POLL: The many reasons for Ipswich Town’s terrible slump

I STARTED supporting Ipswich Town in 1968, and the decade since relegation from the Premier League has seen some of the lowest points for me and all the other fans.

We’re currently in another horrible slump. So what’s gone wrong? The following is my opinion, as a fan. You might agree with some of it. You might think it’s all rubbish.

What I can tell you is that it’s written as a lifelong supporter, and with the fervent wish that Paul Jewell, Simon Clegg, Marcus Evans, and, of course, the players can turn it round, and quickly!

Here are my thoughts on the various vital constituents.

The players

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PAUL Jewell has packed his squad with experience, but it’s palpably not working. At Burnley on Tuesday evening, no fewer than seven of the starting line-up were over 30. We have no pace, no width – and do we have the desire to really get stuck in? Our disciplinary record is superb – no yellows again at Turf Moor – but what does that tell us?

Big-name players like Bowyer and Bullard have been brought in, presumably on good money, but they’re simply not performing, Bullard is a shadow of the player we had here on loan for the second half of last season. Bowyer looks like his best days are long gone. The other midfield regulars, Andrews and skipper Leadbitter, are workmanlike and unspectacular.

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The midfield provides nothing for the strikers. At Burnley, the stats told a sorry tale: shots on target 0, shots off target 0. So, in 90 minutes of football, we didn’t muster a single shot. It might as well have been me or you in goal for Burnley – the result would have been the same.

Defensively, we’re a mess. Edwards isn’t a right-back in a million years, Collins looks lost without Sonko alongside him, and Ingimarsson hasn’t impressed. We concede ridiculous, schoolboy goals, usually from set-pieces. Jewell talks about a lack of confidence running through the team, but how does that make you lose your man at a free-kick or a corner?

What’s the answer? I would start with the midfield. We cannot have a middle four of Bowyer, Bullard, Andrews and Leadbitter. It doesn’t work. In my opinion, we must always start with either Carson or Martin, to provide some pace, youth, energy and width. They’re not world-beaters, but they’re the best we’ve got. One of the big names will have to be sacrificed.

On current form, that should be either Bowyer or Bullard. Ideally, we need new blood in this area in January. Come back, Garvs, all is forgiven (more on him later).

At the back, if we assume Collins goes back to Stoke in a few weeks and Sonko isn’t going to be fit regularly, we need a new centre-half in the January sales. We also need a proper right-back. Oh for David Wright!

The manager

MARCUS Evans recruited Paul Jewell because of his experience: More than 500 games as a manager, two different clubs guided to the Premier League, plus the bruising experience of taking over an already doomed Derby team on its way to a record low points tally. Jewell was seen as the opposite to his predecessor, Roy Keane. Lower profile, but much more mileage on the clock in the manager’s chair.

His tenure started pretty well, with the team moving away from the relegation zone, although there were still some pretty dreadful results, notably the thumping at Portman Road by a Premier-bound Norwich City. Very painful.

This season has had its moments, too, including a six-match unbeaten run capped by a thrilling, free-flowing win over a decent Brighton team. I remember walking away from that game thinking that the feelgood factor was back. We said as much on the front of the paper on the following Monday. That was only a few weeks ago, and yet it feels like an eternity.

What’s gone wrong for Jewell?

Well, his beloved diamond has been well and truly rumbled, and Plan B – when he eventually reverted to it – isn’t working either. The experienced players he obviously feels comfortable with are letting him down with truly shocking performances.

His defensive kingpin, Sonko, is injury-plagued. Plus, he persists in playing people out of position: Edwards at right-back, Bowyer or Leadbitter or Andrews wide, Carson as part of the diamond at Forest.

Square pegs in round holes.

I know everyone bangs on about Keane’s decision to virtually give away Jordan Rhodes – and it was a shocking decision – but I believe the departure of Owen Garvan was just as significant. Garvan, who grew up with Ipswich, loved the club and never wanted to leave, is a player who’s comfortable on the ball, can see a defence-splitting pass, and provides ammunition for the strikers.

Rather like a young Magilton.

Short of luring Garvan back, in the short term, as I’ve already said, Jewell needs to introduce width and pace in the shape of either Carson or Martin, sacrificing one of the experienced by ineffective midfield quartet. And stick with it.

At the moment, he’s almost into Keane mode, making four changes every game and then chopping and changing again early in games.

At Burnley, he’d used all the subs by the beginning of the second half.

Although I think he has made mistakes, I believe Jewell is a decent manager whose players are letting him down. He feels that too, as he made clear with his comments after the Burnley debacle. If they can’t lift their performances, we need fresh blood.

Will Marcus Evans sack him?

Not a chance at the moment. I’ve met Evans three or four times and, believe me, he’s not built up his huge business empire through making impatient, snap decisions.

Look how long he gave Keane. He’ll be hugely disappointed, of course. His (and our) Premier League dream looks a million miles away. League One is closer, for goodness sake. Evans will let Jewell have some funds in January. If he wastes that money, and things don’t improve, then his job might be at risk. But Evans won’t knee-jerk into a decision.

Will Jewell walk? His comments were intriguing immediately after the Burnley humiliation. When asked whether he might walk away he replied: “I don’t WANT to walk away.’’ What did he mean by that? If I know anything about Jewell, he’ll dust himself down and get on with it. But if we’re humiliated by Watford on Saturday…who knows?

