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?

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