Thursday, 20 June 2019

The League One Tour starts here... but which away games absolutely must be on your list?

Is there a greater day of the year than fixture list release day? 

At 9 am on Thursday 20th June, my next 12 months are decided, I’ll know what I’m doing on each weekend and friends and family can once again start booking in plans with me.

Never mind the fact my second son is due to arrive at the end of August… my whole life will revolve around the dates and locations that are released by the EFL. The baby can fit around those, right?

So, what game will you be looking for first?

I imagine Southend away is going to be a popular one for Town fans, a local derby of sorts and a new ground for many, and there are plenty of others that will provide a few ‘ticks’ for us on our trip around the 92 (potentially 14 in my case).

For me, the early games will be important. By the start of the season I will be 8 months pregnant and I am at weddings for the first two games – so some nice southern away days or home games that I wouldn't be able to get to anyway would be nice. 

My other half went to Uni in Portsmouth, so we’d love that one to fall on a school holiday when he will be off work. Then the final home game of the season I’m hoping will be the date for my hen do, so praying for that to be a good date too! 

If you’ve worked out the dates and are wondering which away days to go to, I’ve spoken to some Ipswich fans and asked them to recommend their favourites from the choices we have now we’re in League One.

Back in January, I had a preview of the third tier during our trip to Accrington Stanley.

I have to say, the day out was far more enjoyable than the match. There is an away fans pub literally a stone’s throw from the ground, and after the game we were welcomed into the club bar to enjoy their £1 a pint offer which they run every time they win.

The Wham Stadium has an open terrace and seated area for the away fans, I opted for the terrace – thinking it might be marginally warmer standing up and chanting than sitting down for the game. I’m hoping the return visit this season will bring us a little more joy.

@HargraveGas is not a fan of AFC Wimbledon:

Wimbledon is a game I often go to and then wonder why. It’s a horrible ground for away fans, particularly when there is a good number of you. You can’t see the pitch (this picture makes it look better than it is!), but there is a nice, friendly area outside to eat and drink before the kick-off. 

Blackpool is one I’ve been to a few times and it’s sure to be one Town fans are looking out for:

It’s amazing to think they were not long ago in the Premier League, the ground is definitely one of the better ones we’ll go to this year – but it’s no Old Trafford. Last time I went, the toilets were portaloos and it is so windy you wonder how the ball is staying on the ground.

As a day trip, though, it’s hard to beat. Obviously the ideal one for a weekender, with pubs and clubs a-plenty and loads of cheap places to stay. It was in Blackpool where I first met a group of Town fans that were to become my good friends for many years after!

Assuming Bolton are able to make it through the summer, the Macron Stadium (or whatever it is called nowadays) is one I’ll definitely be hoping to go to. It’s only an hour from me and I actually really like the modern ground.

With the excellent following earlier this year over 1,000), this was one of the more enjoyable away trips of the year, despite us already being all but relegated. There isn’t usually so many people who make the journey up for this on, which can make it quite quiet.

We always park at the Beehive Pub, it’s free and a good place to grab food and drinks. The walk to the ground feels like it lasts forever, but it’s actually only about fifteen minutes and if you’re going by train, the station is over the road. 

@itmanSW75 has lots of experience of going to Bristol Rovers:

The first thing to note about a trip to Bristol Rovers is that you're not visiting the Red Side of the City. Parking around the ground is fairly abundant and trains run frequently from London to Bristol.

There is no alcohol available to away fans inside the ground, but the Annexe Inn and the Sportsman is recommended, and there are lots of other choices nearby. 

The Memorial Stadium itself is a strange mixture of stands. Ipswich fans will find themselves in a small, uncovered corner of the East Stand and the new South Stand which has a feel of temporary seating. So, if we're placed there on a cold November evening, you're definitely going to want to be in the south end!  

Blue Monday regular @IpsRich often shares stories about Burton Albion because it's one of the closest games to his home:

Burton Albion is a great away trip. As a Midlander, its a short hop up the road for me, so scores big convenience points!

