Town chief O'Neill on Lambert's job security, Evans knowing the mood of the fans, injuries and banning journalists
- Credit: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town general manager Lee O'Neill discussed Paul Lambert's job security, the Blues' aims this season and the ongoing injury worries during a lengthy interview with BBC Radio Suffolk this week.
What do you make of the mood among supporters at this point?
LON: Obviously losing games of football and not getting points to move back to the top end of the table is disappointing.
It’s a rollercoaster with the winning and the losing and I fully understand people who aren’t happy when we don’t win games.
I try to look at it with the bigger picture to try and make sure we have things in place to make progress and get those points on a Saturday.
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It’s proving very difficult and there are a number of situational factors which don’t make it easy. But I full understand why supporters would be frustrated.
You must see where they are coming from? There’s a real fear there could be a repeat of last season where things went off the boil from November onwards?
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LON: I think we reflected heavily on the situation from last year and we’ve obviously tried to take a lot of points onboard during the lockdown and put a lot of work in in relation to how we’re doing things. We’re still reflecting.
We’ve talked a lot about the style and players keeping the shirts, so there is consistency there, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do. It doesn’t always work out because of injuries and Covid where we can’t put our best team out every week at the moment.
That’s a factor but I do get the frustrations which aren’t taken lightly. Supporters have a massive part to play for the club and we have to make improvements.
Is Paul Lambert under pressure internally? A lot of fans do want change.
LON: In this game we’re all under pressure. It’s the nature of football and we all feel it. At the same time we’re only two wins from being right up in the top part of the league again. We’re in the top six at the moment but we know we need to deliver results.
That’s something staff and players don’t take lightly. There is a pressure and but that’s because of the stature of the football club.
We’re in League One and the expectation is that we need and want to be higher than that a lot quicker.
So is his job safe? How thin is the ice underneath Paul at the minute?
LON: We are 100% behind Paul and the first-team staff and the players. It’s not a time to put a blame culture on why we aren’t picking up the points.
We need to stick together, work incredibly hard and get behind the team to try and get back to where we were at the start of the season when we were winning games and playing a nice style.
Can you put all this to bed by saying he’ll certainly be here at the end of the season and that there aren’t any time limits on him to turn it around? He does have a five-year deal.
LON: This is football and we’re 100% behind Paul to try and deliver the outcomes we want – to get ourselves promoted.
That’s what people want and what people are expecting. How quickly we can do that, that’s the challenge. We’re all up for that challenge and will work very hard to right the wrongs as quickly as possible so we don’t slip down the table and don’t lose games continuously.
It’s incredibly difficult when, while I am very passionate about the academy, you sometimes have to rely on the young players because there are some big boots there for them to fill. There’s a lot of pressure on them as well and it’s about getting behind them, the team and the staff to hopefully deliver some success.
We talk about success and promotion back to the Championship, which we all want, but is Paul the man to deliver that?
LON: We very much hope so. We can’t sit here and say what’s going to happen in the future or in the next six months because we’re working day-by-day and game-by-game to try and put things in place to win the next game of football.
Paul has a lot of experience and has been in management a long time, as well as being in this situation a number of times. To give him the time and resource to be able to do that we have to look at everything.
Cynics would say you can’t afford to sack him with more than four years left on his contract?
LON: I think the idea, when we talked about the length of contract, was to try and give people an idea about the length of time to embed a philosophy and work on embedding some improvements.
Some of those can happen immediately and others can take a little bit longer. We all want that to happen as quickly as possible so we’re hoping we can put that all in place for us to be up there and try to get out of this league this season. We’re working incredibly hard to try and do that.
It does sound like there’s not going to be a change any time soon so all this talk from supporters doesn’t mean anything?
LON: I get their frustration and I do understand where they’re coming from. So does the manager and so do the players.
They don’t want to try and lose games of football and they go out there to win. They are trying to do that with a style of play which entertains. We’re only early on in the signing and we’re trying to make changes from last season, which takes time.
Supporters’ points have been listened to. I get they are unhappy but we have to go out there and try to deliver a better performance as a team and as a club.
It must be said not everyone is against Paul and the issue maybe runs deeper. Maybe any manager would struggle here. What do you say to after maybe 13 years of decay and questionable decisions.
LON: I think we can’t hide away from that because we are in the lowest position we’ve ever been in some aspects. We do have to look at things.
