Thursday, 29 March 2012

Fatigue or apathy for the Town boys vs Watford and Middlesbrough?

With eight matches in March - most recently three games in just seven days - the season has begun it's tiring close for Ipswich Town. And boy is it beginning to show.

"To play eight games in a month is a punishing schedule... I know people don't want to hear about highly-paid footballers being tired, but both teams have put a lot of effort in and I think the first half was just a flat game." Paul Jewell on

After a sluggish defeat at Watford on Saturday, I was worried how two defeats in a row might affect the squad at this fragile time. With the players so tired and another mediocre midtable finish looming, it was hard to see where we'd find the energy to return to the recent form we've enjoyed. Luckily, Town dug deep to achieve a draw against promotion chasing Middlesbrough.

When we trudged through the snow to Portman Road last month to see the original fixture for this tie, I was feeling that a draw would be a good result. Thanks to the exciting way we played for 37 minutes that day my hopes for last night had risen to the possibility of a win. So, overall, I'm happy with a draw.

But back to the topic in hand: the lethargy appears to be affecting the Town players now and, with the squad this year looking rather depleted, it's hard to know what Jewell can do about it.

Chops has looked tired out since Hull away and, though I fully expect him to be back scoring goals aplenty next season he has worked hard enough to have earnt a rest. But what can Jewell do? Not play him? Who would he replace him with?

He's been honest enough to explain he cannot opt for Scotland unless the striker accepts a new deal. Currently, just two more starts would tie him down to another year of wages we cannot afford. No, Scotland will have to remain a super sub for now: a real shame as the two of them seemed to be performing together well as a partnership.

Next, there's Lee Martin, who seemed to benefit from his first half rest against Hull and has come back to fine form once again. He turned things around that day, and without him against Watford on Saturday we were decidedly less creative with few opportunities on goal. So Jewell cmust continue to play him. I'd prefer to stick with him in the starting line up and allow some fresh legs to replace him once he's run the opposition ragged. Carson preferably, who came on and looked passionate on Saturday. Now's the time for Jewell to allow him to compete for a place in the team next season.

Now to my current top player: Jay Emmanuel Thomas. He's been quiet since Bristol at home and possibly even Brighton away the week before that. Including that game, JET has started eight games in only just over 4 weeks and it is clearly beginning to affect him.

Cast your mind back to the beginning of the season (feels so long ago doesn't it?!): Despite consistently poor performances, Jewell kept explaining JET was simply low on fitness and there was so much more to see from this young lad. Recently, that level of fitness has dropped as a result of the jam packed schedule and so his performances have been directly affected.

Of course, that's not prevented some flashes of brilliance from him: I don't think I'll ever forget when he ran the length of the pitch with the ball dancing at his feet cutting around the Watford defence. Their players and ours alike appeared to step back, not knowing which way he was going next and alowing him to get on with it. If I remember right this little move lead to a very very near miss from Chops. That spark cannot leave the Ipswich Town side, JET is another player Jewell should continue to start and perhaps replace later on in the game for some fresh legs.

I would like a quick word about Tommy Smith (WORLD CUP PLAYER) and Damien Delaney: two players who, by contrast as they appear to still be playing with the same energy they were in our great run of one defeat in ten games. They are, quite clearly, still vulnerable to silly mistakes. But there are less of those now, the game is more controlled on our back line and they are pressing forward quickly at every chance they get. After Chops and Martin were subbed on Saturday, I spotted our two defenders at the top end of the pitch in their place. And not just for the corners!

That doesn't seem like a pair who've stopped trying, that doesn't seem like a team who didn't care they were losing. These boys aren't haven;t packed their bags for the summer holiday yet. They all want to end the season on a high, that's what being a footballer's all about. I was writing an article about a Doncaster Rovers defender who's just returned from a long injury recently and he said to me 'if you don't go out on that pitch wanting to win, then there's something wrong with you and you may as well have stayed home'.

