans' wings would be…
Walton - Lavinier, Edmundson, Burgess, Vincent-Young - El Mizouni, Robson, Shipley - Jackson, Moller, Penney
Would we get into the next stage?
Well… win's a win innit.
Christian Walton ended up being the decisive force, as our handsomely paid back-up goalkeeper saved two penalties to give us the edge in the shootout and book us a place in Round 3. Given reaching that stage was the board's ambition, good to know we've ticked off another one of their desires.
In truth, we were second best until we missed a doozy of a chance right at the end to win it, forcing the shootout, but we held our nerve while Swansea duo Liam Cullen and Jay Fulton did not.
That is a good swing for us, although I can't help but wonder if our hopes were for a bigger tie in Round 3 than Brentford. Still, that's something for future us to worry about.
A team that finished a few points off Brentford in the previous year's Premier League relegation fight loomed first. Brighton appointed Arne Slot as manager shortly before the end of the previous season, and the Dutchman has stuck around to try and get them back up.
This would be our first meeting with one of the 3 teams relegated from last season's top flight, and we would try to face them with…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Harper, Morsy, Shipley - Jackson, Kane, Holland
A home win feels unlikely, but could we manage to defy the odds?
We just couldn't control Aaron Connolly. The Irish striker tore us scored a hat-trick, none of which we defended particularly well.
Curiously the stats say we had more chances and until the first Brighton goal, we did, but a defensive error let them into the lead, they scored again just after the break, and Brighton saw the game out at their leisure, pinching a third for the road late on.
All in all, not a fun experience, and one that made me wonder if I might need to rejig things.
The next match did provide me with a chance to assess things, as we made a long trip west to face Bristol City, who were yet to win so far this season.
I did make a fair few tweaks, running with…
Walton - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Harper, Robson - Jackson, Chaplin, Shipley - Moller
5 changes, including switches in goal, full-back, attack and formation.
Would we be victorious at Ashton Gate?
Back to winning ways. Excellent.
In truth, this was a tight and close game, but we were able to squeak into the lead through a very well taken goal by Shipley in the wide left role for this game as opposed to the centre-mid I had signed him to play in.
Bristol City rallied hard late on, peppering our goal with some decent opportunities. But we held back the red tide, ground out 3 extra points, and picked up our first away win of the season, as well as our first Championship win since we surprised Fulham in the season opener. So that's a relief.
Still the fixtures keep on coming in a borderline relentless opening to the season. This time around, it was the road to Wigan Pier we'd be going down in order to face the Latics at the DW Stadium, bringing us along to face the team that won last season's League One play-offs.
Aiming to get the success here were…
Walton - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Vincent-Young - El Mizouni, Robson - Jackson, Harper, Shipley - Moller
Another 3 points to us was the aim. Would it be achieved?
This is a very nice one. A thumping victory in Lancashire to continue some good work.
We made our move very early, gaining a penalty straight away that Robson scored, before Shipley scored after good work by Moller. Wigan's Charlie Wyke did grab a goal back but we were still in control and grabbed a third through Harper, before Shipley added another late on to make up for an earlier one being disallowed.
There's certainly signs showing we are getting accustomed to our new home of the second tier of English football. Even if I feel like we lack quality in some regions of the pitch, we have something enough about us to get results when needed. That's absolutely a start.
Of course, six league games into the season is stupidly early for a table. But let's have a look at the early Championship table anyway.
As it is, we find ourselves in a decent 9th spot in the table. The ambition is not this season to make it back-to-back promotions and get Ipswich Town into the Premier League ASAP. It would be amazing, but I suspect very difficult with our board's restrictions and low budgets. I'm content to stabilise in this division for now.
With a long run to the deadline coming up, I'm still contemplating whether we need anything else to keep us sweet until January. It may well be we have to offload somebody first, but even then I'm not 100% sure who could be the right person to offload in order to bring in some more quality.
These things are certainly enough to give one pause for thought ahead of the deadline and the continuation of rapid fire fixtures all the way through to our odd World Cup-mandated hiatus coming soon. But if nothing else we've given ourselves a fine starting platform courtesy of this little rally we're on, and I'd be jazzed to see it continue.
Some final transfer admin was being considered with the window about to shut. A new striker would've been liked, while I was also curious in seeing if we could bring in an upgrade for the wide right role and some depth at centre-back, as well as offloading some older players.
But with time running out, I suspected there wasn't really a lot of scope to do a lot, so we turned focus at first on our final assignment before the international break and the deadline in the form of a home match with Cardiff.
Making the team this time would be:
Walton - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, Morsy - Holland, Harper, Shipley - Pigott
Would this see us pick up the points?
Very nicely done. It's a third straight win and we even got one of our strikers scoring at last. I'm satisfied with that.
We seized the initiative readily enough as Holland's cross found Pigott, who made the most of getting the nod by heading in. Cardiff did pose us a fair few problems but we dealt with it well enough and eventually stretched our advantage late on through a lovely finish by substitute El Mizouni.
2-0, 3 wins in a row and we are taking to the Championship very well now, it would appear. Be nice if that continues.
While he was fairly ordinary in this one, Jordan Shipley's fine form saw him named August Player of the Month. So that's a sign we're doing something good.
Before our next assignment was the transfer deadline and if I'm honest, I wasn't sure on what to do that I did play through a few times then go back when I wasn't happy.
In the end, we made one new signing in the form of centre-back Harry Darling, signed from MK Dons in a deal beginning at £350,000 but could rise to £525,000 with add-ons. So this is our biggest signing so far, for a player intended as a back-up at first. This may seem counterintuitive to spend a lot on a defender in a team relegated from League One last season but I felt like we needed an extra CB with just Woolfenden, Edmundson and Burgess available at centre-back, and doubts over the youngsters in my academy pool being able to step-up.
Two outs also came through. With all the competition and a fairly pedestrian pre-season, I felt Lee Evans could use a move to get game time and that it would also allow me to give more game time to highly regarded young summer arrival George McEachran. A permanent transfer was preferred but the only offer we got on deadline day was a loan to Rotherham in League One, so he joins the Millers. Youngster Levi Andoh also joined Leyton Orient having not quite developed.
I had been interested in others but the board were being militant in blocking transfers for over-23s, so we had to abort those ideas.
But in any case, I think our squad has begun to prove after a few difficult early assignments that we are getting adjusted to life as a Championship club.
Making the team this time were:
Hladky - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Vincent-Young - El Mizouni, Morsy - Burns, Chaplin, Holland - Pigott
No Dom Thompson as our man on loan from Brentford was barred from taking part.
