Where have the good times gone?
From a fans’ viewpoint, the Evans era has so far been one of non-stop decline on the pitch, both in terms of results and entertainment value.
Cast your mind back to the autumn and early winter of 2007, just before Evans bought the club. Town were flying under Jim Magilton’s leadership, in the play-off places, scoring goals for fun and invincible at home.
Most importantly of all, going to a Town game meant you were pretty much guaranteed goals, and entertainment.
The era was typified by the amazing 6-0 home win over Bristol City, with Jon Walters getting a hat-trick. The good times were back, we all believed: we already had a decent team, and Evans’ money would pretty much guarantee a return to the Premier League.
The first game under Evans was at home to Burnley on Saturday, December 22, 2007. Our team was: Neil Alexander, David Wright, Alex Bruce, Jason DeVos, Sito Castro, Jon Walters, Tommy Miller, Owen Garvan, Danny Haynes, Pablo Counago, and Alan Lee. On the bench we had Shane Supple, Fabian Wilnis, Gavin Williams, Billy Clarke and Jordan Rhodes.
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Let’s be honest – despite the millions spent by both Magilton and Roy Keane, are any of the present-day line-up better than that team from Evans’ first game?
I would strongly suggest not, and I suspect there are quite a few Town fans who would agree with me.
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2007-2008 failed to live up to our expectations.
Town were hampered by a shocking away record, and new signings such as David Norris and Velice Sumulikoski failed to secure a play-off place, Ipswich being squeezed out of the top six by a single point. Disappointing, but the Blue Army reported for duty at the start of the 2008-09 season full of optimism.
Magilton was a year older and wiser as a manger, and would surely use the owner’s millions to secure a play-off place at least? Sadly, that isn’t quite how it worked out.
Jon Stead was a useful goalscoring acquisition, but Town spluttered through the season. Quality and, crucially, entertainment was lacking and it became apparent soon after Christmas that the play-offs were nothing more than a distant dream.
The only real quality we saw during a dour campaign was fleetingly when the sublime Gio dos Santos came on loan from Spurs.
Evans allowed Magilton a final hurrah with a late season win over Norwich before dispensing with his services.
Within 24 hours there was nothing short of hysteria among Town fans when the iconic Roy Keane was installed in the manager’s office at Portman Road.
He started his regime with back-to-back wins, and told us he was determined to win promotion within two years – the length of his contract. This is it, we thought. The legendary Keane, coupled with Evans’ money, must be the winning formula.
We were all dazzled by memories of Keane the player, the giant who bestrode the stage at Old Trafford for more than a decade, leading the Red Devils to unparalleled success.
We never for a moment countenanced the possibility that he might not be a good manager, although footballing history is littered with examples of great players who’ve failed to make a successful step to the manager’s office.
Keane’s first full season turned into a nightmare.
The team didn’t win a league game until their 15th attempt, on the last day of October. Although results did improve slightly, the season was characterised by line-ups chopping and changing, baffling tactics and performances almost completely devoid of entertainment.
The end result was a final place of 15th – Town’s worst for almost 50 years – and the first anti-Keane mutterings among the fans. At the start of this season, it looked like Keane had turned it round. Ipswich were in the top six as recently as November 6, after winning at Sheffield United.
But a shocking display at home to Barnsley seemed to represent a tipping-point in the fans’ relationship with Keane.
Now, after six sorry consecutive defeats, I believe the majority of supporters believe that Evans must act and dispense with Keane.
Otherwise, the fear is that relegation to League One (the Third Division) could be a distinct possibility. Unthinkable.
It has never been fully explained why Marcus Evans decided to invest some of his many millions into a football club.
There must be times when he asks himself precisely that question. He insists he is in it for the long term. But he needs to turn it around – and quickly – to get the fans on board.
Is it a better club compared with three years ago? Obviously it is on a sound financial footing. But, from a fans’ viewpoint, it doesn’t feel better.
We’re even casting envious glances at our friends up the A140, who seem to be doing pretty well without mega-millions.
That’s because all that REALLY matters to the fans is what happens on the pitch – and so far, Mr Evans hasn’t got that right. Not even nearly.