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‘I understand fans’ frustrations... expectations should be higher’ – Town chief O’Neill on late season slump

PUBLISHED: 06:00 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:05 10 March 2020

Ipswich Town general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill (right) and owner Marcus Evans watch the recent 1-0 home loss to Oxford United. Photo: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town general manager of football operations Lee O'Neill (right) and owner Marcus Evans watch the recent 1-0 home loss to Oxford United. Photo: Steve Waller

Stephen Waller

Ipswich Town general manager of football operations Lee O’Neill admits ‘expectations should be higher’ as it looks increasingly likely that the club will finish outside of the top six in League One.

Paul Lambert's men were top as recently as January 25, but seven defeats in nine games has seen them plummet to 10th in the table. The Blues are now seven points adrift of sixth spot, with the four teams immediately above them all having two games in hand to come.

O'Neill, speaking on BBC Suffolk ahead of Saturday's 1-0 home loss to league leaders Coventry, said: 'It wasn't a great performance against Fleetwood. There have been a few losses. It hasn't been great. We are incredibly frustrated by that.

'We all want to be in and around the top areas of the league, as was set out as the objective at the start of the season. It has been disappointing, but we've got nine games (eight now) left to regenerate ourselves and go again. There are 27 points to play for (24 now) and we are not a million miles away from things. There is still a lot of positivity that we can claw things back.

'We've got a good run-in of games. Look at the amount of games we've still got and the opposition we'll be playing, it's a great opportunity.'

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He continued: 'When you look at the start of the season and the squad we put together we were all saying 'that's a squad that should be up in and around it'. For whatever reason, whether it be injury or suspensions, we haven't always been able to put out our best team and the players who have been brought in to the football club.

'We saw earlier on in the season when did manage to get them all on the pitch it was very profitable for us. We're hoping we'll have them all back on the pitch again soon.

'We did feel at the start of the season, when we looked at the squad, it would be good enough to be in and around the top end... And it probably still is.

'We've been very close in some games, not so in others. But we've got several games to go and we've all got to be singing off the same hymn sheet and making sure we're pulling in the right direction.'

O'Neill continued: 'I 100% get the fans' frustration. I'm a fan. We're all fans of the club and we want to see the club do well and progress and move forward. At some stages earlier in the season we were going in the right direction. We've hit a little bit of a blip, if you want, where it hasn't gone that way. No-one is sitting here and saying we're pleased. We're not.

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'It hurts us as much as it hurts you. We've got to look at how we're doing things and what we've got to do to make things better. We will address those things.

'We've got a lot of work to do if we don't go up this season. We look at the squad and we've got to make sure it's ready to go again. If we don't go up this year we need to analyse where it's gone wrong and obviously what we can do to try and fix it for the following season. That might be specific positions and specific players.'

Reflecting further on the slightly toxic atmosphere that surrounded last Tuesday night's 1-0 home loss to Fleetwood, O'Neill said: 'The fans have been absolutely brilliant. None of us on the inside of this club are looking at it going 'we don't get their frustration'. We do. We are working very hard, the management staff and the players, to make it better.

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That's why it's really important we all stick together in these remaining games coming up. You can sense it in the games. Sometimes when we play here the fans do get frustrated and the players can feel that. That goes against us because the opposition use it just like we would do if we were playing at Sunderland, or a bigger team, where the crowd could turn very quickly. Away teams can use that to their advantage.

'We have to stick together. I'm not saying people can't air their frustrations, but there is a time, probably at the end of the game, where it doesn't then affect the players.

'When the game is going on there is still an opportunity, when you go behind, to draw or win games of football. It's not over until the referee blows the final whistle. Everyone sticking together and supporting is massively important.

'But I'm not saying I don't get peoples' frustrations. I do. We all do. We understand where they are coming from because the expectations should be higher.'

Asked if finishing outside of the top six would be deemed a huge failure, O'Neill said: 'It's not what we set out for at the start of the season. No-one wants this. I'm hurting as much as anyone else when we lose a game of football. It's not where the club wants to be.

'We've got to do everything we possibly can, on and off the pitch, to make it better. When we stand back and reflect at the end of the season, whatever position we finish, whether it's in the top six or out of the top six, we'll look at where things went wrong and what we need to do to make things better. But our objective at this moment in time is still to finish in those top six positions.'

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