My point is, it's not in a footballer's nature to just give up and stop caring. The recent dip in performances is clearly down to tiredness in my opinion and, once the fixture list has settled down again for the final month of the season I'm sure they'll be keen to return to their best form.

I asked Twitterland what they thought and was pleased to see that, in general, #ITFC fans are happy to have some patience with our tired squad:

@Katie_Lewis11 'Been playing lots of games this month #needabreak'

@Ant_ITFC 'I think the current glut of games has tired them, but after Tuesday night I wonder if they feel there's nothing to play for now.'

@Stevehitfc 'They look jaded due to heavy schedule, but the team will always go out to win every game, top 6 or not'.

@Felstedboy 'You could see Lee Martin looked really exhausted towards the end of the game.'

Hopefully next season Jewell will have more options to be able to rotate the squad, as he's already said he would like to. But, for now, this is our lot and we will make do.

For me it's a simple case of wanting to end the season on a high. I'm not saying I think we'll make it to the play offs - which, byt he way, IS still possible. I'm just saying why not aim for it?

Reach for the stars and you may just land on the moon as our teachers told us when we were young.

In Jewell We Trust, for next year may just be our year. In the meantime, let's enjoy what's left of the season.

Monday, 19 March 2012

GUEST BLOG: Ipswich Town 3: Peterborough United 2

As Town kicked off the second half of Saturday's 'East Anglian derby' (of sorts), I was heading off to Manchester for the evening.

But fear not, fellow Blue Andy Cross has offered to fill in with a truly honest report on the game as he saw it:

Hoping to avenge for the 7-1 mauling at the hands of the Posh in August, Paul Jewell made just one change from the impressive 2-2 draw against Hull last weekend; bringing in Lee Martin for the unfortunate Jason Scotland.

Ipswich started brightly, with the ever-improving Andy Drury creating a half-decent opening for Michael Chopra, only for Posh keeper Paul Smith to thwart his goal-bound header.

Once reported Town target Tyrone Barnett then went up the other end to miss a glorious first chance for the visitors, as the former Crawley forward stabbed wide after George Boyd had played him in.

Darren Ferguson’s men were, arguably, the better side in the opening stages and Peterborough midfielder Tommy Rowe was next to spurn a great chance as he glanced a free header past Alex McCarthy’s far post.

Jay Emmanuel-Thomas then saw his goal bound effort tipped around the post by Jones. From the resulting corner, the Blues took the lead. After Drury played the ball in, Damien Delaney’s header was cleared only as far as the perfectly placed Grant Leadbitter, and the in-form midfielder made it 3 goals in 2 games as his half-volley struck the inside of the post and nestled emphatically in the back of the net.

The goal came very much against the run of play and Peterborough were very unlucky to find themselves behind.

As Town attempted to gain a foothold in the game, Lee Martin thought he had won a penalty for his side after being shoved off the ball by Paul Taylor, but referee Gary Sutton was misleading in pointing for a goal kick instead of a spot-kick. Probably the right decision too.

After a blistering start from both sides, the game settled down and it was the away side who kept the ball much better than a Town side who looked shaky after Leadbitter’s opening goal.

On the half-hour mark, the visitors’ got the equaliser they fully deserved. Lone striker Barnett latched onto a through ball from George Boyd and although his first effort was blocked by McCarthy, the ball ricocheted back off the forward and skipped across the surface into an empty net. Despite Damien Delaney’s best efforts to stop the ball from crossing the line, Peterborough deserved to be level and could have been ahead minutes later.

Tommy Smith, under no apparent pressure, played a weak pass intended for keeper McCarthy which was smartly anticipated by Posh striker Taylor but the Town keeper done well to block his effort on goal. After the visitors’ great spell of dominance, Chopra had another headed chance, this time seeing his effort come just inches away from beating the stranded Jones.

As the game reached half time, Town have counted themselves very fortunate not to be behind in a first-half performance considerably lacking in the quality that the Blues had consistently shown in recent games. Too many players were underperforming, particularly JET and Andy Drury.

