Sunday, 27 May 2012

Take a gamble, trust Jewell, back ITFC

On Thursday, Part 1 of Mark's blog looked at off-the field factors that influenced Town's 10th year in the second tier of English Football League.

Today, Mark looks in detail at the man in charge of the on-field action, the man who currently holds the key to the future of Ipswich Town, the man I've been trying so hard to have faith in this season: Paul Jewell.

To the management, coaching, player selection, tactics, and player performances; I am biased.  There I have declared. I wanted PJ above all the rest of the available options.

I wanted that change and contrast from the outgoing Roy Keane. He is a footballing legend, but it did not work out at ITFC (in a big way).

I saw the post-Keano ITFC as a long-term turnaround and therefore managed my own expectations to such an extent that, despite the deep low at the turn of the year, I was still optimistic that Jewell was the right man to get us out of the hole and scale the mountain.
'There is now the prospect of a group of players that will have a sense of togetherness and will know what the manager expects.' 

There are a few small things that give me more hope than I've had in recent times: mainly the stability (some will laugh) that comes from retaining a talented and committed manager. There is now a prospect of some team selections next season comprising a group of players that have been through some very deep lows together and whom will come back in July for pre-season with things to prove. They will know each other, they will have that sense of togetherness and they will know what the manager expects. Above all, a contingent would appear to actually be on the side of the manager (given some post-Jan performances) and I'm not sure this has always been the case in recent times.

There is also the prospect of a few key additions for the team. Surely this will be for the good of ITFC this time around? The manager has made and admitted past mistakes, but he has had plenty of time and has experimented; now he knows what he has got and what is needed to take us forwards.

Continuity has been maintained by retaining Jewell and whatever you thought of the last season and a half, he brought us Cressa, JET and Chops, and got rid of baggage, this gives me hope!

'I have a concern that Jewell's contract it up in a year, he should be offered a one year extension to attract players that know he'll be there, not only this year, but the one after too'

This summer assumes more significance and becomes quite critical for Jewell as he has to fill core gaps that have been apparent for some time. Next season, whatever it brings, needs to be solid progression.

I have a concern that Jewell's contract is up in one year and our fans, many not overly positive towards him, will be calling for his head in November / December as we enter the usual RfS (Request for Sacking) season, possibly sooner. This situation is sure to be unsettling and should be resolved by putting in place a one year extension (at least) so that he is able to attract players that know he will be here to work with them, not only this year, but the one after next too.

ITFC needs a firm footing top to bottom. If results don't work in Jewell's favour, the club and he will probably part company anyway, hence establishing some additional continuity at the top.

Next season November/ December is not the key time, the end of next season is; we all know what is possible from a fairly low league position at the turn of the year.

To the tactical side of the game, I am not going to spend too much time in analysis mode, not because it's unimportant or not interesting to do so, but this is ultimately at the manager's discretion based on players available and their capability. It is a simple game with 11 v 11, and often it is over complicated!

That said, I like the 4-2-3-1 formation, it is essentially a tweaked 4-5-1, though it really does require some particular players to play it well and to be offensively successful. If recent results are to go by, the depth is not something ITFC have been blessed with.

One thing is for sure, ITFC have been challenged in recent seasons by their inability to switch and change a game. Without doing the maths, it seems Jewell has a reasonably even record in recent times of winning and losing having made changes with the chosen personnel. If he can secure some new players this summer we will have the resources to play Solid (4-2-3-1) or more Fluid (in a traditional 4-4-2 or less traditional 4-4-1-1).

'ITFC are guilty of chasing victories when points accumulation would have been more beneficial'

My last point on the tactics is that playing well takes time and understanding irrespective of the tactics. Having observed the Championship for some time, too long, ITFC have been guilty of chasing games and victories at various stages of the season when points' accumulation would have been more beneficial.

Is this tactics, or pure naivety? I imagine it is part of a team low on morale and built on a high level of expectation that is being exploited by opposition. No one player has been able to build a back catalogue of good performances (until recently) as their team mates have not been playing well and hence they have not played well together or understood each other's games due to the constant changes forced on the various managers. I see this slowly changing and some of the positive results this season are signs of small step progress.

