Stuart Watson's Sunday Verdict: Why Paul Lambert's first game at the helm was encouraging and concerning in equal measure
PUBLISHED: 13:55 04 November 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Ipswich Town started life under Paul Lambert's management with a 1-1 home draw against Preston North End yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his verdict on the game and relegation battle ahead.
‘They gave me absolutely everything’.
Those five words are both encouraging and concerning in equal measure.
New Ipswich Town boss Paul Lambert was right in his assessment of the first performance under his management.
That was a much, much improved display. Town looked more cohesive, more organised, had more fight, more energy and intent.
One or two players were on or slightly below par, but the majority out there looked to be playing to their max.
And the end result was still a draw. At home. Against fellow-strugglers. Who were down to 10 men and had an outfield player in goal for the last 22 minutes.
Wins are needed for Town to get themselves out of this hole and opportunities won’t come much bigger than this when you look at some of the fixtures on the horizon.
Sorry to be a killjoy, but that’s the stark reality of the situation.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. I fist-pumped Freddie Sears’ penalty opener, I nodded in approval at surprise striker Jordan Roberts’ link-up play, I spontaneously applauded Matthew Pennington’s extraordinary recovery challenge and I laughed as it became clear we’d see Paul Gallagher pulling on a goalkeeper’s shirt.
Lambert’s passion and positivity in the technical area was infectious for those on and off the field. A sense of apathy was replaced by anticipation. This was theatre and the value for money Portman Road punters have lacked for so long. No doubt about it, dropping points is far easier to stomach in these circumstances.
It would, however, be naive not to acknowledge that it’s hard to see where the goals are going to come from.
Looking at yesterday’s game, Town are probably only a couple of decent Championship players away from tipping the balance of these fine margin affairs. An experienced central midfielder and a proven No.9 would make the world of difference.
The January transfer window is still nine games away though and the Blues simply can’t afford to have a string of gallant draws and defeats before then. Would Marcus Evans really spend significantly if he felt the damage was done?
For perspective, the odds of Town getting relegated to League One is now – at best – a coin toss situation.
If you look back at the last 10 years of the Championship, 53% of teams that are in the bottom three after 16 games end up going down.
And only three of the 10 teams who were bottom at this stage went on to achieve the great escape – Rotherham in 2015/16 thanks to Neil Warnock’s late impact, Crystal Palace recovering from a 10-point deduction for administration in 10/11 and Doncaster in 08/09 (they were still bottom after 24 games).
Those are the cold hard facts.
Will football’s old maxim of ‘perform consistently and the points look after themselves’ actually ring true? Or was Town falling short against Preston evidence, perhaps, that the over-riding issue is quality rather than confidence?
Let’s all keep everything crossed that it’s the former.
One thing’s for sure, it was certainly a display which justified Evans’ decision to call time on the Paul Hurst era as it had barely begun. The Blues stand a far better chance of staying up now than they did before.