Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter woes continue for Town.

We conceded 9 goals over the Easter break, something that our defence and our goalkeeper almost certainly caused for themselves. One of those goals was a McAuley own goal, another was a penalty after a clumsy challenge by Mark Kennedy (who having just failed to tackle to guy previously, thought it would be a good idea to have another crack when he had no chance), the rest were caused by goalkeeping errors (Swansea times two yesterday, definitely one against Norwich) and not having enough pace at the back.

Both Darren O'Dea and Mark Kennedy looked hopelessly outpaced by Swansea's wide man, Dyer. He skipped past O'Dea in the first half many a time, it was his inability to control him on the wing that led to Swansea's opener, which was, arguably at the time, against the run of play. However, for Swasnea, they settled down and played the football that shows why they're one of the top sides in the division, and like Norwich, they took advantage of our non-pace and non-threat upfront and ran us ragged on the counterattack.

Against a team like Swansea, and with us having nothing to play for, I would've thought that it would have been the perfect game to give Jaime Peters a crack. He has pace and possibly could've matched Dyer. Peters always, always puts the effort in and he gets forward too, whilst keeping his position at the back, something that has always been a problem with Carlos Edwards.

With Bullard and Wickham out, and us recalling Ronan Murray from Torquay, I'd have liked to have seen him given a chance up front with Jason Scotland. Scotland is not the type of player you want when your team get so frustrated that they play route one football. He can't run, can't jump and his first touch is appalling at times, so hitting a long ball up to him is highly unlikely to work. Scotland has scored 10 goals this season and I bet you that if you could see all the higlights, he'd have had the ball passed at his feet, rather than lumped up field. I thought he'd be a good player for us should he pick up a bit of match fitness, but he like every player tipped as the answer to our goalscoring woes, he's been disappointing.

The other thing with our well documented striking problem is that nobody seems to want to get in the box. We get the ball, we faff around outside the area, but when you look into the area, there is nobody there. So then we faff around a bit more, waiting for someone to magically appear in the box, but then you look around the field and most of the players seem disinterested. Yes, we're safe, but for heaven's sake, you've just lost 5-1 to our hated neighbours. A reaction, a better performance or even just the slightest showing of passion would be much appreciated.

My blog a few days ago about Ipswich's season not being mathematically over (it is now) is redunant now. When I wrote that, I hoped for a much better showing from Town in both the derby and South Wales. Instead, at this stage, if we seriously want to challenge for promotion next season we have got a long, long way to go. So, Paul Jewell, against Preston on Saturday, a team who've been relegated but will probably play with more pride than our players can even imagine, please play the fringe players. Give Brian Murphy another crack in goal, play Jaime Peters, give Luca Civelli a start. If you think a player's not going to be here next season, don't play them. Give even more of the youngsters a go, like Joe Whight. Look at the players you've offered contracts to, to give them a chance to impress you and possibly cement a starting place next season.

The start of next season marks almost 10 years since we got relegated from the Premier League. Since then we've come close to the play-off final twice, but since 2005 and have been stuck eternally in midtable.  Delaney signed his contract stating that there was "optimism around the club". After these two results, I wonder just how much optimism there is now.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ipswich 1-.... I can't even bring myself to write the score.

I've had a good twelve hours to calm down. I had a night out with my friends and have slept for most of them, but today, I feel like an old, beloved pet has died. I've also just made the mistake of going on BBC Sport, so now that feeling of wanting to cry has returned. So please forgive the following blog, as I am emotionally unstable and am likely to go into a rant at some point about Grant Holt.

The only football match I have ever wanted to cry about was back in 2005. I was 13, had been having a pretty naff year at school due to bullying and going to a different school to all my friends. I remember the night of the 18th May like it was the day before yesterday. We'd fought back from 2-0 down at Upton Park to be at 2-2 on aggregate. I knew what a loss would mean, our key players would leave because they wanted, and deserved, Premiership football. We'd finished third, there was an optimism around Portman Road, finally, finally after relegation in 2002 we would be heading back to the "Promised Land" of the Premiership.