I’ve always found Burton a welcoming place. The locals will strike up a conversation if they spot the blue of an ITFC shirt, and are very knowledgable and passionate about their club. They’re aware of their stature too though; Derby is very close by, and Leicester and Nottingham are also adjacent.

The away end is a terrace behind the goal and some seating to the side. Do yourself a favour, relive the good old days by standing (legitimately) behind the goal. A visit to Burton in the 2019/20 season will also mark only our third away visit to the Brewers in our entire history. 

The lovely @hunimonster is an away days specialist. But, as a Midlands based Town fan, Coventry is actually her 'home' game:

I was born and still live just a couple of miles down the road from Coventry. 

I remember my first away game and tightly gripping my Dad's hand on the way to Highfield Road. I don't remember the score but I will always remember the noise and the atmosphere.

Since then, the Ricoh has been the first taste my children have had of the away end and the magnificent support us Ipswich fans bring. 

Portman Road will always be 'home', but I know no matter where Coventry City play in the seasons to come, I feel I'm always among friends when we visit the Sky Blues.

@Tom_Morken has these tips for anyone travelling to Fleetwood Town:

There’s no train station at Fleetwood and not much to see in the area around Highbury Stadium. So, you’re better off spending the pre-match in Blackpool and then hopping on the tram to Stanley Road which is about a 35-minute journey and only a few minutes’ walk from the ground. 

Get a day travelcard on the tram (was around £5 when I visited last October).

Meanwhile, @DaveTractor is a fan of Gillingham.

The trip there includes a cracking pub and chip shop to visit. Gillingham is a desert for decent pubs, but all away supporters stop at the Wetherspoons at Rochester.

Lincoln City holds some bad memories for Town fans, @ChrisTalbot has these tips to make it a little more successful this season (off the pitch at least): 

Sincil Bank is about a 15-minute walk from Lincoln Central Railway Station and the away fans are seated in the Stacey West Stand. There is a Fanzone on matchdays behind the South Park Stand and there is also a Wetherspoons on the High Street on the way to the ground.

@hargravegas adds: I have mixed memories of Lincoln – some absolutely cracking games, the city itself is quite lovely (in parts), but they sometimes need a police presence. I’ve been there when it’s kicked off, not good!

I’ve not been to Peterborough United for a while, it’s another that holds very bad memories.

Our last league trip there was the absolutely disastrous 7:1 defeat, when Tommy Smith was sent off – within 30 seconds of entering the pitch, if memory serves – followed by Lee Martin who never really found form after that.

When we visited for a friendly game more recently, I did enjoy the pre-match pub. It was a barge on the edge of the river, had a lovely atmosphere and I’m sure they had Aspall’s on tap too. 

A good cider makes a good away day, I reckon.

@hargravegas added a quick review of Rochdale:

Rochdale is well worth a trip: old fashioned, really friendly, quite homely I would say and nice pies!

Rotherham is one of my favourite away days and this is one I’ll be praying doesn’t clash with anything.

The Bridge Inn was rumoured to not be taking away fans last season, although we were welcomed there afterwards and the bar man was quite confused about why we hadn’t been in before.

The pub is opposite the train station and a short walk from the ground. It’s not massive, but plenty big enough for the away fans we usually take to this game, and they serve pies and other food before the game – winner.

We haven’t had many amazing away days in recent years thanks to Mick 'the draw specialist' McCarthy, but Rotherham was one in 2016: a hat trick from Daryl Murphy (oh how we miss him) taking us to a 5:2 win and a lot of post-match partying… I didn’t actually make it home after that one!

@AnglianDriver has clear memories of Shewsbury Town from years gone by:

I actually saw Town at the old Gay Meadow ground in the 80’s in the UEFA Cup winning season when Burley broke his leg, and then we lost 2-1 in the FA Cup in 1984 (I think).

Shrewsbury moved to a modern, out-of-town stadium a few years ago, it has a large car park at the front (it sits back from the main road next to a Lidl Shop!). It’s a bit like Colchester United’s ground in design and capacity and there is a pub close to the ground call the Wild Pig and a retail park offering things like McDonald’s.