I would add that there seems to be a pattern in the Championship. Cutting the season in 2, the first stage has typically seen ITFC go out all guns blazing trying to win every game up until they realise that they are losing more than they win, and only to find that we have been undone on too many occasions and not had the points in the bag. Our main prerogative has then been to secure enough points to ensure we are not relegated! Happily, ITFC has seen upturns in results in the "vital" second stage of the season.
Next season I'd like ITFC to be a bit more intelligent in games: solid early in the season (first 10-15 games), then in the next 15 games take more calculated risks against teams, and in the final push, exploit those teams with everything to play for by countering their desire for maximum points.

Ok, not that simple, but you can set out with the right intent in terms of style of play, but work to achieve a slower point accumulation and most importantly, know when 1 point is enough especially away from home, and even at home against better teams.

'If we want Porman Road to be a fortress we have to be more positive'

My last point is on the ITFC fans. Like in life, some you love and some you don't like so much! All views/ opinions are always welcome BUT MY BIG ASK is that when you cross that line (Portman Road in this case) please, please remain positive! ITFC needs you and irrespective of your opinions on Ownership and club strategy; Management, coaching, player selection and tactics; or Player performances, if we want Portman Road to be the Fortress we have to be a little more positive and forgiving of small errors of judgement as football is a game of imperfections.

It is our beautiful game, it costs you enough so enjoy next season.

Many thanks to Mark for such a well thought out piece.

Please do get in touch if you have any thoughts on this matter @tractorgirlamy8

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Evans, Clegg and Jewell: Stick or twist Ipswich?

With the Championship season now finally behind us, discussion among Ipswich fans inevitably moves from our thoughts on Town's results to the reasons behind them.

It all seems to come down to Portman Road's Holy Trinity: Marcus Evans, Simon Clegg and Paul Jewell.

But the last name seems to cause the most soul searching for the Blues faithful. This year I have literally seen the fan base split down the middle by this debate.

Though you may have sympathies for certain arguments from the other camp, it seems that, when it comes down to it, you're either 'Jewell In' or 'Jewell Out'.

This week I want to look at the debate in a little more detail and will be offering my own opinion on the matter (which is less Pro-Jewell than you might think!).

But first I have received this excellent two part blog from Mark (AKA @markypolo1). It investigates his own feelings on the matter and puts forward, what I feel, is a very sensible view of the situation.

As I mentioned before, though, in the case of Ipswich Town's top management - you can't have one without the other. And so Mark begins by discussing the factors that have influenced his opinions on Jewell's reign.

Our 2011\12 season is now officially over at ITFC! Our collective attention can now turn to a summer of promise; there is the Queen's Jubilee, with accompanying street celebrations, Summer Festivals, Wimbledon, Euro2012, and London's Olympics.

In typical ITFC fan style, my mind will start to wander, the pain of the outgoing season will diminish (yes it's been painful), and the hope and expectation will build for a new season. I will look to next season, but beforehand, I would like to address the rollercoaster that was the last 9 months.

Our 2011/12 season has been a season of significant ups and downs to state the obvious. It has been a season in which many inadequacies have been in full view, an embarrassment at times, and one in which social media really took off.

ITFC's season has been, and I know will be, analysed on many levels: Ownership and club strategy; management; coaching; player selection and tactics; player performances and the fans support.

I'm not going to look at all of these in detail, nor create a statistical argument; as when I started this a few weeks back the aim was to voice my opinion and add a little fuel to the on-going debate!

ITFC has long been a club with difficulties in the last years before Marcus Evans took over these were all too prevalent to see, however we are in the here and now. Evans, as majority shareholder, all but owns the club outright and, in my opinion, he has backed the club and recent managers. The view as to the relative good of ME's backing is open to some debate and it depends on which side of the fence you are sitting.

ME is not a traditional football man, but he has been on record expressing commitment to the future of Project ITFC and his more recent communications have demonstrated an increasing awareness that "you can buy players, but you cannot buy a team" (to steal a phrase).

'I like the fact Evans has provided ITFC with a stable financial footing'

No-one can predict the future and I am not enamoured by the fact that ITFC has an increasing debt pile owed to Evans. However, I like the fact that he has provided ITFC with a stable financial footing (albeit subject to a friendly creditor) and he offers the day-to-day running of the club to those that are close to the action.

He has also decided to back this current manager through the worst sequence of results anyone thought possible and probably the worst that anyone reading this will remember.

In such a situation where Evans is not going to micro manage day-to-day events, an even greater emphasis is placed on having the right off-field team to build and run the club. Basically this is what has been required, not tweaks but a total rebuild and some continuity to add to the mix.

I've really very few things to add on Simon Clegg (love or loath him). Our club has been looking for stability top-to-bottom, from an executive management team to team management, and also through the core of the playing team.

