North Stander: Despite our great start, the ultimate test awaits tomorrow night
Ipswich Town fan and journalist Terry Hunt gives his take on Town, and wonders – how should we view the good start to the season?
How should we Ipswich Town fans view our start to the season? Ten league games have gone now, so the table is starting to take a meaningful shape.
If you simply look at the table, everything in the garden would seem to be very rosy indeed. We’re sitting pretty in the automatic promotion positions, with seven wins and 22 points. Statistically at least, it’s a great start to what we all hope will be a promotion campaign.
Friends who live elsewhere in the country, and support other clubs, keep contacting me saying things like “I bet you’re delighted with your team” and “looks like you’ll do it this season.”
Surely it would be churlish in the extreme to do anything other than revel in this excellent start? And yet, many Town fans - including me - are still finding it impossible to really join the glass half-full brigade.
That caution is based on three main factors - what happened last season, our inability to beat other promotion contenders and, probably most importantly, the way we’re playing at the moment.
Let’s briefly mention last season’s collapse. Largely, we still have the same group of players, so who’s to say it won’t happen again? There are already some uncanny similarities - a flying start, two poor defeats, followed by a couple of unconvincing wins. Let’s hope that’s where the similarities end.
Then there’s our dreadful record against the better teams. We’re a bit like a playground bully, happily beating up the little boys but more than meeting our match when taking on anyone our own size.
The ultimate test will come on Tuesday evening, when we play Sunderland in what will be an eerily empty Stadium of Light. If - and it’s a gigantic if - we come away from the north-east with three points, it will represent a hugely important confidence boost for players and fans alike.
Finally, we come to our current form. Yes, we got the six points we expected in our last two home games, playing against teams who will almost certainly finish in the bottom half.
But in both games we huffed and puffed, looking far from convincing, and just about got over the line. Against Crewe, we were thoroughly outplayed as the visitors basically passed the ball around us, certainly in the first half. Thank goodness for Tomas Holy.
It was good to hear Paul Lambert’s realistic comments after the game. We certainly won’t get away with too many performances like that.
But maybe I am being too gloomy. Of course there are positives to be drawn. Our defence is looking very solid, with our combination of youth in the centre and experience on the flanks. I have been enormously impressed with Stephen Ward. I just hope he stays fit because he is clearly a very calming influence.
That brings me to another reason for optimism. We are joint top of the table with pretty much a whole team missing through injury. Among others, we have been playing without Kayden Jackson and James Norwood, our leading scorers last season, Cole Skuse, a vastly experienced campaigner, and Kane Vincent-Young and Flynn Downes, arguably our two best players.
That’s left us with skipper Luke Chambers playing out of position, a midfield without an enforcer to break up play, and Oli Hawkins ploughing a lone furrow on his own up front.
And yet, we have still made a great start. So, the optimistic view of life says that, if we can stay in the top six until we get our injured troops back, then we we will have a really powerful platform to energise our promotion campaign.
It certainly seems to have some logic. Let’s hope it turns out that way. We definitely need those players back. Without Downes or Skuse, our midfield was absolutely over-run against Crewe. I’m sure Emyr Huws will play against Sunderland, to introduce some much-needed physicality.
Finally, a glowing mention for the brilliant documentary about the 2000 play-off campaign, produced by my former colleagues at the EADT/Ipswich Star.
Of course, we all know what happened in that memorable campaign, but this brings a whole new emotive and deeply personal view of the events of that season.
I won’t give too much away, but the interviews with the old players are really thought-proving, insightful, and in some cases deeply emotional. It certainly brought a tear to my eye! If you haven’t seen it yet, it really is well worth watching.
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