So, would this see pull off something a bit special?
As it turned out, not quite. We weren't outclassed or overawed by the Premier League opponent, but this still didn't work for us.
Bryan Mbeumo scored the only goal. We each had one harshly disallowed - Holland for us just before half-time and after we lost Morsy to a fairly serious injury, while Mbeumo had a second goal ruled out.
It would've been nice to do something more, but I'm happy we showed we have some good performances in us.
We'd need to show our good side as well given our next test was a trip to Peterborough, who have also made an above expectations positive start.
In this kind-of local rivals game, we opted to name this starting group…
Walton - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Burgess, Penney - Robson, McEachran - Jackson, Harper, Shipley - Moller
Perhaps the bold idea for this one was a full debut for McEachran, though a few other tweaks were also deployed.
Could we manage to get the points?
Hmmm… back to the drawing board.
We should really have taken the advantage as we had lots of the ball and some good chances in the first half but didn't take them and duly got on the end of a sucker punch with two Peterborough goals in quick succession either side of half-time.
After that, we duly ran out of ideas.
Such a misfire did give me a fair bit to think about ahead of our next game, as we saw Middlesbrough make the trip to Suffolk.
I went to think of some revisions for this one, and came back with this set-up:
Hladky - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, Harper - Burns, Holland, Shipley - Pigott
Would this work out for us?
Back to taking the win indeed. Excellent. Middlesbrough had begun the day higher but they barely got a look in as we controlled the contest perfectly. Excellent.
Shipley got an early goal when he headed in a firm cross, and in truth, it really was our game to lose. We had chances by the bucketload and eventually forced a late penalty for Pigott to score.
We can be satisfied that this game proved to be a job well done in the end.
Molineux would, by contrast, feel like a more difficult game to get something out of. With Wolves suffering a surprise relegation last season, it meant that we had the joys of a trip to face them as a Championship side - the second such one of the 3 we've faced so far, given we've already taken on Brighton. Our Anglian rivals Norwich are coming up, however.
Making this teamsheet would be…
Hladky - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, Harper - Burns, Holland, Shipley - Pigott
Can we pull off a surprise win?
This certainly went better than our misfire against Brighton the last time we faced a recently relegated opponent. Interesting one to comprehend - a point gained given we're a promoted ex-third tier team taking on a side that shouldn't really have been relegated, but disappointed as we were the better side only to concede late on.
The shock certainly felt on when Pigott knocked on a cross for Burns to fire in a fine goal and rather than being on the backfoot, we actually had decent chances to push further ahead during the first half.
Wolves however came back at us in the second, meaning that half was much more about trying to keep them out, even if we did have our odd moments. But we ultimately couldn't hold out, as Kampl turned in the rebound after Ethan Ampadu's initial shot was blocked.
So you know - rough and smooth. Could've won, but it's still a sign of progress we're annoyed at merely drawing with Wolves.
We've certainly adjusted better to second tier life than our fellow new boys Sunderland, who are still pootling along at the bottom of the table in these early stages of the season and the side that came 2nd to us in League One last season would be our very next opponent.
Aiming to underline the growing gap between us would be…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Darling, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, El Mizouni - Burns, Harper, Shipley - Moller
Darling gets a start as one yellow card would rule Woolfenden out of next weekend's Anglian Derby, but the further forward area is starting to get in sync.
Can we make the most of this opportunity to add more points to our board?
What a result that is. We were just very good.
The match had still been tightly poised just after the break as while we did lead through a nicely taken goal by Shipley, Sunderland were not out of it. Then all hell broke loose. Moller, who had been preferred to Pigott, got his first Ipswich goal just before Embleton struck to give Sunderland hope, only for Burns to make it 2/2 and restore our 2 goal lead.
For a while that looked like being that but a late red card for Sunderland's Lewis Baker was the cue for us to really let loose, with substitute Chaplin scoring an excellent goal before Moller added a second pretty much right at the end to really send the fans home happy.
This was a great result and it set us up very nicely for the following weekend's appointment.
That one would be a big one - up the road to Norwich for the East Anglian Derby, the first in the league since the 2018/19 season.
With Norwich having posted back-to-back draws in their previous two games, and ourselves having just pushed Wolves close, I did honestly fancy our chances.
The teamsheet aiming to do so would be:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, El Mizouni - Burns, Harper, Shipley - Moller
Could we do something awesome at the home of our local rivals?
While the stats give us a higher xG and more shots, we didn't really get going until after Adam Idah put Norwich in front, and just as we approached a point when we really needed to score, Milot Rashica scored a fantastic free-kick to make it 2-0. We still had a few chances, including one very good one late on that was spurned, but it was over.
We will have another opportunity for revenge later in the year, but before then, a look at the league table…
For a newly promoted side, 8th place after 12 games with 6 wins to our name is a very handy place to be. Certainly, there are many teams below us who would wanna swap to be in our position.
Even if we end this update on a bit of a low note with our derby day defeat up the road, we're still doing alright.
Again, my ambition isn't to get Ipswich into the Premier League at the first attempt. It would be amazing, but I suspect getting transfers in would be difficult. Not that I'd say no, as it would be an awesome achievement and really up the ante of this being a different sort of challenge to the one of just throwing money at my problems like at Newcastle, or indeed, most PL season 1 clubs.
Might as well see if we can keep pushing, as we prepare to contemplate our final six games before the Qatar World Cup and a one month pause.
Contrary to my initial first thought, or maybe I read the dates wrong, no October international break is planned. Possibly as the November internationals will be a bit longer, in the form of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
So we have a burst of games in October before wrapping up with a game on the first weekend of November, for what might be the shortest ever November Manager/Player of the Month competition.
Our first assignment of this pre-WC bundle took us to East Yorkshire, where we looked to move on from the disappointment of losing to Norwich in the Derby by taking on Hull City.
This timesheet contained…
Hladky - Lavinier, Edmundson, Burgess, Vincent-Young - Robson, Shipley - Burns, Harper, Holland - Moller
Can we return to winning ways?
Yes, and this must count as a well-orchestrated triumph.
Particularly glorious was centre-back George Edmundson, who might well have put in the first 10.0 I've had on FM for a performance. Fantastic in defence, and grabbing his first Ipswich Town goals to give us a 2-0 lead. Sensational stuff at both ends, with Moller adding one just after the break.
Hull did have enough chances to make life interesting, but couldn't get a goal back to start any possible comeback. I can be content with this tbf - I wanted a reaction from the poor result at Carrow Road, and I got one.
