Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Two points against Middlesbrough and West Ham would be more than we expected

Four words you hate to wake up to in the morning: Narwich 2, Sunderland 1.

Listening to the last 15 minutes of the game last night my heart was in my mouth. Though it was a shame not to hear Connor Wickham net a last minute equaliser against the Budgies - I found it really exciting.

Fair play to the Nodge, they're making a reasonable impression in the top flite - I feel they'll do a Blackpool this year: not embarass themselves too much, but not stay up either.

Something else that struck me while I was listening to the game was that had the team we have now played them in April - the scoreline would not have been the same. I think we'd actually have given them a match.

If the Blues that played on Saturday had gone 3:0 down to the scum, I think they'd have had the passion, character and organisation to make a comeback. Nowadays, Jimmy, Bowyer and Andrews would refuse to lie down and take the embarrassment;Sonko and Collins would have far more control of fat boy Holt; and the forwards (AKA Chopland, thanks to @gavinbarber) would've at least rattled the woodwork up our end of the pitch...!

On that point I move to our current games, which, at the start of the season, were earmarked as our most difficult run of matches.

The opening games of Bristol, Southampton and Peterborough were considered by some to be a reasonably relaxing warm up to get us on our way. Well, you could argue that they did serve to be a 'warm up' to help us get organised. Though I'd have preferred a lower goal difference at the end of them...

While in the next month Middlesbrough, West ham and Brighton were expected to show us what a tough league we are in. Who knew that when the time came there'd be a feeling of more chance for success in the latter three games?!

The result last Monday and following performance on Saturday has, finally, renewed the faith of the loyal Blues supporters. After the Coventry game it was easy to consider that we were not playing the best of teams and the bigger test was yet to game... but against Middlesbrough I think we finally started to prove ourselves.

And who'd have thought that such a #twitfc positive response would come from a nil nil draw?!

I think it was summed up best online by my Town Tweep buddy @samstannard: 'The green shoots of progress are finally starting to show through'.

So, to Upton Park go over 1500 Ipswich Town fans, all hopeful that their boys in blue will get a point or three out of tonight's trip to London.

May I be so bold as to suggest that they will be happy with a point? Just as Saturday seemed to be us demonstrating how much we have improved; tonight will see us holding our own against another 'Premier League' side. So to take two points from these two difficult away games would make me a happy Tractorgirl... that's not to say I can't see Chops sneaking a late winner though!

Something to think about on your way down to the capital; with news filtering through this morning that Carlos Edwards has been arrested (again) for driving without a licence - how much could this have an affect on our new found confidence? For me, he's the one player we cannot replace. If he were to be sent to jail for this latest offence - who would you play instead? Is there anyone?

For me you could swap and change the central defence and even the midfield four, if injury forced you. Meanwhile there are plenty of options up front if Chops or the in-form Jase Scotland were unavailable for some reason. But Edwards and Cresswell are less easy to replace.

To a certain extent Carlos has been forced to play the right back position due to a lack of other options and Jewell has done well to turn that situation round to our advantage, by using it to make our midfield stronger. But what would we do without Edwards?

Hopefully, we'll not need to worry about it, the club have said that there were 'extenuating circumstances' for his actions. But is this not the kind of unreliable player we could do without at Portman Road? Can we forgive him this disgression? Certainly food for thought.

Either way, expect many rounds of 'Oh Carlos Edwards, he's taking the bus' tonight' and if we come home with a point I'll be smug that I got it right!

I expect and hope for a 1:1 draw and the Blues fans continuing to keep the faith...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Ipswich Town see off Sky Blues and 'Sky Curse'

Over the years, the Tractor Boys have become notorious for getting stage fright when the Sky cameras come to visit.

And with the two most recent televised games ending in heavy defeats - last night was the night to emulate Cardiff Away rather than Narwich at Home.

I just had this feeling in my bones that yesterday would be the day the pieces of the jigsaw came together for Town, and I was right.

