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Are these the six leading contenders for Ipswich’s Player of the Season?

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Since an extremely positive start to the season in August, Ipswich Town have been unable to match the performances that earned them a sixth placed finish last season. With the play-offs now looking more and more unlikely after picking up just one point from winnable games against Wolves and Rotherham, their season looks set to peter out into mid-table mediocrity, but who has been Town’s best player of an underwhelming season?

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Tommy Smith

In a defence that has looked shaky at times; with the inexperienced Jonas Knudsen at left back and centre-back Luke Chambers playing out of position at right back, Tommy Smith has been Town’s most solid defender. Prior to the beginning of the season, many Town fans were nervous of Smith playing as the right sided centre-back; where he had looked shaky in the past, instead of his favoured left, but the New Zealand international has become more and more comfortable with the position. However, the Ipswich defence has been the worst of the top ten teams, having conceded forty-four goals in thirty-nine league games.

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Bartosz Bialkowski

The Polish goalkeeper had an extended run out of the team between August and February but since replacing Dean Gerken, has been in outstanding form. He was nominated for Championship player of the month in February and has carried that form into March, with fans voting him man of the match in four out of five games. There is no doubt that Bialkowski is a fantastic shot-stopper, but questions could be asked about his ability to handle high balls into the box. Despite his superb form recently, it could be unfair to consider him player of the season, after playing just fourteen games.

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Cole Skuse

Central midfielder Cole Skuse has been one of Town’s most consistent performers this season, the ball-winning midfielder is one of the Championship’s best players at breaking play up and offers excellent protection to the back four. However, his lack of pace has been exploited at times by fast attacks. Skuse is a defensively-minded player, and a need for more creativity in midfield has been clear for Ipswich fans to see far too often this season.

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Ipswich Town

Tottenham: Leicester star linked; Portugal winger watched; ‘keeper leaves club

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Tottenham Hostpur’s quiet transfer window looks as if it might be about to accelerate into action after the London club were linked to Premier League winning midfielder Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City.

Drinkwater is currently undergoing talks of a new contract at the King Power Stadium, and Spurs feel as if a bid of £20 million may test Leicester, and crucially Drinkwater’s resolve and tempt him to consider a move to White Hart Lane.

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Although he didn’t receive quite as many plaudits as his midfield partner N’Golo Kante last season, and also missed out on the England squad for the Euros in the summer, Drinkwater’s range of passing and willingness to get stuck in and break up opposition attacks was a crucial factor in Leicester’s incredible title win, beating Tottenham by 11 points in the process.

Whether he could keep up the standards of last season is yet to be seen, but the ex-Manchester United midfielder is a very tidy player.

Signing Drinkwater would add to Spurs’ defensive midfield ranks, which currently includes Eric Dier, a rare bright spark for England in the Euros, new signing Victor Wanyama, as well as Mousa Dembélé, who was mighty impressive in a deep role last campaign.

Drinkwater would possibly struggle to command a starting place, but would add decent depth to the team. On balance, this deal looks to be more about weakening Leicester than really strengthening Spurs, and it would be a surprise if it went through.

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Another player who has been linked with a move to North London recently is Portugal winger Rafa Silva, who currently plies his trade with Braga. Spurs were rumoured to be watching Silva; the 23-year-old, last season and are considering a £10 million bid to bring him to White Hart Lane.

A sporadic member of Portugal’s Euro 2016 winning squad, and with nine caps to his name, Silva is a hard working talent with plenty of time to improve. He is not of the standard of Spurs’ current midfield options like Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela, but with Nacer Chadli possibly leaving the club, a move for Silva could well add some much needed depth to the position ahead of Tottenham’s return to Champions League football.

At a relatively cheap £10 million, the same price as Georges-Kevin N’Koudou; who could secure his transfer this week, it could be a smart deal for Tottenham from a perspective of squad depth. Much like their other signings of the window, it would improve depth and competition without really adding to the first team.

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Finally, 21-year-old winger Grant Ward has departed the club for Ipswich Town on a three year deal. Ward never made an appearance for the first team at White Hart Lane, but impressed on loan at Rotherham last season, making 40 appearances.

He is the first player to depart Tottenham this summer, with the club’s priorities clearly firmly fixed on building up a squad fit to challenge for the Premier League once more, as well as progressing as far as possible in the Champions League under Mauricio Pochettino.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam

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Championship

Is this why Ipswich Town are struggling to make it into the top six?

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At the end of August, sitting third in the league, Ipswich Town finally looked like a club that could return to the Premier League. Not only the hard working, tough-to-beat unit that had earned themselves a play-off semi-final the previous season, this squad now featured real quality with the likes of Freddie Sears and Ryan Fraser in tremendous form. Since August however, Town have struggled to find real form and now, after throwing away a win against struggling Bolton and a loss away to Cardiff, they sit four points off sixth place and the play-off places.

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Considering where Ipswich were when Mick McCarthy took over in 2012, the progress the club is making is still strong, but if they do fail to make the play-offs, the club will have gone backwards in 2015-16, despite having a stronger squad than last year. They now have quality all over the pitch: a sound defence, fresh creativity in midfield and one of the best forward lines in the league…in theory.

