Andy Warren: It could be a time of real change at Ipswich Town... Lambert simply had to be the first casualty
- Credit: Ross Halls/Steve Waller
Paul Lambert is proof, if we ever really needed it, that results are all that truly matter for football managers.
The former Town boss’s exit on Sunday night was a consequence of, quite simply, not getting anywhere near enough of them.
Many would have exited following relegation to the Championship, plenty more would have departed after falling well short of expectations during the first attempt at promotion and an even greater number would have been relieved of their duties long before now as a second League One season began to go up in smoke.
No amount of positive PR, of which Lambert initially proved masterful before ultimately losing at his own game, can hide the cracks when things go wrong on the pitch. Beers go stale and false dawns quickly drift away once it begins to cloud over.
There was once a time, not all that long ago, when ‘Paul Lambert is a Blue, he hates Norwich’ rang around Portman Road (he tried to fight them at Carrow Road in 2019) with ‘Lambo’ depicted as Rambo on giant banners in the North Stand. Back then he simply ‘got it’. He got that fans had become disconnected from their club, he got that there were legendary figures on hand to offer advice and he got that both the physical and emotional souls of Portman Road needed love and attention.
At his best Lambert fostered identity, injected hope and united supporters but those relationships are long since broken. That’s perhaps best summed by his journey with Blue Action - from wearing the supporters group’s pin-badge and inviting them into the inner circle to branding those same supporters ‘not true Ipswich fans’ following their training ground protest recently.
The crumbling of those relationships, as well as many within the camp, may be difficult for those on the outside looking in to fully grasp but the on-pitch stats paint a clear picture. A win rate of just 32.7% from 113 games, just 104 goals in 96 league matches and a dreadful record against promotion rivals (still just six wins in 32 attempts against top 10 teams, despite the successes of last week) are not good enough for a squad capable of so much more.
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There’s a certain irony that his exit does finally come after back-to-back victories over promotion rivals, given an abysmal record against those sides over a prolonged period made it abundantly clear he needed to move on.
The outside perception, in part due to Lambert’s attempts to change the narrative away from poor results on the pitch and towards a lack of funding, structure and support off it in recent weeks, may be that the manager is once again the fall guy at a club where those in the dugout are battling against the odds. The fact his exit comes amid talk of a takeover only feeds that narrative externally.
But while there is an element of truth there, those who have followed Ipswich closely will, just as they did when Mick McCarthy left in 2018, know it was a move which simply had to be made.
The reality is, even allowing for an undoubtedly troubling injury list, you would expect a manager of Lambert’s experience to get a significantly better tune out of a group of players who have performed to less than the sum of their parts for long spells during the last two seasons.
The players need to take their share of responsibility for the club’s failings too, of course, but they certainly weren’t helped by consistent chopping and changing to both systems and personnel during the first attempt at League One. The second time round saw a much more settled approach on both fronts but it was clear, in the case of some players, they were being asked to play roles in a system they simply weren’t suited to.
It’s surely no coincidence that better results have come in recent weeks as the Blues played to the strengths of their players. They’ve proven, by beating Hull and Doncaster in recent days, that they’re good enough to be serious promotion contenders.
You could feel the relief oozing from the Scot in recent days, speaking during interviews at a time when he clearly knew the end was near. And you could tell the pressures of the job were taking a toll on a man who suffered badly with coronavirus.
The man who bounced into Suffolk and drove his side on ferociously from the touchline, dressed in his trademark Hugo Boss black jumper, has long since faded.
He perhaps needed to move on for his own good, as well as the club’s.
The fact the change has been made with enough time left on the clock for a late run at promotion should be seen as a positive, even if it feels overdue.
Another Paul, the fourth of Evans’ reign, is the man set to be given the keys to the kingdom for the final two months of the campaign and beyond, with Cook having a long-standing relationship with Evans going back many years.
But how long those two will work together remains to be seen, given growing rumblings of a U.S.-backed takeover. It may just be that Cook is the man bidding to fulfil the vision of new ownership.
The relationship between Lambert and Evans is thought to have deteriorated significantly in recent weeks, largely stemming from the former manager’s public bashing as he claimed ‘everything’ about the club’s structure is wrong.
Something needs to change behind-the scenes, Lambert is right in some of his assertions there and he may just get his wish, but what had become abundantly clear is that the first switch needed was in the dugout.