We ended up laying down and allowing West Ham to win 2-0 on the night. We lost 4-2 on aggregate, West Ham had a trip to Cardiff, they beat Preston 1-0 and they've been in the Premiership ever since, whilst we've been languishing in mid-table since that killer blow. After that loss to West Ham, we lost Shefki Kuqi, Darren Bent and Tommy Miller.

Whilst you may not believe it now, between them they scored about 40 goals. It's something we've never recovered from
. Since the 2005/06 season, we've cemented our place as a mid-table Championship side, doomed to spend seasons in obscurity, which, compared to clubs like Charlton, Southampton and this season, Sheffield United. In a way, it's a kind of achievement. An unwanted one, but an achievement nonetheless.

So, that was the last football match I've wanted to cry about. Until last night.

As you can see from the two previous blog posts, I was actually feeling optimistic, which is rare for me. I was sucked into the pre-derby hype. I believed we were a changed side, a better side, a side with confidence, pride and passion. What turned up at Portman Road in the blue shirts last night was the first time I have felt ashamed of my football club.

Yes, I still love Ipswich Town, and will be off to Swansea to cheer them on again, I'm still immensely proud to call myself a Tractor girl, I still clapped them (quietly and with a scowl on my face) as they were going off. But everyone who wasn't in that dark corner of the Cobbold Stand at Portman Road expected a better performance than the absolutely humiliating one yesterday. You thought Carrow Road was bad? It had nothing on this.

I must give credit where it's due, Norwich have got together a decent side. They deserve to be up there. They exposed our weaknesses, kept Wickham quiet and hit us on the counterattack. But in a way, for all that, we were the ones who caused our own downfall.

First goal, Arran Lee-Barrett couldn't stop a cross and instead put it in the path of Surman. Second goal, McAuley somehow hit it into the back of the net. I think the fourth or fifth goal, we had two players inexplicably unable to tackle one player. Josh Carson had given the ball away, something that all the players had done all evening. We did the fancy stuff outside the box, but had nobody, NOBODY, in the middle, so instead had to faff about outside it and waste a glorious opportunity by taking Cesc Fabregas' advice and kicking it over the bar.

The defence has always been questionable this season. The Middlesbrough game was an example of how much of a disaster it can be. Yesterday, at some point during the second half, Carlos Edwards had the ball in the box we were defending, and instead of booting it up field, he decided to run towards Lee-Barrett, then try and run round two Norwich players. He nearly lost the ball in a dangerous area.

We left people unmarked, we passed the ball to a yellow shirt far too many times after being in a good run of possession. There were no hard tackles, the closest we got to passion was Darren O'Dea mouthing off at the lump that is Grant Holt.

Holt was looking for a fight. He was also always looking for a free kick. In the first half, and this is why I will never think of him as a good player (and it's not because he plays for Norwich), he was battling with O'Dea or Carson (I couldn't tell as Holt was behind them and I don't really know their haircuts), and Holt grabbed onto the back of the Town player and as soon as they got the ball, let go and tumbled to the ground so theatrically that he should be in the Royal Shakespeare company. He didn't get a free kick, because the referee actually had his wits about him. He gave our players shoves in the backs, sly elbows and pretty much convinced me that the man is an absolute disgrace. So I'm so pleased that the absolute tosser didn't score against us last night, although it provides me with very little consolation.

So what do we do now?

Well, firstly, the players need to take a long, hard look at themselves. They need to realise just how much they've let the fans down. To lose 4-1 away to your fiercest rivals was embarrassing, to lose 5-1 at home to them is almost unforgivable. And to do it in such an abysmal fashion?

