Ipswich Town’s Portman Road is yet to see the best of Alan Judge

Photo by Self-made, CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s fair to say that three years is a very long time in football. Back in 2016, Irish playmaker, Alan Judge appeared to have the world at his feet. He had been shortlisted for the Championship Player of the Year gong and was Brentford’s Players’ Player of the Season and Supporters’ Player of the Season. That season came to a nasty and premature end however, after sustaining a broken leg in a clash at Ipswich that would keep him out until December 2017.

Judge started the 2018-19 Championship campaign with the Brentford squad, but struggled to nail down a regular place in the side. The league’s bottom side, Ipswich Town came calling in January, with the Tractor Boys desperate for a spark to help them avoid relegation. Judge failed to score during his 19 league appearances in 2018-19 for Ipswich, with the Suffolk side subsequently relegated. Prior to relegation, Judge agreed a new two-year contract with Ipswich, securing him at Portman Road until the summer of 2021.

Judge failed to make an instant impression at Portman Road

There was a feeling among some Ipswich supporters that Judge had flattered to deceive in a blue shirt. With no goals and very few assists to his name, some would say they were right to be concerned. While others might suggest that his indifferent form was due largely to the predicament Ipswich were in. Nevertheless, Judge continued to receive call-ups to the Republic of Ireland national side, with former Ipswich boss, Mick McCarthy keeping faith in the Dublin-born playmaker. McCarthy even reassured him that he would be in his selection thoughts despite Town dropping down into League One.

If life has one rule, it’s that anything is possible. Whether it’s the call of a referee on a penalty decision, the turn of the card in a poker tournament or the decision of a football club owner, fate can often deal us strange hands in life. Judge went public with his reasons as to why a summer switch to QPR appealed, despite having only been at Portman Road for six months. However, Judge has been forced to accept that the switch to QPR that he wanted was never going to happen; not with Ipswich desperate for an immediate return to the Championship.

Judge’s intimation that a move to QPR and back to the Championship interested him only served to further frustrate and disappoint a section of Ipswich fans that felt they had yet to see the best of him. Ipswich owner, Marcus Evans flatly refused QPR’s bids, preferring to keep the squad together for an assault on the League One title. Judge was left in something of a quandry – suck it up and help Town back to the second tier or throw his toys out of the pram and force a move that would see him earn something of a ‘prima donna’ tag.

Keen to play a part in Ipswich’s League One title tilt

Paul Lambert is going some way to rejuvenating Ipswich Town

Photo by Ben Sutherland, CC BY 2.0

Judge opted for the former – staying loyal to the Tractor Boys and moving up from West London to the Suffolk countryside full-time. His teammates have since stated that they have noticed a change in his attitude and mindset for the better, which can only benefit club and country. Getting a regular place in the Ipswich team is, however, proving a little harder this season. Ipswich boss, Paul Lambert has a wealth of midfield options at League One level, with former Shrewsbury playmaker Jon Nolan seemingly ahead of Judge in the Portman Road pecking order at present. Nolan put in a man-of-the-match display in Town’s recent 1-0 win at Fleetwood, while Judge was forced to sit and watch from the bench.

A call-up to the Republic’s set of international fixtures in October won’t surprise many Irish fans, but it might raise a few eyebrows in Suffolk given his lack of game time or output in the final third. Nevertheless, with only a quarter of the League One season gone, Judge is experienced enough to know that his time will come during the remainder of the campaign. Helping the Tractor Boys back to the Championship at the first time of asking will be a credible achievement on the CV, but some are beginning to wonder whether Alan Judge has the legs to cut it in the second tier anymore.