Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Ipswich Town must respond quickly and positively after defeat at Accrington Stanley

A lot has happened since Ipswich Town travelled to Accrington Stanley for an FA Cup match back in January… 

I've been through nine months of pregnancy and given birth to my second baby, England have won the cricket World Cup, while Theresa May and Boris Johnson have had their Brexit deals rejected by parliament countless times. 

But you’d be forgiven for thinking not a lot has changed for Ipswich Town: despite them sitting pretty at the top of League One, they still have the capacity to disappoint with a truly dire performance – just as they did back at the beginning of the year.  

That is, of course, extremely harsh, given this was their first defeat of the season. But this weekend was my first game since May and I’m feeling a little disappointed after being very excited about returning to watch this high-flying side.

What follows here is not intended to be an analytical blog on the pros and cons of our performance at the Wham stadium, but more my experience of the game as a long-suffering, long-distance supporter of The Blues.

An unexpected line-up

We began the day with news that Lambert had made big changes to the side, a move which was forced - to some extent - by the fact we’ll be playing three games in a week and Norwood, Wilson, Vincent-Young and Downes were all unavailable.

By all accounts, the four have been some of our strongest players, Vincent-Young in particular has attracted rave reviews. So, it’s little wonder this team felt somewhat second strength, but it was an opportunity for some new players to make the step up.

Dozzell, sadly, didn’t do that in my opinion. I’d forgotten he was playing until he made a tackle somewhere in the second half and he was as ineffectual this weekend as he was during our previous game against Stanley.

This was a scrappy game, so perhaps not particularly suited to him, but as our new side develops under Lambert with the goal of heading straight back to the Championship – he’s going to have to prove himself able to adapt to these kinds of games which will be plentiful in League One.

Meanwhile, Jackson and Judge were selected to play up front, but from what I could see that actually meant Kayden was a lone forward with Judge playing slightly behind him. I cannot stand it when we play one up-front!

With Keane on the bench it seemed a shame to play this formation. It's possible Lambert has opted to rest Keane ahead of our next match, but I’d have liked to see him at least play 45 minutes to give Jackson more support. 

Meanwhile, our defence clearly missed the solid Wilson – Nsiala was slow and lost and frankly not up to the standard of a promotion-chasing side. He may well have a big willy, as the song alleges, but he’s too much of a liability for me.

On a side note, it was interesting that back in January he stood out as our one decent player… he was quite the opposite on Sunday and perhaps that’s a reassuring sign of how far the team has come since then.

Stanley’s first goal was reminiscent of the many we conceded last year

From Accrington’s point of view, the first goal was a beaut – to me, it looked like a lovely cross into the area and a great header from Bishop. But, there were far too many opportunities for our defence to clear the ball, which they didn’t.

Edwards and Garbutt should have done better while the ball was on the wing and Bishop was largely unmarked as he headed it home. I was brutally reminded of the many awful goals we conceded last season, the defence was left helpless as the ball hit the net.

For me, the penalty was harsh on Nsiala, I felt at the time it was a case of ‘6 of one and half a dozen of the other’. It was the last in a long line of decision which went against us, in my totally biased opinion it seemed the referee was punishing us for being the ‘bigger’ side.

My opinion hasn’t changed since watching the goals back, but I know it’s a decision that’s since been debated at length by Town fans and not all agree with me. Blue Monday’s Rich provided a great summary of the tackle on this week’s episode which I was happy to be a part of.

Things could have been different

Having been at the right end of the ground to see the best bits of action from the first half – their two goals were the only two bits of action from the first half – we were also perfectly 
positioned to see the main point of interest from the second half.

A great cross from Garbutt created Town’s best chance to score: sailing over the top of Jackson and Nolan, before their keeper punched it into the path of Woolfenden. His shot was cleared, but not – from our point of view – before it had crossed the line.

Sadly, the referee did not agree, and the away fans stood on the terrace were left bemoaning what really should have been a chance to celebrate on this dull day. In my opinion, Woolfenden should have taken away all doubt and just thrown himself at the ball to take it over the line.

Shortly afterwards, a kerfuffle in front of the seated away fans led to the referee waving a red card at the Accrington player Sykes… 'Here we go', thought I. 'A chance to turn things around with their team down to ten men.'

But it wasn’t to be. The next thing we know, Town substitute Dobra is sulking across the pitch, comforted by Jackson and shrugging his shoulders as if to say, ‘what did I do, Miss?’ Well, lad, you pushed someone in the head so you’ve kind of got to go!

And with that my dwindling hopes that we might get something from our trip completely disappeared.

The unbeaten run is over – and I’m kind of glad

It's been an enjoyable start to the season and I don’t think anyone would have guessed we’d be undefeated in the league for as long as this. But, I’m relieved the pressure of that unbeaten run is now over.

Rather than worrying about how long we can keep that up, we can go back to focusing on one game at a time. We remain top of the league and probably the best side in the third tier.

But, if we intend to stay there we must do better from now. Sky’s commentators summed up our afternoon perfectly: ‘Ipswich Town are getting Sunday schooled.’ That’s pretty embarrassing.

I’m not the type of fan who will get carried away after one win, or panic after one defeat. But with three games in quick succession, this week could quickly become a disappointing turning point in our season if we don’t respond quickly and correctly against Rotherham.

I’m taking comfort in the fact we weren’t as dire on Sunday as we were back in January – but I’m not going to be booking my train tickets for May’s open-top bus tour just yet. This league lacks quality, but so do we sometimes and we’ve got to earn our place back in the Championship.

The most important thing now is moving on and recovering. We need to pick ourselves up and regain control, regain that winning mentality. Do you think we can do that? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter - I'm @TractorGirlAmy8

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!