|We're Coming Straight Back Up and No One Can Tell Me Otherwise|
Written by Pickersblue22 on Wednesday, 3rd Apr 2019 12:18
Among my Ipswich-supporting friends, I am known as the positive one. On away trips in the past few seasons when logic and reason has pointed to likely defeat, I normally cling to various strands of hope that we will ride our luck and maybe even nick a goal.
I'm not trying to say that we have been a struggling team before this season, but the way we've played our football has, in my opinion anyway, tended to give our opponents more help than hindrance.
To clarify, we were known as being tough, hard-to-beat, resolute, and physical under Mick McCarthy, which worked for a while but eventually became too predictable. This is the chief reason why he was right to leave when he did.
As the technical ability of players in our squad gradually increased, our style of play did not sufficiently adapt to suit those players. Our opponents knew what to expect from us. The breakdown in the relationship between McCarthy and the fans was long and tedious, but not surprising. Enough about him though.
I can only just remember the Joe Royle days. On my seventh birthday my dad took me, my brother and a few of my friends to watch us beat Sheffield United 3-0 (Kuqi, Westlake and Bent were the scorers). We sat in the front row and it poured with rain all game. It was one of my first games at Portman Road and I know that the football we played then was exciting and attacking but I'd be lying if I said I can properly remember it.
I went to a few games the following season, including a 1-0 win over Brighton for my birthday. But it was the final home game of the season against Crewe that is probably the earliest game that I can clearly recall now being thrilled and entertained by.
The games before then are a bit of a blur in my mind. We beat the Alex 5-1 and there are several tiny details that stand out. Kuqi scored early and I can still picture him towering above the goalkeeper, finishing at the back post. Jim Magilton scored a cracker a few minutes later. I remember him standing still with his arms wide in celebration.
I remember Pablo Couñago being played over the top for the fifth goal, barely a minute after the previous goal. He finished early past the keeper. The Crewe goal in injury time was very nearly kept out by Kelvin Davis but he couldn't stop the ball from crossing the line.
I love the fact that I have such vivid memories of this game, despite what followed in the play-offs. We were a joy to watch. It hasn't been the same since.
When I saw Paul Lambert’s name as being our likely new manager, it made me uneasy. He had been in tough circumstances in his last three jobs, maybe even his last four, all for different reasons.
But the elephant in the room was Norwich. Another 5-1 result immediately sprang to mind, one that could hardly be further from that Crewe game.
Of course, I’m talking about us being brushed aside by our rivals on their way to a second consecutive promotion. I couldn’t get Grant Holt out of my mind. The same with Russell Martin and Wes Hoolahan. We don’t like Lambert, I thought to myself. How things have changed.
One thing I have wanted for a while is a manager who comes over to the fans after games. That may sound strange. It’s one of those little things that I have always longed for. Seeing David Wagner, Chris Wilder, and Jurgen Klopp to name a few, giving it large to their fans after a win has always made me jealous.
Mick didn’t do it and that’s fine. I completely understand that for some managers, on the pitch it’s all about the players. But seeing Lambert in front of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand, surrounded by his players and fellow coaches, just makes me excited. I’m it’s irrelevant to some people but to me it sums up the unity that has been created under his management.
The concept of the ‘one per cents’ in sport is pretty apt for our situation. Despite the avalanche of crushing blows we have suffered this season, there have several little things orchestrated by Lambert that, when added together, have made, and hopefully will continue to make a big difference.
From paying for supporters’ travel up to Blackburn, to inviting multiple greats to the training ground, he has just got it right. That’s not forgetting the number of contracts our young players have signed, showing them faith and confidence, whilst also providing a throwback to the days when we regularly churned out exciting academy products.
The ‘one per cent’ concept was established by Sir Clive Woodward when he was England rugby coach, and essentially means doing lots of little things right which, when put together, have a huge influence over a team or a club.
Our results this season are inescapable. We have only won three games all season. We have won five of our last 52 games in all competitions. That is a ridiculous and depressing statistic. I don’t want to get into who is to blame for this demise because that helps no-one, and is complicated. I do think it is a fair argument to say that the only stick that Lambert could be beaten with is his results.
Football is a results business as the saying goes, but so far he has done everything he can to give us the best possible opportunity of being promoted next season.
The next step is getting us to score the goals to win us games, but we have a squad that is obviously far more suited to League One than the Championship. We will need a few additions but the core is certainly there already.
In terms of on the field, the best thing Lambert has done is that he hasn’t tried to make us something we’re not. He set his stall out from day one in terms of how he wanted us to play and hasn’t strayed too far since.
He’s been dealt a pretty rough hand with the players at his disposal, not to mention the number and scale of injuries we have suffered. There cannot be another team in the country to have been so hit so hard by serious, long-term injuries. It is remarkable, but it is part of football.
You are probably wondering why I eulogised about Joe Royle’s class of 2005 earlier on. I just feel that for the first time since then, we actually have something about us. We are trying to play attractive football and we are no longer stodgily plodding along without a clear direction.
I know some people would rather we sat in mid-table season after season if the alternative is relegation, but I am not one of them. The Paul Hurst disaster put us into a default direction that we obviously had no desire to go down, but there is a skill in making the best of a bad situation.
Lambert has done that, maybe in some ways that we don’t even know about yet. Results may not have picked up, but there are smiles on the fans’ faces now. For too long, we were sleeping rather than smiling.
I realise that I am putting myself out on a limb but I cannot contain my excitement at the prospect of our effervescent, vibrant squad being let loose on League One.
I liken this current season to a novice skier struggling his way down a black run. He shouldn’t really be there at all and he is falling over regularly. Despite this, he chooses not to cautiously crawl his way from side to side, gradually going downwards, but instead tries to follow his mates who are more accomplished skiers.
He starts to feel more comfortable and is able to stay on his feet for longer after a while, but he is still out of his depth. He makes it to the bottom covered in snow. He looks up to see where he has come from and can hardly make out the top of the run, the horrors of those early tumbles lingering in his mind.
Next season will hopefully be more of a blue run, perhaps red depending on our opponents. I am absolutely not being disrespectful to the teams in that League. There will be some very good, tough sides, and I am fully aware of this. But our players will be much more comfortable and will be able to properly show what they can do.
Of course, there will be bumps along the way. That is to be expected. But we should be able to really enjoy ourselves if we can get into a winning habit. I know that is easier said than done given we have won five times in 52 games.
Football is all about hope though. It’s about dreaming. How can the prospect of Bishop, Judge, Dozzell, Lankester and Nolan playing together in League One not make you giddy with excitement? Call me naïve but I’m dreaming and I have no plans to wake up any time soon. Give me a shake when Norwich come down the road next season.
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