With that, the next test, and in front of live TV cameras, we had an intriguing match against an underperforming West Bromwich Albion. Now managed by Claudio Ranieri, the Baggies had made a slow start, and with us looking decent so far, I was interested in grabbing another win to add to the highlight reel.
Aiming to stop the Baggies from victory in Suffolk would be this lot…
Hladky - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Vincent-Young - Robson, Shipley - Edwards, Harper, Holland - Moller
Perhaps the noteworthy inclusion is Kyle Edwards, who I considered offloading in the summer but with injuries to Burns and Jackson, and a preference to use Shipley centrally in this one, I went for him as the only real right-wing option.
So anyway, 3 points or not?
A very fine result indeed.
We went at West Brom from the off and would be rewarded with a scarcely expected 3-0 half-time lead. Moller headed in an early cross, Edmundson managed to impressively make it 3 goals from 2 games and Holland tucked in a rebound. West Brom almost didn't know what hit them, such was a brilliant first half display.
No clean sheet, alas, with Callum Morton making it 3-1, but we controlled the Baggies in their attempts to get back into the contest. So I can tolerate it this time.
We could be forgiven for allowing ourselves a little joy in this result continuing an excellent start to the season. But we must move on.
Barnsley would be next on our fixture list, with the Tykes making the trip from South Yorkshire down to our neck of the woods.
Fitness concerns meant a reshuffle. Namely to this configuration:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Harper - Holland, Chaplin, Shipley - Moller
Would we manage to make a mockery of the idea a rotation slows us down and get the job done?
Barnsley struggled to do a lot in this one and although we started slowly, we well and truly seized control with Holland and Moller scoring in first half added time to truly take the game in our favour.
Substitute Edwards made it 3-0, and in truth we could well have given ourselves a bigger winner margin in the end. As it was, three was the magic number, to use the old cliche.
With the job done to satisfaction, we now had Millwall away. The old trope of being a difficult place to go could be wheeled out, although this is a Millwall team in a relegation battle.
The pack selected would be…
Hladky - Lavinier, Edmundson, Woolfenden, Thompson - Robson, Shipley - Holland, Harper, Edwards - Moller
Would we grab ourselves 3 points from the visit to this particular bit of London?
That's the Lions tamed effectively enough.
The in-form Shipley gave us the lead and after a fairly low quality remainder of the half, we doubled the lead through a nice goal by Holland in a slightly unconventional right-wing role for this one.
From there we really should've had another 3 goal haul to add to our collection. This time however that third goal just wouldn't appear.
But hey, I'm liking our win ability. This was our 4th straight win since losing to Norwich and it is genuinely putting us on track to be a promotion contender again, something I wasn't really planning on being for this season.
No point getting cocky though. We're a newly promoted side and first of all I am legit content just to stay up. Maybe we should be seeking to push on and take the opportunity to push for the Premier League in case it doesn't come around again.
Stoke City away would be next up, as we took on a team that had a good decade-long run in the PL but have since flattered to deceive in attempts to return.
Making my starting line-up this time would be…
Hladky - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, El Mizouni - Edwards, Harper, Shipley - Moller
We beat Stoke in the FA Cup last season so would we be able to inflict more misery on the team from the Potteries?
Hmmm… well clearly we decided to fail in style. I do wonder if this ultimately was a game too far for some of our squad.
Wilmot put Stoke in front and although we did force Joe Bursik into a couple of decent stops, Stoke generally played better and controlled our myriad attacking threats.
One time transfer target Scott Twine scored a chip to make it 2-0 and then Tyrese Campbell added another less than 10 minutes later, at which point we just accepted it was over and focused on not conceding a fourth.
A rare misfire then in our final away match before the great World Cup-induced hiatus to proceedings. Which wasn't really the happiest way or indeed the way I was hoping to do that with games running out for one final pre-World Cup huzzah.
Maybe that would come in the outright final game before the pause, as we welcomed Birmingham City to Portman Road.
For this one, I decided the best reaction to our poor result at Stoke was a few switches around. Making the grade would be this lot…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Morsy, Harper - Jackson, Chaplin, Holland - Pigott
Injury and suspension did necessitate a few other tweaks than planned, though the rare start for Pigott over Moller does count as slightly unusual.
Can we wave goodbye for a month with a win?
Excellent dose of late drama in our favour.
We in truth were the weaker team in this one. Birmingham seemed to take advantage by shading the first half, but a Blues team now managed by a post-Man United Ole fell behind to a fine header by Pigott on his first team recall.
But Birmingham continued to look good and likelier to do stuff, and would make it 2-0 when Dan Potts headed in with 20 to go.
Yet oddly, Birmingham didn't do a lot late on whereas we threw on both Moller and rare substitute Tyreece Simpson, and that did the trick, as Arsenal loanee Moller found us an injury time winner.
With the World Cup pause now upon us, we have a month long break before our next commitment, in the form of a friendly against local non-league side Felixstowe, followed by a trip to Luton on December 10th in the resumption of league hostilities. This is actually before Qatar 22 will even be up, but I suspect that most 2nd tier-based players will be out of the tournament by then.
Anyway, a table…
Tell ya what - we were predicted for a relegation battle, while I would have been OK with a midtable spot like play-off winners Wigan are occupying. But 11 wins out of our 18 pre-World Cup fixtures and being sat in the top 6, even above Wolves, is a great start. So yeah, I'm very pleased with how it's gone so far.
We now have a month to ourselves to reboot this thing, then see what we can do as we get plunged right into the Christmas schedule with all its traditional excess.
I've left this for a while.
Between poor WiFi, distractions, getting interested in a crazy FM mod where every player has their contract cancelled and is available as a free agent, and just life, I'd left this thread for a bit. Yesterday, however, was my first day in self-isolation (boo covid's still a thing) so I ended up finishing the entire season.
Seeing as I finished up the season and got carried away, rather than my preferred match-by-match analysis, I think we'll just skip through to the end of the season. We start with our return after the World Cup hiatus, which ironically came the day after England were knocked out by Spain on penalties (Argentina won the tournament, if you see this as an omen for December's real life trip to the desert). It's naturally straight into the Championship, with 7 games in less than a month.
So, how did we fare?
Well we did well to get results imo. Eye-catching ones in particular include a home win over our local rivals Norwich, beating a number of our rivals, and doing well to get some points in at the right moment. The emergence of youngster Ben Morris, who scored a decent number of goals, was also decent. Ending without a win in our last 3 was a bit of a damp squib though.
So, at the end of 46 games, where would we finish up?
Well… considering I would've been OK with finishing 21st in pre-season, we've done a madness to finish 3rd.
