Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Pipe down Sutton... History remembers winners, not participants
Ipswich Town extended their lead at the top of the League One table with a 1-0 win at Fleetwood Town yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his final thoughts of the weekend.
On BBC Radio Five Live's 606 phone-in, Chris Sutton steadfastly refused to climb down on his patronising 'be careful what you wish for' stance and made a flippant comment along the lines of 'you enjoy League One football'.
Moments after hearing this, I pulled into a service station somewhere up north. It was full of Town supporters, perusing over-priced snacks ahead of the final leg of their marathon return trip, each with broad grins on their faces. It's been a while since I've witnessed that. Those stopping spots used to be scenes of soul-searching, not smiles.
Is it me, or are studio-based pundits becoming more and more out of touch with what being a football fan is actually about? Don't get me started on VAR... Anyway, I digress.
Over on Quest's Football League highlights show, Colin Murray, a man far more in touch with the emotion of the game, astutely observed: "I'm making a list of managers who have a little dig at Ipswich and then get beaten by them. It's growing by the week."
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That raised another smile. He was referring, of course, to Joey Barton's pre-match comments about this being 'arguably the best team in Fleetwood's history' against 'probably as bad a group of players as Ipswich have had in a long time'.
He's technically right, of course. Ipswich are playing third-tier football for the first time in 62 years. That's an undeniable fact. Would this team beat last year's team? For me, that's a fairly pointless debate.
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What I do know is this: If this Ipswich Town group achieve promotion then they will book their places in club folklore. The names of Holy, Chambers, Skuse, Downes, Jackson, Norwood etc will still roll off the tongue in 10, 20, 30 years time just as the Classes of 1992 and 2000 do now.
Did the fact it was 'only the second-tier' for a club that had conquered Europe dilute the joy back then? Not one bit. If anything, the pain that proceeded those moments made them all the sweeter.
History remembers winners, not participants. You don't list glorious first round cup victories on honours boards. You don't hold reunion dinners to remember consolidation seasons, against-the-odds high finishes or incredible games that ultimately counted for little.
Yes, those moments are all part of the tapestry of a club, but they are not the pillars of it. There are fond memories of 75, 82, the late 90s and early 00s, but it's the numbers 62, 78, 81, 92 and 2000 which define Ipswich Town Football Club. We're now a quarter of the way to 2019 being etched onto that list.
I know, nothing's been won yet. There are, indeed, cursory tales. A look at the third-tier table at this stage of last season shows Portsmouth top with an identical W8 D3 unbeaten record, plus Sunderland and Peterborough flying high. All three eventually fell with the finishing line in sight. Pressure can do funny things to people.
Yesterday's win felt like a big moment though. Victory against an in-form promotion rival, on their own turf, was another major milestone.
This was a Fleetwood side that hadn't lost at home since the middle of February. They'd scored 20 goals in 10 games, yet weren't able to produce a single shot on target against a team which has now conceded just five goals in almost 1,000 minutes of league football. Paul Lambert's men could and probably should have won this by four or five.
Ipswich Town have nothing to fear but themselves. I've seen enough of League One now to confidently say that.
The weather will change, injuries could strike and fine margins could turn. As Lambert keeps reminding us all, there will be bumps in the road ahead.
It's not just the quality and depth of this squad that gives me belief though. In addition to possessing ability at the very top end of this league's varied spectrum, this Ipswich Town squad has confidence, chemistry and character. There is a steely 'thou shalt not pass' attitude to defending. There's a healthy level of arrogance about scoring goals.
So when Barton looks on at the hand-holding team celebrations and asks 'is it built on solid foundations?' I feel confident in replying 'yes'.
Opposition managers can keep up the mind-games because I get the sense that it only serves to focus Blues brains rather than befuddle then. Liverpool are the only other team in the top four tiers of English football to still have an unbeaten league record in tact. Jurgen Klopp refers to his players as 'mentality monsters' and this Town group feels the same.
It's been said by some leading figures in football that successful teams are almost self managed and that true leadership comes from the heart of the dressing room.
Lambert's had plenty of praise on these pages, and I'm not downplaying his role in recruitment and reconnection one bit, but I also think the importance of Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse shouldn't be underestimated either.
Players could easily be parroting their manager's understandable call for realism and caution. Instead, each and every one of them has taken their lead from the vocal skipper and his cool sidekick to publicly embrace the pressure of title talk.
Having become adept at blocking out the noise surrounding their club, Town fans and players are now the ones making it.