Stuart Watson: Dear Lambert and co, here’s why we all need a bit more convincing
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town are second in the League One table and out of all three cup competitions. Can this be their year? STUART WATSON shares his hopes and fears.
A 10-day break without football. How will we cope?
After being forced to go cold turkey for five months, football’s dealers have fed any potentially waning addiction with a constant offering of Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday action.
Altogether it’s been 21 games in 86 days for Ipswich Town – four friendlies, six cup games and 11 league matches. And there’s still 35 games in 204 days to come.
Some can’t get enough, forking out £10 a pop for a pretty basic online stream. Plenty are gagging to return to Portman Road, their spiritual home. Clubs should, however, not underestimate that many are quietly (and probably sadly) coming to a slow realisation that there are better things they can do with their time and money when things eventually get back to normal.
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That’s why it’s crucial that Ipswich make sure the product they dish up over the coming months is top-notch. Another false dawn, this time viewed via the emotional detachment of a screen, could be very hard to recover from on so many fronts.
There’s the potential for fans quietly walking away, a whole host of players leaving due to new salary cap rules and the quicksands of League One taking hold. In short, the stakes are high.
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As so many people have already said over recent days, there really won’t be any excuses if Ipswich aren’t right in the thick of the promotion mix this time around. As a bare minimum they have to finish in the top six. No ifs, no buts. They simply have to. Anything else would represent complete failure.
The packed schedule is the same for everybody. Ipswich Town are out of all three cup competitions. And Lambert, even with some key injuries at present, has two senior players for every position.
If anything, the coronavirus pandemic should, really, give Town a competitive advantage this season. Most other clubs at this level don’t have the same resources, either financially or in terms of squad size, to roll with the punches.
Yes, some big refereeing decisions have gone against the Blues of late – but you make your own luck in this game.
So will they do it? Let me share some hopes and fears.
Hope: Town are still learning this new style of 4-3-3 football on the job and, when it truly clicks, it will be brilliant. There have been some encouraging signs.
Fear: An obsession with possession is already making Ipswich too predictable and passing the ball around the back four can be just as dull to watch as aimless long balls. Town will get found out and not have a Plan B.
Hope: The cavalry is coming in the form of Flynn Downes, James Norwood and Kane Vincent-Young – arguably three of the best players at the club. Luke Chambers has been playing well at right-back, but Downes’ tenacity should add some balance to the midfield and a fit and firing Norwood could make all the difference up top. Get them in the team and watch Town go.
Fear: In true Ipswich fashion, there are more big injuries to come. Stephen Ward, Teddy Bishop or Jack Lankester will break down again and it becomes clear that the squad is deep on numbers but not necessarily on quality.
Hope: One statement win proves lift-off and all the mental demons surrounding last season’s collapse are banished. Town never look back.
Fear: Upcoming games against Hull, Charlton and Portsmouth slip by and Town’s inability to beat a promotion rival becomes a bigger and bigger psychological block.
Hope: This season *is* different. A clear identity won’t allow Town to lose their way. The defence looks solid enough and midfielders are scoring. A lot of the goals have been really well-worked and most of the wins have been very much deserved.
Fear: We’re slipping back into the same pattern of last season. It’s now five defeats in seven across all competitions. Momentum is lost. Goal-scoring chances are drying up. It’s happening again.
So many of these fears are deep-rooted. They’re born out of years of frustration.
Town were meant to bounce back quickly from relegation from the top-flight. They didn’t.
Town were going to become a force after Marcus Evans’ takeover and the high-profile appointment of Roy Keane. That didn’t happen.
Town looked a star-studded side under Paul Jewell. They disappointed.
Town were supposed to kick on after Mick McCarthy’s minor miracles. They stagnated.
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False dawn after false dawn has left even the most optimistic, glass half full Blues supporters listening to the devil on the shoulder. And it’s going to take something really special to properly shut him up.
The past may not be all Lambert and the current players’ fault, but they need to bare it in mind if ever they feel general pessimism surrounding the club is too high at points over the coming months. We all are urging you to do well, we truly are, but we’ve been hurt in the past and just need a bit more convincing yet. I hope you understand.
So come on then boys. Rise to the big occasions, perform consistently and give us all some joy in these testing times. Win games. Win hearts and minds too. Do that and you’ll be treated as heroes when the gates are finally re-opened.