The town centre is about 2-3 miles away, where there are lots of nice pubs and bars. Shrewsbury itself is a fairly affluent place with a decent nightlife and some nice, historical architecture.

@Hargravegas also gave us his thoughts on Southend United:

I love Southend and I’m not sure why, it might be because they still have two Wimpy’s in town! 

I tend to park in the street, somewhere around the school and there’s nice fish and chips near the ground too. The only negative thing that I would say is that it always takes longer than you think it will to get there.  

I’d been looking forward to Sunderland when we played them two years ago.

Before the game I hadn’t expected we’d be seeing them relegated so soon (nor for us to follow them down the year after). My friends all stayed in Newcastle for the weekend and I joined them for breakfast at a Greene King pub near the station (always a fail-safe option).

We popped to St James’ Park to pay our respects at the Sir Bobby Robson statue, before jumping on the Metro to Sunderland. We found a pub there which was packed with ITFC fans. A lovely atmosphere but, to be honest, I regretted not staying in Newcastle for another pint.

Fair warning, as you’ll see in my video, the stairs to the away stand are both the highlight and the worst part of the trip… it’s a long way up, but they have little messages at each level to make you smile through the climb.

Let me know which game you’re looking forward to most!

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

'To say Webster's been a success would be a massive understatement': Bristol City vs Ipswich Town match preview from The Exiled Robin

The games fall thick and fast for Ipswich Town this week: following a fantastic draw at West Brom on Saturday, today they're on their travels again to Bristol City.

So, continuing my series of interviews with opposition fans, I've spoken to Bristol City fan Paul who runs the excellent Exiled Robin blog:

To start, tell us about your blog:

I always wanted to be a sports journalist, but ultimately pursued other paths at university. 

So, I started writing a number of years ago when Twitter was first starting to be used by football fans as a means to connect with each other and to share content. 

I saw what others were doing, including the likes of Ian King, The Two Unfortunates, and David Bevan, The 72, and decided I could do that for Bristol City. No one else was, so it seemed to make sense.

And how long have you been supporting Bristol City?

All my life! I was born when we were in the old First Division, but by the time I got to my first game we'd been relegated three seasons in a row and were bottom of Division 4 and had been close to folding. The only way was up, I guess! 

I started going regularly when I was 9 or 10 and held a season-ticket for many years. In recent years, with a young family and now living on the other side of Cardiff, I tend to 'only get to around 13-15 home games a season.

Now the kids are 9 and 6, they're both properly getting into it, so perhaps a family season ticket is on the cards soon.

As an outsider, it seems to me that Bristol have had an excellent season. How are you feeling about it? 

Yes, it's been better than most expected.

Having lost our three best players in the summer (Joe Bryan, Aden Flint and 20+ goal man Bobby Reid), I think most would have been happy with a steady, mid-table campaign, and that's very much where we were heading at the end of November when we played you at home.

A handful of our fans have even remarked after that game - which was no footballing classic - that they thought we'd both end up going down!

But that was the start of an incredible run which included 9 straight wins and left us where we are now, battling with Frank Lampard's Derby, Pulis' dinosaurs and a string of others for the last of the play-off spots.

More recently, February wasn't very kind to you, with a couple of defeats including a close game with our rivals Norwich...

No, and March hasn't started that well either, so the slide we encountered last year from January is threatening to derail us again. 

The game against Norwich was so good, it was almost enjoyable despite the defeat. We played really well for 50-55 minutes, but they slowly started to take control and - although you won't want to hear this - they've got some cracking footballers going forward who taught us a bit of a lesson in the second half.

You do feel with them thought that they score so many late goals, they can carry on forever, but I suspect if they don't make it to the top 2 it'll be because a team has shut them out a little, they're not great at the back. 

In a bit of a shock transfer for us, our defender Adam Webster made the move to you guys in the summer, leaving our defence somewhat desperate. How has he done for you?

