Stuart Watson's Sunday Verdict: Football God keeps smiting Ipswich Town - but Lambert and co are showing great mental resilience
PUBLISHED: 14:28 24 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:28 24 February 2019
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Ipswich Town conceded a last-gasp goal to draw 1-1 at Wigan Athletic yesterday having played for more than an hour with 10 men. STUART WATSON has his final say of the weekend.
Zap. Referee Lee Probert’s arm sprung up brandishing a red card within a split second of Jonas Knudsen’s tug at Leon Clarke’s shoulder.
Zap. Will Keane pulled up clutching his left hamstring.
Zap. Joe Garner (who else?) scores a stoppage-time equaliser just when Town looked to have ridden the storm.
It’s not hard to imagine a football God chuckling as they continually smite Ipswich Town from above.
It’s the beautiful game. It can be so very cruel too.
Paul Lambert would roll up and his sleeves and fight the game’s callous deity if he could. Instead, he’s channelling that fight into the club’s players and supporters.
You either feel sorry for yourselves or you confront the notion of fate and take responsibility.
Once the gut-wrenching disappointment of that late leveller eased slightly, there were – once again – many things to sit back and reflect upon positively.
That’s three games unbeaten now. Yes, draws are not good enough at this stage if we’re talking about beating the drop. But were we really, seriously, talking about that? Let’s be honest, the damage was done a while back.
As opined in this column a few weeks back, I’m more interested in performances than points in the dying embers of this most bruising of campaigns.
Here’s my acid test after each game: Did I see spirit and fight? Did I see chances created? Ultimately, did I enjoy it as an overall spectacle?
For four games in succession now the answer to all of the aforementioned has been yes.
Town have shown great mental strength after going behind inside two minutes against both Norwich and Derby, trailing to a calamitous goal against Stoke and then going down to 10 men against Wigan.
These are all games Town would have comfortably lost not so long ago. Now they look more resilient and carry a greater goal threat. That’s progress.
We’ve seen several formations under Lambert already – variations of 4-3-3, a diamond midfield and now wing-backs. Whatever the system, there has always been an identity to the style of play.
Play out from the back. Be bold on the ball. Express yourselves. Take risks. Make them worry about us.
Before Knudsen’s dismissal Town played some lovely one-touch football; sharp little triangles in the final third which carved open Wigan. Slowly but surely some of the jabs are beginning to land after all the neat footwork. Now it’s just about executing that big right hook finish when opponents are on the ropes.
A final word on Lambert singling out Flynn Downes for criticism. Unprompted he brought up the youngster’s role in Wigan’s goal and then went back to it again after the conversation had moved on.
That came a week after he refused to pick the bones out of the defensive shambles involving recent World Cup players Bartosz Bialkowski and Knudsen for the Stoke goal, insisting ‘I’m never really into blame culture’.
It seemed harsh. A little bit like one rule for some and one for another. Perhaps, understandably, raw emotions were a lot different given the last-gasp goal had gone against rather than for his team.
Or maybe Lambert just feels now is the right moment to start introducing some tough love? Perhaps, both in his team and in Downes as an individual, he sees players psychologically conditioned to be pushed again.
If this season is a test of character assigned from a higher power then take solace from the fact that management, players and supporters alike are meeting the challenge head on together.