If Simon Clegg is considered to be the right man for the job at this moment in time by Evans, then that's his prerogative.

'Clegg took the helm at the moment ITFC was offered a golden ticket via Evan's millions'

In my opinion, Simon Clegg has probably made more wrong decisions than right so far and, arguably, he took the helm at the moment ITFC was offered a golden ticket via Evan's millions. That said, I am all for the forgiving and learning culture at ITFC since this is how our history has been written all the way back to "Mr John".

In Simon Clegg's defence he has probably made the right call on the EPPL: possibly the only call for a club in our position given the financial constraints under which we operate in the Championship.

The fact that ITFC will have to talk-up our commitment to youth to attract good young players has not changed and this should play into the hands of the fans that are rightly calling for youth to be given its chance.

In the years ahead we will probably have to blood more and more youngsters, or attract those that have not made the grade with other clubs; quality could be in question when the best are being sucked-up by Premiership clubs that apparently run "The Peoples Game".

You can probably tell that I fear the repercussions of what the Premiership has done to football past and future, even though teams outside the elite will do what they have always done: develop and sell. Young players will still have to make a big decision as to whether they go to a Premiership (Cat1) for their schooling, or someone like ITFC (Cat2). We will always have the advantage of being positioned to fast-track the best we have into the first team (subject to them actually being good enough), watch this space!

'Fans feel there is no on-going dialogue between them and the club, despite the various forums Cleggs is said to attend'

Back to Simon Clegg, obviously, in some fans opinion he could do more (much, much more) to demonstrate a willingness to listen and act in the interests of our fans. Some feel like there is no on-going dialogue between the club and fans, despite the various forums Clegg is said to attend.
This is all great if you attend or are invited, but many would say he needs to be seen to be talking and listening to more fans in order to build the relationship for the future.

The rise and rise of social media is worth comment at this stage as it has enabled #itfc fans to express often diverse and sometimes un-reconcilable opinions, especially on matters of club strategy at a time when getting things off your chest has not only been helpful it has been essential!

Season 2011/12 has at times divided and at others brought fans closer: including closer to some #itfc players. In social media, I am of course referring to twitter in the main. It offers so much to tweeps able to access the likes of ALB, Cressa, Tommy Smith, JET, and Chops.

Twitter has also provided fans in the outer circle, those that have a passion for ITFC but whom cannot attend matches as regularly as they would like (me included at times), with an opportunity to interact with fans pre and post-match. It's a whole new world and Simon Clegg could learn a thing or two about connecting with the fans from the players that are investing their time in those fans.

What are your thoughts? Do you have anything to say on anything Mark has mentioned? Leave a comment, get in touch with us both on Twitter (@tractorgirlamy8) or write your own piece about ITFC and I'll happily use it on here!

Mark and I have very similar views on this debate, so I'm especially keen to hear from anyone who is less sympathetic of Jewell, Clegg or even Evans.

Part Two of Mark's blog concentrates on his feelings towards Jewell himself: 'despite the deep low at the turn of the year, I was still optimistic that PJ was the right man to get us out of the hole and scale the mountain'.

It's another excellent piece that takes a very sensible approach to a very heated debate. Come back on Friday to see what he has to say!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Saying Goodbye to 2011/2012

With West Ham's promotion to the Premier League yesterday, the 2011/2012 Championship season finally came to an end. Despite having had three weeks to mull over Ipswich Town's year, I still haven't come to a conclusion on how I feel about it.

It's been disappointing, that much is clear. But even the most pessimistic of fans would be hard pressed to deny that we have learnt a few lessons and the side HAS progressed form this time 12 months ago. There are so many different factors to consider in terms of what has influenced our perception of Town's limited success this year.

Who was our best player? Who was our worst player? Who was our best signing? How were our signings overall? Were the loan signings a success? Did Jewell's Dad's Army have anything to teach us? What do we think of Jewell himself? And Simon Clegg? And Marcus Evans? The list goes on!

In the coming weeks I'll be blogging on many of these in a little more detail; including a special two-part guest blog on Paul Jewell's reign so far. But first I wanted to draw a line under the season and Nick Chenery, who has blogged for me in the past Link has managed to do that far more succinctly than I'm managing at the moment.

What I find fascinating is that, as Nick's blog shows, most fans seem to have the same general view of this season. Where we differ is on our reaction to the games immediately after they've happened. So, what I've decided to do is present to you Nick's excellent season summary juxtaposed with quotes from my own blogs over the past 12 months. So Nick and I will take you on a journey of the rollercoaster ride that was this year.

