This season, Ipswich have only conceded a remarkable five goals from 11 games, four goals better off then the next best (Burton and Rotherham), having played a game more. 20-year-old centre back Luke Woolfenden has undoubtedly been key to that success.
Less than two years ago, Andre Dozzell, Flynn Downes and Tristan Nydam, all Ipswich Town academy graduates of (at that stage) around 17/18 years old, were earning appearances for the senior team in the Championship and being rewarded with England age-group call ups. In contrast, Woolfenden – of a similar age- was some way from the first team picture under Mick McCarthy, and so was sent to National League Bromley for some game time.
The Ipswich-born defender took to that level immediately, producing some wonderfully composed displays as Bromley made the FA Trophy final. His performances were of such a level that McCarthy called him back before the end of season to compete for places in the first team squad.
At the beginning of last season, manager Paul Hurst sent him to League Two Swindon for a similar spell, and whilst The Tractor Boys endured a season of defensive clangers and had a general lack of solidity at the back, Woolfenden had another very successful season.
This season, Paul Lambert has given him the chance to shine in an Ipswich shirt, and he has repaid him with some very composed and measured performances.
The 20 year old has developed a very good relationship with both James Wilson and Luke Chambers, playing at various times as either part of a back three or the more traditional back four, both of which are clearly producing extremely good results.
In terms of playing style, for a player in his position he is very good on the ball, often bringing the ball out of defence at his feet, however he is also a good tackler and very solid in the air. These strengths are certainly supported by the statistics from the season so far. Woolfenden is in the top 10 for average tackles per game and average clearances per game, and third for average interceptions per game.
His season got off to the perfect start, with a clean sheet at Burton in which he produced a last minute goal-line clearance to preserve The Tractor Boy’s 1-0 advantage, and he has been consistently solid since then.
Indeed, his boss is certainly impressed. He told the official Ipswich Town twitter account last week “When he’s played he’s done great. He’s come on leaps and bounds and whenever we’ve played him he’s never let us down”.
Of course, such is the competition for places at Ipswich now, the boyhood Ipswich fan will need to keep his level of performance high if he wants to keep his place in the side. With Toto Nsiala now back from injury, and both Luke Chambers and James Wilson producing a high level of performance too, Woolfenden will need to keep on his toes. But based on the last couple of years of progress and consistent levels of performance, the signs are good for the young lad from Ipswich.