2010 - started well, ended well - nondescript inbetween
IPSWICH TOWN: It started and ended with wins – but there was not a great deal to shout about in-between.
This sums up the Blues’ fortunes in 2010 although statistics show that it was the best year results-wise since 2004.
Apart from a few weeks during the early part of the current season it was 12 months spent around the middle of the Championship table.
There was little to enthuse over – no winning runs and a failure to find any consistency.
That is until most of November and December when Town lost six consecutive league matches.
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This ended when Ipswich rolled their sleeves up in the ice and snow against Leicester City to record a 3-0 victory on December 18 in what turned out to be their final game of yet another nondescript year.
A 2-1 FA Cup win at Bloomfield Road against Blackpool in freezing weather got 2010 off to a promising start, but after a dreadful beginning to the 2009/10 campaign the back half of that season was never going to reap any major dividends.
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The victory over Sven-Goran Eriksson’s fragile travelling men removed talk of manager Roy Keane’s possible imminent departure from Portman Road over the Christmas holidays but whether this proves to be temporary or not remains to be seen.
January could well make or break Keane with big matches in both the FA Cup and Carling Cup, and a chance to strengthen his squad and a challenge to hold on to those he wants to keep.
But more importantly to see the start of a move up the table after far too long in the doldrums.
Last year may have been better than for some while but it rarely felt that way, and we motor off into 2011 with only muted optimism.
The cup win over Blackpool in front of only 7,332 fans in a game where the home team ended with just nine players proved yet another false dawn although a good draw at Leicester City and a home victory over Coventry City put the Blues in good heart for their FA Cup fourth round clash at League One Southampton.
The Saints won 2-1 as Town not for the first – or last – time got their tactics wrong, and the bitter disappointment for their 3,000 travelling fans was made worse when West Brom snatched a late equaliser at Portman Road in the next league game. A very poor Preston side came out 2-0 winners at Deepdale to end a cold month in a depressing manner.
High point: Cup win at Blackpool. Low point: Cup defeat at Southampton.
It was a month that produced just one defeat; a 3-1 drubbing at lowly Peterborough when Town’s shortcomings were again brutally exposed.
On a positive side with loanee Darryl Murphy among the goals a 2-1 victory at Loftus Road against Queens Park Rangers was achieved on the back of an efficient all-round display, and Carlos Edwards’ wonder goal at Hillsborough was enough to accrue three points off a pretty deplorable Sheffield Wednesday.
A fourth successive away game saw Keane’s side manage a reasonable point in a re-arranged game at Scunthorpe with loanee David Healy notching the only goal of his loan period before the month ended with a dismal home goalless draw against a dour Bristol City.
High point: win at QPR. Low point: defeat at Peterborough
By now a frustrating season was winding down although Ipswich at last got out of the habit of drawing virtually every other game.
Blackpool gained revenge with a 1-0 league win on an ‘allotment’ that was Bloomfield Road before Town at last put two wins together for the first time since Keane’s opening two matches in charge at the back end of 2008/09.
Cardiff City were beaten 2-0 in what was Ipswich’s most fluid and commanding display of the campaign, and this was followed by a late well-taken winner by Connor Wickham against Scunthorpe.
Watford beat Town – as they always do – at Vicarage Road in an evening game that Keane will always be linked with as he kept his players in the changing room until 11pm.
They came out in ones and twos looking a bedraggled lot, but initially the ear bashing appeared to work with a matter of fact 1-0 home victory over Barnsley.
But four days later the inconsistencies showed up again when Paul Mariner brought his struggling Plymouth Argyle side to Suffolk to travel back to Devon delighted with a too-easily obtained 2-0 success.
High point: home win over Cardiff. Low point: home defeat by Plymouth.
A resolute goalless draw at Swansea saw Town go into the month in good spirits and they won their next two games.
Town gave evidence of their improvement with a professional 2-1 home win over Reading before Derby County were well beaten 3-1 at Pride Park with Wickham netting a memorable third goal.
Ipswich collapsed in the second half to lose 3-0 at Nottingham Forest before a dismal home draw against Doncaster and a much better one at Newcastle on the day the St James Park side were crowned champions.
A dreadful defeat at home to Sheffield United ended the season and for many it could not have come quickly enough with season tickets sales dropping by 2,000 during the summer.
High point: win at Derby. Low point: home defeat to Sheffield Utd.