In the build up to the game the Town faithful expressed concern at Paul Jewell's choice for the starting line up - but it turned out to be inspired. Did you ever doubt it?

Groans about the lack of width were responded to on the pitch by an excellent midfield performance, the like of which I can't remember seeing at Portman Road for months... perhaps even years.

I have commented many times that the midfield has, at times, appeared non existent for the Boys in Blue, but last night they were controlling and organised. The players, who've been accused of being 'too old' by some fans, finally demonstrated that wealth of experience they have between them: most notably Lee Bowyer who looked confident rather than frustrated for the first time since joining us.

@dave_goods of the EADT and Evening Star argued on Twitter that it was Grant Leadbitter's best game in a Town shirt and I'm inclined to agree. He was all over the park, constantly finding space to move for the ball and playing a huge part in the flowing passing game that was on display. @djonesax rightly pointed out to me that he gave the ball away several times: but when you consider the amount of possesion he earned I think you have to allow him the odd slip. For today at least.

Andrews was, once again, superbly determinatined and his contribution to the gamewas immeasurable. Thanks largely to our strong midfield, he was able to leave the defending to others and concentrate on pushing the ball forward for our own attack (And that is why I feel PJ's formation was a stroke of genius). His goal was an excellent 1-2 with Chopra, stuff made of Premiership quality, and demonstrated the great playing relationship those two are developing.

His constant supply of passes finally provided the support both Chops and Scotland needed - and boy did it make the difference. Micheal Chopra will be playing those misses over and over in his head. But, I don't think he needs to worry too much- I was just pleased to see him actually having those chances at last. As @dave_harrison said to me - 'once he gets one the goals start be flying in from him'. So keep at it Chops, I'm still backing you to reach twenty this year.

Meanwhile, the star of the show up front was most definitely Jason Scotland, PJ has said so too. I was so pleased to see him given a place in the starting line up, I thought he worked really hard at Blackpool. There are still some fans who aren't keen on him, but for me he's a quality goal scorer who's been proven at this level - exactly what we asked Paul Jewell for at the start of his ITFC reign. Jason proved me right and the Twitter doubters wrong thanks to a beautiful third goal that buried the game for Town.

At the other end of the pitch kudos must be given to the first half defence who looked solid - albeit with very little to do. PJ opted to make no changes to the back line, giving the new players (very new in Collins' case) a chance to play together and learn about each other.

Sadly, Ibrahima Sonko (who would be set to be my Player of the Season if it weren't for Jimmy Bullard) suffered an injury in the second half, shaking that solid defence slightly. It's true that with him being replaced by Damien 'looks like he'd rob your Nan' Delaney, the back line didn't look so sure. But, personally, I'm not too worried - my argument being that Coventry were 2 nil down and, cleverly, took advantage of Town momentarily taking their foot off the gas following Sonko's substitution.

So Man of the Match ought to be Aaron Cresswell who Sky seem to think will be singlehandedly winning the next World Cup for England, going on their commentary. His goal line clearances saved us and were karma for Chopras misses earlier on. That lad is, undoubtedly, one to watch this year.

But, in the interest of giving you something to think about, I'd go for Grant Leadbitter. He's had a really tough time this season, particularly from Town fans, but I have always said I quite like his way of playing. It pulled off last night and was even more impressive given the number of times he's been kicked whilst he's down. More from him to come, I hope.

The best of the rest would be our energetic front line Chops and Jase. Finally starting to show us what they're made of and, again, I get the feeling there's much more to come.

Bekah's funny moment most definitely goes to Jimmy and Andrews for the now infamous 'paper, scissors, stone' incident. Shouldn't everything in life be decided in that way?!

On a serious note I also felt the way the two interated during and after the match was indicative of the relatioship the players have with each other. The whole team are starting to look like they enjoy playing together, like one big happy family. a family with an amazing array of accents, by the way- the post match interview was amusingly hard to follow thanks to the scouse/irish/cockney twangs!

