North Stander: Such fragility in our team - and now I've found a worrying fact about the Rochdale game

Alan Judge is congratulated by Stephen Ward, James Norwood and Andre Dozzell, after scoring TownÕs s

Alan Judge is congratulated by Stephen Ward, James Norwood and Andre Dozzell, after scoring TownÕs second in the 2-1 victory over Bristol Rovers. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

It would be tough to find a group of more fragile footballers than Ipswich Town’s current first-team squad.

When I say fragile, I mean both physically and psychologically.

We saw it again on Friday in the game against an absolutely hopeless Bristol Rovers team. We looked a million dollars for ten minutes, went two ahead, and it seemed for all the world we were going to win comfortably.

Alan Judge turns to celebrate after Town take an early lead, through an own goal by Luke Leahy.

Alan Judge turns to celebrate after Town take an early lead, through an own goal by Luke Leahy. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

But then we gave Rovers a goal, and the jitters set in. For the rest of the game, we did nothing, and performed miracles in actually making the visitors look as though they knew what they were doing.

SUNDAY SNAP: With Andy Warren

Yes, we were so poor that a team capable of “Fawlty Towers defending” - nice line that from their manager, Joey Barton -  could and possibly should have left Portman Road with a point.

Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton speaking with the fourth official.

Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton speaking with the fourth official. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

I’ll come back to our psychological frailties, but let’s look for a moment at the physical aspect. It wouldn’t be an Ipswich Town game without a major player suffering a worrying injury.

This time it was James Norwood, forced off at half-time with a thigh problem. Honestly, our injury record in recent years is so shocking. I wonder how the cub investigation into this is going? One thing’s for sure - nothing seems to be improving.

Gwion Edwards receives attention after taking a knock in the first half.

Gwion Edwards receives attention after taking a knock in the first half. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

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Back to the psychology. Why are we so brittle, to use Paul Cook’s word? I was talking to someone who works in football, and his theory is that the players are badly scarred by repeated failures.

He says they have been surrounded by so much negativity for so long that they’ve developed what you might call a losing mentality.

PAUL COOK: 'It's painful watching'

Season after season has ended in disappointment, under successive managers. The players have come to believe they are failing. It seems to make sense.

Kayden Jackson was adjudged to have fouled Jack Baldwin as he battled to get to the ball.

Kayden Jackson was adjudged to have fouled Jack Baldwin as he battled to get to the ball. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

Look at Saturday. Just as I foolishly settled down for what I thought was going to be a big win, Andre Dozzell made a mistake and gifted Rovers a goal.

Mistakes happen in sport, but you have to deal with them. It seems that our players find that impossible to do. From that moment, when we should have rolled up our sleeves and got on with it, we simply stopped playing anything approaching decent football.

Alan Judge celebrates after scoring Towns second goal to take them 2-0 up against Bristol Rovers.

Alan Judge celebrates after scoring Towns second goal to take them 2-0 up against Bristol Rovers. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

It’s part of a growing pattern with this group of players.

It’s certainly the biggest challenge Paul Cook faces. Is it possible to change the psychology of a group of players? To me, that looks tough.

The answer, surely, is to say goodbye to several of the current squad in the summer and bring in new blood - half a dozen or so players with the right characters.

Bristol Rovers keeper Anssi Jaakkola punches clear.

Bristol Rovers keeper Anssi Jaakkola punches clear. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

We need winners at this club - people with the right mentality, who believe in themselves, and respond in the right way to the inevitable setbacks.

To me, that is just as important as their technical ability.

The history of football has many, many examples of players who have had great careers despite limited ability. At Ipswich, we all loved Shefki Kuqi.

IPSWICH TOWN V PRESTON
SHEFKI KUQI GOAL PIC 4
PICTURE ANDY ABBOTT 30/10/2004
EADT 1 11 04

Ipswich Town icon Shefki Kuqi was dubbed 'The Flying Finn' for his swallow dive celebrations. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant

He certainly wasn’t the most gifted footballer, but his attitude was extraordinary. Through sheer hard work and a never-say-die approach, he made himself into an highly effective player.

As Joe Royle used to say, Shefki would chase a piece of paper blowing across the pitch!

So we might have to wait until the summer for Cook to really start making the changes which our club so desperately and so obviously needs.

TOWN PLAYER RATINGS, for the Rovers game

Meanwhile, extraordinarily, despite all our shortcomings, we are still very much in the hunt for the play-offs. It does give some meaning to the remaining games, starting with tomorrow's trip to Rochdale.

Teddy Bishop on a good run.

Teddy Bishop on a good run. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

For the vast majority of their respective histories, the two clubs have been operating in very different footballing spheres - Ipswich in the top two divisions, Rochdale in the bottom two.

So this meeting is a very rare occurrence, and I have some inside knowledge which might be worrying for Town fans.

The game is being sponsored by the Rochdale Exiles, a group of more than 200 proud supporters who are spread across the UK, including some in Suffolk.

Armando Dobra holds off Luke Leahy as he looks to control the ball.

Armando Dobra holds off Luke Leahy as he looks to control the ball. - Credit: www.stephenwaller.com

Apparently, Rochdale have never lost a home game sponsored by the Exiles, a record which stretches back for more than 15 years.

So, despite Rochdale’s position at the bottom of the table, we can take nothing for granted - as if we ever can with our oh-so brittle, fragile group of players!

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