Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Make peace with relegation and enjoy the extended ‘pre-season’ ahead
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Ipswich Town remain seven points adrift of safety at the foot of the Championship table following yesterday’s 2-0 defeat at Blackburn Rovers. Chief football writer STUART WATSON has his final say of the weekend.
Pause, close your eyes and make peace with the thought Ipswich Town are dropping into League One. Let this stressful fixation on ‘the great escape’ float off over the horizon.
Trust me, you’ll feel better for it.
Approach these next few weeks and months not as the end days of a disastrous campaign, rather a valuable head-start on preparing for life in the third-tier.
Call me defeatist if you like. I call it realism.
Blackburn didn’t have to do anything special to comfortably see off the Blues at Ewood Park on Saturday. Town didn’t create enough, weren’t clinical enough and conceded sloppy goals. How many times have we said that this season?
This is a new-look team with the same flaws. Losing, sadly, is a horrible habit that, regardless of personnel, takes some kicking. It has to fully leave the bloodstream.
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At least we now know the captain will go down with the ship.
Paul Lambert has committed his future to a club he seems to have genuinely fallen in love with.
That’s a major relief. We had the tiresome ‘will he, won’t he’ saga with Mick McCarthy for the entirety of the back end of last season. An unhealthy tension built in the air. Uncertainty meant forward planning had to be put on hold.
It ultimately left Paul Hurst having to build something from scratch after a mass exodus. It’s often over-looked that he inherited the bones of a squad and key men wanting to leave. We simply cannot have that all over again this summer.
Which brings us onto Lambert’s recent words and actions. The following will sound like a sustained attack. It’s not, so just keep on reading...
Lambert tells us the club has become far too reliant on loans and that it was ‘madness’ signing so many players in such a short space of time last summer. Then he goes out and signs six within the space of a fortnight.
Myles Kenlock, Flynn Downes, Teddy Bishop, Jack Lankester and Ellis Harrison were all part of that swashbuckling first half against Millwall on January 1, but homegrown talent and lower league additions who were showing signs of blossoming have been replaced by short-term additions.
Of the 11 Town players who started in Lancashire at the weekend, only two – Cole Skuse and Freddie Sears – are contracted beyond the end of this season.
And we’re back to trying to shoehorn players into the team with Alan Judge – adamant he is very much a No.10 – making his debut on the right.
Callum Elder was at fault for both goals. Lambert says the 23-year-old Leicester City loanee will learn and that there is no substitute for experience. Wouldn’t it be more valuable for the club’s own young players be going through that process now?
Have things really improved that much since Lambert’s arrival? The stats suggest not:
Hurst/Klug: P15 W1 D6 L8 F11 A25 Pts 9 (and a cup exit to lower league opposition).
Lambert: P13 W2 D3 L8 F11 A23 Pts 9 (and a cup exit to lower league opposition).
If Lambert’s future was uncertain I’d be worried. Very worried, in fact. But it’s not. And for that reason I fully buy into his charm offensive, brand of football and recruitment.
It’s clear to me that the signings he’s made are with one eye on relegation. There’s every chance Town could keep Elder, Judge, Keane and Dawkins for a League One promotion push. Quaner and Collins less so, but some experience and physical presence was needed to help Town navigate these current choppy waters.
You can mentally damage young players if you’re not careful. Dipping them in and out of this bruising campaign may just prevent a few permanent scars.
As Lambert keeps reminding everyone, he will do what’s right for the football club not him. Last week’s formal commitment to stay should blow away any cynicism on that front.
So, pre-season effectively starts now. It’s less about results, but more about slowly building chemistry, fitness, identity and character.
Town took their eye off the ball and have spent this campaign, fatally, playing catch-up. This August, they should be able to hit the ground running.