Favourite quote: SKY REPORTER 'have you all been practising the free kicks in training then Jimmy?' JIMMY 'Well I have, them two obviously haven't', love him!

Highlight of the day is the Twitfc hashtag and my Twitter timeline finally being full of so much positivity. Keep it up: we are the twelfth man and we will make the difference this season.

For what it's worth, I will balance this article with a comment that there is still some way to go for the Boys in Blue. Just as I said after Bristol, one game does not a season make.

The defence was wobbly without Sonko and you can't rely on one player not getting injured - I refer to the loss of Ingimarsson to illustrate my point. The midfield looked tired at the end: I leave it to you to decide if that's age or lack of fitness (for me it's the latter as I mentioned after Blackpool).

And poor old Chops couldn't hit a barn door... But that will improve.

So the clear message this week is 'keep up the good work boys'.

And keep the faith Blue Army!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Blackpool Away: good things come to those who wait

I was privileged enough to be featured in the Evening Star this weekend, as their 'Star Fan' for the game at Blackpool.

Could've picked a better weekend...!

The difficulty being any comment I could think to make felt like I was repeating myself from all but one of the games we've already played.

Our defence is clearly not strong enough, again... but they will get better.

Our midfield was sloppy, again... but they will get better.

Our players lacked confidence again, (particularly when they went two nil down)... but they will get better.

It's hard work keeping the faith when you're seeing the same old problems arise time and time again. But we're Ipswich fans - not giving up is what we do best.

In some parallel universe football matches may only be 45 minutes long. And the Blue Army living in that world will be over the moon at the moment.

Because in the first half we looked impressive, we moved the ball well, looked fairly solid when Blackpool were pushing forward and seemed to be trying to get on the attack ourselves as often as possible.

It didn't look like either team were going to score, to be honest and nil nil at the break was a fair result.

But it did look like this team were beginning to gel together. Some of the passing football we witnessed was back to the well renowned style of play Ipswich Town take credit for. With new signing Danny Collins also making several key clearances it looked, for a while, that we have finally got together the team we've been hoping for.

We matched Blackpool well and, bearing in mind this is a team recently relegated from the Premier League who by no means disgraced themselves whilst playing in the top flite, that is impressive. If it weren't for the traumatic start to our season - we would have been happy with a nil nil draw going in to the game.

But as the whistle blew for half time the heavens opened, and with it the tides of fortune changed for our boys.

As players from both sides began slipping and sliding their way across the pitch you really sensed a change in the game - this was not going to make life easy and with us already being wobbly under pressure this spelt bad news.

When the first goal went in, I wasn't too disappointed. It was a scramble in the wet and although there are clearly lessons to be learnt, I think conditions were difficult for the players at that point. Had the ball been up the other end of the pitch, who knows, we might have been able to scramble it over the line.

Another point is that Taylor-Fletcher was by far the best player on the pitch and him finding the back of the net was inevitable at some point.

However, what felt much less than ten minutes later, Blackpool netted another and essentially killed the game off in the process. We never looked like scoring when we were one goal down, to score two was definitely beyond us on that particular day.

I was disappointed with that second goal, I'd have liked to have seen the boys pull themselves together after the first and take control of the game. It was sad to see them so dejected and from that point on they really looked like they were just waiting for the game to be over.

Not that they didn't care enough to pull themselves out of it, I truly believe they do. My sister and I happened to walk past the team bus just as the players had begun to filter out of the changing room, so we stopped to get some pictures. The players really looked glum. Ever the professionals, they signed autographs and posed for pictures; but each one of them looked like they were carrying the weight of disappointment of the 1700 football fans back to Suffolk. So I don't doubt that they wanted to give us all better, especially after such a long journey up.

For me, there was three things wrong.

The man marking when we were defending was diabolical. That's a school boy error; the thing you learn first in football training so should never forget. They chopped and changed the men they were marking without talking to each other; subsequently leaving Blackpool players free to shoot. It was scary.

