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.

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