Secondly, Paul Jewell needs to give the fringe players a chance. He needs to play a formation that suits his players. He needs to realise that Jason Scotland is not the answer to our striking problems. We've got three games left, we're safe, we might as well give them a chance. Jaime Peters, Luca Civelli. I don't think Luke Hyam's injured anymore and the same with Shane O'Connor. At least give them a shot to see what you've got next season. It can't do any harm.

Thirdly, Simon Clegg. You are taking the piss. You CANNOT complain about the fact Roy Keane stayed in the job for too long when YOU are the chief executive and it was YOUR decision, along with the owner, to keep him in the job for so long. You get no sympathy here. You also get no sympathy for your statements regarding the players contracts. I know he's not a normal chief executive, but our club has become just a mass business opportunity. Ticket prices are hugely inflated (adult away fans have to pay at least £30. Preston vs Ipswich is hardly the Championship fixture of the century), the communication with fans seems to be poor and if I'm honest, the heart of the club seems to have gone. The owner claims to be a fan, yet very few people know what he looks like, whether he's a true fan or just using our club as a strewd business opportunity. And sadly, I think it's the latter. Since his takeover, nothing much has happened. Magilton got sacked two years ago. What's honestly changed?

And finally, the fans. Last night I saw people get kicked out of the Sir Bobby Robson Stand for fighting with each other. Some fans greeted the cattle driven Norwich fans with taunts, which was expected, but then on the way back to the coaches and stations, they stopped people with young children getting home. Arrests were made and people behaved like idiots. Yeah, I'm disappointed and angry, but I'm not going to go and try to fight someone. I saw people kick seats, which almost broke. My language last night was appalling, but in the atmosphere that greeted me in the North Stand, it was difficult to keep a cap on your emotions. Not everyone behaved like animals though. At the final whistle, I stood with the group of people I was stood with all match and looked around the lower tier. Everyone had the same face I had. Disappointment was in the eyes and no smile was present. We were heartbroken, not because of the play-offs, that was a pipe dream anyway, but because of how easily we'd just laid down and handed our rivals victory, and probably promotion on a plate.

So, like I said, I'm off to Swansea on Monday. Today, however, like many other Town fans I'm sure, I'm wallowing in disappointment, avoiding all media sources that have football on it. So, mum, turning on Sky Sports News so I have to endure a drunken Delia Smith singing is really, really not appreciated.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ipswich Town's season not mathematically over...

But, if we're all perfectly honest and realistic, it probably is.

On Thursday, we have part two of the East Anglian derby of the 2010/11 season. Norwich fans are getting excited about the thought of automatic promotion, Ipswich fans are getting excited about spoiling their party. But something has happened in the months since Paul Jewell has arrived at Portman Road. Suddenly, we are a team that seems happy, a team that seems to enjoy playing together and a team that, whilst it's disappointing to lose, know that if they have one bad game, they're not going to be cast away in the abyss, to be forgotten about or sent on loan to Crystal Palace.

Compare that to the team that, embarrassingly and spinelessly, got hammered 4-1 at Carrow Road. That team was disorganised and in a downward spiral, something I depressingly witnessed at Preston back in December. I witnessed Keane's last win, but that was down to the weather and Sky Sports being there. The next time I watched Ipswich Town, we had won 1-0 against Arsenal and again looked a completely different team. It was like a monkey had collectively been taken off the players' backs and suddenly, happier days could well be back at Portman Road.

Since January, the form's been up and down. We can go on a three game winning streak, then end up losing/drawing the elusive fourth win. For us to even have a sniff of the play-offs and to take advantage of those (which is a lot of teams) around us slipping up, I would say we have to win all our games. We have four games left. We won on Saturday against Bristol City in a scrappy, luck-riddled, but ultimately gritty performance. We have to face our dear rivals from Norfolk and Swansea, both sides that have been up in the top six for the majority of the season, Preston, a team fighting for their lives and Leicester, another one of those sides that could, but probably won't, be up there come May 7th.