The coaching staff and academy

THE departure of Bryan Klug has been just as significant as Rhodes, Garvan, right, Wickham, Walters and co leaving our club. I declare an interest here, because Klug is a friend of mine, but Keane’s marginalising of him and then getting rid of him ranks as one of the worst-ever footballing decisions taken at Portman Road.

Klug lived, breathed and sweated Ipswich Town Football Club.

His track record was incredible. As Academy director, he produced a long line of future superstars, including Richard Wright, Kieron Dyer, and Titus Bramble, all of whom were sold on to big clubs for mega-money.

He led his under-18s team to the pinnacle of success when they won the FA Youth Cup in 2005, beating a Southampton team which included Theo Walcott.

Klug is one of the most highly qualified coaches in Europe, and commands the respect of every player he’s worked with. To throw away that level of experience, talent and commitment was a shocking mistake by Roy Keane, and one that Paul Jewell has to live with. Klug would have provided continuity, stability, experience, and would have given Jewell someone very wise to chat with over a cup of tea after training.

It’s no coincidence that Klug has landed a superb job as part of Harry Redknapp’s coaching team at Tottenham. Harry’s no mug, and recognises a diamond when he sees one. And Spurs aren’t doing too badly, are they?

The academy production line, while not stopping altogether, certainly seems to have slowed. Yes, I know Connor Wickham came through the ranks, but who’s our next home-grown superstar? Josh Carson has a chance. But apart from him?

People like Bryan Klug aren’t easy to find, but I believe Ipswich Town needs to find someone of his stature to work at the club. This is not a criticism of anyone in the current set-up, but Klug has left a massive gap.

The bosses

OWNER Marcus Evans and chief executive Simon Clegg are obviously extremely able men who are working very hard to improve the fortunes of Ipswich Town Football Club.

But I believe the invisibility of the owner is a problem. I respect his right to anonymity, but in football it is a problem. As far as I’m aware, he is the only football club owner in the history of the game who most fans would not recognise if they bumped into him in the street.

In most walks of life, that wouldn’t matter a jot. But in football, and especially at a community club like Ipswich Town, it does matter. Quite a lot. Fans want to feel connected to the owner of their club. I hesitate to mention it, but look just up the road to our friends at Norwich City. Through good and bad times, Delia is visible to the fans, sharing the inevitable ups and downs. It works a treat. The fans love her, and even forgive the occasional embarrassing on-pitch, half-time gaffe!

Fans want to be able to throw bouquets, or brickbats, at the owner, or the top man. David Sheepshanks had a rollercoaster time as chairman, but throughout it all the fans knew he was a local man who had started life as a supporter, lived locally, and was very visible. We could see the joy (Wembley 2000) and the agony (administration 2003).

There is no doubt that Evans’ money has kept the club financially stable. Just look at the last set of accounts. Without the sale of Walters and Wickham, and an injection of money from the owner, the club would have lost many millions. The argument goes that, without his investment, Ipswich might now be a division lower. Of course, that’s purely speculative. Look at Norwich. They’re not wealthy, but they’ve found a magic formula.

The fans need access to the top man, or woman. The person with whom the buck ultimately stops. With the greatest of respect, that is not Simon Clegg. He is running the business according to the wishes of Marcus Evans.

In my view, Evans needs to find a way to connect more closely, and regularly, with the fans.

The fans (including me)

DO we expect too much?

Are we still judging today’s players by the extraordinary standards of decades long ago? Do we have an unrealistic expectation of what a club of our size is capable of? All of those accusations have been levelled at Town fans during debates, but I honestly think the answer to all of those is “No.’’

For a start, the majority of people going to Portman Road these days won’t remember the “Glory Days’’ under Robson. Some of us older ones do, and I include myself in that band, but we don’t sit there thinking “Collins isn’t as good as Beattie’’ or “Scotland’s not a patch on Mariner.’’ We realise that times have changed.

I do think that we can be quiet at home games. Instead of a fortress, Portman Road can sometimes resemble a library. But then we come to the old debate about who motivates whom? When the team are playing poorly and losing on a regular basis at home, is it any wonder that the fans are jittery and quiet?

The travelling army is the very best thing about the whole club at the moment.

Elsewhere in today’s paper, we pay a well-deserved tribute to the 319 diehards who made the long, difficult, expensive and ultimately gut-wrenchingly disappointing trip to Burnley. I was so pleased that my colleague Stuart Watson gave you the Man of the Match award. Richly deserved.

...and finally

IT’S pretty rubbish being a Town fan at the moment. Six successive defeats, and the possibility of a relegation battle – at the same time as Norwich are prospering in the Premier League. Are we being too doom-laden?

After all, it was only a few weeks ago that everything was hunky dory and the play-offs looked likely. A couple of wins will bring the smiles back. But where are they coming from? Paul Jewell needs to re-think his tactics, ditch some of the old-timers and give us some youth and excitement.

He certainly needs to bring in fresh blood in January, assuming Marcus Evans makes funds available. Talk of Jewell being sacked is utter nonsense. Do we really want to be one of those clubs which changes it manager every year? No. So, let’s back the manager to get it right. I can’t say I’m relishing the game on Saturday, but I’ll be there in the North Stand. Come on you Blues!

n What do you think has gone wrong at Town? Do you agree with Terry Hunt – or is he talking nonsense?

n Contact us: sport@eadt.co.uk. Or write to us: EADT Sport Letters, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN.

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