Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Why the defeat against Palace really doesn't matter all that much

I have a confession to make: there's a small part of me that's relieved we lost on Saturday.

The recent run of good form has been a fascinating watch, and thoroughly deserved after the work the boys put in to turn things around following Peterborough away.

But it had to end some time.

I, for one, am reasonably content that this weekend's defeat came at the hands of a club who are on the up this season, the team that have surprised everyone with their equally good form, fair play to them. As Paul Jewell said after the game: 'Let's give Palace some credit, they played well. They gave us problems with their pace and we didn't give them problems.'

Of course it was disappointing that the team couldn't put in a better performance in front of this season's biggest crowd so far. But Paul Jewell has repeatedly said you cannot fault the boys for their enthusiasm. It's a shame that we look, as he put it, 'flat' at the moment. But I am certain he will figure out how to get them past that. In Jewell I Trust.

I think the result was best summed up for me by the one and only Jimmy Bullard, also in the EADT: 'You get days like that. In sport in general, not just football. I play golf: One day you turn up and swing well and you think you've cracked it. Then the next time you play it bites you on the bum. You have to forget about it and move on'.

When all's said and done: it is just one game, life goes on.

A statement that has taken on a lot more meaning for me in the last three days.

Ipswich Town are my first love, the single most important thing to me after my family and closest friends. But my second love is MotoGP and this weekend my heart was broken.

24 year old, upcoming super-star rider Marco Simoncelli was killed in a horrific crash at the Grand Prix in Sepang. It is a great loss to motorsport, the second in a week following the equally sad passing of Dan Wheldon.

His death has hit me so hard, I realised today it has upset me just as much as it might if it had been one of my beloved Town players (God forbid).

For those less aware of the incredible and exciting world of the MotoGP this touching obituary from the BBC's Matt Roberts explains all. Marco Simoncelli was the one with the MASSIVE afro. He was an amazing talent who was just beginning to reach the top of his game, having moved to the top class of bike racing only last season. On top of this he was such a cheerful and fun character, much like fellow Italian (the wonderful) Valentino Rossi - who has called Sic his 'younger brother'.

In Ipswich terms you could liken this weekend's events to if Connor Wickham were to be fatally injured this season, having only just moved to the Premier League. Or Wayne Rooney suffering that unimaginable fate just after moving to Man Utd.

They would have had so much more talent to show us. Just as Marco undoubtedly did. 'Touch wood' no such thing will ever happen to any young star again, whatever their sport.

These men and women give up everything for their sport. Their lives are entirely devoted to it: through diet, training, travelling away from home and away from family, essentially their life is no longer their own.

I totally understand that racing drivers in particular choose this life and they are fully aware of the risks they take when lining up on the grid. But, for that alone, I believe they deserve our upmost respect.

They give their lives for our entertainment, and this weekend that statement became so horrifically literal in the case of the beautiful Simoncelli.

And this is why when I hear 'fans' moaning about Jewell, publicly berating JET and constantly sending out put downs to Grant Leadbitter or Carlos Edwards I am totally disgusted. What right have they?

It's not just at Town: across the English football league this weekend there's been outcry from 'fans' who seem to think they could do a footballer's job so much better; Manchester United and Chelsea to name but a few. What a shame.

I will miss Marco so much, MotoGP has lost a member of it's family and it is so sad. But he raced for the love of his sport, just as we go to Portman Road for the love of ours. What enjoyment can we get out of complaining all the time? Is it not more fun to get behind the boys and cheer them on?

Can we not do as Marco did and smile hugely through it all, have fun and enjoy it.

From now on I will try to enjoy every moment of the two sports I love. And every day I will do so remembering the wonderful person that we have lost and pray that it does not happen to any more of my idols.

RIP Marco Simoncelli. 58 forever.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Keeping the faith as Town narrowly beat Pompey and move into the Play-Off places

'It's playing poorly and still managing to win that's a sign of a good team'

If I had a pound for every time I've heard that in the last 36 hours I'd have enough money to make Keith Andrews' move to Portman Road a permanent one.