Well, it seems Webster was Lee Johnson's only target when it became clear Flint was heading to Middlesbrough, and he clearly lined up a deal early on. 

To say he's been a success would be a massive understatement, he's been our best player and his ability on the ball has allowed us to change shape and style. The way he steps into midfield has allowed us to play a 4-1-4-1 formation, with five relatively forward-thinking players, as Webster becomes an extra midfielder.

His partnership with Tomas Kalas has been the cornerstone of our success and as a pair, they're as impressive a centre-back partnership as any of us have seen at Ashton Gate. 

I have not a single doubt that Webby will play in the Premier League before too long, and many believe he'll earn international honours.

What are your thoughts on Ipswich Town's season?

Well, from the outside looking in, it looks a shambles. 

I know a couple of Ipswich fans, so get a bit of context, but appointing a new manager to revolutionise what had been a steady decline under Mick McCarthy and then sack him less than three months into te season seems barmy. 

But I guess there must have been valid reasons of what was - or wasn't - happening behind-the-scenes and you'd hope there was more rationale than just poor results with a new coach and team.

Saying that the appointment of Paul Lambert seems inspired. Highly risky, for obvious reasons, and you're still bottom of the league - but I get the impression he's walked in and 'got' the club from the off and is earning credit from fans accordingly. 

As a team that has made the step up from League One, what is your advice for us next season? Do you think we'll be able to come straight back up?

It's often not that easy. Last time we went down, we shed a lot of high-earners in the summer and struggled to adapt for one year, despite the brilliance of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.

Then the following summer, we picked up seven of the other League One club's best players (from the likes of Cheltenham, Stevenage, and Swindon) and gelled them with a handful of young players who hadn't quite made it in the Championship into a record-breaking squad. 

You can't get back up easily with Championship old-stagers in my opinion, there are too many fresh, hungry young footballers down there keen to make an impact on the 'names'.

 Finally, can I have a score prediction, please?

It's more hope than expectation given our last two home performances, but I'll go with a 2:0 win with a goal in each half.

You can follow Paul on Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you so much for taking part, Paul!

Monday, 11 March 2019

Ipswich Town take a point away to play off contenders West Brom, but deserved all three points

Living in Yorkshire, it's not very often I'll head to the Midlands to see Ipswich Town play. But, as I haven't been to West Brom before I felt this trip was one not to miss. 

And I wasn't wrong! From the pre-match pub, which swum with blue and white shirts all munching on delicious curries, to The Hawthorns, a smart ground with an away end packed with singing, happy fans - I loved it. 

I loved the ground, I loved chatting with relaxed Town supporters before the match, I loved the feeling of unity that we seem to have formed, despite the horrendous results we've been forced to sit through since August.

Sadly, the beginning of the game didn't instill quite so much joy. Within five minutes, Jonas Knudsen had conceded a free-kick in the exact same position that lead to his red card and suspension at Wigan just a few weeks ago.

The resulting free-kick was quickly taken and, as West Brom created a sly gap in the wall, it deflected off Knudsen and bounced slowly into the waiting goal. Keeper Bart had been sent the wrong way and, at the time, it felt like this was going to be the start of many goals for the home side.

But from this point on we seemed to take the game by the scruff of the neck. 

We weren't going down without a fight, Town reacted well to their goal with chance after chance of making the score level: 

  • A nice run from Teddy Bishop(one of many), who passed to Alan Judge, who hit the ball into the box where it was easily collected by the keeper 
  • A heel flick from Judge that was just a joy to watch 
  • A shot from Luke Chambers which went over the bar (oh, how I'd have loved him to score after the criticism he received from a section of our fans last week)
  • A cross, again from Judge, crossed the face of the goal, but Jon Nolan was clearly held back and walked away holding his head
  • Bishop took on three West Brom players, neatly skipping around each, before being completely taken out, earning Town their first free-kick of the game
And there was a solid performance at the other end of the pitch too, as Bart had the best game I've seen from him so far this season. One shot tipped over the bar, another saved one-handed, at point-blank range.