We didn't have enough in the end to catch up with our local rivals Norwich City, who at one point we were closing in on but ran out of time to get. Ultimately we drew 4 more games than them, which is what cost us the opportunity to claim second place in our first Championship season.
Neither of us were catching Brighton, who crushed the competition on their way to an instant return with over 100 points (I think that's a higher total than Reading's 2005/06 record), and it's a shame to finish behind our rivals from up the road, but it's crazy to think a squad still heavily reliant on our core squad we inherited at the start of this is now potentially 3 games away from the Premier League.
Hell, looking at the list, Wolves and West Brom are teams with PL budgets that got nowhere near, to say nothing of Coventry, Bristol City and Millwall - all teams that have reached the Prem on some of my FM games but this time fell into League One.
This is an interesting one to call, meanwhile. Fulham were beaten in last season's play-off final, Middlesbrough are decent on their day, and Hull should be taken seriously despite the fact we beat them home and away.
Hull City is our semi-final opponent. The Tigers stole a march on Wigan (who had been promoted with us last season) to book a top six finish, whilst Fulham and Middlesbrough play in what feels like the heavyweight contest. So we'll see if we can take the Yorkshire club first, then turn our attentions to Wembley if we get through.
The ambition of this save was always to try to get Ipswich Town back into the Premier League. I just didn't expect to have such an opportunity so quickly.
With just one season in the Championship done, we find ourselves in the play-offs and in striking distance of fighting for a place in the Premier League, bringing with it the headaches of trying to manufacture a PL ready squad on a shoestring budget. Sure, some would say my use of the 4-2-3-1 Gegenpress taps in to an OP FM22 staple, but at the end of the day, I could still have got it wrong.
First up as an opponent would be Hull City. The East Yorkshire side have previous experience, winning promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs in 2008 and 2016.
First selection for this grand quest were…
Hladky - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, El Mizouni - Burns, Harper, Shipley - Moller
Could we take an advantage from the first leg?
This wasn't a straight forward game, mind. Hull's George Honeyman had a goal disallowed early on, and the combination of a goal in the last 20 minutes and our reduction to 10 men when El Mizouni limped off after we made all 3 changes hurt us.
We did just enough though. Shipley scored just after the break, continuing his fine debut in Ipswich blue, before a Harper penalty gave us control despite the concession.
A few days passed and it was back to Portman Road for the sequel. One match away from the play-off final at Wembley, and with it, the chance to play either Fulham or Middlesbrough for a place in the Premier League.
Seeking to make this count were…
Hladky - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, Shipley - Burns, Harper, Holland - Moller
Just the one switch, as the injury to El Mizouni meant a shuffle. Shipley dropped back into central midfield to partner Robson, whilst Holland came in to take the left-flank role.
Get the trains, buses, private jets, taxis, etc. to Wembley booked. We're going to the play-off final.
Frankly we could, maybe should, have been even more comfortable victors. We battered Hull City in this one, but ultimately settled for just the two goals courtesy of Holland and Harper (the latter of whom scored in the first leg).
So we are in the play-off final and our opposition would be Middlesbrough. Now managed by Vladimir Ivic, a 2-1 aggregate win over Fulham (2-0 home, 0-1 away) meant that it would be the side from the North East that would also be making their way to Wembley for the richest game in world football, and seeking place 20 in the 2023/24 Premier League.
For our date with destiny, the following 11 would start…
Hladky - Lavinier, Darling, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, El Mizouni - Burns, Harper, Shipley - Moller
A yellow card in the second leg meant Woolfenden was banned, while we also lost Holland to injury, so Darling and a fit-again El Mizouni came in.
So, one match to decide everything. Who's gonna win it?
WE FUCKING DID IT! WE ARE GOING UP! PREMIER LEAGUE HERE WE COME!
Everything all came down in the end to one penalty kick and in the moment we needed it, our goalkeeper Hladky proved why I was so keen to turn down many MLS bids for his services by saving Dael Fry's kick in the shoot-out to win that 6-5, defeat Middlesbrough and confirm our promotion to the Premier League, ending what would be a 21 year absence.
This ended up being another game of attrition, with both Harper and Burns getting injured. Overall, however, we were the better team, but for various reasons, the breakthrough wouldn't come in a tight 90 minutes.
The door looked to have opened up for us when Shipley swept in a glorious free-kick shortly into extra-time. But then Middlesbrough's Fosu scored a fine goal of his own to keep the game tightly poised, and we missed a pretty good chance at the end.
In the end, it went to penalties and a bit of an auspicious start when both sides' first takers missed their kicks. But from the false start, there was accuracy with neither keeper stopping others from going in.
Then, after Harry Darling scored his kick, opposite centre-half Fry stepped up and was denied, and with that, the season was over. Ipswich Town in the Premier League. Ace.
There's no point even pretending that I expected this to happen. I didn't. But it's been a cracking season. I won Manager of the Season for this work, and we can toast the fact we've pulled off the seemingly impossible task. I mean…
I cannot pretend this is a huge overachievement. We were forecast to be in the relegation battle, yet here we are coming in third and holding our nerve in the post-season lottery to take a Premier League place. I'm happy with that.
A look at who got us there…
Must say our new signings did well. Moller established himself as a great striker, Shipley was a pretty remarkable arrival, Holland picked up brilliantly after a slow start, Lavinier ousted Vincent-Young as first choice full-back and when needed Darling stepped up superbly.
So… the big question is how much cash will I have to play with to try and make a Premier League squad out of this lot?
I can work with this.
We may have to get creative but I was dreading getting something like £500k or less. There is cash here to bring in some PL-ready faces and give us a shot at being able to compete.
Tune in next time to see how that rebuild is taking shape.
So, let's begin the build-up to season 3 and our first in the Premier League by taking a look at our transfer business.
There are two schools of thought here. One is we decide our squad is worthy of a crack at the PL and supplement it with a few expensive options, and the other is we go for a full rebuild.
I chose something approaching the latter. Especially when you look at the outgoing list.
This wasn't necessarily the plan, particularly as we had a fairly low turnover going into the Championship. But clearly I felt this escalation in challenge difficulty coupled with access to around £30million in funds meant we should go for it.
The first two signings were the first necessities. With Nikolaj Moller returning to Arsenal and the likes of Matt Ward, Chris Kane, Joe Pigott & Tyreese Simpson not really being PL material, I figured I needed new strikers. So I bought in two. Bristol City's surprise relegation meant Antoine Semenyo was available and affordable, whilst a structured deal with Swansea was quickly agreed for Joel Piroe. The Dutchman actually wasn't that high a scorer last season, but should slot in well enough.
