Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Do I fear that Ipswich Town could mess this up? You bet. Fear is a good thing though...
PUBLISHED: 13:55 08 December 2019 | UPDATED: 13:55 08 December 2019
Ipswich Town drew 1-1 against Coventry City in a top-six League One clash yesterday. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
Passing the Ricoh Arena on the M6, the place where Ipswich Town should have just played but hadn't, I put out a tweet asking how full everyone's glass was following part two of the Coventry trilogy. The responses were, predictably, mixed.
Some voiced doubts about the shortage of chances being created and taken, about the dangers of squad rotation and stop-start schedule, about the wins drying up, about another failure to beat a top-six side and the team's recurring inability to produce two good halves of football. All valid concerns.
Others were incredulous at such pessimism. Just two league defeats all season! A watertight defence (only Leicester and Leeds have conceded less in the top four divisions)! Second, with a game in hand on most, and still in two cups! Young players developing at a pace, with some key men to return from injuries. What on earth is there to moan about?! Again, an understandable stance.
Here's where I'm at. I'm fearful that Saturday's classic game of two halves could prove to be some kind of mini snapshot of the season, that the Blues get themselves into a really good position at the halfway stage, one that could and perhaps should have been even better, only to fall agonisingly short.
Fear is not a dirty word though. Without fear you can get complacent. Fear, coupled with a deep-rooted belief, becomes focus. Fear without that belief becomes doubt - and doubts can consume you. It's a tricky bit of psychological alchemy.
You saw some fear in the eyes of Anthony Joshua ahead of his fight against Andy Ruiz Jnr on Saturday night. Blues players will need to channel some of that steely last chance saloon type mindset themselves if they are to sing their own redemption song this season.
That's why assistant boss Stuart Taylor's assessment of the game was music to my ears. 'We're a strong enough group to realise when we need to do better and we're honest enough to go and admit that,' he said.
There is no escaping that Ipswich are a big budget club in League One. The squad is large and full of experience and quality. It's only right the bar is set high when judging standards.
Yes, it's been a really solid start, one we'd have all taken in a heartbeat had it been offered back in the summer, but it's far from churlish to now wish for more. Shaking off the relegation hangover was just phase one. Now the real work begins.
There's been some frantic expectation management by manager Paul Lambert. Earlier in the campaign he jokingly admonished the media for 'making out we're playing like Barcelona!' I'm not sure anyone did that. The joy in the those early weeks was as much to down to relief as anything.
More recently he has complained that writers (and, by extension, like-minded fans) have been too negative. He must remember that whenever anyone gently raises concerns that it is founded in love and a desire to see this great club rise again.
We all want the same thing here and we all know the reality. This is a huge year for Ipswich Town Football Club. Monumental, in fact. Failure to go up would see the vultures circle and the quicksands of third-tier football take hold. The novelty of League One football would quickly wear off.
So there's no point all pretending that everything in the garden is rosy. Sticking our heads in the sand about some of the deficiencies, no matter how minor you think they are, would be counter-productive.
Ipswich can do better. No-one should feel guilty for saying that at this crucial juncture. Sunderland saw wins turn into draws last season (15 times they played out 1-1 stalemates) and that ultimately proved costly.
I've got fear, but I've also got hope. Hope that Town will reap the rewards of squad rotation at the business end of the season, looking fresh and sharp as others fade. Hope that Freddie Sears and Kane Vincent-Young returning will give the team a massive boost in new year. Hope that the old adage regarding defences winning titles/promotions is correct.
A statement win against fifth-place Bristol Rovers next Saturday would certainly go a long way to turning some of that hope into full on belief (the friend of fear) once again.