Numbers don't look good but there are turnarounds Town can take from
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town are still winless after their opening eight games. STUART WATSON looks at the rare examples of clubs who have spectacularly turned things around following similarly slow starts.
Before we get onto some examples, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Ipswich find themselves 22nd in the League One table after six games.
If you look back over the last 22 seasons worth of League One data (recently compiled by Sheffield Wednesday fan Peter Lohmann), the median finish of those who were 22nd after six matches is... 20th.
Almost half of those team (10) were relegated.
There are a few outliers that Town can cling to here.
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Colchester (05/06), Nottingham Forest (07/08) and Southampton (10/11) all went on to finish second, while Oldham finished sixth (06/07).
Ipswich have three points on the board after six league matches.
Website transfermarkt.com allows you look at the worst League One starts from 2004/05 onwards.
Only 34 teams over the past 17 seasons have claimed three points or less after six games.
Oxford United, last season, were one. And they ended up sixth (more on them in a moment).
Rochdale went on to finish ninth (16/17), while Bournemouth ended 11th (11/12). Again, they were exceptions to the rule. Everyone else ended up somewhere between 15th and 24th.
Ipswich are winless after six league matches.
Over the previous 17 seasons, 30 teams have been winless at this stage of the League One season... and 27 of them finished in the bottom half.
The highest any of those sides finished was seventh (Southampton recovering from a poor start and points deduction in 09/10).
RECENT EXAMPLES OF RECOVERY
Town can take some inspiration from the team that beat them 5-2 at Portman Road last weekend.
The Trotters were 19th in the League Two table as late as February 7 last season, but stormed their way to automatic promotion by winning 15 of their last 20 games.
Marc Iles, chief football writer at the Bolton News, explained: “Following relegation, Ian Evatt was appointed manager and there was a big turnover of players. At that stage, there was excitement about new beginnings.
“It started awfully though. Evatt was the first manager in the club’s history to lose his first five league games in charge.
“A 2-1 home loss to Oldham (W1 D1 L7 at that stage) saw a real swathe of anti-Evatt sentiment from the fans - judging by social media at least. They were questioning whether he was experienced enough and whether the players were good enough.”
“There were definitely tactical concessions. Evatt had wanted to play an expansive 3-4-2-1 system, but switched to a more solid 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3.
“Ricardo Santos, who’d had a very, very dodgy start, suddenly looked a lot more comfortable in a back four. He didn’t look back and went on to win all the end of season awards.
"There were big selection calls too.
“Goalkeeper Billy Crellin, who’d been brought in on loan from Fleetwood, had been very error prone. In the end, they brought coach Matt Gilks out of retirement for a televised Friday night game against Salford and that made a real difference.
“And with neither of the summer left-back signings working – Jamie Mascoll and Liam Gordon – he moved Gethin Jones across from right-back to plug the gap until the window opened again.
“Before Christmas it looked like things were stabilising. Then things really kicked on when head of football operations Tobias Phoenix departed by ‘mutual consent’.
“Evatt took sole charge of recruitment and the January additions of MJ Williams, Dapo Afolayan, Kieran Lee and Declan John all made a real difference.
"Things just snowballed from there."
The U’s recovered from poor starts, both last season and the one previous, to finish in the League One play-off places.
In 2019/20, they took five points from the opening seven games before going on to finish third and losing to Wycombe in the Play-Off Final.
Last season, after claiming six points from the opening eight games, they went on to finish sixth before losing to Portsmouth in the play-off semi-finals.
James Roberts, senior sports reporter at the Oxford Mail, explains: “In 2019/20 the opening fixtures were tough and things quickly turned in mid-September meaning the jitters never really got going.
“Last season was different. Expectations had risen following the Play-Off Final loss. But there was hardly any break between that Wembley trip and the new season starting. I think they were still processing all that when things got underway.
“The low point was losing 2-1 at home to Swindon by conceding two late goals (13th game of the season). At that point, had fans been in the stadium, things would have got toxic, without a doubt.”
“The upturn in form was all about shoring up the defence.
“The 0-0 home draw with Ipswich (14th league game) was definitely a big turning point. That was the first clean sheet of the season.
“Karl Robinson made the bold decision to drop keeper Simon Eastwood, who’d made mistakes, for that game and replace him with the inexperienced Jack Stevens. He proved to be a revelation.
“The next game was a 1-1 home draw against table-topping Hull, then there was another clean sheet in a 0-0 draw at Blackpool. After that they scored four second half goals to beat Northampton 4-0 at home and that proved to be the start of a club-record nine-game winning run.
“The pressure on Robinson always felt more external than internal during that poor start. He’d not long signed a new contract, so the board were invested in him getting things right.
“Karl is so open and outspoken that sometimes that went against him in the eyes of fans during that tough period.
“To be fair to him, he never waivered from his style of play. He tweaked some personnel, but stayed wedded to 4-3-3 and eventually things clicked.”
Neil Critchley had taken over not long before the 2019/20 was abandoned due to Covid.
He subsequently oversaw a major squad overhaul. Of the 17 summer signings, many came late in the window and the Tangerines won just one of their opening nine league games.
Matt Scrafton, of the Blackpool Gazette, explains: “Pre-season probably didn’t help. Blackpool drew with Everton and then were 2-1 up against a strong Liverpool side. All of a sudden expectations went from ‘this new squad needs time to settle’, to ‘we’re going to win the league!’
“During those first few games, based purely on aesthetics, Blackpool probably played their best football of the season. But it wasn’t getting results.
“To be fair, a lot went against them. Everything Ipswich hit went in during that 4-1 game at Bloomfield Road. There were several red cards in that period too.
“Critchley kept saying ‘it’s going to take time’, but that was starting to wear a bit thin as the games went by.
“A 1-0 loss at Wimbledon on a Tuesday night was the low point. Blackpool ended the game with nine men and some fans were calling for Critchley to go.”
“Neil will admit it took him a while to understand what was required in League One.
“He arrived wanting to replicate the football he’d coached at Liverpool U23s – front foot, high press in a 4-2-3-1 – but soon realised he needed to be a little more pragmatic.
“The 2-1 win at Blackpool (the 10th league game) was the turning point. He switched to 4-4-2, brought in Gary Madine up front and went a bit more direct.
“It was a really scrappy win and set the tone for what was to follow.
“Striker Jerry Yates, who didn’t score in his first seven games, simplified his play, stayed in the box more and started scoring a few ugly goals.
“The promotion push was based on solid foundations. There were a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 wins, with the odd draw along the way. Blackpool only scored 60 goals in the end, but ended up keeping the most clean sheets in the league.
“At times it was a tough watch, but they just got on a roll and became this winning machine.
“Would it have come good had Critchley stuck to his original plan? I think there’s every chance it would have done. But he couldn’t really afford to wait and fine out.”