The scoreline suggests that the midfielder's 80th minute strike was the only difference between the two sides, but that wasn't the case. Portsmouth bossed the lack lustre Ipswich side around and will have been sorely disappointed to be heading back to the south coast with no points.

For the first time since our new look Ipswich side has started storming up the Championship, they have come up against a team who figured out how to stop them playing.

For me, the fact that Edwards and Cresswell were unusually quiet was a telling sign - they were closely marked and not given their usual space, which slowed the game down massively. But credit where it's due, the two worked extremely hard to overcome this challenge, particularly Edwards who's been named as Man of the Match by the Evening Star's Dave Gooderham.

Meanwhile, when we did show signs of good attacking football Portsmouth locked down their defence and the penalty area appeared to be surrounded by more people than the entrance to Dale Farm. We just couldn't get through.

It's to be expected of a team like Portsmouth; who are not just a formerly Premiership side, they're a side who were formerly well established in the Premier League. Their experience showed on Tuesday night, but what's most impressive is that we actually managed to overcome that.

For me getting through a tough performance like that, without falling apart at the seams was almost as important for Town as the recent wins we've experienced. The boys battled through, managed to scrape a one goal lead and held on to it, even under huge amounts of pressure.

Yes it was very nervy at times, but isn't it the nailbiting final ten minutes that attract you to the game?!

What's also interesting to note is that when Jimmy Bullard has a bad game, so do Ipswich Town. The curly haired one was, unusually, giving away balls constantly. He never quite got up to full pace and the gap he left at the back of the midfield was plain to see. But rather than criticising him for that, I raise the point to highlight the impact he has had on our side. I don't think you can fault his desire to win - it was just one of those bad days for him. As I say, fascinatingly the performance of the whole team could be summed up in the same way - clearly he is our biggest influence still.

While I'd like to think that Jimmy was distracted by my long awaited appearance at the ground, it has been pointed out to me that he took a knock in the early stages of the game and that may well have had an effect on him. In his post-match interview, Paul Jewell admitted that some of his players are not fully fit at the moment and that may go some way to explaining the below par performance. He mentioned that Scotland hasn't trained much, which is unusual for the striker in recent months, and so one wonders how many other members of the team are carrying injuries but attempting to play through? For that reason I think PJ should be applauded for his clever substitutions - Ellington and JET went someway to bringing the desire to win and energy needed to do so back on to the pitch. For me they didn't quite match up to Chops and Jase, but that's a discussion for another day.

For today, we can take ourselves smugly into Saturday knowing that we need worry a little less against Palace. For now that we have a less exciting performance under our belt we have also ticked the last worrying box - how will we do against a team that know how to play us? This time last year we'd have lost that game by three or four goals, or dare I even say six? But now we've shown we've also got it in us to dig deep and cling on to a result, even if maybe we don't quite deserve it.

In my books, by doing that we deserve it even more.

Man of the Match has been a discussion of real debate on Twitter since Tuesday night, with everyone seeming to opt for a different player. After much deliberation I have opted for Stockdale - once again his saves came at crucial points for Ipswich Town, with the stop in the dying minutes of injury time bringing the whole of Portman Road to its feet in applause of grattitude. Once again, his performance has prevented us suffering from what was happening elsewhere on the pitch. For the first time this season he did look a little 'wobbly' at points and I don't wish to ignore that completely, but I think that's down to the quality of the opposition and I'm impressed he kept a cool head to go with that well deserved clean sheet.

At the other end of the pitch the build up for the return of David Norris fizzled out without even becoming relevant. Our former skipper was quiet to say the least, and though he did have a couple of good chances on goal, the performance we'd feared he would put in to undo us never materialised. Nice to see him settled in his new side, but - as I told the Evening Star - I don't think we miss him any more.

