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EXCLUSIVE: Ipswich Town youngster Jack Lankester looking to make up for lost time after return from injury nightmare





With the big step of returning to first-team competitive action successfully negotiated, Ipswich Town’s Jack Lankester is now hungry to play a key role in getting his boyhood club back where they belong.

The 20-year-old Fornham St Martin-raised attacking midfielder previously used a loan spell at Bury Town as a springboard to force his way into the senior side at Portman Road.

But after bursting on to the scene in the Championship with bags of promise as an 18-year-old in October 2018, disaster struck when the club's young player of the year had to undergo the first of two operations on a stress fracture in his back.

Jack Lankester in action for Ipswich Town against Tottenham Hotspur in a pre-season friendly. Picture: ITFC
Jack Lankester in action for Ipswich Town against Tottenham Hotspur in a pre-season friendly. Picture: ITFC

With relegation occurring in between, his long road to recovery ended in pleasing fashion on Saturday as the former King Edward VI School pupil helped to provide the breakthrough in the 2-0 League One win at Bristol Rovers.

“It has been around 20 months since I last played a competitive game, so it was really good to be back out there competing in the league,” he told the Bury Free Press and Suffolk News.

He entered the fray in the 63rd minute and went on to set up both goals to ensure it was six points from six for Paul Lambert’s promotion-chasing side.

Jack Lankester spent around 20 months on the sidelines. Picture: ITFC
Jack Lankester spent around 20 months on the sidelines. Picture: ITFC

“Whenever I’m given the opportunity to go out on the pitch I try my best to create opportunities for the team, so to be able to do that when I come on in my first game back was really pleasing,” he said, it what was just his 12th senior outing for Town, having scored one goal so far.

“When the cross went in (via a defender) a lot of the boys ran up to me to congratulate me because they knew how much I needed that after a long spell out. It was really good.”

There are now calls for him to start tomorrow’s home game with Rochdale (3pm), and though he feels he is ready for that, he will not get too frustrated if he continues to be eased back in.

“I am there to play if I am needed and I am fit enough to play,” he said.

“There are plenty of games this season and it is just about building up my strength and being able to play competitive games back to back. I need to get a run of games under my belt and see where that takes me.

“Being able to come off the bench and imprint myself on the game like I did is all I can do and then when I get the chance to go out there and play longer spells, hopefully I can do that more often.”

There were plenty of dark days during his injury nightmare to negotiate his way through before he was able to get back to training earlier this year.

Jack Lankester. Picture: ITFC
Jack Lankester. Picture: ITFC

"It wasn't nice and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone to be out for such a long time as at the end of the day everyone just wants to play football and do that every day," he said.

"To have that long spell out, two operations, sitting around at home a lot of the time not being able to hang out with the boys was horrible but it is part and parcel of the game. I doubt you would be able to speak to anyone where they said they had never been injured in their career.

"For me it didn't come at a nice time as I had just broke through but then I would like to say that is all in the past now and now it is just about getting back to that form I was in before and just keep playing and stay away from injuries."

Lankester, who helped kit out West Suffolk Hospital staff with protective phone covers during the height of the coronavirus pandemic , found salvation during his injury spell in his love of art though, working with his family to set up his own clothing range, Millennium Apparel (named due to being born in the year 2000).

"Through the injury there was times when I was probably struggling with thinking what do I do because I thought I was coming back and then I was hit again with another brick wall," he explained.

"It was times like that when you think I need something to take my mind off it and then that was something I decided to do with the help of friends and family.

"It was just a nice way to take my mind off the struggles I was having with football and stop me getting down in the dumps which I probably did at the start."

Members of the first-team squad can now be seen in the range and the business is still operating, thanks to the help of his older brother Rory.

"I am still involved in it quite a bit. My brother does a lot more of it now," said Lankester, who moved out of his own place in Bury St Edmunds in the last year to be closer for training. "He is looking after it a lot more for me. It helps us while I am in Ipswich and he is at home to keep us in contact daily, it is nice."

Although he would never wish it on anyone, he does feel he has grown stronger from the experience of going through his injuries over the past year-and-a-half.

He said: "As much as it is horrible that you are not playing football it allows you to develop other parts of your game such as the mental side.

"There is not much at a young age people will go through with work with not being able to do it for 20 months.

"It has definitely made me stronger and allows me to help other young players going through injuries. Some of it is positive."

One of those is his old school friend George Bugg, a young goalkeeper at Bury Town who recently suffered a double leg break playing for Whitton United , who he has reached out to with financial as well as emotional support.

Jack Lankester signs his first two-year professional contract with Ipswich Town ahead of the 2018/19 campaign Picture: ITFC
Jack Lankester signs his first two-year professional contract with Ipswich Town ahead of the 2018/19 campaign Picture: ITFC

"George Bugg is a good mate of mine," he said. "I have been friends with him since I was a little kid, with school, so I have been in touch with him and I just want to again pass on my best wishes.

"I believe the donation page that was set up for him has now ended but if there is still anything still going on if people could reach out to him because it is not nice getting a long injury like that. Being one of my mates I can only wish him the best in recovery."

Switching back to Ipswich, Lankester believes Town are more prepared for promotion this year, having seen it slip away in their League One debut, where they ended in a disappointing 11th place.

“We all know we have got the squad to go up this year and that is our aim," he said.

“I think everyone is on the same page now and has come to the realisation that it is not an easy league where you can just play good football and still go up. You have to compete.”

Jack Lankester receiving the Ipswich Town Young Player of The Year award in May 2019 Picture: Ipswich Town
Jack Lankester receiving the Ipswich Town Young Player of The Year award in May 2019 Picture: Ipswich Town

He added: "Everyone from fans, to players to staff knows this club should be higher and it is down to us to get us back to where we belong and where we have been for many years.

"It is definitely the aim of every player and eveyone in the building to get back to where we were."

His former youth manager, ex-Town player and England international Kieron Dyer, suggested this week that he sees Lankester's best position in the number 10 role. And it is a position he is well versed in operating in, though the left footer is happy to play in either wide role, presently.

"I used to play a lot of my football at number 10, probably all the way up till I came up to the first team number 10 was a position I played from a young age," he said.

"I can definitely play there and I can play on either side of the wing. Anywhere in those attacking roles I can implement my style on the game in different ways, whether it is from the right cutting in on the left or in the 10 linking up play and creating chances from there.

"Any of them three positions I can definitely do what I try to do which is express myself."

In action for Bury Town against Haringey Borough in April, 2018 Picture: Richard Marsham
In action for Bury Town against Haringey Borough in April, 2018 Picture: Richard Marsham

The new style manager Paul Lambert is implementing to a greater degree this season, which sees Town playing out from the back but also moving the ball down the channels quickly, is something Lankester is revelling in.

"It definitely suits me being able to get on the ball in advanced positions. If I'm playing on the right, being able to come in on my left foot and create opportunities from there," he said.

"I think it is something everyone is enjoying and has got to grips with and everyone is on the same page with that."

After this week’s government announcements on new Covid-19 restrictions, fans might not be able to get back into stadiums until the latter stages of the season, something Lankester admits is tough on the players.

“It is very different,” he said. “The fans obviously play a massive part in the game with the atmosphere and the encouragement.

“I am the type of player that thrives off that. Being a young player, when you are coming through you want that back in. And it definitely helps.

“It is not nice not having the fans but it is something as a team and players we have obviously got to get used to in this time.”

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