06:00 3 June 2022
Mark Ashton has entered his second year as CEO of Ipswich Town. Mark Heath reviews its main tasks over the next 12 months…
JUST WIN BABY
Top of the list, and most important of all, the Ipswich Town side that Ashton has built simply needs to win, and win often, next season.
Despite all the good things Ashton has done in his first 12 months, the results on the pitch have been hugely disappointing – and an 11th place finish in Ligue 1 is simply unacceptable for a club the size of Town, blessed with resources and a suite that overshadow most of the third floor.
Entering the fourth year of Ligue 1 purgatory, the Blues must be promoted.
Champions, second, until the play-offs, whatever. But they have to get out of League One.
It will ultimately be the measure that will define Ashton and his manager Kieran McKenna over the next 12 months.
Last summer was fun, exciting and amazing. Truly, a summer like no other.
A staggering number of signings and rapid player turnover saw 19 new Town snaps come through the Portman Road gates.
Some have had resounding success. Others were certainly not.
But 19 was too many, a fact that Ashton himself has since acknowledged. Obviously, after Paul Cook blew up the squad, there must have been a lot of recruiting in a few unique weeks – and Ashton rose to the challenge in style, somehow persuading a number of players who shouldn’t really be plying their trade in League One that this was the place to be.
Business this summer needs to be more focused and concise. Forwards, a left-sided specialist and a few midfielders will do the job.
In typical Ashton fashion, he has already started of course – signing proven League One goalscorer Freddie Ladapo on Monday. He followed that up with experienced defensive midfielder Dominic Ball on Wednesday.
ONE AND DONE?
Further to the above, there are calls to be made for several of the players who only arrived in Suffolk last summer.
Scott Fraser has already left, along with candidates like Joe Pigott, Vaclav Hladky and Rekeem Harper, to join him in new pastures.
Pigott scored just three goals, Hladky quickly lost his starting spot and Harper ended the season playing on loan at a relegated club.
You think everything will always have value, and Ashton and McKenna have to decide whether to cut their losses and push the players forward, or keep the faith and see if they can turn their town stories around.
On top of that, there may be calls for other older fringe players – Armando Dobra and Idris El Mizouni for example – as well as the ongoing Tyreece Simpson saga to be resolved.
One of the things Ashton has done best since joining, partnering with the club’s American owners, is communicating with the fans.
He is a very impressive speaker and after years of almost total silence from the top of the club it has been very refreshing to see someone so willing to engage and explain things to the fan base.
It’s so important that it continues to do so in Year 2 – fan forums, podcasts, squeezing the flesh on game days and more.
You can’t help but be thrilled with his passion and drive – and the more fans can see and connect with him, the better.
PORTMAN ROAD PROJECT
On day one, Ashton immediately recognized the need to restore pride to Town’s somewhat faded old ground.
What started with a general clean up and paint job last summer has continued with new images and murals throughout the season and now the real work has begun, with a big screen and a new area state-of-the-art digging being created as I type.
This, along with the addition of new digital billboards, will give Portman Road a Premier League feel next season – and significantly improve the look of Town’s home.
And that should also continue next summer, with a long-awaited new desso pitch.
All of the improvements to the work, play, and spectator environment will add up and improve the mood even more. It’s a far cry from the days of Simon Clegg and painting turns.
If I had a pound for every time Ashton said the phrase “be relentless” in the past 12 months, I’d be on track to join Brett, Mark, Berke and co in Gamechanger.
With Ashton, you feel it’s more than just a slogan, more of a way of life. Quite how it keeps energy and goes up, I have no idea.
But, as mentioned, it’s intoxicating – it must get everyone around it excited, and it’s certainly a big part of changing the whole ‘losing club’ mentality around Portman Road.
So be more relentless in second year, Mark. But please also lie down and rest from time to time.
MORE FIST PUMPS PLEASE
A personal this, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste.
But for me, in all areas of life, you want passion. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Ashton demonstrated that passion with his impromptu charge on the pitch and long handshake/high-five session with the Town fans following a first win of the season at Lincoln last season.
I want more Ashton engaging the Ultimate Warrior/Hulk Hogan mode in year two. First, because it’s entertaining and helps to strengthen that bond between the fans and the club’s hierarchy.
And two, because it means Town is doing well and getting results worthy of angry celebration.