A poor two months followed August with just one win in nine games seeing Town drop to 14th. Daryl Murphy was yet to score and Freddie Sears hadn’t hit the back of the net in eight matches. Although Town’s fortunes did improve over the rest of 2015, climbing back into the play-offs by the end of the year with 22 points out of a possible 30, in 2016 Town have been inconsistent. Every uplifting away win seems to be followed by a depressing home draw or defeat against lowly opposition. However, just what is behind Town’s failure to produce any momentum?

Daryl Murphy; who experienced the best season of his career last season with 27 goals, has been unable to reproduce that goal scoring form. This season though, he has scored just eight, his first not coming until the end of November. It would be unfair on Murphy to suggest that all he can do is score goals. His superb hold up and support play was also a crucial element of Town’s game, and that side of him has also been missing this season. His touch has been poor at times, he has lost some of his pace, and he has also suffered from a lack of confidence.

Freddie Sears has also been unable to match the performances that he showed when he first signed for Town from Colchester in the second half of last season. Despite an excellent first month of the campaign, he has scored just six goals, his last as far back as the 15th of December. Often played out wide by McCarthy, he cannot get into the scoring positions that he usually does as a centre forward. Despite putting in a shift and working hard, the chances haven’t come for Sears, and he too is now suffering from a lack of confidence in front of goal.

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Ryan Fraser; who many consider to have been Ipswich’s best player so far this season, has produced some scintillating football, but unfortunately for Ipswich he has been injured for much of the time. First, he missed two months before Christmas and now Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe admits he may not return to Ipswich for the rest of the season due to a new hamstring injury.

David McGoldrick; often one of one Town’s key figures over the last few seasons, has been forced to watch from the stands for far too long again this term as his proneness to injury continues. Furthermore, midfielders Kevin Bru and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, despite showing glimpses of their quality at times, have both been far too inconsistent.

These are all players who have great ability and the potential possibly to one day fire Ipswich into the Premier League. Unfortunately though, inconsistency and injuries could ultimately mean failure to make the playoffs, and why these players, despite undoubted talent, are not playing at a higher level.

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Ipswich Town

Can this talented youngster recover his best form to move Ipswich back into the play-offs?

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When Ainsley Maitland-Niles arrived at Ipswich on a season long loan from Arsenal last summer, his signing was met with excitement by Ipswich fans that were keen for Mick McCarthy to add more pace and creativity to his squad.

Ipswich had struggled for goals from midfield in the 2014/15 season; just 10 goals were scored by Ipswich midfielders, far less than their top 8 rivals. Maitland-Niles, along with other new wingers Ryan Fraser and Tommy Oar would surely bring a more exciting, dynamic midfield for the season ahead.

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But now, with Town eighth in the table and three points outside the play-offs after consecutive away losses at QPR and Bristol, Town are again struggling in midfield after a minor injury crisis; Cole Skuse, Ryan Fraser, Luke Hyam, Giles Coke and David McGoldrick have all been out injured alongside long term absentee Teddy Bishop, while Jonathan Douglas has been unavailable because of a suspension, following a red card away at Birmingham City in January.

With Tommy Oar leaving the club in January and both Cameron Stewart and Dylan Connolly having left in December, Town now severely lack attack minded wingers. Larsen Toure has clearly not done enough to force his way into Mick McCarthy’s starting 11, so Town are left with new Fulham loanee Ben Pringle and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as their main options out wide.

Having worked his way through the youth system at Arsenal, Maitland-Niles is highly thought of and Arsene Wenger is said to see a first team future for him there. He made his full Arsenal debut aged just 17 away at Galatasaray in the Champions League and has been capped at England under 17, 18 and 19 levels.

This season however, he has only shown glimpses of the talent that earned him a professional contract at Arsenal. Against Birmingham in October, he ran with the ball from his own half and won a penalty, against Bolton he scored a superb goal from outside the box, in an FA cup tie away at Portsmouth he scored a curling shot from distance and in October he scored an incredible long range goal for England Under-19s against Germany.

But, unfortunately, too often for Town this season Maitland-Niles has been weak and ordinary. Tough, championship battling matches have passed him by as his lack of physicality, not required at youth levels, prevents him from affecting the game.

In a recent home game against Reading he was taken off at half time after a poor first half, where he repeatedly gave the ball away. Mick McCarthy did support him though, describing the 18 year old’s season as ‘at times different class’ but ‘having a tough night’, proving that Mick McCarthy, as well as Arsene Wenger, certainly sees an excellent footballer in him.

Could Maitland-Niles’ best form be found through the position he plays in though? He has been played in many positions already this season, with McCarthy clearly unsure what his best position is. He has played on the right wing, on the left wing, at Arsenal he played as a central midfielder and this season he has also been played in the hole behind a striker.

A free role as an attacking midfielder could be his best position though, there he could make runs beyond defences, play passes in behind, and score goals. However, in a Mick McCarthy traditional 4-4-2 he may well have to accept playing out wide, where he sees less of the ball.

A season in the championship can only have improved him, toughening him up for possible future Premier League football. If Maitland-Niles can consistently find his best form this season in a position that suits him best, his performances could certainly fire Town back into the top six.

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