Meanwhile, the man West Brom fan Nikki picked out as her 'one to watch' in my match preview, Dwight Gayle, was not endearing himself to Ipswich fans: after he went down injured in front of the away fans, Chambers kicked the ball out of play to allow him to be treated. Only for Gayle to happily jump back up again, cue angry reaction from the away stand.

Shortly before half-time, there was a handball appeal for Town, it was at the other end of the pitch so I can't claim to have had a good look at it - but what I did see was the response from three of our players and that was strong. These decisions never seem to come for us, do they? 

When half-time came I wasn't worried about us being a goal down. The performance from the boys had been so bright, I felt an unusual feeling of hope! 

Following the break, Collin Quaner, who had been decidedly quiet first-half, was replaced by Kayden Jackson. Now, I wasn't impressed by the latter last time I saw Town play at Wigan, but I'm pleased to say he was much better this time around.

The chances on goal just kept coming, with the vast majority continuing to be engineered by Alan Judge who is an absolute joy to watch. Our goal actually came from a James Bree cross, Nolan rose, unmarked, to meet the ball and head it into the net. 

What a feeling! I hadn't seen Town score a goal this season until Keane's equaliser against Stoke last month - but now I've seen 3 in 3 and it feels like Christmas! The away end erupted in an awesome roar, with absolute elation taking hold: this great day out just got even better.

There we were, 1100 fans and 11 men on the pitch, united in pure joy against this horrible season that is trying so hard to drag us down. The moment of elation felt so symbolic, of these people who are trying their best to pull together and make the best of a bad situation, of players and fans who aren't going to let relegation stop them working together for a better future.

And so it went on, chance after chance for Town. Just 3 or 4 months ago, I'd become used to them managing only a handful of shots on target in 90 minutes - and I'd often count myself lucky if they even managed that. Saturday was a new team the one we've been waiting for all year, possibly longer.

More lovely football from Bish who passed onto Judge, but his pass to Jackson went straight to the West Brom keeper. The three of them provided some real moments of quality during the first half until Teddy was subbed, presumably due to having only just returned from injury.

Jackson had a fantastic chance shortly afterward, when a terrible pass to the West Brom keeper Sam Johnstone went awry. He reacted quickly to try to take advantage but the keeper managed to clear. 

He also had a shot set up by Myles Kenlock which he probably could have taken better, but it was good to see him putting himself in positions that could lead to goals. I feel like this is where Kayden will see the most success, he seems to be a bit of a goal poacher.

Nolan, too, had a real chance to put us ahead, as he raced ahead of their defence to just outside the area. But, at the last minute, he appeared to get stage fright and scuffed the shot well wide of the post. 

There were chances at the other end, though it seemed to be far less. One moment, a one-on-one between their number 60 and Chambers really showed the quality of our captain. The man is awesome and I won't hear a bad word said against him!   

The Baggies' lack of ability to regain control of the game was clearly frustrating the home crowd and, by the 85th minute, there were sections booing the team. Shortly afterward, they were leaving their seats in droves - heading for the exits like lines of marching ants.

In a season filled with individual errors - yesterday showed some individual talent. 

Bishop was the highlight of the first half, a young man back to the highs from the early days of his first team career. In him, we have a real asset for the future (although I fear his value may only be experienced in pounds as we're surely likely to need to sell him over the summer?).

Meanwhile, Nolan was by far and away my man of the match overall. I wasn't a fan of his earlier in the season and have been rightly pulled up for it on the TWTD forum. I really felt he wasn't good enough to make the step up to our league, he was of absolutely no use to us at Forest and made too many errors at Accrington.

But on Saturday, he really came into his own. He's got better and better and that's hopefully a good sign for next season - if he can make himself into a decent Championship player in the remaining months of the season, it bodes well for his return to League One, in which he has more experience and may feel more comfortable.