Bekah's funny moment didn't take place during the game itself, mainly because I was too on edge worrying that we were going to concede! However, I did enjoy the half time game - Ipswich fans taking penalties on the half way line and the shot that went at the highest speed won the prize. I've stated my disappointment before that the club did not make enough effort with entertainment at the interval, and explained that I believe it could make a real difference to the atmosphere at Portman Road. Admittedly, it didn't necessarily raise the noise in the ground, but it was a bit of light relief for the Blues faithful on such a bitterly cold night... particularly when one contestant skied his effort and it nearly landed in the Sir Bobby Robson Upper.

The highlight of the day as a whole was, to be honest, just being there. It's no accident that my first trip to Portman Road this season was for an evening match - I love them. Some of my happiest memories are from the quarter to eight kick offs and I always feel that there's a happier atmosphere within the crowd at the late games - no matter how low the temperature gets! As Matt Holland said to me during the day: 'there's definitely something magical about those games'.

So onward and upwards for our boys - and, happily, there's getting to be less and less room for us to move 'upwards' nowadays.

I'm very much enjoying being 6th in the league, a position that is thoroughly deserved from the hard fought games and excellent performances we have put in in recent weeks.

You just wonder how it could possibly go wrong from here and I'm sure there'll be a few wobbles along the way. But thanks to the gritty result on Tuesday, we now know we can overcome those obstacles and it'll all be ok in the end.

In Jewell We (Still) Trust!!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Portman Road avoids Managerial Sacking Season, thankfully

Just 10 games into the season the cull of managerial staff across the Championship has already begun.

But, is it too early?

Steve McClaren's resignation has come as no shock bearing in mind the state Nottingham Forest find themselves in at the moment. But ask a Forest fan how they feel about his exit and they will likely tell you the same thing my Forest fan friend @ibrahimmustapha: 'His heart's not been it for weeks so it was the right thing for him to go, but the problem runs much deeper than just needing a new manager'.

So why does it seem like the former England boss (along with the Chairman) are taking the fall for this? Have the media been too quick to get on his back? Sadly, a story of failure well always sell papers better than one of success.

Meanwhile, is it right that the fans have been up in arms and calling for McClaren's head? Similarly, at Doncaster and Bristol some have been asking for the boss to be sacked for a while: Do they really have the right to make that call? And why on earth are the clubs taking any notice?

The influence of fans and local media over these big decisions has also been discussed in this excellent article from website 'The Sacking Race'.

The current favourite to replace McClaren is a certain former Blues boss. The furore surrounding these latest managerial changes is reminiscient of a not-so-distant time at Portman Road, when one might have thought Satan himself had taken residence in Suffolk in the form of Roy Keane.

It took me until the last few weeks of his reign to decide there was clearly something going wrong, but many of the Town faithful had decided Keane was causing problems long before. There were chants and protests for his head months before he left, not only were the Blues underachieving, the unrest among the players was causing them to self destruct.

But, once again, the local media (who now contain almost completely new staff, by the way, and an altogether more balanced and positive attitude towards the boys) were enjoying the circus. I believe the board wanted a high profile name to lift Ipswich Town's own profile to the forefront of the footballing world's attention. They got what they wanted but not in the way they wanted. The media tore Keane apart at every turn because, like I say, a story of failure sells papers.

So, I ask again what right do the media or the fans have to make the call over a manager's future? And when will clubs stop paying any attention?

Don't get me wrong, I do understand that we put a lot of time money and effort into our football clubs and, as such, seeing them go through troubling times physically hurts. But who are we to tell the board how to do their job? I put a lot of time and money into MacDonald's every month - but I don't try telling Ronald how to light those golden arches.

Fast forward nine months and it's a different story entirely at Portman Road.

Now, Jewell is our king. But for a while it looked like he might end up being the joker. Following the unmentionable defeat at London Road some fans (though I do believe it was a minority) were calling for the scouser to be sacked.

What one earth is he thinking? Damien Delaney's a waste of space, Lee Martin's taking the mick, Josh Carson should be playing, Paul Jewell has no idea. They all knew better than him.

