Hurst’s brutal Exeter comments were beginning of the end for his Town tenure... the Blues’ return could be a step towards a reunion
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town are in EFL Trophy action at Exeter this weekend. Andy Warren looks back at the Blues’ last trip to Devon and the consequences of a disappointing night.
When Trevoh Chalobah's penalty thumped against the side of a transit van on the building site behind the goal, you knew the game was up.
Ipswich Town's last trip to Exeter City ended in a Carabao Cup penalty shootout loss to the League Two side and served to highlight just how big a job new manager Paul Hurst had on his hands.
Hurst's first two games in charge of the Blues had brought flashes of positivity.
The opening-day draw with Blackburn was bookended by a thrilling Gwion Edwards opener and a dramatic Tayo Edun equaliser, while it was widely agreed the Blues had deserved to win a visit to Rotherham which ultimately ended in a last-gasp defeat.
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But the Exeter loss was the first real disappointment following a summer which had peaked excitement at the start of a 'new era' which most accepted was a risk that needed to be taken after years of stagnation.
The bones have already been picked out of his short Portman Road reign and, though there are certainly caveats and moments which didn't fall in Hurst's favour, it's accepted owner Marcus Evans had little choice but to make a change in a desperate (and ultimately failed) bid to stay in the Championship.
The performance on the St James Park pitch was poor and Hurst was scathingly honest about it, insisting "when you ask them (the players) they give very little back and I don't think they gave everything they should for themselves, the fans and me".
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He cited the players' 'poor attitude' and said "I don't want to be associated with that".
His brutal comments came in a video interview with the club's iFollow channel (which you can watch above) before he cooled his words slightly when it came to speaking to the media.
We will perhaps never know exactly what was said to the players in the dressing room immediately after the game but Hurst's words in his post-match media duties certainly give you a flavour of his thinking.
Hurst is not known to be a manager who regularly loses his temper or rants and raves at players after games, but it is known he left his players in no doubt what he thought of them on this occasion.
Captain Luke Chambers responded a few days later, again through the club's own media channels, where he refuted Hurst's suggestion they hadn't tried and stressed "our attitudes shouldn't be questioned" and that they needed to respond to his criticism. The video was a telling one.
Town's travel arrangements maybe played a part, too. The Blues flew home from Devon and, given the game went to extra-time and penalties, their turnaround time was extremely tight as they left the ground quickly to get to the airport. That meant Hurst was in front of the cameras within just a few minutes of the game ending.
Would Hurst have made his criticism so publicly had he had the usual cooling off period before speaking to the media? That's a question that we will never know the answer to.
But there is an acknowledgement from those around the camp that the events of August 14, 2019 were perhaps the beginning of the end of his time in charge at Ipswich as relationships became strained and never fully recovered.
Hurst, of course, was fired just a couple of months and 12 games later.
Fast forward 18 months and Ipswich return to Devon this weekend for an EFL Trophy tie, ahead of which they are just three wins from a Wembley final.
They are just one win, though, away from the possibility of a reunion with Hurst and assistant Chris Doig, who are now in charge of League Two Scunthorpe.
Things are beginning to come together for the duo at Glanford Park following a choppy start and they are still in the competition themselves, with Manchester City's Under 21s standing between them and a quarter-final place.
The last eight of the competition sees the EFL Trophy's regionalisation shackles removed, meaning Ipswich could potentially draw any of the sides left in the Northern group.
That could mean a fascinating reunion at Portman Road.