SEASON REVIEW: Dreams and despair in rollercoaster campaign

It is a season Ipswich Town fans will never forget – but largely for the wrong reasons. One that started with the signings of big-name players but ended with a call for the young and hungry over experience.

One that started with the signings of big-name players but ended with a call for the young and hungry over experience. Here are some of the highs and lows from the 2011/12 season

The perfect start

Let me take you back. A sunny Ashton Gate on August 6, 2011. Paul Jewell had made a plethora of big signings and confidence and optimism was high. Things were about to get even better when Michael Chopra scored twice – a fox-in-the-box had been found – David James was dispatched three to nil and fans were able to spend the first Saturday night of the season chanting ‘we are top of the league’. Heady days.

Nightmare on London Road

Things were about to change very quickly. The opening day win was followed by home defeats to Hull and Southampton, who struck five at a shell-shocked Portman Road in arguably the best away performance of the season, before it got even worse. Peterborough 7 (seven), Ipswich 1. A thrashing at the hands of a newly-promoted side, with nine men, on live television, and it would have been worse had it not been for the single-handed heroics of David Stockdale. Enough said.

Diamond lights

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After such a promising start, the club’s confidence was at its lowest ebb. Enter the clown prince as Paul Jewell pulled off a coup by signing Jimmy Bullard. The man crowned Supporters’ Player of the Year after just 16 starts was back. Results – and confidence – quickly returned. Opting for a diamond formation full of big-name midfielders, Town went six games unbeaten as the rest of the Championship started to take notice. West Ham’s Upton Park was silenced by old boy Lee Bowyer, Gus Poyet’s Brighton were swept away and the Blues proved they could win when not at their best against Portsmouth. The Blues were sixth and looking good.

Jewell under fire

When Jewell refers to false dawns, they don’t come much bigger than October 22. A win at home to Crystal Palace could have pushed Town into the top two. But the young Eagles flew away with the points and shattered Jewell’s diamond. It got a whole lot worse when the Lions of Millwall roared to a 4-1 win before three successive 3-2 defeats – including going 3-0 down at home to Doncaster in 40 minutes of football. Late goals then saw victories turned to defeats against Nottingham Forest and Reading. And then it got even worse, when Town simply failed to turn up against Burnley. It was a ‘pub team’ performance, to quote the manager, as ‘spineless and gutless’ Ipswich lost 4-0 on a truly abject night. The Watford jinx continued four days later to make it seven straight defeats. The knives were out.

Trial by television

December 10 will go down as the day that saved Jewell’s job. Sky’s television cameras were back and thirsty for blood. And, at first, they were not to be disappointed with Barnsley 2-0 up against the beleaguered Blues, before a third was only spared when Craig Davies missed a one-on-one against David Stockdale. Jewell trudged off at half-time, looking to find the words to inspire his team – or indeed to write the resignation letter he would later joke about. In the end, it was the former, in spectacular style, as a Keith Andrews-inspired away performance saw Jewell’s men return with a 5-3 victory. Results thereafter remained inconsistent but performances were certainly on the up. Jewell had been saved.

Hammers hammerings gives hope

West Ham must hope they achieve promotion through the play-offs so they don’t have to face Ipswich again next season. Five times the Hammers were breached on January 31 as Portman Road was finally given a performance to saviour. It was to provide a springboard with Coventry, Portsmouth and Cardiff beaten and 12 goals scored in the process. Town had become the entertainers, mixing raw power and pace in attack. It wasn’t all perfect, Brighton away for example, but a gruelling run of matches in March saw just one just defeat in ten. Fans dared to dream.

The jinx strikes again

A late assault on the top-six always seemed unlikely. But going into half-time at Vicarage Road 1-0 up and in dominant mood, Town seemed destined to break the Watford hoodoo and continue dreaming of the play-offs. A half of football later, it was all but over as the Hornets celebrated 15 matches without a defeat against Ipswich. The dream was all but over with Town limping over the line in the final few games, once again inconsistency being the only consistent thing about their performances. There is plenty of room for improvement.