It’s been a strange year so far.
2015 started with Ipswich 2nd in the league; spirits were high, there was a belief that this could be our year barring any mass injury or slip up. My enthusiasm was curbed, looking at the teams around us and with us in this league. It’s still plain for all to see – The Tractor Boys have no right flying so high (Arguably, nor do Bournemouth, Brentford et al. given the fact that former Premier League sides Wigan & Fulham are in the SBC – That said, it’s a stupidly tough league to maneuver around as the Blues have found.)
But a stupendous, strong end to 2014 was matched with a jittery start, and a lull through February – Ultimately, leading to a loss against local rivals Norwich; arguably deservedly so. The performance was professional, organised and far more efficient than Ipswich’s – More shots, does not equal more goals.
A loss to Leeds, a draw against Brentford where Town should have won, followed by a humbling 4-1 defeat to Middlesbrough (45 mins of Bamford) cast massive doubts amongst many fans. There were factions saying Mick’s brand of football was archaic, that Tabb/Smith/Mings did not deserve their place in the team, that Luke Chambers was misued at right-back, that not the players or coaching staff but the Owner was to blame (this was a very small portion of the fans). And the signings of Luke Varney and Richard Chaplow were seen as underwhelming when better geographically/financially placed teams attracted a bigger name.
Bolton saw a hard fought win, where Ipswich could have done more but the win was confirmed and some optimism returned, where Kevin Bru and Luke Varney worked very hard coming on as substitutes, and Chaplow adding another dimension.
And then Watford.
The game itself was hard fought; it was like watching the Ipswich of late 2014, working hard as a unit and having a few solid rubs of the green – 2 clear cut chances were spurned as Watford failed to register a single shot on target. The introduction of Freddie Sears injected some urgency after a big half from Luke Varney, and it was Sears who’s hard work and quick feet which broke through the Hornet’s defence for Chaplow to slide past the ever erratic Heurelho Gomes, seemingly with ease but a top finish which took what felt like an age to hit the back of the net. – And thus, Watford were robbed.
The international break has allowed many of the squad to take a break, and to reflect on two hard fought, grafted wins. The way that Ipswich have played throughout some of the best patches of the season; winning attacking aerial duels, working hard down the left and having players who cover every blade of grass, running their socks off for the cause. There is a sense of buoyancy which has returned amongst the support, and the nature of the league means that anything can happen in the next six weeks – especially given the amount of goals (historically) scored in May (check out @stats_snakeoil’s timeline on Twitter)
The Good Friday fixture; Bournemouth are one of the most entertaining sides to watch; yes, they’ve been guilty of playing foul and gaining unfortunate decisions in their favour – but the top level view is that they play a very quick, exciting brand of football whilst Ipswich maintain their hard-working, team ethic where each player has their own role to perform. It will prove to be a difficult test, and the additions of Jonny Williams and Zeki Fryers add some much needed strength in depth but the boys in Blue must also be wary of Kenwyne Jones as he is more than likely to replace the fleet-footed Callum Wilson – The game against Boro highlighted the difficulty that Ipswich have found at set-pieces, and it will prove a test if AFCB choose to amend their game plan accordingly.
The team which Mick chooses to put out is based on training, performance, the team spirit and his own tactical nous. The Irishman is an excellent motivator, and is a steady hand in navigating the Blues out of this league. I envisage a 1-1 draw, or a 2-1 defeat tomorrow evening in front of the Sky cameras – I can see Ipswich conceding (and scoring!) from a set-piece.