I then decided to bring in an extra defender, and stumbled onto Argentine international Alan Franco, who comes to Ipswich from the MLS outfit Atlanta United. Like the Piroe signing, it's structured with instalments and a survival bonus. It also allowed us to sell defender Cameron Burgess, who fell down the pecking order last season and has been allowed to join Hearts in Scotland.
Midfielders ended up also being a focus. Hamza Choudhury is tough tackling PL experience who was transfer listed by Real Betis, so comes in, and we also agreed deals for former Spurs youngster Samuel Shashoua, Stoke City's highly regarded attacking midfielder Scott Twine and former Sunderland wideman Lynden Gooch, who came in for a fairly cheap fee from MLS side Austin. We also agreed a loan move for Newcastle's Elliot Anderson, who had been a target last year. How to fit this in with Robson, Morsy, Shipley, El Mizouni, Harper, Burns, Morris, Holland and Chaplin for the midfield and attacking mid is a new challenge.
Danish goalkeeper Oliver Christensen joined from Hertha Berlin for a surprisingly cheap fee, with back-up Christian Walton sold to Beckham's Miami gang, and the other move was to keep a familiar face. After two seasons on loan from Brentford, Dominic Thompson's contract with the Bees expired so we swooped to make him a permanent arrival. Not captured but also done was an extension for Marcel Lavinier, with the Spurs loanee at full-back extended his stay.
Most of our outgoings, by contrast, are loans, with this making a mockery of any FIFA attempt to regulate these. As well as Ward, Kane, Pigott and Simpson, we also sent out Matt Penney and George McEachran from our first team bubble, along with several more youngsters. Players sold, by contrast, raised about £2million, with Burgess, Walton, Lee Evans and youngster Dante Casanova those cleared out.
It is plausible that we will need to show a degree of tactical flexibility, given the myriad challenges we will face and a lot of games where our favoured 4-2-3-1 might not be the way to go about it. Nevertheless, my assistant reckons that when selecting that tactic, we choose this lot…
A solid enough selection. But we'll see how closely we follow this.
By contrast the media prediction went a different way, as we see that we have a pre-season prediction…
… to come stone dead last.
This is to be expected if I'm being totally honest. We tick so many of the boxes to fulfil this criteria, from being play-off winners to a side that was in League One five minutes ago to a side that has by far the league's smallest annual salary. Though it is kinda fascinating to see how this selection differs from what my assistant considers to be our strongest selection.
Pre-season is now done and dusted, meanwhile, so this is what we did…
As a side-note, we experimented with a 3-4-3 for the Porto and Brugge games. The latter win indicates it may have potential. Though as we beat Bordeaux with our conventional structure, and lost to Porto with it, maybe not.
The season itself proper is now upon us, and this is how we start…
So our first Premier League game takes us to one of the top flight grounds we've thus far seen, in the form of St Mary's and a trip to Southampton. Early games against Bournemouth and Brentford feel like ones we're gonna need to target for points, given it's swiftly followed by many big spending teams predicted for top half finishes.
Still, it's one thing to predict these things. It's another to actually play them. We're not gonna just scrape our way to survival, but will actually have to give it a fight. I want to believe my renovated squad has what it takes to do that, so let's dive on in and see if that hunch is accurate.
In the 1961/62 season, Alf Ramsey lead Ipswich Town to the top fight of English football for the first time and did pretty well for himself. By which I mean, he won the league for both himself in his first top flight season and Ipswich's first top flight season.
That is not my ambition. Unless we somehow get taken over by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk combined and can celebrate by spending £1billion on new players, we are aiming for 17th and higher. But that isn't to downplay the excitement. This is our first Premier League season as Ipswich boss, and I wanna believe we can make an impression.
First out the gates was a trip to play Southampton on the South Coast. We previously faced the Saints in the FA Cup in our first season, narrowly missing out on pulling off an upset. So with this precedent, I wanted to believe we could do quite well here.
Making my first PL starting line-up were…
Hladky - Lavinier, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Choudhury, Anderson - Gooch, Harper, Shashoua - Semenyo
No fewer than 6 full debutants in the starting line-up, if not quite the ones I had perhaps intended, with Joel Piroe on the bench after picking up a pre-season injury.
So how would we get on with day one of our new adventures?
A draw isn't a terrible place to start imo.
Southampton took the lead when Nathan Tella received a pass from Saints debutant Thorgen Hazard and drilled home. But we matched the Saints for large parts of this contest and would eventually equalise through a signature move type of goal - cross from the flank, winger meets it, goal. In this case, it's a new one for it as our summer signing Gooch grabs a debut goal of his own, going some way to meeting the clause whereby we have to pay his ex-club Austin a bonus fee if he grabs 10 goals.
Not a bad opening if I do say so myself.
Next up is a home game against Bournemouth, who - as they were on another save - are groundsharing with Bristol City while a new stadium is built, giving Bournemouth fans just a 75 mile drive to go to any home game. In another kinda fun tidbit, they're also back under the stewardship of Eddie Howe, who has taken over at the Vitality Stadium for a third time as manager after his dismissal by Newcastle.
The first home game of our season would see us name this lot:
Christensen - Lavinier, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Choudhury, Anderson - Gooch, Harper, Holland - Shashoua
Debut for our new keeper Christensen, whilst because I wasn't happy with Semenyo's performance against Southampton and felt Piroe is still only fit for the bench that Shashoua would get to be main striker today.
How would we do this time?
Our first Premier League victory and it wasn't even close. How 'bout dat?
It had started fairly evenly to begin with but our nerves would be settled when Holland received a fine pass from Gooch and drilled it home. In the second half, however, all hell broke loose.
Edmundson extended our lead with a fine header from a corner, demonstrating why I'm very happy to keep him in place alongside our new signing Franco, but we then ran riot. Piroe grabbed his first Ipswich goal off the bench when he made it 3 with 11 minutes to go and then before I knew it, two crosses from another substitute in El Mizouni picked out Franco, who scored with both. Unbelievable stuff.
Such is the relentlessness of football, however, that we didn't exactly have long to savour this result. A few days later and we were back to it, this time taking on League One newboys Northampton Town in the Second Round of the Carabao Cup.
The teamsheet read:
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Darling, Edmundson, Boyes - Morsy, El Mizouni - Holland, Twine, Morris - Piroe
All of 9 changes, with just centre-half Edmundson and winger Holland starting both this one and the weekend. And even then, Holland was shifted from left to right. Piroe also got a first start, as did youngster Morgan Boyes, who joined in January from Scottish side Livingston.
Does the job that.