Bart, too, has had a dubious season but was back on form. The man has saved us so many points in the last two seasons, I'd say he was the main reason we weren't dragged too far into the relegation battle last year, and he was well worth the alleged pay rise he received in the summer. There's still time this season to prove his worth some more.

Sadly, I suspect he, like Bishop, is at risk of leaving Portman Road at the end of this season and, to be honest, I think he's too good a keeper to be dropping down to League One. But I'd love to see him end his time with us on a high - he's a class act.

I could honestly pay tribute to every player on that pitch, each one played their part in our draw, but instead, I'll end this section by saying that Alan Judge is quickly healing the gaping wounds in my heart left by the departure of Marty Waghorn. 

He's by far the best player on the pitch every time I see him and I love the quality he has brought to the team. We MUST do whatever it takes to keep him at our club.

We genuinely could have won this game and I felt the performance deserved all three points. 

In my opinion, it's a performance we've been building to for a while. The defeat at Norwich could so easily have caused our heads to drop, but we followed that gutsy display with a shock draw against Derby and a further good performance against Stoke.

The following week, an away defeat to Wigan came despite another determined performance in which the players showed guts and withstood an hour of attacks from the home side with only ten men on the pitch.

True, Reading at home was reportedly not our best game. Perhaps the pressure of the 'must-win' game became too much for a side that has struggled for confidence this season. 

But that's why this weekend's result was unexpected, having not been able to beat a fellow relegation battler on our home turf, it's not entirely unfair to expect defeat against a team currently sat in 4th position. 

Despite Lambert's protests to the contrary, most of us know we're not going to survive this season with our Championship status in-tact. There's no doubt in my mind that League One eagerly awaits our arrival in the not-so-distant future. 

Perhaps that's what made the difference on the pitch. Perhaps, with the pressure off, the players are able to breathe a bit and enjoy playing at their best. We're certainly enjoying watching it much more from the stands.

Perhaps it's simply the case that every manager needs time for his team to click, for them to get to know how to play together and to start to turn those performances round - and that's exactly what this side is doing now.

I wondered after the game how different things might have been had we rid ourselves of 'the Temp' Paul Hurst just a few months earlier - might we have seen this turn in performances early enough in the season to save our skins?

Who knows. 

What I do know is I'm damned proud of the team we are becoming and when this ship goes down, there's a united team of fans, player and manager waiting to bring her straight back up again.  

Thursday, 7 March 2019

West Brom vs Ipswich Town: Match Preview from the Point of View of a Baggies fan

Ipswich Town head to the midlands this weekend, to play West Bromwich Albion.

Following the heartbreaking defeat in a 'must win' game against Reading last weekend, Blues fans will be wondering if the points tally for this season has climbed as high as it's going to go.

But on we trudge to the next game, a trip to The Hawthorns to face a side who currently sit 20 places and 39 points ahead of us. They come into the game following a 4:0 battering at Leeds United and a 1:0 home loss to Sheffield United.

It's a new ground for me, which is the main reason I'm dragging myself off to a match that I fully expect us to lose, but am trying to cling on to some slim delusion of hope. 

I asked Ipswich based Baggies fan Nikki for her thoughts ahead of the game:

You live in Ipswich but support West Brom - how did that come about? 

Euro 2004 summer in Tenerife, Linekers Bar. Got talking to a group of lads who were in Town shirts, we had just signed Tommy Gaards√łe from you so it was an ice breaker.  

A holiday romance blossomed and six months later I moved to Suffolk. Although the relationship broke down my daughter was born and I've remained in Suffolk for her.

Do you get to see West Brom play very often?   

I try to get to as many games as I can but my weekend job only allows me to have certain weekends free! 

I was at Carrow Road for the 3-4 win and I was at Portman Road in November. I try and do as many of the "local" games as I can.  

West Brom come into the game against Ipswich on the back of two defeats to two teams that are flying high this season, playing Ipswich must look easy by comparison?  

The Leeds and Sheffield United games were a hard watch. 

Both teams did their jobs: Sheffield United were organised, defended well and cut down anything we tried to create.  

