Stephen Ward on play-offs belief, Cook's criticism and his future

Town manager Paul Cook gives instructions to Stephen Ward during a break in play.

Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook speaks to Stephen Ward during a break in play. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Steve Waller-www.stephenwaller.c

Ipswich Town are four points adrift of the League One play-off places heading into their final five matches of the campaign - starting at Northampton tomorrow night (7pm). Left-back Stephen Ward discusses recent form, his future and playing under Paul Cook.

Q: It was better on Saturday wasn’t it (0-0 draw at Charlton following a 3-0 midweek loss at AFC Wimbledon)? 

A: Yeah. Listen, we were disappointed not to win after the performance. We knew we needed a reaction after Tuesday night. It was obviously a tough night Tuesday – everything that could go wrong, went wrong – so we needed to show a reaction. I thought we did that. I thought we played well Saturday and were unlucky not to win the game. In the end we’re probably disappointed we didn’t take all three points. 

Q: And you defenders must be pleased with the clean sheets (four in the last six)? 

A: Yeah. Obviously we were disappointed on Tuesday night, especially conceding from a set-piece because that’s an area we’ve been really solid. 

The clean sheets not only come from ourselves. We see a lot of the work that goes on ahead of us, the press that we have from the top end of the pitch and in the middle third. 

We are happy with clean sheets and this is, hopefully, a foundation we can build on. Hopefully in the next five games we can start putting the ball away and bring some positive results.

A bruised Stephen Ward at Wigan

Experienced left-back Stephen Ward has started 27 league games for Ipswich Town this season. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

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Q: The lack of goals (Town are the third-lowest scorers in the division) is a real issue isn't it? 

A: Throughout the pitch we know that we need to score more goals and we need to create more. We can just rely soley on the centre-forwards.  

We're all disappointed we haven’t scored more goals but we are working hard at it. Sometimes it can be a confidence thing. When we’ve not scored as many as we’ve wanted we sometimes try too hard to create that chance and get that goal. We just need to relax and get back to the basics of it. Once one goes in it will hopefully open a door. 

Q: Do you still believe you can make the play-offs?

A: We look no further than tomorrow night. We know we have to win the game tomorrow night. 

It’s been a tough season, a tough few months for everyone, but we’re still right in there and we have to be really positive. 

We’ve got to believe that we can get in them play-offs and do something in those play-offs. 

That starts tomorrow night. If we can get a win away at Northampton it sets us up for a home game (against AFC Wimbledon) we will look to go and win. 

So it’s a massive week in our season and we believe that if we can get two positive results then we’ll be right in and around it come the last three games. 

Stephen Ward.

Stephen Ward is one of 13 first team players out of contract this summer. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Steve Waller-www.stephenwaller.c

Q: You came here last summer to achieve promotion. How much would it hurt if that didn't happen? 

A: It will hurt everyone. It’s a club that wants to get promoted. We understand that more than anyone. 

It’s been a tough year, both on and off the pitch, for everyone and every team. 

Other than the two teams who will go up automatically, most teams have had dips here and there. There have been injuries and it’s been difficult with the amount of games. 

Everyone has been in the same boat though. 

I came here to get promoted and I still believe we can. I still believe we’ve got enough in the dressing room to get in the play-offs.  

It’s hopefully going to go down to the wire. We need to stay in touch right down to the last day of the season. 

Tomorrow night is huge. We need to go there and get a positive win. Then hopefully we can come back to Portman Road and be ready to go again on Saturday. 

Q: You mentioned the top two of Hull and Peterborough. What's the difference between them and Ipswich? 

A: It’s difficult to say really because playing them I don’t think there’s been much difference between the teams. I don’t think there’s a lot between a lot of the teams up there. 

I think they’ve probably kept their winning runs going a lot longer than we have. We’ve probably dipped in and out, having back-to-back wins and then having not so good results. 

When you keep winning it’s a lot easier to just keep going. When it stops, and you lose one or two, it can be difficult to get back on that run. 

They (Hull and Peterborough) have probably done that better, so credit to them. They are where they are for a reason and we are where we are. 