The 2011/12 season was one of promise at Ipswich. After the new signings of Michael Chopra, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Lee Bowyer and Keith Andrews (among others) the Portman Road faithful were hoping this side could really push on from the past three or four disappointing League campaigns.

'His age doesn't worry as much as please me; he claims to be as fit as his younger former teammates at Birmingham and, as PJ says, I think that is a result of a pure determination to play football and win. Definitely something we were missing last year' On new signing Lee Bowyer in 'Could there be trouble ahead with Town's new signing?' Link

The first game, at least, went according to plan. Town had a decent 3:0 away win at Bristol City: Michael Chopra scored twice to put Town joint top of the league!

'What we saw this weekend was an excellent display of football, especially when you consider what we were watching last year. No, it wasn't perfect and, yes, we have things to learn. But it wasn't a bad starting point was it?!' My match review from Ashton Gate: 'Dare to Dream: Is this a sign of things to come?' Link

But then came a nightmare three weeks. An early exit from the Carling Cup against Northampton, one of the sides that Town beat on the way to the Semi Final against Arsenal the season before, was followed by two crushing defeats against Southampton at home and Peterborough away. We can all remember what happened there, so the less said about it the better!

It's so upsetting to see the side that filled us with so much hope just a fortnight ago descending into absolute chaos. Every time Peterborough got the ball they scored, and there was seemingly nothing our shaken defence or non-existent midfield could do about it. My match review from London Road: 'Where to Town go from here?' Link

In September, as a payback to fans who had a ticket to the Peterborough debacle, the club gave the fans free coach travel to the Blackpool away game. 13 coaches were packed off to the seaside (I've been told it was anticipated there would be 3! - Amy) And, despite a 2:0 defeat, the mood seemed lifted among some sections of the crowd.

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. My match review from Bloomfield Road: 'Good things come to those who wait' Link

September ended on a much higher note: with a home victory against Coventry City, an away draw at Middlesbrough and, one of the best nights of the season, a 1-0 win against one of the pre-season favourites West Ham: former Spammer Lee Bowyer scored the winner a couple of minutes from the end. October continued brightly, with home wins against Brighton and Portsmouth, and a controversial game at Cardiff where Town were unlucky to see a dubious handball decision give Cardiff the equaliser. After Portsmouth at home on October 18, Town were unbeaten in six games and sixth place in the league.

The defence looks solid: Sonko and Collins finally provide fans with a bit of reliability, while Stockdale is proving a great acquisition both in and outside of Portman Road following another call up to the England squad. And the Chopra/Scotland partnership continues to work its magic, with seven goals in four games and Chopra finally reopening his account for the Blues. My article published on The 72 Football website: 'Ipswich Town: the best team in the Championship?' Link

Then came the biggest game in October, Crystal Palace at home. Palace were pushing for the playoffs and a win would have maintained Town's good run. But a very ordinary performance gave Palace the three points and the form after that wasn't really what the Portman Road faithful had in mind. In fact, there probably wasn't a single Town fan who would have expected seven straight defeats to be on the cards at that point.

Few highlights were to come in those following games, but when Doncaster Rovers came to Town they brought with them Billy Sharp. The striker, who had been linked with several moves to Portman Road, had lost his son to Gastroschisis (The birth defect that causes a rupture of the abdominal wall, which exposes the intestines) a couple of days before the game. Naturally there was enormous support towards him, but not even Sharp himself could have imagined the reception he got when he scored. Most people who were in the ground that day applauded Sharp both when he scored and when he got substituted later on in the game. Humbling to say the least and it was, in some ways, a very proud moment for Town fans.

After that very special moment though came four nightmare games: Town couldn't hold on to any sort of lead. Two of the lowest points for Town fans of any age came in the Reading home game and at Burnley away. Anyone who was at either of those games would have seen that Town were dreadful at the back. 2-1 up going into 3 minutes of injury time to lose 3-2 at home against Reading? Travelling up to Burnley on a relatively cold night at the end of November, seeing Town have 1 shot in the entire game and being branded as a 'pub team' by Paul Jewell.

When Burnley's first goal went in the players' shoulders visibly dropped. After a good starting ten minutes or so they were completely deflated... and you just sensed the ball would be plucked from our own net a few more times that night. My match review after my visit to Turf Moor: 'The last light of hope at Portman Road' Link

An unlucky defeat by Watford the Saturday after left most Town fans scratching their heads as to where another point, let alone another win, was going to come from.