The second half began in similar circumstances as the first ended. George Boyd’s low shot was saved by the impressive McCarthy who was keeping Town in the game. Manager Paul Jewell sensed that a change was needed, and duly replaced the largely ineffective JET with the more experienced head of Lee Bowyer. Town reverted to a 4-3-3 formation with Murphy and Martin supporting Chopra on either flank.

The change seemed to work for the Blues as they started to take control of the game. Chopra shot over from close-range before hitting the crossbar after Martin’s skewed drive. In the midst of Chopra’s chances, Ryan Stevenson had replaced Drury.

Ipswich took the lead on the 77th minute when Peterborough again failed to deal with a corner. Lee Martin’s cross fell to Delaney who forced a good save by keeper Smith, but Daryl Murphy followed up from yards out to make it 2-1 to the home side.

Town’s lead didn’t last long though. After another great ball by Boyd, Posh substitute Emile Sinclair managed to hold off Delaney to poke home for his eighth of the season. After dominating the majority of the second-half, Town found themselves level; if only for a couple of minutes.

Bowyer’s cross-field ball found Aaron Cresswell and the full-back let fly with a 25-yard strike which hit the unfortunate Gabriel Zakuani on its way and landed in the back of the net, giving the wrong-footed Smith absolutely no chance.

The Blues held on for a hard-fought victory which stretches their unbeaten home record to an impressive five games.

Don't forget, if you'd like to write an article about anything Ipswich Town related I'd love to hear from you: tweet me @tractorgirlamy8

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Jimmy Bullard: Do we all still want curly hair too?

The Jimmy Bullard saga continues to take it's twists and turns at Ipswich Town and I'm torn between concern and fascination.

When Jimmy B joined The Blues on loan last season, it seemed as though our saviour had come. He played some great football, lifted a struggling side and in the space of just a few months he earned the Fans Player of the Season award at Portman Road.

I'll never forget the day we signed him over the summer: Twitter filled with #itfc fans in jubilation. Paul Jewell has secured, in my humble opinion, the greatest signing of the summer.

Sadly, the story since then has not been quite so happy. Jimmy has struggled to find fitness and form. Thought he featured in almost every game for the early part of the season and was key to the short success of Jewell's diamond formation, he was eventually dropped to the bench.

All this culminated in the events last week where he was seen on a night out with fellow Town player Micheal Chopra in Newcastle. As we all know, this resulted in the two being late for training an Jimmy being suspended for two weeks.

It led me to wonder, has he done this kind of thing before? Is this why Hull fans can't stand him? Is this why no Premier League club attempted to sign him over the summer?

With my curly blond wig in semi-retirement for another week I decided to look into it, to judge for myself whether Bullard and Ipswich Town are a good mix, or a recipe for disaster.

A little while back I found this excellent article by a Hull City blogger:

In it, he explains that when the midfielder signed for east Yorkshire side the reaction among the fans was much the same as it was when he came to Suffolk: 'When arrived in a record-breaking deal from Fulham, the talismanic midfielder with a never-say-die attitude and a sense of humor that had lit up the Premier League, with Wigan and then Fulham, was just that, and a great fillip for the club. His signing for £5 million, was hailed as a giant coup for the East Yorkshire outfit.'

Bullard was rumoured to be on £45,000 a week at this point (something hat puts his rumoured wage of between £15 and £21 thousand at Ipswich into perspective a little).

Jimmy wasn't able to start in the side straight away due to a long term injury he suffered from. When he finally made his first appearance, he played for 33 minutes against West Ham before, once again, picking up an injury.

But Hull fans stuck with him, feeling sympathy for this 'great talent who, through no fault of his own, was suffering from an injury plagued career'. It makes me think of poor old Kieron Dyer at this point!

With the support of the fans, he later returned to the side: 'In a fantastic six-week period that saw him drive the Tigers from a mediocre start to a spell of eight points from a possible 12, in November and winning himself the Barclay's Premier League Player of the Month Award.'

