Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Sorry Paul, but ‘it happens’ is not an excuse – Ipswich Town fans are right to demand more
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
For the second time in a week, Ipswich Town were comprehensively beaten by a League One promotion rival yesterday – 4-1 at home to Peterborough United. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
The frustration and anger that radiated from the stands and social media was both understandable and, in a strange way, uplifting.
Ipswich Town fans, hardly the most vociferous bunch in the land, made it clear that they expect better following yesterday's 4-1 home loss to Peterborough. Even those who are usually in the glass half full camp expressed concern.
No-one expected Paul Lambert to come out and slate his players in public. We did perhaps expect to see the Blues boss say a bit more than 'it happens' after seeing his team were schooled by a promotion rival for the second time in five days.
No Paul, it doesn't just 'happen'. Not to teams allegedly gunning for automatic promotion anyway.
Rotherham boss Paul Warne, who knows what it takes to get out of this division, declared himself delighted with his team's recent win against Ipswich because 'good teams don't lose two in a row'. Ipswich have now done that three times this season - Accrington/Rotherham (Oct), Bristol Rovers/Portsmouth (Dec) and now Rotherham/Peterborough (Jan/Feb). That sets some serious alarm bells ringing.
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Warne's claims are backed up by facts. A look back over the previous decade of League One football shows that only one team - Bolton in 2016/17 - has gone up automatically having had three separate losing streaks. Of the 20 teams to claim top two spots, 15 of them endured successive league defeats just once (10) or not at all (5). That's the bar if you want to be in the top eight per cent.
Ipswich were always going to lose games this season. Of course they were. It's the manner of these last two defeats which is worrying though. Not just beaten, but completely out-classed. Rotherham could have easily been a three or four goal thrashing. Saturday was.
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Following on from the 5-3 loss at Lincoln post Christmas, that's the second time this campaign that Town have leaked four or more in a game. You have to go back to 2013/14 to find a team (Brentford) that went up automatically from the third-tier having done the same.
The point is, every small set-back should sting when ambitions are high. Every major set-back, as these last two have been, should really damn hurt. Instead, we keep hearing about 'bumps in the road', how the team is still in a great position and that there is still a long way to go.
All of that is correct, of course. There just seems to be a bit too much of an acceptance from inside the camp regarding losses. That goes from owner Marcus Evans who, just like in January 2015, failed to provide the mid-season funds to strengthen from a position of strength, to Lambert, who has always been keen to downplay promotion aims and emphasise a long-term plan.
Maybe David McGoldrick was right when he left the club. There are 'no big expectations to go out and win every game'. It does feel like that culture has been a tough one to shake off following years of treading water in the Championship.
Yes, there were no excuses for these last two performances. And there a few myths to bust.
First up, Lambert continual claims that this is a 'young side'. Luke Woolfenden and Flynn Downes are the only regular youngsters and, at 21, neither are babies. Beyond that, it's a pretty experienced team. Both Rotherham and Peterborough actually had younger starting XIs.
Secondly, Lambert's claim that you can only sign untested kids or crocks in January has been disproved by Peterborough - the kings of clever recruitment. Judging by yesterday, the £500k acquisition of midfielder Jack Taylor from Barnet looks a shrewd acquisition. They replaced Marcus Maddison with Sammie Szmodics. Posh move quickly and box clever in the transfer market, while Town always seem to ponder.
Lambert always bristles at the suggestion Town fans should be worried. Of course they're going to be worried. With the play-offs a very real possibility, could you really say you'd be confident of Town going into a two-legged match right now given they still haven't beaten a fellow top eight side this season? Sunderland away next weekend won't be easy either...
Some of the reaction to wins and defeats has undoubtedly been extreme. Many have been guilty of getting too high with the highs and too low with the lows. That's understandable when Town fans have been on the tamest of emotional rides in recent years. After years of riding the tea cups over and over and over, finally we're on Space Mountain.
I keep telling myself that there's a need for perspective.
Rewind to last summer when hopes and fears competed in our minds. One moment we convinced ourselves that Ipswich, with their big budget and 'best squad' could be gunning for the title. The next, the doubts surrounding a horrible relegation hangover crept in and we wondered whether Ipswich might not even make the play-offs.
At the most lucid moments, most, if they were being honest, just hoped Town would be in the promotion mix.
Fast forward to the start of February and that's exactly where we're at. Would we have taken this scenario had it been offered before a ball was kicked? You bet.
But does that mean Town fans are wrong to demand more than what they've seen in the last two games? No way.