As for the Leeds game - I genuinely don't think I have any words for that one. It's gone and it's on to the next one.  

I certainly won't be taking the game against Town lightly.  Our home form isn't great and it's going to be hard coming into the game off two straight losses.

How has the rest of the season been for you guys so far?   

Can certainly say it's been a real mix, we started the season absolutely flying. 

I know they say one player doesn't make a team but I genuinely feel that the loss of Harvey Barnes has had a massive impact on us. He was certainly one of the first names on the team sheet!

What are you hoping for the end of the season? Where do you expect to finish?   

Realistically I think our automatic chances have gone.  I think the most we can hope for is a play-off place.

When I think of West Brom, I always think of them as a Premier League side. How has the Championship been for you, harder than some were expecting?  

Thank you!

Relegation was always going to be tough, especially financially. 

That aside, I find the Championship more exciting!  The results this season have been so unpredicatble with everyone beating everyone.

That's what I always say, although it's not been so easy fo Ipswich to beat anyone! As someone who lives in Ipswich but supports a different side, how are you viewing our season?  

Where do I start, I don't think I've ever known a club to go through so much in one season.  

The loss of players through injury, Freddie Sears and Grant Ward both being sidelined with their ACL (along with some other long term injuries), and a change in manager. 

I think the addition of Alan Judge and Will Keane is a good little duo!

Everyone can see what Mr Lambert is bringing to the changing room at Portman Road and I genuinely believe he is and will turn it around, they just need that rub of the green.  

What can we expect on Saturday, players to keep an eye out for? What are West Brom's strengths/weaknesses?  

Dwight Gayle: I have to say I wasn't entirely sure about the loan deal which saw Sol Rondon go to Newcastle in exchange for Dwight, but how I was proven wrong. He has been absolutely immense for us, and on their day he and Jay Rod can tear any defence apart. 

Our weakness at the minute, I think, is our formation. We have been playing 4-3-3 with Dwight Gayle on the wing and, for me, this just doesn't work! 

And how about off the pitch? This is a new ground for me, what's it like? Any recommendations for pubs to go to before the game?   

The Vine Pub (Postcode: B70 6RD), located a short 15 minute walk away from The Hawthorns is very popular for home and away fans, serves the best curry!

Finally, can I have a score prediction?  

I really want to sit on the fence on this one but I won't!  I'm going 3-1 WBA.

Thanks ever so much for taking part Nikki. Enjoy the game, but hopefully not too much!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Why 2019 won't be the year Ipswich Town fans regret what they wished for (even if/when we go down)

2018 was a year of long wished-for change at Portman Road: the downward spiral of division and anger between Ipswich Town fans and manager Mick McCarthy - caused in no short amount by the lack of investment from Marcus Evans - came to a head.

But can 2019 be the year we finally say goodbye to that? I really do hope so. For years, we've been wishing for something different - both in the style of football on the pitch and the owner's style of management off it. 

By the end of McCarthy's tenure you'd have been hard pushed to find someone who wanted him to renew his contract in the summer and to this day you would still not find anyone who doesn't concede it was best for all parties that he leave.

The relief of McCarthy's departure in April was followed by a risky appointment in Paul Hurst and a disastrous start to the 2018/2019 season. We find ourselves facing the very real prospect of relegation to League One in the coming year. 

But, if we were to go back 12 months - would we change what happened? Would I regret adding my voice to the calls for Mick's resignation? Not. For. A. Second.

And what of our hopes for 2019? To finally move on.

A few months ago, former Norwich player Chris Sutton mocked an Ipswich Town fan during a 5 Live show for saying we were happy to have moved on from our previous manager, even though results since then have been poor.

Aside from the fact that his obsession with criticising our supporters is a bit weird, I do wish Sutton would take the time to learn more about what's going on at Portman Road before commenting. Surely that's part of his job?

It’s true the Hurst honeymoon period didn’t last very long, but that doesn't mean we regret the departure of McCarthy. Even if having him here would have meant we were safe. I think it's fair to say that most Blues fans are content the club made the right choice in moving on from him. 

