'We believe in the manager' - Ward insists there's no dressing room disharmony at Town
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Ipswich Town defender Stephen Ward insists all the players are firmly behind manager Paul Lambert and his playing style.
The Blues have lost nine of their last 15 games across all competitions, the latest a lethargic 3-2 home defeat to lowly Swindon last weekend.
Calls from supporters for Lambert to be sacked have grown louder this week, but experienced left-back Ward insists the players remain behind their boss as he continues to recover from Covid-19.
Asked if there was any disharmony behind the scenes, the Irishman said: “No, not at all, 100 per cent. We believe in the manager and we believe in his philosophies and what he wants us to achieve.
"What the manager is asking of us is only what we should be expecting of ourselves. He knows the quality of the squad and he’s as frustrated as we are because we’re not delivering what he wants.”
The 35-year-old continued: “As a squad, especially over the last few weeks, we’ve won games but not played as well as we can. Sometimes that can be a positive but I think it probably caught up with us last weekend.
“But everyone here is completely on the same page. There’s not one bit of disharmony and everyone wants to achieve promotion. That’s how it is.
“Of course, people are going to be disappointed with themselves and there will be harsh words to each other when they’re not doing the business.
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“But that’s only because we want to win and want to achieve what we want for this club this season.”
Asked how the Swindon setback had affected dressing room morale, Ward said: “As you can probably guess it has been a tough week in terms of getting our heads round the performance that we put in.
“Everyone was very disappointed, especially after we hadn’t played for a few weeks. That only enhanced the disappointment because we were desperate to get back to playing.
“We were on a decent little run before we got hit by the virus and we wanted to keep it ticking over.
“We all knew it wasn’t good enough on Saturday as a group of players and we’ve addressed that this week.
“We’ve had a look at the game again and seen where we weren’t good enough and where we need to improve. It has been a good week in terms of that.
“Everyone put their cards on the table as to where we need to improve and get better, and what we’ve not been doing over the last five or six weeks.
“Obviously, in terms of getting players back, it has been a good, positive week and it has given us a real lift on the training pitch. The squad now looks as if it has real depth to it and that’s something we’ve been missing for a long period of the season.”
He continued: “We’re all really close and we’ve got a real good team spirit. It’s a real good dressing room and we’re not naïve enough to think that the performance against Swindon was anywhere near where it should be for a club and a squad like this.
“We’ve had sit-downs over cups of tea, just generally and outside where we can, and chatted away about where we need to improve.
“We also had a general meeting with the staff, which was very positive in the end because I think it’s as clear as day when you can see the images of the game and it shows where we need to improve and also what we’ve not done well over the last few games.
“All in all, I thought last week’s result was a negative one but this week has been positive in terms of getting everybody’s cards on the table and seeing exactly what we need to be doing going forward."
Ward added: “The league is very strange this year. It’s very tight and if you go on any sort of winning run – three or four games in a row – it completely changes the picture again.
“We’ve still got 27 games left so it was the perfect time to sort of regroup and see exactly where we need to improve and what we need to do going forward.
“It’s a strange season for everyone. If you look at the results in recent weeks there have been some really strange ones with teams you would have expected to win not being able to do it.
“There’s no excuse culture at this club – the manager wouldn’t let that happen – but when you look at what’s happened over the course of the season we have had a lot of injuries and we had the virus that interrupted the mini run we were on.
“We’ve got a lot of bodies back in the squad, a lot of key players that we were missing, and that’s got to be a positive. Training has been really sharp this week and the squad is much stronger than what we’ve had over the past seven weeks or so.
"It's going to make everyone better because now there is massive competition for places all over the pitch.”
Asked if he felt Town could still finish in the top two, Ward replied: "Of course I do. We've not even reached the halfway point. Ask anyone and they'd tell you that they'd much rather have a stronger second half of the season.
"We know we have to finish better than we started, but we're still in a strong position. We're only a couple of points outside the top six. We're only back-to-back wins away from pushing the top two again."
Revealing he was one of the eight Town players to have tested positive for Covid-19 prior to Christmas, Ward went against Lambert's view that it is 'morally wrong' for football to continue.
He said: "As a footballer you want to do your job. We understand that it's a really strange and sad situation. Everyone is having to adapt. We're obviously going through severe protocols to make sure games go ahead.
"I know myself, having been sat at home during lockdown, that it gives me a lift to be able to sit at home and watch a game with my son. We're hoping we can bring some sort of joy to people who are struggling at this really difficult time.
"It's in the hands of the Government, but as a player, as long as it's safe, of course we want to play."
On his own experiences of having Covid, he said: "I'm all fine. I had a few symptoms, sweaty, shivery for a couple of days, just not feeling yourself, but once I got through that I was fine. Thankfully my wife and kids didn't get it.
"It's definitely a virus though. It hit us here and spread quite quickly. It does make you realise what's out there and what people are dealing with. Thankfully we are fit and healthy enough to bounce straight back."
Asked about the frustrations of the fans, Ward said: "It's difficult for the fans. I feel for them. There's no interaction for them with us. They can't be at the games.
"Listen, at the end of the day they are entitled to their opinion of how we're doing. We, more than anyone, know we are not where we want to be. It hurts us as much as anyone. We appreciate the support the fans are giving us from afar.
"Listen, we want to be higher up the league and want to perform better."
On his own personal form, he said: "Up to Saturday I think I've been really solid. Maybe I wasn't getting forwards as much as I was earlier in the season for whatever reason. Other than the Plymouth game it hasn't gone our way in terms of how we weer dominant earlier in the season.
"Sometimes you've just got to dig in, grind and make sure you are defending well first and foremost. That's the one ting we were disappointed by, as a team, on Saturday. We didn't get close enough to them, we didn't defend as a 10 or 11 as well as we can do. We also know we need to create more.
"But the players we've got coming back can hopefully make a big difference."
Asked if tomorrow's game at rock-bottom Burton was a must win, Ward said: "Yeah. We want to win every game, but yeah we've got to win this game. The important thing is you react as quick as possible. That's what we need to do.
"Everyone has laid their cards on the table this week. We've got players coming back. This is where we need to start again really and push on as quick as possible.
"We want to make sure, no matter what stage of the season it is, we are in and around that top six, top four, top three, top two. We've not been out the top six a lot this season. We need to get back in there."