Why Ipswich Town fans should dare to dream
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town are just two points adrift of the play-off places heading into the final eight games of the Championship campaign. STUART WATSON looks at their chances of securing a top-six finish.
Ipswich Town supporters can dare to dream of a top-six finish. And humble pie would never taste so good to this writer should it happen.
Before a ball was kicked this season, I – like many pundits – predicted this low-budget Blues side would be one that fans would be proud of, but one that would ultimately come up just short in terms of quality. Following a season of battling relegation, a year of consolidation looked to be on the agenda.
As the months progressed, I saw little to change that opinion. Town’s close-knit, hard-working, spirited group of players were competing week-in, week-out under excellent man-management, but coming up just short against the leading sides in the division.
Following the 3-0 defeat at Leicester little more than a month ago, this writer proclaimed: “Ipswich Town’s staff and players will make all the right noises about battling for sixth spot ‘until it’s mathematically impossible’, but the reality is that the final 14 games of the campaign are now about finishing as high in the mid-table positions as possible.”
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Then came the 1-0 home win over Birmingham.
After the 2-0 loss at Middlesbrough, this writer said: “The 250-mile journey back to Suffolk will have seemed like a lifetime for fans who endured this one. Those of them who are also making the similar length trip to Yeovil will be questioning their own sanity.”
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Town, of course, ground out a 1-0 win at Huish Park.
Following the 3-1 home defeat to Wigan 12 days ago, this writer put in print: “Finishing in the play-off places may not be mission impossible, but it’s become mission highly unlikely.”
I should have known better than to start writing off a Mick McCarthy side.
Saturday’s 2-0 win at Brighton and Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory over Derby at Portman Road were achieved through sheer bloody mindedness. This Blues team may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but while sexy football may win the odd battle in the Championship it doesn’t always win the war.
Consistency is king over the long slog of a 46-game campaign and becomes even more crucial during the hectic Saturday-Tuesday run-in. While others are faltering under the pressure, McCarthy’s pragmatic and level-headed approach has helped his players tick along nicely.
People always talk about one team putting together a fantastic finish to appear from nowhere. If Ipswich do finish in the top six it won’t be a case of charging in from the back, but more a case of strolling over the line in a tortoise and hare scenario.
And the signs are there that such a scenario may well unfold.
Just a few weeks ago it looked like the top five places were spoken for. Now everything is wide open again. Third-place QPR and fourth-place Derby are beginning to sweat on their play-off participation.
Fifth-place Wigan won eight in a row recently but have struggled to keep that form up since breaking into the top six. Uwe Rosler’s men, who had the Europa League to contend with earlier in the campaign, have an FA Cup semi-final to think about too.
Sixth-place Reading have blown hot and cold, their last nine results of three wins, three draws and three defeats, a snapshot of their season. And the Royals have a tough-looking run-in consisting of games against fellow top-six rivals and teams still fighting for survival.
The wheels have well and truly come off for Nottingham Forest, the East Midlands side now without a win in eight matches and managerless following the sacking of Billy Davies. Their hopes rest on a new boss having an immediate impact.
Brighton’s success has been built on their mean defence.
But successive defeats has led to their fans questioning a conservative style of play under Oscar Garcia.
Then there’s the trio of Bournemouth, Blackburn and Watford who will all still feel they can produce a late run.
It really could still go either way for McCarthy’s men. For now though, let’s just enjoy the fact that the Blues – following years of second tier mediocrity – finally have something positive to play for at this stage of the season once again.