When speaking to Chris, Blues fan Tom explained this perfectly well, pointing out that anything was better for us than the dross we were served up last season and McCarthy’s repeated press conference digs at our fans. It seems Chris has taken offence to this point of view, but he might wish to consider that it's one held by a large number of Tractor Boys, before trotting out the ‘be careful what you wish for’ strap-line yet again.

(I’m sure he's completely professional and unbiased in his opinions and that his loyalty to  our green and yellow neighbours in Norfolk has nothing to do with his inability to even consider this matter from a different point of view.)

Chris is, of course, correct that McCarthy had moderate success while managing our club: After saving us from relegation, he took us to 6th, 7th, 16th and 12th in the league – not too shabby for a man who wasn’t given the budget that other clubs around us are.

But, the closing years of his time with us epitomised the frustration we’ve all come to feel: he made us question whether we wanted to keep paying to go to games. He went to away games to play for a draw, introduced a hoof-ball style of play that gave us neck-ache and had an aversion to Cup competitions that bordered on disrespectful.

We never got beyond the Third round under his stewardship, and that included an embarrassing, pitiful defeat to then non-league Lincoln. That was a game Chris commentated on, on national radio, with glee and gloating. So, as I say, he's clearly objective and professional when it comes to this topic.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood what he was trying to do on the pitch – even though I was bored out of my mind watching it. But his attitude off the pitch became indefensible: when he reached the point of telling his own fans to f*** off after Chambers scored the late goal against Norwich, he reached the point of no return – he had to go. 

What should have been a moment of celebration was completely ruined by his actions, it tainted the day even more than Klose’s 95th-minute equaliser – and given I’ve been waiting nine long years to see us win a derby, that’s saying something. I'd love to know what Chris has to say about that, but presumably it wouldn't suit his pro-McCarthy, anti-Ipswich fan agenda.

Sadly Chris isn't the only one that seems to be taking pleasure in our demise since the Yorkshire man departed. We've inexplicably appeared on the back page of one newspaper, who usually pays us no attention at all, under the headline 'Be Careful What You Wish For' and other pundits have followed suit.

Despite their liking for Mick, the only time the papers seemed to take an interest in him was when he was linked with the Ireland job. Not once did they cover our results on the pitch - ironically, that's likely to be because it was too boring. 

Even now, as the club faces the drop to the third tier of football for the first time ever, the media insist on looking back at the end of last season rather than forward to the end of this.
I've seen more people criticising us for McCarthy leaving than discussing the current situation of the club and where we're going next. Outside of East Anglia (to be fair, Norwich have taken notice of the Paul Lambert appointment, they're still sulking), we are in the wrong for 'hounding him out'.

What they all seem to have overlooked is one glaring fact: We’ve been in this league for 17 years. Seventeen. I was at school when we got promoted. Since then, I’ve gone on to graduate from uni, moved up north, had three long-term relationships, lived in eight different homes, had a child, got engaged and bought a house.

Meanwhile, Ipswich Town remains stubbornly in the second tier of English football, not being promoted but not being relegated either. The loyalty our fans have shown throughout these years of tedium should be applauded, not mocked. When you’re a football fan, you have to deal with the trials and tribulations. You have ups and you have downs, but you never let that stop you going back for more.

If (or maybe that should now say 'when') we start next season in League One, we will not regret parting ways with McCarthy - mainly because it has absolutely nothing to do with him. Our time with him had come to an end and what has happened since is really not linked  - I'd suggest it's lazy journalism to claim it is.

And so, as we look ahead to what is going to be a challenging enough year for staff, players fans and management at Ipswich Town - my one wish for 2019 is that we can finally leave that name behind. May the initials MM never be mentioned to (or by) any of us again.

Let us just focus on going down...

Oh, and may Chris find something more interesting to focus on than what us Blues fans are up to, or at least learn how to do a bit of research.

This article first appeared in the magazine, Kings of Anglia, you can order your copy here: