Stuart Watson’s Verdict: Ipswich Town’s half-term report should be stamped with a ‘B+’
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Ipswich Town’s imagined half-term report should probably be stamped with the grade ‘B+’ heading into the Boxing Day home game with Queens Park Rangers.
First and foremost, the teacher’s barely legible scrawl on the bottom would read ‘much improved from last year’ and ‘exceeded expectations’.
We’re exactly halfway through the campaign and the Blues are 10th in the Championship table, just three points adrift of the play-off places and among the division’s leading scorers.
Not a bad turnaround for a club that had just endured its lowest finish in 58 years, bored everyone in the process and, following a 6-1 pre-season thrashing at Charlton, went into the campaign among the bookies’ favourites for relegation.
Mick McCarthy’s men have played everyone now following Saturday’s narrow 1-0 defeat at league-leaders Wolves. It was yet another fine margins affair. Fulham’s dominant 2-0 win at Portman Road back in August aside, the Blues haven’t been comprehensively outplayed by anyone.
The red ink should also acknowledge that Town have ‘overcome adversity’. Firstly, in terms of a shoestring budget. Secondly, in terms of a ridiculously unlucky run of injuries. All three senior centre-backs were sidelined for a spell, now there are seven – yes, seven – central midfielders unavailable, while key strikers have also missed games.
That’s not to say that ‘must concentrate better’ shouldn’t feature in the feedback. Conceding soft goals, not looking as potent away and coming up just short against the leading sides are recurring themes that needs addressing.
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Ultimately, the good far outweighs the bad though. Everything we could realistically have hoped for has come to pass. Town, following their annus horribilis, are punching above their weight again.
Middlesbrough set off looking to ‘smash the league’, according to chairman Steve Gibson, but are level on points with Town and have just sacked Garry Monk.
The Blues are also above the likes of Reading (third last season), Sheffield Wednesday (who have just sacked Carlos Carvalhal), recent Premier League duo Sunderland and Hull (who have also sacked managers) and Norwich (one win in 11 since the East Anglian derby).
The Championship is one of the most brutal, gruelling and unforgiving leagues in world football and Town are once again proving highly competitive against the odds.
Pessimists will worry that injuries will finally bite, there will be no major strengthening in January, a usual early FA Cup exit and a 16th successive season in the second-tier will drift. Optimists will keep believing that team spirit, one or two decent loan signings and the return to fitness of players can keep Town in the top-six mix.
Either way, the report at this stage should end: ‘Well done! You can be proud. Keep up the hard work’.