But then, guttingly, he took a knock against Aston Villa: once again putting him out of action, this time for 4 months.

This is when the mood of the fans turned, they felt angry that he was being paid such high wages yet not playing or contributing to the side.

This is where I see the similarities with Ipswich. It feels like feeling among the Blues faithful is starting to turn sour at the moment. To some extend that is, of course, understandable but I just don't see how that will help, how putting him down and moaning will improve his game and help the team as a whole.

Of course the difference here is that he has not found form. His performances this year compared to last year are disappointing and his fitness has been pointed to as the main contributing factor. Perhaps he just doesn't fit as well into this new look side? Or perhaps he just isn't committed enough, as evidenced by his recent night out in Newcastle?

Moving back to the situation at Hull, the comparison in circumstances continues: fans began to be discontented due to his apparent lack of respect for the club.

Because 'it wasn't just the extended time on the injury list but the rumours of scuffles and binge drinking in local bars, that slowly saw the tide turn for the once popular Londoner'.

He eventually returned to the side but was reportedly off form, avoiding tackles and not keeping up to the pace of the game.

The story ended at Hull when over the summer his contract was terminated due to behaviour that ultimately left the club with 'no choice' but to sack him. I don't know the reasons and, to be honest, I'm not sure I want to do. He's moved on now.

But, is it a case of history repeating itself with Jimmy at ITFC now?

It could well be, but this is a man who clearly wants to be playing football and if he can learn from what's happened, not only this week but over recent years at Hull too, he could be a great asset for the Tractor Boys.

For me: I love having him around. I point to a quote from a member of the Ipswich Town media team after one particularly good Town home win:

'Just seen Jason Scotland who says the boys are in great spirits after that result, all I could hear in the changing room was Jimmy Bullard!'

Furthermore, in a recent goal celebration following a Chopra goal, Jimmy B was right in there with them, despite not even being on the pitch.

The truth is we don't know what's going on behind the scenes, we don't know what effect he has on the boys. But going on recent results I find it hard to believe it's a bad one?

At the end of the day WE wanted that big character at ITFC, that passion for the game that seems to have been missing for such a long time.

WE wanted Jimmy to be that character, building him up to be a quirky cool cat who likes to dance on bars and have a laugh and then shooting him down for that exact same thing is hypocritical.

Don't get me wrong: he should NOT have been late for training last Thursday. He's a professional footballer and the club, our club, deserve better than that.

But we've all done it I'm sure, and we've all moved on and made sure it doesn't happen again. Paul Jewell has dealt with it in the way that he sees fit, now let's move on.

You know me, I firmly believe that showing support for the boys brings out the best in them: I'll not bring up the amazing turnaround at Barnsley again because there are better examples recently. The great support against West Ham, Southampton and so many others has transferred to the pitch and the lads have achieved some excellent results.

Can we now extend that same principle to our Jimmy B, please?

He still could be a legend at Town, give him the chance.

In Jimmy I Trust.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Bristol and Southampton see the signs of progress at Ipswich Town

'Ipswich Town are playing nice football, it's been a long time since we saw that'. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard that phrase since Saturday!

Following the disappointment of having to come home from the Middlesbrough game after only half an hour of football, I comforted myself with the fact that for those 37 minutes I was watching something really nice on the pitch. (And I don't just mean Jimmy B warming up...!)

The same was true of our performance against Bristol: There was some really attractive play: passing play, attacking play. Just what we've been after for many years. Paul Jewell commented after the game that when we turn up to play we win, but when we don't we lose. Sounds kind of obvious! But he's right.

Against Birmingham and others less than two months ago, Jewell's side were finally putting in the performances we'd been expecting of them - but were frustratingly managing to lose out to last minute goals and individual errors. They've built on those performances, though, and the recent good results are - touch wood - looking to be less like a 'purple patch' or 'false dawn', and more like the turnaround this club needed.

