Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Playing devil’s advocate – will the storm become the norm and allow Ipswich to perform?
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town’s winless start to the season continued with a goalless home draw against 10-man Bolton yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his considered verdict.
The Verdict? This one will be more like a stream of consciousness.
“I get accused of being that person who is always the devil’s advocate. I’ll often say ‘I agree with you, but maybe they’re doing it for this reason’.”
Those were the words of Paul Hurst when I sat down with him to do a profile piece interview at the start of August, so hopefully he finds the following arguments and counter arguments an appropriate way to sum up the current situation.
Sack Hurst? You’ve got to be kidding me. That’s not Ipswich Town. The club who have appointed just 17 permanent managers in their 82-year professional history. The previous 16 incumbents had an average of 233 games each.
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Hurst has only just reached double figures. He’s been in post for just 116 days. Can you really judge anyone, truly, in that amount of time? Especially someone who was tasked with overseeing a major long-term project.
Then again, is owner Marcus Evans prepared to play a game of chicken when it comes to risking the club dropping into third tier for first time since 1957? If he waits too long he may not be able to react in time.
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Going down could be a blessing in disguise? Come back stronger like Norwich and Southampton did? Or maybe get stuck for a prolonged spell, even spiral down further, like both Sheffield clubs, Portsmouth and Charlton?
Changing manager would constitute a serious u-turn for owner Marcus Evans. Point four of the five-point plan is, after all, ‘maintaining a stable management and coaching team’.
He did serious due diligence during the lengthy spring search. And he knew the type of personalities he was getting in Hurst and Chris Doig.
I was pointed towards Bruce Tuckman’s team-development model (1965) recently. The theory states that after a new leadership structure is formed, first there is a storm, then it becomes the norm and then the team performs. Right now we are definitely in the storm stage.
Is there unrest behind the scenes? No doubt a few noses have been put out of joint.
Those out the team are, naturally, not going to be happy. Popular figures have departed. There are members of staff whose roles have changed because of new people coming in. Hours and workloads have altered.
Very few of us in life like change though. Sometimes we all need a push. But has Hurst gone in too strong? Was it really necessary to come in all guns blazing?
Pulling no punches post Exeter, dropping Bartosz Bialkowski and constantly chopping and changing both personnel and systems... There’s a fine line between motivating and creating a fear factor. And now it’s hard for him to backtrack and massage egos.
Here is a manager ‘out of his depth’. Is that a lazy argument? He’ll tell you management is management, whatever the division.
Hurst arrived with a 50% win ratio from more than 500 games. That’s no flash in the pan. It would have been mad to change the methods which got him this far. But perhaps you have to handle egos a little differently higher up the pyramid? Players can be sensitive souls.
A lot of this is conjecture though. Would you really say, based on what we’re seeing on the pitch, that these players are not trying for their manager? If that was the case it would have been all too easy for the team to have folded in the second half against Brentford. Luke Chambers, one of the old guard who enjoyed the previous regime, was the team’s best player at the weekend.
Too much change too soon? How much of that was beyond Hurst’s control? Martyn Waghorn, Joe Garner and Adam Webster all wanted to leave for reasons of ambition, finances and geography.
Players out of their depth? The first half against Brentford aside, Town have never looked utterly outclassed.
There have been some sliding doors moments. They could and should have won at Rotherham. Imagine if the penalty shoot-out at Exeter had gone the other way. Or if they’d killed off Norwich when on top. Or if Kayden Jackson scored at death against Brentford. Or if Luke Chambers’ header had flown in on Saturday.
Ifs, buts and maybes. You make your own luck in this game. Every missed opportunity sees the pressure rise. It’s in danger of becoming a vicious cycle. Confidence looks a bigger issue than quality. One win could change everything.
We knew this would be work in progress. Sadly, we’ve seen signs of regression in the last three games. The positives to take from games have got fewer, not greater.
But isn’t there an argument to say that, looking at the bigger picture, it was always going to take a backwards step in order for this club to truly move forwards? The alternative was to remain treading water, waiting for the legs to eventually tire.
Was this job always going to be a poisoned chalice? They say ancient history weighs heavy at Portman Road. Never mind Ramsey and Robson, Hurst’s bigger issue was always going to be judged against Mick McCarthy by fans, players and staff alike.
‘Careful what you wish for’ and ‘the grass isn’t always greener’ were always going to be phrases in a loaded gun with eager fingers on the trigger.
Talking of Robson, Town finished 18th and 19th (out of 22) in his first two seasons. A different era, yes. Nevertheless, food for thought.