Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: All aboard HMS Victory. Iceberg dead ahead? We’ll see
PUBLISHED: 12:45 22 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:51 22 September 2019
Ipswich Town returned to the top of the League One table with a 1-0 win at Gillingham yesterday. STUART WATSON has his final say on the action.
All aboard HMS Victory.
Paul Lambert has turned around the tanker. And now some powerful momentum is being gathered.
Seafaring analogies seem apt given Gillingham welcomed crew and staff from HMS Medway - the Royal Navy's newest warship - to yesterday's game.
The Executive Officer, Glyn Duffell, happens to be a Blue (as if there weren't enough inside Priestfield).
Iceberg dead ahead? We shall see. There'll almost certainly be a few stormy spells to navigate ahead as we approach the winter months.
Captain Lambert needs to keep a steady hand on the wheel and ensure his array of weaponry remains in good condition for the fights ahead.
The guns may not yet be fully firing, but pleasingly the hull has shown it can soak up the damage that lesser vessels are handing out.
In truth, the drop in standard from the Championship to League One has been greater than I expected.
Ipswich, if we're honest, are nowhere near hitting top form. You can pick holes in almost all the performances if you really wanted to. And yet here we are, approaching the end of September, top of the league and with an unbeaten record still in tact.
As we said all summer, when a few understandable doubts rattled around our minds following a bruising campaign, it was vital that the Blues got off to a good start. It didn't matter how. Just win games. Actually, just stop losing. Well they've done both.
AFC Wimbledon parked the bus at Portman Road - and Town found a way. MK Dons threw the kitchen sink in the closing stages - and Town held firm. Gillingham tried to make it a fight - and Town stood strong.
That's seven competitive wins achieved in 50 days. It took the Blues 391 days to record their previous seven.
Lambert promised us as far back as last November that 'it will turn' and that when it does 'it will be a great ride'. Now his vision is becoming a reality. A one club town, united in a desperate desire for some good times to return.
'Big' clubs have faltered in the third-tier before, but - famous last words - this feels different. There has been no sense of players feeling above all of this. Just a steely-eyed determination by all to right some wrongs.
Young players wanting to make a name for themselves. Lower league signings wanting to prove any doubters wrong. Experienced pros keen to leave a legacy and end their careers on a high.
Most importantly of all, there's a manager gagging to build something of substance again following a few years of nomadic firefighting.
The joyous scenes which followed this week's pair of 1-0 wins on the road seemed inconceivable not that long ago.
First we had Mick McCarthy raising his arm in an aggressive 'up yours' gesture towards the away end. Then we had Paul Hurst sitting passively as the home crowd sat in apathetic silence following all-too-predictable home defeats.
A sad air of acceptance had gripped the fan base. They felt unloved and unappreciated. In the end it took an ex-Norwich manager to really get them.
From all the verbal in-fighting - McCarthy fighting the fans, Hurst fighting his own players - Lambert's now harnessed all that frustration as a positive force. Let's not fight each other, let's fight together.
Yesterday, it was a case of wanting to fight Steve Evans. Having seen how much thought has gone into the PR drive and positive propaganda, you wouldn't put it past Lambert to have manufactured yesterday's spat simply to sell a few more tickets for the up-and-coming EFL Trophy clash with the Gills at Portman Road.
Perhaps he should be put in charge of Brexit negotiations? I jest, but the way he's pulled everyone together in such a short space of time is certainly remarkable.
And so, back to the naval analogy.
How Town - staff, players and fans - react when the unbeaten run comes to an end will tell us a lot. It'll be about staying calm, battening down the hatches and sailing on through with as minimal damage as possible. Over-analysis about how previous wins had 'papered over cracks' won't be helpful.
That's for another day though. For now, let's enjoy all this fun in the sun.
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