But, a Danny Collins and a Jimmy Bullard later, we appear to be all sorted and the doubts of the big man are all but forgotten.

Aren't we glad Simon Clegg paid no attention to calls to getting rid of PJ now?

As such, Ipswich Town are setting an example to the Championship: have a little faith and allow time for the team to grow. 46 games is a long season.

One tweet I received last night (from someone I had long thought lost to the cause of positivity at ITFC) summed up, rather eloquently, the rocky start to our season: 'PJ knew what he wanted and I think now we are seeing what he wanted with the team from day one'.

Absolutely right, aren't you all glad we kept him? I just hope Doncaster, Forest and Bristol aren't wishing they'd said the same by the end of the season.

Thank you Marcus Evans and Simon Clegg for putting your faith in Jewell and backing him through the rough start. It's all up from here!

In Jewell We Trust

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Ipswich Town FC; the finest football team the Championship has ever seen?

In my state of drunk-with-happiness-following-our-amazing-3:1-win-over-Brighton I made a very bold statement to the researchers at BBC 5 Live's 606:

'Ipswich Town are now the best team in the League'

Clearly I was a little overexcited. But, you know, the more I think about it the more I'm convinced I'm right.

Sam Allardyce was the third manager this season to make the following statement: 'Ipswich Town are the best team we've played so far'.

Ten points from 12 sounds great and it's certainly a statistic even the most faithful of Town fans were expecting. But what's even more impressive is how that compares to the top teams in the league: of the top 6 clubs, none have earned as points as us from the last 4 games.

Position Club Points Form
1st Southampton 6 Beat Watford and Birmingham
2nd Middlesbrough 6 Beat Palace Away and drew other three.
3rd Derby County 7 Beat Forest and Millwall
4th West Ham 5 Beat Peterborough and drew two.
5th Brighton 1 Just one draw after very good start.
6th Hull City 8 Didn’t lose in September.

Consistency is key, and it seems that not only have we found our pace - but it's good enough to rival the teams at the top of our league. Early on in the season I voiced my rejection of fears online that the top teams were running away already and we'd never catch them. Thanks to this great run, I have been proven right.

What's interesting when you look at these statistics is the games these top teams are winning - they're defeating clubs like Forest, Watford and Peterborough. Without wanting to appear disrespectful, these are not difficult games and seem even less impressive when compared with our run of a draw and two wins against Middlesbrough, West Ham and Brighton.

The one team who do make a good impression on me are Middlesbrough, they haven't yet lost this season. That's a fantastic situation to be in and it's that kind of consistency that will win out at the end of the year. However, there is something to be said for the fight that needs to appear within a team following a bad run of results: Something Town have shown in abundance.

And that is another reason I believe we are the best team in the league. When we lost to Peterborough I was loud and clear about my disappointment that the players had given up so easily and that they weren't even getting on with each other. That just isn't a problem anymore.

On Saturday we were gutted to lose the chance to make it four clean sheets in a row - but the character the boys showed to make a come back from that disappointment was excellent. What's more the celebrations following the goals showed they are happy together now. It's something that's impressed other Town fans too, I asked what the highlight of the game was:

@Beazerblue Chopra giving Jewell a hug after one of his goals. Shows good spirit.

@S_BaileyITFC Chops ran straight to Jewell after his second goal and bear hugged him!

@Seanie_S I agree, that was my highlight too!

@83missy Somehow that hug ended up as a mass bundle. Team spirit!

@dc96 Sonko/JB chest bump after 2nd goal.

(Something I've still not seen so if anyone's got a video link please send it to me!)

@clarky_7for19 For me it was something special seeing Sonko tower above everyone for his goal.

@Felstedboy Jimmy going to greet a fan in the disabled section during the warm up. You could see it made his day, tear to eye and lump in throat moment.

Which brings me to the next point I would like to make: the signings we've made this summer are also making us the best team in the league. The return of Craig Mackail-Smith to Portman Road this weekend reminded some that there had been small amounts of rumours that Ipswich were interested in buying him. Some Twitter voices even commented that they thought it was Jewell's biggest mistake not signing him. But, I'm hoping the result on Saturday proved them wrong.

Chopra, Jimmy, Bowyer, Andrews, Sonko, Collins, Cresswell and Stockdale. It may have taken a few games for them to gel, but can you imagine an Ipswich team without them now?!

We now have the best midfield since the days of Mattie Holland, experience and determination with a great ability to read the game (thanks to the now irrepressible Grant Leadbitter).

Our defence looks more solid than it has since Tony Mowbray and Mark Venus ruled the back line. Sonko and Collins finally provide fans with a bit of reliability, while Stocko is a great acquisition both in and out of Portman Road following ANOTHER call up to the England squad.

Whilst the Chopland partnership continues to work it's magic, with 7 goals in four games and Chops finally reopening his account for the Blues we can look forward to a better goal difference this year, I feel.

Meanwhile, I do not doubt for a single second that Chops will reach his 20 goal target this season, and the outpouring of Twitter love for the hit man when he scored his first on Saturday shows the Blue Army are believing that too!

I will reiterate what I have said many times before: we will not win every game, even if we make the play-offs we still may not go up (an experience we're all far too familiar with) and there will still be days where things don't go to plan.

But the important thing is keeping the faith. According to Paul Jewell, the support the fans showed when we went 1:0 down on Saturday lifted the players.

And there you have the final reason Ipswich Town are the best in the league - we have the greatest fans. We are the twelfth man this year, and we will be the difference between making it into the top six and sticking around the midtable.

In Jewell We Trust.

For anyone who's interested in hearing me spread the Ipswich Town positivity message here's the link, I'm at 1 hr 29 minutes on the 6 second challenge!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Always look on the #twitfc side of life!

A win from Town today would see the Blues getting three great results from what we thought would be the three hardest games of the season: Middlesbrough, West Ham and Brighton.

What a wonderful time it is to be a Town fan!

I was speaking to @FelsedBoy this morning and he quite delightfully described today as 'feeling like the first of the season, with the glorious weather and the feeling of hope in Ipswich'.

Sadly, in monmths gone by, the Town faithful have not been feeling so optimistic- and really, who can blame them. The pinnacle of the gloom arriving just after Peterborough United, of course.

But amidst all that was a collection of fans (at games and on Twitter) who became tired of the negativity surrounding their club.

A few of them started up a new hashtag on Twitter - #twitfc- and pledged that this would only be used for positive thinking. Since then it has been used for the Blue Army to voice their support and love for their club.

When some people were calling for Paul Jewell to be sacked, the #twitfc army shouted that they had their faith that he would turn it around.

When some players were publicly ridiculed online, the #twitfc army rushed to their defence and sang out for them.

And when Lee Bowyer scored on Tuesday night at Upton. Park, the timeline exploded with cheers and happiness. I've never known such an out pouring of emnotion from a group of men!

To me, it cannot be a coincidence that the change in attitude, among the players as well as the fans, has been followed by a change in fortunes on the pitch.

Despite there being a low attendance for the Coventry at home game, the mood by then had most definitely been lifted and, for the first time, this was evident on the pitch. Jimmy Bullard's infamous game of rock, paper, scissors was a symbol of the solidarity now being experienced amongst the players.

We had a very rough start to the season, as Paul Jewell told the EADT 'We've had some real body blows in the season so far, but at the moment we have bounced back and are playing with confidence'.

With the addition of on-loan right back Reese Wabara it appears that Town may have found the final piece of the jigsaw, although I hear this morning that the team against Brighton is likely to be unchanged so he may not find his way to the starting line up yet.

We will not win every game left to play, and we may not even gain promotion this year - but we will get there in the next few years and we will NEVER give up.

As I've said so many times before, the ups and downs of this year will form a part of the Ipswich Town story - and I hope the part we play will be for being the finest football fans the club has ever seen.

Keep the faith, in Jewell we trust.