But, if you ask me, this is something that will improve with time and more games together. Danny Collins arrived in Ipswich on Friday and was thrown straight in at the deep end, to a team who conceded 12 goals in two games and were still suffering from the nervousness that created. It can't have been easy, and it could have been worse.

What I would say though is this: going into the game who is the one player you were most worried about? Kevin Phillips, by any chance? And did you notice him at all on Saturday? Well, I didn't and it has only in recent hours dawned on me that that might explain why the defence appeared so gappy. Was too much effort concentrated on stopping the notorious hitman? Would you have done any different?!

Carlos Edwards is sorely missed on the right wing, he is not a right back. There's not really much else that can be said here, and conversely I'd also like to say that Leadbitter does not belong on the wing. Both players tried to make the best out of a bad situation, and I think they deserve some credit for giving it a go. Meanwhile Paul Jewell has admitted he is still trying to find the right 'formula' for his new-look side. This will improve.

Finally, fitness - yet another thing that can only improve with time. There were several players who did not look 100 per cent fit - Jimmy Bullard being the most obvious. You know something's not right when Jimmy Bullard is giving away the ball and not making runs when he should be. But the only way to get match fit is to play games.

So, this week I am happy to jump down from the fence and join the supporters calling for other members of the Blue Army to have more patience.

The vast majority of the travelling Town fans deserve praise for the character they showed on Saturday: It was a long way to come for a disappointing result like that but that's part and parcel of being a member of the Blue Army. And I got the distinct impression these weary Blues fans are not giving up hope yet - in fact there's still an air of excitement of what is to come this season. Don't let go of that - I am so proud of the Town fans for their behaviour at the ground, and around Blackpool afterwards (@Samstannard explained they were 'pretending we won 4-2' and therefore celebrating)- we truly do have the greatest fans in the world!

Dave Gooderham asked me who I would put as Man of the Match and I told him I'd been trying to decide that for nearly 24 hours. For me, it was Aaron Cresswell, he was excellent on the left hand side, lots of really good football came from him and he was constantly moving into space and getting himself in the right position. Sadly, he was often ignored or forgotten altogether. Specifically though, he was the one player that shone in the second half, and I think he deserves credit for keeping the faith.

Also making his mark was debutant Danny Collins, who had an air of Gareth McAuley about him in both his physique and calmness under pressure. All we need next is for him to organise the team in front of him and build on what already looked a decent partnership with Sonko in the first half, the HUGE defender has also said this himself. Reports today that his loan move could become permanent are pleasing and will be a good result for Town if they turn out to be true.

At the other end of the pitch Taylor Fletcher was excellent... unfortunately. He gave Chops a lesson in actually making use of the ball when it was in his possession. But it is worth noting that, throughout the first half, shots on goal for them were as rare as they were for us. Perhaps testament to both teams solid defences up to the half way mark.

'Bekah's funny moment' is the greatest example I can give of the strength that Town fans showed on Saturday. As the game neared it's close and the Blue Army resigned itself to another away defeat a chant started up that will forever be one of my favourites. A seagull made it's way above the pitch, swooping and diving - to which the blue end of the ground began singing, 'oooohhhh, seagull, seagull, seagull'. It's testament to what it means to be a True Blue this season, even when times are hardm you have to make the best of a bad situation. We are there to have a good time: so why the hell not have a bit of fun? Brilliant!

The highlight of the day was actually the highlight of the weekend: meeting some fellow Town Tweeps in person. I cannot describe the proud I felt hearing a chorus of Blue Army ring out above the noise in a Blackpool nightclub on Saturday night. For me, it was great to spend the evening with people who share the same big passion that I do, Ipswich Town.

As I told the Evening Star, I truly believe this IS the start of something big for us. Rome wasn't built in a day, even Bobbby Robson didn't fix Ipswich in his first season. These ups and downs are all part of the Ipswich Town story and there WILL be a happy ending. It may not be this year (or even next year), but it will come and I am proud to be a part of that history. Aren't you?