The Verdict: Town’s winless run casts a shadow over baby steps
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Football writer Andy Warren gives his verdict following a week which has seen the Blues lose two key players to injury and let a two-goal lead slip at Birmingham.
Ipswich Town’s winless run is weighing heavily on Paul Hurst and his side.
We’re now at the 10 league game mark of Ipswich Town’s new era, and what do they have to show for it? On the face of things it’s no victories, six draws, four defeats and a place inside the Championship relegation zone. Oh, and a Carabao Cup exit to League Two opposition to boot.
Ultimately these are the only statistics that matter and are how Hurst’s reign is and will be judged. But it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.
Speaking after the deflating 2-2 draw at Birmingham on Saturday, in which the Blues led 2-0 at half-time but let their advantage slip, Hurst insisted it is completely fair to evaluate his work at this stage.
So here goes.
The headline grabber is the lack of a victory in 11 competitive matches and that rightly casts a shadow over his 123 days in post.
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We’ve seen an overhaul in playing staff leaving players with no second-tier experience needing to find their Championship feet on the job – that was always going to take time.
But how different would things be right now had the Blues managed a victory on the opening day, when they were arguably the better side against Blackburn, or a week later in a tight game at Rotherham. Harsh red cards against Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday cost Hurst any chance of victory there. Ipswich should really have beaten Norwich before the international break and, despite an extremely poor first-half against Brentford, looked the more likely to win the game with the Bees after a dramatic turnaround at the break.
Fine margins indeed, but Hurst is used to those. Problem is he’s used to coming out on the right side of them.
Of the 25 wins his Shrewsbury side recorded in their hugely impressive third-place finish in League One last season, the margin of victory in 19 of them was just a single goal. Nine of those games ended 1-0 to the Shropshire side.
Hurst’s Ipswich simply don’t have that killer instinct, the ability to put the final nail in the opposition’s coffin at both ends of the pitch, at the moment and that’s the biggest worry.
Town’s last two games show just how heavy the winless weight is becoming.
They were unable to break down a 10-man Bolton side, there for the taking, while the first Birmingham goal on Saturday, so soon after the break, left those of an Ipswich persuasion with a sinking feeling. It seemed inevitable the much-anticipated first win would slip from their grasp and so it proved.
You have to think the lack of a win played at least some part in these games, be it the players struggling to deal with increased expectation or simply not having the confidence that they would see the job through. It’s a horribly vicious cycle.
Hurst would be well within his rights to feel as if fate is conspiring against him, too, especially now he has lost two frontline strikers in the space of a week.
Jon Walters will be a massive loss to Hurst, both on and off the pitch, while Ellis Harrison’s ankle injury has robbed the Ipswich manager of the veteran’s natural replacement at a time when scoring goals has not exactly been easy. That burden will seemingly rest on the shoulders of Kayden Jackson now.
Hurst insisted post-match at Birmingham that there were positives to take despite the nature of the draw, and he was right.
A first away point, two goals on the road for the first time, a first Ipswich goal for Jon Nolan and a glimpse of just what’s possible when he gets up to support the lone striker and makes late runs into the box.
Ipswich are unbeaten in three, are somehow creeping up the table despite not winning games, are hard to beat, are certainly not being blown away in matches and are not yet detached in the relegation zone as a result.
That will soon change should that win remain illusive. You can take three points in 90 minutes but it took Ipswich 12 days and 270 minutes of football to secure their last three.
It’s natural to overlook small signs of progress when the winless weight is dangling over the side, but they are certainly there.
This was always going to be a long-term project. It was always a voyage into the unknown once it became clear a change was needed at Portman Road after nearly six years of Mick McCarthy.
Feathers were always going to be ruffled, tough decisions made, not everybody would be happy. Maybe that’s what was needed - it’s certainly what you would expect given the team are yet to win a game.
My colleague Stuart Watson referenced Bruce Tuckman’s team-development model in this column a week ago.
A new leadership structure has been formed. We’re certainly in the eye of the storm right now but there were small signs at Birmingham on Saturday that some of Hurst’s methods are becoming the norm.
To say Ipswich are firmly in the ‘perform’ stage of Tuckman’s model would certainly be a stretch at this stage, though.
Baby steps, yes, but Hurst will know himself bigger strides need to be made with considerable urgency.
If and when those are taken is what will really define his time as Ipswich Town manager.