So, when Town travelled to Barnsley on December 10, a game which was being covered by Sky, Town fans were trying to keep a brave face. When half time came in that game, Town were 2-0 down and totally out. Most neutrals, and some Town fans, were thinking this must be the last chance for Paul Jewell, but they never saw that second half coming!

Two goals from Keith Andrews and a goal each from Michael Chopra, Jason Scotland and Danny Collins had Town fans jubilant. Town followed this incredible second half performance with a 1-0 win at home to Derby, a draw at Leicester where Michael Chopra missed a first half penalty, and a 1-0 defeat away at eventual champions Reading.

2012 started off in much the same way that most of 2011 had preceded it.

Town lost three of the first four games with defeats against Forest at home, Hull away in the cup, and the trip to Leeds which saw Town press the self destruct button with 20 minutes left.

'If Paul Jewell were to be sacked today, I really don't think I'd feel any sorrow... I am rapidly losing patience with him. It's performances like that at Elland Road on Saturday that cause the uncertainties for me: a first half good enough to show a decent side developing, but a second half so poor you feel relegation is all we deserve.' My match review from Elland Road, one of the hardest blogs I've ever had to write: 'No excuses for The Blues self destruction at Portman Road' Link

Ten days after that performance, West Ham arrived at Portman Road wanting to gain revenge from the 1-0 defeat by Town at Upton Park in September. Neither fans of the team in blue, nor fans of the opposition team in claret and blue could have seen this result coming: Ipswich 5 West Ham 1? Where on earth did that come from? Town were jubilant.

'I am so pleased to see the boys finally overcome their nerves and have a little faith in themselves. It's about time they started fighting for the win and showing the rest of the league what they're made of.' My review of a turbulent January: 'Keep calm but get a little bit excited' Link

The result seemed to have got Town playing again, with Town winning four of the next five and the only defeat coming at Brighton who beat us comfortably 3:0. When the Blues went to top-of-the-league Southampton in early March, most Town fans were confident their side could get something from the game.

On reflection, they maybe should have done Michael Chopra missed a glorious chance with a header at the near post and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas clipped the outside of the post with a free kick, most in the ground expected that to ripple the back of the net.

'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. You can't win them all, 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 at St Mary's' Reviewing this next section of good results in: 'Bristol and Southampton see signs of progress at ITFC' Link

Town's form towards the end of March was, like most of the season, very inconsistent. Wins against Peterborough and Burnley at home, were followed a few days after by a 2-1 defeat at Watford. Like the first game against the Hornets, Watford came from behind to get the three points. The month was topped off by a very low-key draw against Middlesbrough, in a game that had been re-arranged from February, and a 1-0 win against Barnsley at home where Town maybe should have managed more than the single goal against a poor side who had just escaped relegation.

'In my opinion, the recent dip in performances is clearly down to tiredness 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.' My comments in 'Fatigue or apathy for the Town boys' take on more significance this week with news that Chopra is off to California to work on his fitness. Link

April saw much of the same in terms of form: A goalless draw at Derby, a disappointing second half performance against Leicester at home which resulted in a 2-1 defeat, successive draws at Palace away and Birmingham at home. Though Town were unlucky not to get wins in both of those games, particularly against Birmingham where Town were by far the better side for 85 minutes.

The final game at Portman Road capped off a very below par home campaign. Most Town fans would tell you the performance against Millwall was arguably the worst home performance of the season. Only a few hundred stayed afterwards for the very half-hearted 'lap of honour', this tells you everything you need to know about Ipswich this season.

However, the season was rounded off nicely by a 3-2 win against already relegated Doncaster. Town were always ahead in this game and did just what was needed to get the three points.

2012/13 Season I'm looking forward to next season, but it is painfully clear Town need to strengthen in most areas of the park.

A new goalkeeper is a must, maybe two centre backs, a right back, a new frontman to play alongside Chopra and any sort of creativity. Paul Jewell has already started the customary summer clear-out, so hopefully he can bring in some decent players and Town can push up the league next season.

Keep believing Town fans.

I didn't even have to tell him to put that last bit in....!

If you have anything that you want to say about anything mentioned in this blog, and you need more than 140 characters to do it, please get in touch with me on @tractorgirlamy8

I'd love to feature even more guest blogs on my site to show a wide range of ITFC opinions.