Friday, 15 April 2016

Hyam's head was gone against Brentford, but he wasn't alone

Almost a year ago, Ipswich Town's season was essentially ended when defender Christophe Berra earned a red card in the second leg of the play off finals against Norwich.

It's somewhat fitting then, that their following season should also be essentially ended with a red card. However, the circumstances they find themselves in 11 months later are very different.

When Luke Hyam's angry reaction to a nasty tackle by Brentford midfielder Ryan Woods earned him an early bath, it seemed a feeling of inevitability seeped in at Portman Road. With ten men, fans could only assume this match was going to end in defeat for Town.

I, personally, had no qualms with the red card itself: Hyam was on a warning and should have known better than to allow himself to react in the way he did. The first challenge, however, was the subject of much debate which lead to criticism of Hyam by Brentford staff and (a minority of) Ipswich fans.

At the time, I had a fairly good view of the tackle which left Alan Judge with a broken leg and felt it was firm but fair. As Ipswich boss Mick McCarthy told the press after the game: "I don’t think it is [a naughty tackle]. I think he’s won the ball. I’ve actually complained to the referee as to why it’s a booking if he’s won the ball."

McCarthy went on to explain that Hyam was devastated about the tackle and, for me, that shows there was no intent to harm. Luke has told the club website he'd like to apologise to Judge himself, saying 'I feel distraught over it. It was distressing to see and definitely affected me... I've been out injured for a year myself and the last thing I want to see is a fellow pro getting injured like that'.

That's one view of the incident, of course, and the Brentford media have portrayed a very different one: 'Ipswich man's horror tackle' was the headline from Get West London, who claimed Judge's broken leg was suffered 'after a wild and reckless challenge from Luke Hyam two minutes into the contest'.

In that same article, Brentford's Alan McCormack admits that he and Woods targeted Hyam for the remainder of the first half: “Everyone was very annoyed with the player... our players could have got into trouble as they wanted to look after Judgey and make sure that it's not forgotten. I'm not saying revenge is sweet but it might be for the best he wasn't on the pitch too much longer.”

The latest news on Judge is that he has undergone surgery on his leg and Brentford expect him to make a full recovery. It'll be a huge setback though, especially as he will now miss the opportunity to play in the Euros, so I'm sure we all wish him a speedy recovery.

From a Town point of view, this injury will have had a huge affect on Hyam. How he, and indeed the whole team, have handled the comments and press attention this week will be really important.

The affect of the injury though was already being felt during the game on Saturday. Despite it taking place so early on, I think it shaped the game. 

McCormack's rather unprofessional comments after the game are evidence that, following Judge's injury, Brentford set their sights on Hyam. That resulted, of course, in Woods' nasty tackle and Hyam's sending off. From there I couldn't help but feel a heavy defeat was on the cards, the subdued atmosphere under the stands at half time suggested I wasn't alone in that feeling.

Sometimes a red card can actually lead to a more determined performance from the side; players rearrange themselves quickly to cover and, knowing they are at a disadvantage to their opponents, they step up their efforts.

We've seen this from Town a few times in recent years, that red card against Norwich being a good example. Despite being a man down, we held our own and I think the players did themselves proud that day. It was very different circumstances, of course, with a lot more riding on the result, but it showed it could be done and, in the end, the hard graft in Town succumbed to little more than the amount of money on display in the City side. (In my completely unbiased opinion!)

It's strange to think that in a matter of months we have gone from a side that showed some element of fight to a team that seemed to be truly lacking something.

Did we lack quality? Possibly, but that was true of both sides. It's amazing to think last year this would have been a game between two play off sides: neither looked good enough for them on Saturday. So I don't think it was lack of quality that caused the defeat.

Nor was it effort, the suggestion that our players don't put in the effort required to win matches really makes me quite angry. Gone are the days of Paul Jewell, when players played for themselves and not the club. Gone, too, are the days of Keane when any passion was extinguished by poor man management. Claiming this team demonstrates those same attributes, after the passion they have shown to turn our fortunes around during the last three years, is an insult. So no, it wasn't lack of effort that caused the defeat.

What I believe caused it was the lack of confidence: players, fans and manager alike. Hyam has admitted that his 'head had gone' after the incident, but I wonder if them same could be said for his colleagues too? Their confidence and focus had gone, perhaps even before the game.

It's clearly a result of the recent bad run of performances and mounting pressure as the play offs slip further from our hands. I guess the sending off was the final obstacle between us and the top six and we just don't have the get up and go this year to get past that.

So who is to blame for that lack of confidence? Those of you who know me will know I often point to the effect the mood of the fans can have on performances (and I stand by that view), but I don't think that was the cause this weekend.

Following recent reports of fans 'booing' the players during and after the game, Jonathan Douglas in particular, I'd expected to feel frustrated at hearing this on my latest visit to Portman Road. But, truthfully, it wasn't all that bad.

When his name was read out from the team sheet at the start of the match, I heard a distinct 'boo' from the lower tier of the Sir Bobby Robson stand and, in my opinion, that's really despicable. He'd been dropped from the first team as so many fans had been calling for in recent weeks - what more do they want? More importantly though, I don't understand how any 'fan' can be so nasty to their own player. Odd people.

As I say though, that was the only real negativity I heard on the day. For the most part all I heard was, as had been described to me on Twitter, collective sounds of frustration from the long suffering Town faithful.  I have to confess, I caught myself a number of times groaning 'argh, sort it out Town'.

The frustration is understandable and, actually, there were some nice moments of support that made me smile, knowing the 'old faithful' will always be there for their Town. It wasn't the goose-bump inducing, roaring atmosphere that it was this time last year, but it was nice nonetheless.
If the fans aren't to blame for the recent drop in confidence is the manager? Well, yes, Mick does need to take responsibility for it.
He makes the decisions on which players are named in the team, he instructs them on the style of play they should adopt and, ultimately, it is his job to inspire the players to be the best they can be. They aren't cutting it at the moment and he should be doing his best to sort that.
But do I blame him for the fact that Town now look extremely unlikely to make the play offs? No, not really.
So many factors have played a part this year in our lack of success compared to last year: injuries, lack of spending, other teams around us spending, some really late goals... the list goes on. Mick's decisions are undoubtedly one of those factors, but I can't bring myself to blame him or feel angry with him. He has proven success at this level, he has worked miracles at Town and he's a very honest and open manager. I like him, a lot.
Saturday, for me, was the end of the season, the day the final specks of hope that we might still make the play offs bit the dust and, honestly, I wasn't all that sad. I've accepted our fate with ease and perhaps even a guilty sense of relief that I won't be needing to find the energy and cash required to get through the play offs again this year.
Now that it's done I guess it's time to see the season out and look to the summer.
We go again.

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