We’ve got to work hard to get in these play-offs. 

Listen, we’ve got to be positive. I’ve been in dressing rooms throughout my career. I've missed the play-offs on the last day, I’ve qualified for the play-offs on the last day of the season. 

There’s plenty to play for. There’s still 15 points out there up for grabs and we’ve got to start by getting three points tomorrow night. 

Stephen Ward takes a throw at Wigan

Stephen Ward still believes Ipswich Town can make the play-offs this season. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Q: Has this squad underachieved this season? 

A: Listen, we know we should be in a better position than we are. But, like I said, our end goal isn’t out of our hands. Until it’s mathematically impossible for us to get into the play-offs and get promoted... I think as players we’ll reflect when that is the case. 

At the minute we’ve got to work hard on the training ground, still believe and still be as positive as we can. Because in this dressing room we’ve got a real good group of lads and some really talented players. 

At the minute we are underachieving in where we want to be, but come the end of the season we’ll see what happens.  

We still believe we can get into this play-offs and make a push. 

Q: You're out of contract in the summer. What's happening with your future? 

A: To be honest I don’t think that far ahead. As cliched as it sounds, at this stage of the season I’m really just concentrating on the next game. 

The decision on what I do next season will come in the summer when the season finishes. 

Until the whistle goes on the last day of the season I just want to concentrate on playing, doing well for the team, hopefully getting in the play-offs and hopefully having a push for getting the club to Wembley. 

I think I’ve been fit and available for most games this season, apart from two or three early on when I had an injury. 

So I feel good, I feel like I’m still in good shape. Long-term, of course I still want to keep playing. Short-term let’s just hopefully get a result tomorrow night. 

My aim is to stay in the game. I’m doing my coaching badges at the minute. When you live and breath football and you’ve been in it so many years  it’s difficult to see yourself doing something else. 

So hopefully I’ll stay in the game in some capacity. 

But I still feel like I’d like to play another year, especially with this year having had no crowds. I’d love to play another season where you have that atmosphere back. 

Q: You've worked under a lot of managers in your career. What's Paul Cook been like? 

A: He's been good. He’s obviously very enthusiastic, really wants to do well and has got a good work ethic. 

It can be difficult when a new manager comes in. They want to get their own ideas across. He’s done that. 

We’ve worked hard on the training pitch. Unfortunately we haven’t picked up the results that we would have liked, but going forwards we still believe we can get in the play-offs. He’s given us that believe. 

So, yeah, he’s been good to work for so far. 

Q: He's certainly not minced words about the squad''s shortfalls. How has that been to hear as players?

A: Erm, listen you take it on the chin. It is what it is. We understand, as a club and a group of players, that the position we’re in isn’t where we want to be. 

So it’s not really something that’s a surprise. 

The manager has come in and believes we should be better than what we are. We believe that ourselves. 

It’s not a problem. When he’s in with us he tells us what he expects and we should expect that of ourselves as well, which we do, it obviously just hasn’t gone the way we would have liked. 

As a group of staff and players we’re all in it together.  

I felt like we regrouped after Tuesday night. We had some conversations and went out and put on a much, much better performance. We want to do that again on Tuesday night as well. 

Q: Paul likes his full-backs to bomb on. Does that suit your game?

A: I enjoyed Saturday. I felt like we had a bit more freedom to get forward.  

I think when the manger first came in we had a few injuries and didn't have players available in certain slots to maybe play the exact way he wanted us to play. 

But I think over the last few weeks we are starting to get that together now. Players are getting back fit. 

Saturday was a real encouraging performance. 

Going forward that’s his mantra of how he wants to play.

As a player you’ve just got to focus on getting on the same page as the manager.  

I’m sure he’ll bring in his type of player in the summer. I'm sure players will stay and players will go. That’s just natural. It’s a normal thing in football that happens every season at every club.  

We’ve been working really hard on the training pitch to really nail down how he wants us to play, how he wants us to move the ball and how he wants us to attack and defend. 

I felt we saw real glimpses of that on Saturday. Hopefully, going into tomorrow night, we continue to progress again.

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