There was much talk of Michael Chopra and reported sightings of experienced midfielders at the Blues training ground during the close season, but by the time the next campaign kicked-off only Marton Fulop and Mark Kennedy were new from the previous season.
Luke Hyam came out of nowhere to star in front of the back four as Ipswich came from behind to beat pre-season title favourites Middlesbrough 3-1 at a sunny Riverside.
It was the best second half display in Keane’s reign after Tommy Smith had netted a deflected leveller. Jon Walters was superb on the left of midfield in what proved to be his last game for the club while Jon Stead, who was also to leave soon afterwards, netted a fine third goal.
A ‘reserve’ team won in the Carling Cup at Exeter and although Burnley snatched a late equaliser in the opening match at Portman Road, Town went on to finish a fine month with three straight victories – at Crystal Palace and at home to Bristol City in the league and at Crewe in the cup.
High point: win at Middlesbrough. Low point: home draw with Burnley.
Ipswich were in the top three and showed their mettle when earning a deserved 0-0 draw against a highly impressive Portsmouth at Fratton Park.
A 3-0 home defeat by QPR brought everybody down to earth, but thanks to the generosity of Cardiff’s defence Town soon got back to winning ways before making it five wins and a draw in their opening six away matches with a cup win at Millwall.
The warning signs were beginning to show however with by now Jason Scotland and Darren O’Dea having joined although Wickham was still struggling to recapture last season’s form after suffering an ankle injury in July.
Scunthorpe completely outplayed Town for 30 minutes in what turned out to be a 1-1 draw before a lapse in concentration late on allowed Simon Church to net a late winner for Reading.
High point: cup win at Millwall. Low point: home defeat to QPR.
Leeds were beaten 2-1 with Town showing their resolve with a late winner after Alex Bruce had been sent off with at last an first opening half league goal scored by Scotland.
But it went downhill after that with successive defeats against Coventry (home) and Watford and Nottingham Forest away.
Fans were beginning to turn their anger on Keane as they saw another mediocre campaign ahead, but the manager was able to answer his critics with a cup win over League Two Northampton followed by a home 2-0 league success over Millwall.
High point: win over Leeds. Low point: home defeat by Coventry.
The penultimate month of the year started well enough when a 2-1 victory at a leaderless Sheffield United saw Town move back up to sixth place.
But Gareth McAuley was to suffer an injury soon after making his 100th appearance at Bramall Lane and the rest of the month produced four straight league defeats.
Derby and Barnsley are ordinary Championship teams yet they won far too easily on Suffolk soil leading to criticism from the stands and Keane inferring that most football fans know little about the game and they should get behind – not barrack – the young players he was being forced to use.
A backs to the wall display at Hull City produced just one shot on goal – and a deflected Hull winner at the other end before the ‘disgrace’ of a 4-1 defeat at Norwich that was deserved but not so emphatically perhaps as the scoreline suggests.
High point: win at Sheffield Utd. Low point: home defeat by Barnsley.
An oasis in a desert of despair when a weakened Town team fully deserved their Carling Cup victory over Premier League West Brom, but hopes that a remedy to the current ills had been found were quickly extinguished when Swansea took advantage of some dreadful defending to leave Portman Road with a 3-1 win.
And it got worse seven days later when a Preston side destined for inglorious relegation under the management of the now departed Darren Ferguson managed to wangle a 1-0 win over a punchless Town side.
Town were at a low ebb with Keane having yet another D-Day in a ‘must win’ fixture against Leicester that ended in a comprehensive victory on a wintry night when Keane’s demands for his men to give 100 percent helped to see them home.
With the weather taking control of Town’s games after that the year ended on the back of that win – with January looking as though it might prove just as important to the good ship Ipswich Town and all that sail in her than the combined months of 2010.
Brian Laws (Burnley) followed Ferguson in paying a price for a lack of Championship success, but Keane survived the year with his appetite to do well still very much intact.
High point: cup win over West Brom. Low point: defeat at Preston.
Best player: Gareth McAuley.
Best performance: Middlesbrough away.
Best signing: Jason Scotland.
Best loan signing: Jack Colback.
Most improved player: Luke Hyam.
Star of the future: Tommy Smith.
Most disappointing player: Lee Martin.
Worst performance: Preston away.
Most frustrating year: Alan Quinn.
Worst moment: 4-1 defeat at Norwich City.
Worst decision: to allow Sean Derry to walk away without signing.
Biggest flaw: manager not following up his May vow to bring in experienced number two.