However, after we lost to Reading, Watford and Portsmouth (it was grey, miserable and dire), I thought our season was over. After the horrendous run in November and December, being near the bottom of the table and getting worried about relegation, the fact we even have an outside chance of the play-offs is some achievement.

Do I think we'll do it? No, of course not, I'm a pessimist, but it's nice to have a dream. Having said this, I also, to some extent, wouldn't want us to get into the play-offs. Whilst we're on a good run of form, we got very lucky against Crystal Palace, as the Palace strikers didn't have their radars on. Against Middlesbrough, albeit after a sickening injury to Seb Hines, where he broke his jaw and managed to get up and play on, we lost concentration and after playing well, lost communication in defence and ended up going 3-1 down. Delaney had a mare and managed to inadvertently set up Boro's equaliser. Whilst we came back from what would've been a probably undeserved defeat, we have been in the same position against teams like Reading and Watford and lost. They are the teams above us, Boro are below us.

The comeback against Middlesbrough showed character, the performance with 10 men for an hour (and after Grant Leadbitter's nasty clash of heads, get well soon Grant) on Saturday also showed character. But the way we've played all season, with the inconsistent performances and all the youngsters coming through, I'd prefer next season to the real "OPERATION PREMIERSHIP" that seems to have disappeared from the season ticket application forms this season.

This, of course, won't stop me coming up with ridiculous scenarios. Imagine if we did finish 6th and then Norwich finished in 3rd. An East Anglian derby play-off semi-final? Crazy. If we finished 6th and Norwich didn't finish 3rd, we could face Cardiff, a team we've been doing quite well against in recent years. But, like I said, these are just ridiculous scenarios that I've conjured up in excitement for Thursday.

I'm excited for Thursday. I'm in the North Stand for an East Anglian derby for the first time ever. I have so many memories from down the years of the derbies. Sito's sending off, that 3-2 victory that was Jim Magilton's last game managing, Pablo scoring a penalty to equalise and cause waves of people to run on the pitch...

All I can ask from Ipswich Town is a win this Thursday. Do it for the new manager, to convince him to give you a new contract. Do it for yourselves, to prove the match in November was a one off embarrassment. But perhaps most of all, do it for the fans. All you need to do is look at the ITFC hashtag on Twitter at the moment to understand how much it means to us all. The Norwich fans are fishing for a keyboard fight and Darren Huckerby's doing his "slap the scum" thing again, but the banter is mostly good natured.

So Town, I beg of you allow us this one glory. Give it your best shot, injure Grant Holt and make it worth a red card this time, get lucky, score a winner off your backside, I don't care. Because you have no idea what a victory would mean to the Ipswich Town supporting people of inside and outside of Suffolk.

Come on you Blues.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Happy retirement, Marcus Stewart

Yesterday, Marcus Stewart, hero to many and a modern legend of Portman Road, announced his intention to retire from playing football against Bristol Rovers today.

Stewart came to Ipswich around the time I started to support the club. I believe his home debut was made when I made my first ever trip to Portman Road on 12th February 2000. We were playing the club we'd signed him from, Huddersfield, and we won 2-1. I think Stewart scored as well.

The two years he spent at Portman Road have been described as one of the highlights of his 20 year career. He scored 19 goals for us in the Premier League, helping us finish 5th. He played in Europe and then, when we were relegated, moved to Sunderland.

He's been playing football almost as long as I've been alive, and his decision to retire against the club he started at, Bristol Rovers, is brilliant. He left Sunderland because he thought he was too old to play in the Premier League, and here he's retiring to give a youngster his place.

If, and I really hope it does, "There's only one Marcus Stewart" rings around Portman Road for one final time today, I'll be loudly singing it proudly. His time at Portman Road may've been short compared to other clubs, but for all the goals, spirit and memories, Marcus Stewart will always be a name in the hearts of those present at Portman Road.

I may have to dig my gloves out in appreciation, despite the warm weather. Happy retirement, Marcus. You really are a modern day legend.