Ward’s Ipswich career never reached the heights of his stunning debut... now he’s bidding to get things going at Blackpool
PUBLISHED: 16:00 28 February 2020
Andy Warren takes a look at Grant Ward’s Ipswich Town career ahead of his meeting with his former club as the Blues face Blackpool.
Ultimately, Grant Ward's Ipswich Town debut saw him hit heights he never managed to reach again.
The youngster, signed from Tottenham for a fee in the region of £600,000 in the summer of 2016, represented the kind of signing owner Marcus Evans was looking to build the Blues on - young players bought for relatively low fees and sold on at a profit.
In the owner's five-point plan, launched in January 2017, he phrased it as 'making annual investment funds available to purchase players in the early stages of their career and to assist in their development'.
The rewards were seemingly reaped immediately as, five days following his arrival, he came off the bench to fire a match-winning second-half hat-trick in an opening-day success against Barnsley before he netted the winner against Preston at Portman Road before August was out.
But, just three years later, he departed on a free transfer and will come face-to-face with his old side tomorrow afternoon after signing for Blackpool.
Injury played a part, of course, as the ACL injury suffered at Queens Park Rangers on Boxing Day 2018 ruled him out for a year and ultimately ended his Ipswich career. He's still recovering now, in truth.
Ward's Blackpool career hasn't truly kicked off. He's made just six appearances, the majority from the bench, and that's exactly where he's likely to be when Town visit Bloomfield Road tomorrow afternoon. He hasn't played a single minute for the Tangerines since Simon Grayson was fired on February 12, having previously spent much of his time on the field operating as a No10 but seeing little of the ball.
At his best, Ward was a confident winger for Ipswich who looked to take on his man, was comfortable on the ball and was keen to link up with team-mates while getting up and down the pitch.
There were inconsistencies of course, but those were to be expected given he was only 21 at the time of his arrival in Suffolk and the fact he was playing in a disjointed team struggling for an identity.
But those inconsistencies continued for the majority of his time in blue.
Ward was overshadowed by loanee Tom Lawrence during 2016/17 but the early signs were good. He made 46 of his 98 Ipswich appearances during year one, missing only three games.
It was a different story the following season, though, as Ward made only 25 Championship starts, 10 down on the previous year, with the youngster mainly used wide on the right but also dabbling in a midfield role as part of a central three. That's a role he suggested he favoured on a number of occasions, but was given few chances to operate in.
He continued to have bright moments, with his display in the 5-2 demolition of Sunderland under the lights again exhibiting what he's capable of. He was confident that night, running at Bryan Oviedo time and time again and stretching the visiting defence. He completed the scoring that night, too.
But consistency continued to be an issue. When he was confident, he was effective. But when he wasn't he found it hard to threaten and was at times frustrating as he opted against knocking the ball past his man to attack.
Mick McCarthy's departure and Paul Hurst's arrival was supposed to be a fresh start at Portman Road and, while Ward was a regular in the side, he was part of a struggling team.
He enjoyed a run of games towards the end of Hurst's reign where he was arguably Ipswich's best player, where he was at his threatening best, but once Paul Lambert arrived he was consigned to the bench while sometimes not making the matchday 18 at all.
He did make it back into the team but, following only second start under Lambert, injury struck at Loftus Road and his Ipswich career was over.
He undertook his rehab at Playford Road and even returned in the Under 23s, but any talk of a potential new deal seemed unlikely given the fact he had been little-used by Lambert.
After plenty of discussion with Rotherham, he ultimately signed for Blackpool where he's now looking to kickstart his career.