I had wonder if Piroe was the right signing for our quest to land a goalscorer in the PL, but the Dutchman did the job here. An excellent hat-trick for our summer arrival from Swansea as he single-handedly shoved the Cobblers aside, making it job a good'un and setting up a Third Round trip to Leeds.
Deadline day was next, but our 10 new signings were already done so we didn't have the squad space left. One note is that we terminated the contract of the winger Kyle Edwards, who never really seemed to justify to me why the backroom staff hyped him so much and who is out of place after we signed 4/5 new attacking midfield capable options. So off he went.
September now dawns upon us, and we squeeze in one more game before the international break as we welcome Brentford to Portman Road. This is a reunion with the Bees, who knocked us out of the Carabao Cup in the 4th Round last season.
We've made a very productive start to life in the Premier League, mind, with no defeats in our first 3 in all competitions.
Names on the teamsheet today were as follows:
Christensen - Lavinir, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Choudhury, Anderson - Gooch, Shashoua, Holland - Piroe
Closer to my intended first 11 then. Would we grab ourselves rewards?
Alas, this time, no points for us.
It didn't exactly start well when Sinisterra put Brentford in front straight away, and we were poor in the first half. We would also be unlucky to see Gooch have one disallowed for offside, and our luck very much seemed out when Paulinho (not the ex-Spurs & Barcelona one) made it 2-0.
Yet it seemed to come back in our favour when Brentford's Ricca got sent off for conceding a penalty and Piroe smashed it in. We duly had changes, but instead, a foul by Edmundson at the other end gave Brentford their own spot-kick that Mbeumo duly converted. Balls.
Still, if nothing else, we got an early win. Which feels like we're gonna need such a thing to hold onto, given we have Spurs and Newcastle next and both of those two have plenty of multi-million pound strikers to test our backline with. Fingers crossed we can rise to such challenges.
So far we've faced 2 teams that we have faced in the cups and one side who have had recent spells in the EFL. Our first game back after the first international break of the season would however up the ante. This would be our first trip to the new Tottenham stadium, and a chance for our defence to prove it can be PL-capable by taking on the likes of Harry Kane.
This is obviously a different beast to the Spurs that Ipswich beat home and away in their last Premier League campaign in 2001/02. But we can't afford to only go in hope. Why not dream of really announcing our Premier League arrival in style?
Making their way onto the field for this one would be…
Christensen - Woolfenden, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Harper, Choudhury, Shipley - Gooch, Piroe, Holland
A fair few revisions. Switch to a 4-3-3, play Woolfenden slightly out of position at right-back due to Lavinier being ineligible and Vincent-Young unfit, a start for last season's hero Shipley and some of that hit-and-hope feel.
I'll very much take that.
We actually looked like the better team during the first half with a couple of decent chances and a sense we were frustrating Marcelo Bielsa's Spurs. That hunch would very much look on in the final stages of the first half, when a foul by Skipp gave us a penalty that Piroe smashed past Hugo Lloris.
Spurs did wake up after the break and created a few low quality chances until, with just under half an hour to go, Thomas Lemar scored a proper thunderbastard.
I wouldn't say it was backs against the wall from there necessarily, but we were made to work for it and the point was very much earned thank you kindly.
Not that the difficulty level goes down from here. Next up on our fixture list was Newcastle United, who now have Erik ten Hag as manager (you may have heard of him this week) and have spent many millions of Saudi cash to try and break into the European places.
Aiming to grab three points against our friends from the north were…
Christensen - Lavinier, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Harper, Robson, Shipley - Gooch, Piroe, Holland
One worry from this one is the loss of Choudhury, who is facing a few weeks out injured after damaging himself in training.
Against another team the great Bobby Robson managed, could we pull off a victory here?
Yikes. Not even close.
This started going wrong nearly immediately when Saint-Maximin waltzed through our defence and scored, and the French star would strike again in first half stopped time.
Following a double change at half-time, we actually began to put together some decent opportunities, with ex-Sunderland man Gooch on wide right looking quite good.
But it was a mirage. We failed to score, and duly conceded again when first Bruno Guimaraes and then Miguel Almiron beat Christensen to complete the rout. In short, terrible day for us.
Moving swiftly on that from that debacle, the next test for us was back in the old Carabao Cup. We'd met the board expectation of reaching Round 3 but now was the time to try and go one better as we faced Leeds United, who are intriguingly enough now managed by former Porto, Chelsea and Spurs gaffer Andre Villas-Boas.
I opted to reshuffle the pack for this one…
Hladky - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Darling, Thompson - Morsy, Anderson - Burns, Harper, Morris - Semenyo
Could we prove we got the farce against the Toon out of our system?
Not the most exciting or entertaining game ever but it all counts. We kept Leeds under control and got the strike that mattered, which came when Morris headed in Vincent-Young's cross. Leeds huffed and puffed but rarely looked like scoring, so we grab a win. Huzzah.
Maybe this tonic is just what we require for our next league outing. That would take us to Goodison Park and to face an Everton team that, like us, enter the contest with just a single league win out of the opening five.
Having rested several players for the midweek Carabao Cup trip to Leeds, this time I went more conventional by selecting…
Christensen - Lavinier, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Harper, Shipley - Gooch, Shashoua, Morris - Piroe
Will we take something from this one?
First away league win of the season can be ticked off the list.
I can admit this one turned on the dismissal. We started well with Gooch scoring early on and could've had another in the first half, only for a fine free-kick by Amiri to bring Everton level. They then battered us for most of the second half, but the dismissal of Viktor Mykolenko changed it.
Substitute Semenyo scored what could be a big goal for us as we seek to pull off what many are already dismissal as an improbable survival, with an injury time disallowed goal even coming along.
So with that came our second Premier League win of the season. Huzzah. But making it 2 wins in a row in the PL isn't exactly simple, given that our next assignment would be to go to Stamford Bridge.
Curiously, Chelsea now have Pep Guardiola in charge. On a lot of earlier FM22 saves I noted Klopp and Guardiola swapping when the latter leaves Man City, but this version actually saw City replace Pep with Thomas Tuchel, leading to a job swap that sends Guardiola to London.
For this one I decided the time was right to try something out…
Christensen - Edmundson, Darling, Franco - Vincent-Young, Harper, Shipley, Thompson - Gooch, Piroe, Semenyo
Yup. A Conte style thing with 3 defenders, wing-backs and wingers flanking a central striker. Although granted the Chelsea team when he did that could call upon the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Pedro, Cesc Fabregas, Victor Moses, etc, and I don't.
Still, we took something off Spurs, which is still a good thing to our credit. So could we pull off a similar surprise here?
