Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: ‘Comfort’ and ‘acceptance’ – The two words which have led us to this point
PUBLISHED: 14:16 01 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:36 01 March 2020
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Ipswich Town’s slump in form continued with a 2-1 defeat at Blackpool yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts ahead of big home games against Fleetwood and Coventry.
The press box at Bloomfield Road is positioned right next to the away fans. When Blackpool's first goal went in, it wasn't long before chants of 'Lambert, Lambert sort it out' began. Soon afterwards, for the second game running, there was a chorus of 'five more years, you're having a laugh'.
I get the raw emotion and I get the frustration. Trust me, I'm pretty damn fed up too. I had hair when I first started covering Ipswich Town Football Club in 2011. I deny no-one their entitlement to vent. These are, undoubtedly, demoralising and depressing times.
Sometimes, in moments of reflection, I do wonder if we - media and supporters - are too obsessed by managers and money though.
Years ago the conversation was always centred around players. Graeme Souness talks about how the great Liverpool sides of the 70s and 80s virtually managed themselves. Standards get set within a dressing room, not imposed on them. Nowadays, matches are sold as 'Mourinho v Guardiola'. Managers have become the poster boys. We hear from them four times a week. I'm not sure it's healthy.
Back to Saturday. Ipswich fans had just witnessed Luke Garbutt's ridiculous attempt at a fancy flick, Flynn Downes tackling his own team-mate and Tomas Holy not getting a strong enough hand on the shot. Yet the first thought is to blame the manager.
When players cross the white line they need to take responsibility, surely? The manager doesn't make defensive errors or miss chances. In the heat of battle, you need leaders on the pitch not on the sidelines, players who can think with clarity and make good decisions in a split second, players who can inspire team-mates and fans through words and actions.
I've not seen enough of that in recent weeks. I didn't see enough of it as the club slipped to relegation.
Ask yourself this, who are the heirs apparent to Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse when it comes to the captaincy and vice-captaincy? Flynn Downes is the obvious candidate, but he could very well be off in the summer. He's been outstanding this season but has, no doubt, carried far too big a burden on his 21-year-old shoulders.
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One line from Lambert's post-match press conference jumped off the page. He said: "The lads know they are playing well. We ask them their opinions and how they feel, and they said they feel comfortable and are playing really well."
We've heard that word before, haven't we? 'Comfortable'.
David McGoldrick, reflecting on his final few years under Mick McCarthy's management at Portman Road after joining Sheffield United, said: "I maybe got a bit too comfortable at Ipswich, although I loved my time there. But we were mid-table every week and there was no big expectations to go out there and win every game."
That was thinking behind appointing Paul Hurst. He came in all guns blazing, telling players that reputations counted for nothing, because he wanted to shake up that mentality. It was too strong, too soon; far too drastic a transition. The players, not happy about hard running and harsh words, soon saw him off via a direct hot line to Marcus Evans. They gathered on a day off to discuss the news before the announcement had even been made.
Here's another word I hate hearing - 'Acceptance'. For example, Bartosz Bialkowski, recently reflecting on Town's relegation campaign after signing for Millwall, said: "The majority of us I think had accepted the relegation way too early, maybe in October or November. You could see it."
Fast-forward to now and it feels like a bit of acceptance about Ipswich's slide has once again set in far too prematurely. They're all saying the right things, but we're not seeing fire and brimstone during the 90 minutes. A bit of frustrated pushing and shoving in stoppage-time against Oxford is not what I'm talking about either. Even goal celebrations, as noted by Chambers earlier this season, are often a little muted.
This team, even with all the key injuries, still has enough ability. They can control possession and create chances, we've seen that. What it lacks is edge, focus, belief, cool clinciality, some controlled aggression or, as Lambert calls it, a 'nasty streak'. It's in these pressure moments that you truly see what people are made of. Lambert is right, it's time for players to step up. This is when you earn your living.
It worries me that a little bit of fire seems to have gone out in the Blues boss' eyes in recent weeks. He's tip-toed around criticism of his players because experience probably tells him that's what's required. Deep down, he probably knows this squad needs a rebuild in the summer. Maybe the players know he knows that too. Do Evans and Lee O'Neill double down on their backing of Lambert? Time will tell.
Tony Pulis, speaking on BBC 5Live on Saturday, was talking about how one bad transfer window can set a club back five years and that all bosses need three windows to build their squad. Has Lambert done enough to prove he should be the one entrusted with the long-term project? Let's return to that debate.
Right now, I'd rather Lambert engaged full angry Glaswegian mode. He wants a nasty streak from his players, so let's see it in him. Within reason, of course. Call out the owner publicly again, demand higher standards from the players too and start bouncing around that technical area like before.
This season may well end in failure now. Don't let it end without a fight though.