I can’t comment on what’s happened in the past but we can reflect on it and learn from it to try and improve. The expectation is for us to be back in the Championship at a minimum because we also have won major trophies and have been in the Premier League. That’s different to how it is now.
We have to take all those points on board.
You’re as close to Marcus as anyone. He can’t be happy at the moment with things at the moment?
LON: Marcus is as frustrated as I am and as everyone is.
We talk about winning together and losing together and he goes home disappointed when we lose. He’s the same as me, the manager and the players.
We have to take a step back and keep the positive aspects, work with those, work with the players to make them better.
Is Marcus aware of how fans are feeling?
LON: Marcus is definitely aware of how the fans are feeling. He understands their frustrations.
He can hear and see things around him and, even though fans aren’t at the stadium there are ways they have voiced their opinions. He’s aware of that and is fully supportive in getting the football club back to better times.
Is it important to him, what fans are thinking?
LON: Football clubs aren’t football clubs without fans and of course they have a real part to play in that process.
He gets it and understands it and we want them to enjoy their experience. We want to understand their frustrations and concerns and reassure them we’re doing everything we can to improve.
It’s a bit of a tough sell at the moment, given the climate and the fact the club’s in the third division. Does he ever think of moving on and letting someone else have a crack at it?
LON: No, we’ve not had conversations about that at all.
What do you make of the injury situation at the moment?
LON: Having looked into this a lot there are so many things you can blame if you like and look at in more detail.
You can’t get away from the fact it’s a contact sport where people collide. We’ve looked into footwear, traction control into grass, training methods, the way we analyse information and specific programmes all players have. We’ve gone through all of that in detail.
Some of the situational stuff is unfortunate. If you look at the wider scale of injuries this season they are through the roof at every club. Obviously that’s to do with loading and games during a really condensed season after a lot of time off.
It’s not ideal and really simple things like recovery strategies aren’t the same as they were last season. The same with the way people eat, sleep and the way they come in for training. That’s all different.
We can’t put out our more experienced, stronger players like we were at the start of the season when we had that settled squad. We have to get on with it. We’ve have situations with Covid as well.
We’re looking at everything from the medical department to the conditioning department, the games programme. Everything.
And obviously Jim Henry has moved on?
LON: Jim’s got some personal things going on so he’s working from home up in Scotland and I speak to him and go through different aspects of how we’re training. He gives his guidance through that process.
He’s not here on a daily basis at the moment but he’s still in contact from his home on Scotland.
People aren’t happy with a local journalist (Phil Ham from TWTD) being banned from press conferences at the moment. What can you say about that?
LON: We have a relationship with the forum and the person who runs the forum so we are disappointed it’s got to this stage because we’ve always had a really good relationship.
We understand it’s a really important way of communicating with the fans of the football club.
There has been one or two things that have happened on there that the manager hasn’t been too happy with, which I appreciate from his point of view.
I think it’s worth noting we are the only club in the EFL and the Premier League that does allow a fanzine to attend games and press conferences as a member of the media.
The person we are referring to is a definite fan of the club and works incredibly hard so we want to have that relationship. It’s got to work both ways and there are some issues there we need to iron out.
We’re sure the situation will evolve over the next few weeks.
Do you think you need to build bridges with supporters in general? You hear words such as ‘apathy’ and ‘disillusion’ a lot. That must hurt.
LON: It is hurtful because in the role I have recently taken over a lot of what I’ve spoken about is around building the relationship with the community and having the Trust back and established again.
Paul has been out there and has spoken to a number of people locally. Our players do a lot locally. But we can always do more.
We try to engage in all events and we’ve always made sure the person in question (Phil Ham) has had access to the information that is in press conferences and is allowed at games.
It hurts but in this role you have to take criticism. All points will be noted and we’ll try and improve things going forward.
How important is it you get up this season, given the salary cap will start to bite you hard. It’s almost being spoken about as a disaster when you think about going into a third season at this level.
LON: There are a number of teams all trying to do the same thing and have been in this league for a long time.
We’re obviously one of the bigger clubs and the expectation is that it’s going to get harder with the salary cap. We’ve already found that this year it’s made recruitment a little different and it’s going to have an impact on how we can perform.
We want to be in the Championship because that can impact who we can bring into the club.
Anything lower than sixth place would be a shocker this season, wouldn’t it?
LON: In my opinion that’s the aim, we need to be up there.
Finishing 11th last season simply wasn’t good enough and we’re aiming for the top six.
Our main priority is to look for automatic promotion but there are plenty of other teams looking for that as well. It’s not a given.