Ultimately one where we were happy that we only lost 2-0. It looked like being a really abysmal afternoon when Pulisic had one disallowed straight away before Romelu Lukaku grabbed a brace in the form of a header and a penalty.
I genuinely think Chelsea decided to take a foot off the gas then knowing they could control us at arms length. And in fairness, given we only managed 2 shots that weren't anything to write home about, they may have had a point.
At this point it's worth consulting the table, given we now have a few games on record…
It's been a pretty solid start so far tbf. 2 wins in our opening 7 Premier League matches is more than quite a few teams below us (including Arsenal, hilariously), not least given we've had the misfortune of some big names early on.
Our good start changes little, mind. The overall goal remains 17th+, and in all truth probably will be next season as well if we make it there. So far so good though.
Next up after the international break, we welcomed Leicester City to Suffolk. The Foxes were relegated from the PL alongside Ipswich in 2002, but while Leicester recovered in a rather famous manner (2016), it's taken us the long way round to get there.
Making my starting squad would be the following faces…
Christensen - Lavinier, Edmundson, Darling, Vincent-Young - Choudhury, Harper - Gooch, Anderson, Shashoua - Piroe
I want a win, given we're without one at home in a while. So could we manage it?
It's not a win but least we have some late drama going in our favour.
This was a mildly chaotic afternoon in the end. Poulsen was basically unchallenged for the Leicester opener but we responded rather well and equalised just a few minutes later when Shashoua swept in Piroe's knockdown.
But the defence duly fell asleep again to allow James Maddison a fine goal. We then should've been punished further after Lavinier gave away a penalty, but Sergio Gomez couldn't beat Christensen.
Really we didn't offer all that much after that. If any goal looked like coming it was for Leicester but then in the 89th minute a foul in the box was spotted by VAR and given, allowing Piroe to sweep it in.
Not convincing by any means, but I'll take a point as this was a tough one.
Having said that, so is the next one. Our following assignment after an already tough contest against Leicester was to turn up the difficulty level and a trip to Man City, who now have Thomas Tuchel in charge. K.
Making the revised squad were to be…
Christensen - Woolfenden, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Harper, Choudhury, El Mizouni - Gooch, Piroe, Shashoua
The odds are very much not in our favour here. But let's see if we can pull off something special…
Now, it would've been quite the story had we held on and we may have to put some work in elsewhere to avoid regretting letting these two points slip. But given the circumstances, a draw is a fine enough result.
Man City were the better team but really the chances weren't all coming to them, and Christensen was saving the ones that did get through to him.
While we had offered little going forward, as things progressed, we felt things might come to us and it did look like we might well have hit the jackpot when we scored first. A foul by Joao Cancelo gave us a free-kick, and a flick on by Piroe landed perfectly for Shashoua to sweep it past Ederson.
Hopes of a win faded quick, mind, as a precise pass from De Bruyne played in Phil Foden to sweep in a Manchester City equaliser. But we were able to resist and prevent the hosts scoring again, and pick up a pretty credible point. So yay us.
Next on our agenda would be another trip to North West England. While our last outing was to the Etihad Stadium and Manchester's blue team, this one was a trip to Liverpool's blues. We may have just faced Everton away in the Premier League, but now we had a Carabao Cup contest over there to fulfil.
This one was a rotational one in the end, as we picked…
Hladky - Woolfenden, Edmundson, Darling, Thompson - Anderson, Robson, El Mizouni - Holland, Morris, Shashoua
We won at Goodison a few weeks earlier in the league. Could we follow it up by doing so in the cup?
Not this time.
Everton decided not to do what we did and instead turned up with a strong line-up, and sadly it wasn't a big surprise to see them go 2-0 up courtesy of goals in the early stages of each half.
Holland did grab us one back and we did create a good amount of chances in the aftermath as we tried to force penalties. This time, however, it was all to no avail and this is the last time we'll be in this cup for this campaign. Shame.
Naturally, if I was to follow this up by winning the next game, I might look like a managerial genius. Winning the next game however was another difficult test.
Arsenal may have started surprisingly poorly under the new management of Patrick Vieira, but this isn't really the game I'd want if I felt like we could win.
Nevertheless, we persevere and we try to surprise the Gunners with this lot…
Christensen - Lavinier, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Harper, Choudhury, Anderson - Holland, Piroe, Shashoua
So, could we grab ourselves a boost by winning this one?
This started going wrong pretty much straight away when Naby Keita scored and went even further wrong when we missed an open goal after a half of Arsenal dominance.
We weren't overwhelmed per say, but we had nothing in response after Eddie Nketiah made it 2-0.
Having failed to win any of our games since the last international break, the last match before the next international hiatus represented one that we really should be targeting to try and win.
Ipswich v Burnley isn't exactly the first fixture one might think of as Premier League material, but it is here and we really will enhance our survival prospects considerably by beating a team that is still managed by Sean Dyche.
Aiming to defeat Dyche and his band of merry men would be…
Hladky - Woolfenden, Edmundson, Franco, Lavinier - Choudhury, Harper - Gooch, Twine, Shashoua - Piroe
The headline grabbing inclusion is a full start for Scott Twine for the first time after his summer move from Stoke City, as well as a PL start for our former number 1 Hladky and a slightly unusual back 4 to compensate for Vincent-Young being injured and Thompson being overplayed.
Victory feels like it's needed in this one. Would we do just that?
I really hope this one doesn't bite us on the bum.
We made a cracking start, as with less than a minute gone, a well worked move ended in Twine releasing Gooch to score.
But we didn't really have the momentum to build on it, allowing Burnley's Barrow to equalise from a Dwight McNeil cross.
If anyone looked likelier to take the 3 points, it was going to be us. But the winner would just never come. Briefly we thought it had done when Piroe bundled in the ball in the final 5 minutes, but VAR piped up, said Piroe's essence was offside, and took away the goal. We duly ran out of ideas and settled for a point.
So with the November international break now upon us, time to check in on the Premier League table…
As you can see, we're still waiting on our third win of the season as a Premier League team, but we still have a healthy amount of points at this stage. After all everyone was calling us as destined to come last, so to be 14th despite not winning our last few games has to count for something.
We need more wins ASAP though, and with any luck, the next few games will provide one. Once we get the likely demolition by Liverpool in the next game out of the way, we might be onto it. But we'll just have to wait and see.
After the last pre-Christmas international break, I wanted to respond with victories. Unfortunately for us, a trip to Anfield was next in the diary for us.
Looking to make mission impossible a success would be this lot…
Christensen - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Harper, Anderson, Robson - Gooch, Morris, Twine
Very much a rotated squad. One idea had been to start Hladky, who wants game time, but he suffered a major injury shortly into the international break so is out for a while, with academy grad Bert White stepping up as third choice keeper.
So, would we pull off something a bit special?
That went probably about as well as to be expected tbh. Still a borderline L1/Champ squad against a team featuring new £100M+ signing Vlahovic on top of Salah and Mane.
There isn't really much more to say tbh. So let's move on.
This next one might be a bit more winnable and crucial, as we host our East Anglian rivals Norwich City in the first derby of the season.
I suspect this will be an interesting contest. So let's see how this lot can fare in such a high-pressure scenario…
Christensen - Vincent-Young, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Choudhury, Anderson - Gooch, Shashoua, Holland - Piroe
Some rotation was utilised for the last game in all truth, although an injury to Lavinier didn't help. So let's see if we can make this a success.
Hmmmm… Plenty to ponder.
We started pretty poorly, with Tzolis giving Norwich an early-ish lead and the visitors likelier to score in the early part of the contest. Until the latter stages of the half, we'd yet to really get going until Norwich rather generously gave us a penalty that Piroe duly scored from.
In truth that was our best chance. A tight second half did see us create a little more before Norwich nearly snuck one at the end. In truth draw was perhaps enough, even if it does little to end a winless run that is dragging on a bit.
Maybe the next contest would be more to our liking, as we travelled to face surprise early strugglers Aston Villa, for whom Steven Gerrard is now under pressure. Villa actually qualified 4th in second one and made it to the Champions League quarters in year two, but with the Brummie club in the bottom 6 they need a result as much as we do.
Aiming to pile on the pain at Villa Park would be another new team in the form of…
Christensen - Vincent-Young, Edmundson, Franco, Thompson - Choudhury, Harper - Semenyo, Twine, Shashoua - Piroe
Would we find this a successful trip?
Ah that sucks.
We started well, resisted a brief spell of Villa pressure, and swept in front when Semenyo received a Piroe flick on and placed it into the back of the net.
For a while offered next to nothing but the decision to disallow Justin Kluivert's goal motivated them, they duly began to come at us a bit more, and sure enough Kluivert grabbed a late equaliser.
This is also infuriating in some respects as this game, the preceding one against Norwich and the game against Burnley before the international break were all huge opportunities for a win that we couldn't take. So it felt essential we didn't let another opportunity for a win pass us by in the next match, as we travelled to face bottom side Crystal Palace.
The teamsheet features…
Christensen - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Franco, Thompson - Choudhury, Harper - Semenyo, Shashoua, Holland - Piroe
A win feels essential tbh. Would we nab one?
Hallelujah 3 points on the board.
This did not look on the cards when inside the opening minute, Enriquez received a through pass, rounded Christensen and scored. Yet we turned it around pretty well, as Piroe struck a near-immediate leveller before Shashoua came in with a fine strike.
A fairly low quality game ended up being much higher scoring than the xG suggested, with a 4th going in through Enriquez just after half-time but Franco heading home Holland's perfectly weighted free-kick to make it 3-2 just under half an hour from the end. Palace created surprisingly little in response, allowing us to take just a 3rd Premier League win of the season and a pretty important one.
Simply put, we needed this - a first win in 9 Premier League matches stops a slide towards the drop that was beginning to kick in and make me feel worried.
It's also just as well it came here, as I didn't exactly rate our chances of ending it in our next assignment, as we welcomed season 2's Premier League winners Manchester United to Portman Road.
We did receive a little boost pre-game, however, as it turned out injury had ruled out both Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe. But the odds were still stacked against us.
Nevertheless, this squad was named to try and pull off a remarkable result…
Christensen - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Franco, Vincent-Young - Choudhury, El Mizouni - Semenyo, Harper, Holland - Piroe
Could we stun the reigning champions?
I don't even know where to start with this one. We were great going forward but David de Gea proved to be unstoppable, whereas everything they hit just went in.
We certainly held our own in the first half. Just moments after Jadon Sancho put the visitors in front, Nathan Holland equalised and if anything we were creating the chances to make it 2-1.
But it seemed as though De Gea was pissed at losing his clean sheet bonus and began to put in one of those De Gea style superman performances. The same couldn't be said for our keeper Christensen, as a long-ranger by Paul Pogba flew past him, followed moments later by a second for Sancho.
Pogba then crashed in a free-kick before Franco's own goal rubbed in further salt to our wounds, as did losing Semenyo to injury and yet more De Gea magic at the end.
All in all, a thoroughly aggravating afternoon. But if nothing else, we learned our forward players aren't out of their depth at this level. So the challenge was now to score against hopefully more pliable opponents.
Entering the chat are Leeds United, who we beat at Elland Road in the Carabao Cup a few weeks earlier.
Aiming to make this trip a success would be…
Christensen - Lavinier, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Choudhury, Anderson - Shashoua, Twine, Holland - Piroe
Would we grab 3 points from this trip to West Yorkshire to go with our EFL Cup triumph but a few weeks ago?
Less said about this one the better tbh. We basically ended up putting in an anti-football performance, earning an FA fine and criticism for multiple yellows, while Leeds found Christensen is less charitable form than Manchester United had the previous weekend.
Onwards then. And with it a test against a side promoted with us last season in the form of Brighton & Hove Albion in our last contest before Christmas.
Looking to get our fans one last minute Christmas present out of a year that included us getting promoted would be…
Christensen - Vincent-Young, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Thompson - Robson, Harper - Gooch, Twine, Shashoua - Semenyo
Feels like we need a win, having not won at home since our first PL game played at Portman Road against Bournemouth back in August. Would this be the day?
In truth we were second best. A close range tap-in by Semenyo to put us in front came against the run of play and Petkovic duly equalised a few moments later. We actually did have a fair few chances in parallel to our guests as both teams tried for a second half winner, though we weren't helped when Semenyo collected two yellows and got dismissed. Though if I'm fair the only surprise about us getting a red is that it wasn't Morsy (who got a few in the first 2 seasons) or Choudhury (who ironically I think was suspended).
This was the last game before Christmas, so time for a quick glance at the Christmas Day Premier League table.
Well I wasn't exactly expecting us to be up there with Liverpool, Chelsea and the other top end challengers tbf. But given we have the league's smallest salary and budget, to be 5 points clear of the relegation zone is a pretty remarkable achievement.
Not that we can rest on our laurels on course. It's one thing have a points-per-game number that indicates we should probably stay up, but we need to get going. Draws aren't gonna be enough, so let's keep pushing.