We're not there yet though, not by a long stretch: games like our trip to Brighton are disappointing. But you can't win them all and, as Jewell said, what you have to be able to do is grind out a result even in the games where we aren't necessarily the best side. That's something we achieved on Tuesday night. Going on our recent form against the top sides in the Championship (i.e. West Ham), I must admit I was hoping for a point or three against Southampton; but then, I'm an eternal optimist. Where Town certainly lived up to expectations at St Mary's was in their desire to 'hang on in there' in defence, but keep on fighting at the front too.

Listening on Ipswich Player, I was impressed with the way Town held on for the opening ten minutes - which felt like chance after chance for Southampton. The thing is, against the top sides in the league you have to expect this: you're not going to be able to stop them having a shot on goal, especially at home. But being able to dig deep and stop that ball going over the line is a sign of how far our defence has come since the wobbly days of conceding 13 goals in just 7 days.

In addition, with the league's top goal scorer coming up against the league's leakiest defence it was inevitable that Lambert would score at some point. This Tractor Girl is happy to read that, though he did of course manage the opening goal, our defence was able to keep control of him for the vast majority of the game.

On the other hand of course, you're also looking at one of the top scoring teams in the league in Ipswich Town. Chopra's well on the way to his target of 20 goals this season and was unlucky not to add to it on Tuesday. But what impressed me most from the commentary was the way we moved so quickly to try and catch Southampton on the break.

We truly are starting to play some attractive football and I am thoroughly enjoying this season, for me this team is well into the stages of development now and next season is set to be exciting!

In Jewell We Trust, eh, it seems he may well be getting it right.

See you Saturday!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

GUEST BLOG: Nick Chenery reports from Southampton

24 hours ago I was jumping around my spare room cheering Jason Scotland's equaliser against Southampton.

Yet another good result came Town's way last night and it's become a bit of a tradition for me to support the boys by listening to the commentary on Ipswich Player when I can't make it to a game.

Whilst I'll be publishing my views on Town's latest two matches tomorrow, I thought you might like to hear from one true Blue fan who managed to make the long, long journey to St Mary's last night.

In the second of Diary of a Tractor Girl's guest blogs, I introduce to you Nick Chenery. Nick's long been one of my favourite #ITFC twitter fans to talk to, great for debate and always very positive. So, as he made the very late journey back to Suffolk last night I asked if he'd mind letting us know his thoughts on the game.

Before Tuesday, most Town fans would have taken a point away from this trip to the league leaders.

After all, though Ipswich were on a run of five wins in six, Southampton themselves had won the last four games without conceding a single goal.

Both Saints and Town fielded unchanged sides from their victories over Leeds and Bristol City respectively, so, on paper this pointed to a home win. But that doesn't take into account of the crazy nature of the Championship!

The first half belonged to Southampton for the most part, with Town having to play defensively from balls coming in over the top and down the wings. But, as in recent weeks, the defence stood up to the task. The main chances were a Saints shot blocked by Tommy Smith, an Alex McCarthy save down at the far post, and a disallowed goal.

The second half was notably better than the first, with both teams gunning for the win: Chopra had a glorious chance, but his header was saved at the near post. Soon after Chopra was clipped by a Southampton player and gave JET a chance to hit a free kick from distance, that shot ended up clipping the outside of the post.

Then the deadlock was broken, Daniel De Ridder squaring to Rickie Lambert who was able to finish beyond Alex McCarthy in the Town goal.

But, with five minutes to go, Town shown they hadn't given up yet: as Jason Scotland picked the ball up on the right hand side, took it across the edge of the box and his shot was deflected past Kelvin Davis in the Southampton goal.

There was also a late chance for Town to take all three points as Aaron Cresswell had a shot from distance, but that was blocked by Chopra.

The draw was a fair result, with either side having the better of either half. That makes Town on a run of 1 defeat in 7 and fighting for places in mid-table. Let's hope the boys can build for next season. Southampton were left two points clear at the top, with second placed West Ham having two games in hand.

Don't forget, if you'd like to right about Ipswich Town - you can get in touch with me @tractorgirlamy8