Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Never mind blood out of a stone, Lambert is turning water into wine

Ellis Harrison (10) celebrates giving Ipswich Town the lead in Saturday's 1-1 home draw with Sheffie

Ellis Harrison (10) celebrates giving Ipswich Town the lead in Saturday's 1-1 home draw with Sheffield United. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town drew 1-1 with promotion-chasing Sheffield United at Portman Road yesterday to move to within four points of Championship safety. STUART WATSON gives his verdict.

Bodies tumble to the ground as Matthew Pennington and Luke Chambers try to get on the end of a Jon N

Bodies tumble to the ground as Matthew Pennington and Luke Chambers try to get on the end of a Jon Nolan free kick. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Never mind getting blood out of a stone, Paul Lambert is seemingly turning water into wine.

Just a few weeks ago this group of kids and lower league recruits, as a collective, appeared badly out of their depth. The five-point gap to safety looked a chasm. It may as well have been 50.

There was no way Town were going to dig themselves out of this hole. The damage was done. Third-tier football for the first time since 1957 was a sad inevitability.

No-one admitted it publicly at the time, but that was the mood inside the camp as well as out. Keeper Dean Gerken let that slip last week.

Town celebrate after Ellis Harrison's goal. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

Town celebrate after Ellis Harrison's goal. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

MORE: ‘I’m getting blood out of a stone’ – Lambert on home draw with Sheffield United

Then along comes Lambert.

Phase one: Get the fans onside. Mission quickly accomplished.

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All talk of his Norwich past was quickly quashed thanks to him immediately immersing himself in the history and culture of the club. Within days, having humbly sought out the opinions of fans, long-serving staff, club legends and media, he had a deep understanding of just what’s led us to this point.

‘Sometimes you can sleepwalk into situations’.

‘There are ways to lose games’.

Yep, this man just gets it. We’re in safe hands here.

MORE: Stu says: Five observations following Ipswich Town’s 1-1 home draw with Sheffield United

Ellis Harrison hugs skipper Luke Chambers after putting Town 1-0 ahead. Picture: STEVE WALLER

Ellis Harrison hugs skipper Luke Chambers after putting Town 1-0 ahead. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Phase two: Make players believe in themselves.

Mick McCarthy’s ultra-pragmatism had seeped deeply into the sub-conscious of the players. A few of them started saying things like ‘we’re not Barcelona’ in the face of criticism over style of play. Familiarity had bred both comfort and contempt.

Then along come Paul Hurst and Chris Doig. Their remit was to shake things up a bit at a club where things had got rather stale. The constant demand for higher standards is a dangerous game though when you don’t have a big reputation or budget behind you.

To say it was ‘bad cop, bad cop’ is overplaying it, but by their own admittance they both have glass half-empty outlooks. And when you’re repeatedly told you’re not good enough then you begin to believe it.

Ellis Harrison heads towards goal. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

Ellis Harrison heads towards goal. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Maybe it’s a generational, society thing. Maybe young people, not just footballers, don’t handle criticism as well these days.

One thing is for sure, player power is strong. If you lose hearts and minds then you’re soon gone as a manager. Just look at Jose Mourinho.

MORE: Andy Warren: Player ratings from Ipswich Town’s 1-1 draw with Sheffield United

It’s no coincidence that, by contrast, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino offer far more light than shade.

And so Lambert, very acutely, adopts a relentlessly positive demeanour. The fear factor is replaced by a fun factor. Old dogs have learnt new tricks. Lower league recruits are beginning to find their feet.

Phase three: Build an identity.

No target men, so forget going direct and pass out the back. Midfielders must play on the turn. The front three must bring energy and dynamism.

Stick to the game plan no matter who the opposition. Entertain the crowd, blow away the apathy and make them truly believe that ‘this could be our day’ each and every time they walk into the stadium.

David McGoldrick battling with Jordan Spence in the first half. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STE

David McGoldrick battling with Jordan Spence in the first half. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

The gap to safety is only one point smaller than when Lambert first arrived. Somehow though that does now feel, as he keeps insisting, ‘nothing’.

It’s madness really when you consider the Blues have claimed what, on paper, is a pretty underwhelming six points from eight games under their new boss.

From losing limply to lowly sides, to drawing with Preston and Reading and then getting a gritty win against Wigan. That’s progress.

From being outclassed by promotion chasers, to giving West Brom and Nottingham Forest tests, to genuinely going toe-to-toe with Stoke and Sheffield United. That’s progress.

Former Town player David McGoldrick playing for United. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALL

Former Town player David McGoldrick playing for United. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

The next three games will truly show just how far the Blues have come in such a short space of time.

Defeats to QPR, Middlesbrough and Millwall were major low points. All three will certainly be facing a far different Ipswich Town this time around.

Are there concerns about whether the required reinforcements will be landed at the start of the new year? Yes, absolutely. With or without new faces though, the Blues are right in this fight.

Paul Lambert urges his players on against Sheffield United. Photo: Steve Waller

Paul Lambert urges his players on against Sheffield United. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Gwion Edwards just fails to slot a ball through for Freddie Sears, early in the game. Picture: ST

Gwion Edwards just fails to slot a ball through for Freddie Sears, early in the game. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

With Sheffield United keeper Dean Henderson on the ground, Luke Chambers heads home, but his effort

With Sheffield United keeper Dean Henderson on the ground, Luke Chambers heads home, but his effort was ruled out by referee Andy Woolmer. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ellis Harrison celebrates his goal with team-mate Gwion Edwards. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.ST

Ellis Harrison celebrates his goal with team-mate Gwion Edwards. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Freddie Sears celebrates Ellis Harrison's goal. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

Freddie Sears celebrates Ellis Harrison's goal. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Luke Chambers celebrates Ellis Harrison's goal. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM

Luke Chambers celebrates Ellis Harrison's goal. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Town manager Paul Lambert has a word in the ear of Ellis Harrison, after bringing him off the pitch

Town manager Paul Lambert has a word in the ear of Ellis Harrison, after bringing him off the pitch to bring on substitute Jordan Roberts. Picture: STEVE WALLER WWW.STEPHENWALLER.COM - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller