Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Marcus Evans... Where are you?!? Let’s be ‘avin you. Running Ipswich Town is not a part-time job
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town slipped to 10th in the League One table with a 1-0 home defeat to Coventry City yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Where are you?!? Let's be 'avin you!
Fifteen years ago, almost to the day, Delia Smith had her infamous moment on the mic.
It seemed funny then. It's not so funny now. Norwich City may be slipping to Premier League relegation, but they are light years ahead of Ipswich on and off the pitch.
In fact, I'd like to borrow Delia's catchphrase and direct it at Marcus Evans following his no show at Portman Road yesterday.
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Four days on from feeling the wrath - and, let's be honest, our definition of 'wrath' in Suffolk is pretty tame - the owner wasn't in attendance as Ipswich Town slipped to another demoralising defeat.
Why on earth not? On holiday? Attending to other business in his empire? Out of the country? It's not good enough. Running Ipswich Town is not a part-time job.
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What we'd give for Norwich's set-up. Their owners were pennyless (well, hardly pennyless, but in relative football terms) but passionate and progressive. We get too obsessed by Evans' limited investment. This decline is about far more than that. Money isn't everything. Success is just as much about smart planning, recruitment and infrastructure.
Evans insisted last year that he is at the club more than he used to be. Good-o. He should be there virtually every single day, living and breathing it. Football moves quickly. It's unlike any other business. How has he not realised that by now?
Lee O'Neill is a good man, an Ipswich man, a man with far more football knowledge than his predecessors and a genuine passion for the club. Going from school teacher to general manager of football operations in the space of a few years is quite the rise though. It'll be a steep learning curve. Give him the very best chance of making a success of a big job. He's spinning far too many plates.
Evans specialises in employing human shields though. That's why he likes to employ 'grown up' football managers (his words). Whenever the going has got tough, there's always been someone to swing the spotlight onto themselves with an ill-judged soundbite.
Paul Lambert is coming out with a few of them at the moment. He says he was 'proud' of his players and that 'he couldn't ask for anymore' following yesterday's 1-0 loss to Coventry. Yes you could Paul. You could ask for a hell of a lot more. Your team are rock-bottom of the League One form table over the last nine games.
His praise, and some of the applause from fans at full-time, was based on the indisputable fact that the performance was 'not as bad as Fleetwood'. That might be the saddest thing I've ever written. Talk about damning with faint praise. The performance in a 1-0 loss to Coventry City at Portman Road wasn't as bad as a gutless 1-0 home defeat to Fleetwood Town a few days earlier. The former don't have a home of their own, while the latter were in the North West Counties League as recently as 2005. That's where we're at.
Applauding a limp relegation. Applauding as the team slip to 10th in League One. Evans' ownership has left us all comfortably numb.
Lambert was without three senior strikers, his best midfielder and best summer signing, while two of his starters were not fully fit. With Ed Sheeran and Rick Wakeman both in attendance, I wondered if either of them would have got a tune out of that team against the league-leaders.
The problem is, it's not just this game in isolation that Ipswich have been falling short. They were toiling long before the likes of Kayden Jackson, Flynn Downes and James Norwood became unavailable.
Strength in depth, quality of key men and size of budget (the annual wage bill is understood to be around £5.5m, which ranks as decent, but not mega in this division) have all probably been over-stated. I, like many, got a little carried away by the flying start.
Even so, you have to ask whether Lambert has got the best from the tools at his disposal? The answer has to be no. Ipswich used to look a team whose whole was more than the sum of their parts. Now it's the opposite.
The Blues boss is being diplomatic when says 'the lads need help'. What he really means (and has expressed privately) is that this squad is not good enough. He's not re-writing history when he says that either. He's had serious reservations from day one. Remember that sober press conference on the eve of the opening day? He wanted more last summer and he wanted more in January. That's why he's kept predicting bumps in the road.
Mind you, 'long-term project' and 'squad not as good as you think' were not phrases people want to hear. That's why Lambert and O'Neill have tip-toed around using them.
Which all brings us to the big question, the one that is going to get louder and louder as the weeks go by. 'Is Paul Lambert the man to lead this long-term rebuild?'
He's got his faults (we all do). He's made his mistakes (who doesn't?). Do you give him a chance to learn from them?
If Evans really doesn't think he's the man to guide the long-term plan, then he has to take action. There's no point wasting another window and a few more months. Hesitation can be costly.
Sacking Lambert be costly too though, even with break clauses in the contract. That would be money out the transfer budget. And Town need every penny they can get this summer.
So do you give Lambert the benefit of the doubt? With some money for Downes and/or Woolfenden, can he pluck another Kane Vincent-Young or five out the fire?
Don't get me wrong, this is not an all-out defence of the Scot. Finishing mid-table would not be acceptable. It would be a massive underachievement.
What I would say though is that he deeply cares about the club. I genuinely believe that. He's hurting at the moment. You can see it. People mock him with the 'PR Paul' nickname now, but Ipswich have got a manager who truly wants to unite.
Mick McCarthy talked about 'either being on the inside of the camp p***ing out or on the outside p***ing in'. That created an unhealthy siege mentality towards the end. The fans felt so disconnected. Paul Hurst came in and started urinating all over his camp mates in their sleeping bags (metaphorically, of course). The shock tactic backfired.
Lambert has tried desperately to pull everyone together. He's tried desperately to get to the root cause of the club's slow and steady demise. To continue the analogy, he's holding in his wee not knowing quite where to aim it. I believe him when he says he's trying to do what's right for the club and not for him.
Crucially, he's challenging the owner. McCarthy 'accepting the gig' - i.e. spend less then you bring in and keep us ticking along - was part of the problem. Now Ipswich have a manager willing to push back and demand more. That's not to be underestimated.
Evans now has to ask himself this: Who is ultimately to blame for this season?
Is it down to Lambert not getting enough out of the players through man-management, tactics and generally trying to be too clever with rotation and call-offs? (Please stop mentioning Pep and Man City, it's not relevant).
Or have the players simply let him down? Is it better that Paul, having spent 18 months getting to the core of the club's issues and witnessing first hand the physical and psychological deficiencies in his unbalanced squad, is entrusted as the man to rectify things rather than bringing in someone from the cold to do so?
There's a big decision to be made. And here's the rub - are you confident Marcus will make the right one?