Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: No excuse for 10 changes – Ipswich may as well not bother entering the FA Cup if it’s that big an inconvenience
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town have now gone 15 games without a win in the FA Cup following yesterday’s 1-1 first round draw with fellow League One side Lincoln City at Portman Road. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Fifteen matches without a win spread across almost a decade. Let's not sugar coat this - Ipswich Town's recent record in the FA Cup is pathetic.
Was it really too much to ask for that horrible run to be ended yesterday?
Yes, getting quickly promoted before the quicksand of League One takes hold is priority A, B and C this season. I get that.
But Town have a fortnight until their next league game. And they've only recently just had a 10-day break.
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Players needed a rest? Do me a favour.
The Blues are out the Carabao Cup and they've already had their league schedule reduced by two games courtesy of Bury's expulsion.
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Ok, so it's not about resting players, but rather giving others vital game time. I'm not having that argument either. Town have got an EFL Trophy virtual dead rubber coming up at Colchester on Tuesday night to use for that. They had an Under-23s game at Portman Road under the lights recently that would have served that purpose too.
For me, there was no excuse for changing the entire outfield 10 this weekend.
I was surprised, because Paul Lambert did some deep research when taking the job just over a year ago. He met club legends and fans to understand why such a feeling of apathy had gripped the place. No joy in the cups will have surely been a recurring theme in those chats.
It made no sense that a club, who have a star on their shirts to commemorate winning the world famous competition in 1978, were continually treating knockout football with such disdain.
Every year the same old story. Nine, 10, 11 changes, a disjointed display inevitably follows and a potential avenue for emotional and financial gain is shut off. Back to the grind of the league again.
'Yeah, but everyone else does it' is no justification. As my mum used to say when dissuading lemming tendencies; 'would you jump off a cliff if your friend did it?'
I understand that the days of one sub and players getting pumped full of injections to play 70+ games a season are long gone. I know it's a challenge to keep everyone in big squads sharp and happy. That's why Lambert insists football has 'totally changed'.
But has it really? In many ways it's still a simple game. Team chemistry and confidence are qualities that seem to have become vastly under-valued. A little bit of cup magic can do wonders for that.
Lambert's logic regarding keeping everyone's game time up is that any one of them might be needed at some important juncture in the future and that it would be unfair to suddenly ask a player to come in completely from the cold and perform.
That's true. But it's also unfair to ask 10 players to come in from the cold at the same time and perform as one.
Town had a golden chance to put an unwanted record to bed this weekend. Winning an FA Cup game would have felt like another little baby step in the turnaround narrative.
Unlike in 2017, Lincoln weren't a fired up non-league team looking to make a name for themselves. They came into the match struggling for points and goals.
Just one or two more hardened first-team players down the spine of the side, I believe, would have tipped the balance in Town's favour. At the very least bring James Norwood on sooner than the 86th minute.
Involving a Norwood, Kayden Jackson, Luke Chambers or Luke Woolfenden - all more than capable of playing game-after-game - would have boosted chances of victory by, what, five, 10, 15%? Now having a Wednesday night replay, 150 miles away, just three days before the league visit of Blackpool will harm the chances of victory in that top-half clash by, what, five, 10, 15%?
It's risk versus reward. And, just like in those winnable third round home times against Preston (2014), Portsmouth (2016) and Lincoln (2017), taking too big a risk has backfired.
Yes, in more than ways than one, the Blues got what they deserved this weekend.
They deserved a draw for their much-improved second-half performance. And they deserved a replay, the very thing Lambert didn't want, for treating the game with such contempt.
Town are calling off games on international weekends due to a smattering of call-ups because it would be deemed arrogant to take any match lightly. So why is it okay to take the FA Cup lightly?
If it's really that much of an inconvenience then just don't enter, like Manchester United did in 1999. We can't be far away from someone doing that again.
Everyone wants bigger squads but less games. I just don't get it.
There was a time, not that long ago, when Ipswich Town saw rivalries with Sheffield United, Bolton and West Ham organically grow due to Championship play-off pain. Now that's happening with Accrington and Lincoln thanks, largely, to FA Cup frustrations. That's quite sad.
Anyway, rant over.
Maybe it's based on the fact that I, personally, have now attended 13 winless FA Cup games in a row covering the Blues. Maybe it's because I still have a romantic view of the FA Cup embedded from childhood.
Call me naïve or old-fashioned if you like, but winning games, improving partnerships, adding extra layers of confidence to in-form players and building momentum should always be the main focus. Or perhaps it really isn't as simple as that.