Happy times are here again
But surely the season couldn’t end with a trip down Wembley way. Could it?
FOOTBALL really is a funny old game.
Just one month ago, Ipswich were facing daunting cup trips to Chelsea and Arsenal and were three points and three places above the relegation zone.
Happy, smiley people were in short supply at Portman Road, Roy Keane had just been sacked and ‘Clown Prince’ Jimmy Bullard seemed as unlikely to join the club as a digger-driver from Luton.
Elsewhere, Fernando Torres was still sulking on Merseyside, Andy Carroll still worshipped on Tyneside and the thought of Arsenal losing a 4-0, 26-minute lead to anyone was pie in the sky.
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It has been quite a month with Newcastle going from devastation to elation in five days and Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool making a formidable bid to crash the top four party.
As for the Super Blues, confidence could not be higher following three straight wins under new manager Paul Jewell.
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Bullard has been signed and is playing an integral role as the party-starter, whipping the crowd and probably the dressing room up with his infectious enthusiasm not to mention undoubted ability.
The performances, at times, may not have improved greatly but there is a steely resolve, as seen in coming back to beat Doncaster and Derby. And there are goals and plenty of them with a poor Sheffield United beaten 3-0 by a Town side who, like Bullard, are still not hitting full throttle.
The smiles are back, on the training ground and on the pitch, and there are signs that things could improve further. It has even led to some questioning, dreaming – call it what you will – about where could this end come May?
The most blue-tinted Town fans could point to the fact that Ipswich have always had the squad, but that they are now showing the confidence to match in the most inconsistent league in the business.
While everyone is taking points off each other, anyone who strings together a decent run over the next month or two could be just two matches from Wembley and three from the Promised Land.
Now hold on a minute, everyone just calm down. Three straight wins have correctly led to fans studying the positions above 14th, where Ipswich currently reside, rather than the dreaded ‘R’ word.
That is only right with Town 10 points clear of the bottom three and with games in hand – not to mention the poor form of teams in and around the bottom.
There is no way Ipswich will get relegated – I hang my name on that. But asked about finishing in the top six and securing the most unlikeliest of play-off spots, and I am almost as certain.
The last two weeks have been a sweeping step in the right direction and promises much, both for the rest of this season and also the 2011/12 campaign.
But without being accused of harbouring doom and gloom, the pre-Jewell Ipswich Town lost 12 league games with Millwall making it unlucky 13 last month.
With just 18 left to play – and having studied the last five seasons of Championship tables in a bid to bring more optimism – the Blues would have to win about 11 or 12 of those matches.
There are games in hand and three of the next four matches this month are winnable but it would still take a monumental effort to claw back the points and grab a last six spot in May.
We can all dream about ending Norwich’s promotion chances in a red-hot Portman Road evening game in April and then knocking them out of the play-offs weeks later.
But surely even football isn’t that funny. Now how did Newcastle and Arsenal end up again...?