Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: Bigger picture concerns are valid, but to shout about them now would be an act of self-harm
PUBLISHED: 12:54 16 February 2020 | UPDATED: 12:54 16 February 2020
Ipswich Town remain just outside the League One play-off places following yesterday’s 4-1 home win against Burton Albion. STUART WATSON gives his thoughts.
The set-backs sure sting, so for goodness sake enjoy the wins when they come.
After dropped points it's all too easy to focus entirely on your own team's deficiencies and ignore the fact that the opposition, on the day, were just too good. We can all be guilty of it. That's the nature of the beast. It's hard to watch through a neutral filter.
However, after resounding victories like Saturday's, there is sometimes a temptation to dismiss and downplay success because 'the opposition were poor'. You can't have it both ways.
Burton were poor, but they were made to look poor. Ipswich had to show real character to come from behind in front of an understandably edgy home crowd, in testing conditions and off the back of a bad run of results. The finishes may not have all been aesthetically pleasing, but who cares? Town had rediscovered a cutting edge.
I'm not suggesting everything in the garden is suddenly rosy, but I do think it would be churlish to downplay this win in any way.
The Brewers are a mid-table side who were in the Championship not long ago. They'd only lost one of their previous eight (to leaders Rotherham). Their 26 goals scored away from home is not bettered by a single team in the third-tier. Heading to Portman Road they'd won just two fewer league matches than Town. This was hardly the division's whipping boys being swept aside.
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Defeat probably puts Burton out of the promotion picture. Manager Nigel Clough admitted as much.
That leaves 11 teams fighting for the top six spots. Just 12 points separates leaders Rotherham and 11th placed Oxford. It's all still to play for.
Yesterday's win and performance needs backing up. Ipswich need to convince supporters that they can get beyond this one steps forwards, two steps back cycle. Fans have seen too many false dawns to be getting carried away. The onus is on the team to make the crowd believe rather than vice versa. Saturday was a big step in the right direction, but Town now need to go on a sustained run if this season is to fully get back on track.
Looking at the fixture list, that's not impossible.
Eight of the last 12 are at home. There is just one midweek game left. Five of the last six games are against teams currently placed 17th or below. By the time those fixtures come, the relegation spots could well be sealed.
Get to the start of April in good shape and you'd really fancy the Blues to go on a late charge. These next four to six games look like they'll be make or break.
First up, the visit of Oxford on Saturday. They saw two of their best players - Shandon Baptiste and Tarique Fosu-Henry - depart for the Championship in January. Karl Robinson's men have registered just one win in their last nine across all competitions. They face AFC Wimbledon at home on Tuesday night (the Dons having just drawn 2-2 at Rotherham).
The following weekend it's the long trip to Blackpool. The Tangerines have just sacked manager Simon Grayson. They've lost eight of their last 10 games in the league (the other two games a draw against Tranmere and win against Southend).
Three days later, Fleetwood make the long midweek trip to Suffolk off the back of a potentially energy sapping game on the Tranmere beach. The confidence of Joey Barton's men may be high or hit, depending on how they've done against Portsmouth (a) and Sunderland (h) in the preceding period.
That week ends with the visit of Coventry. Again, their confidence could be high or hit given they'll be heading to Portman Road following back-to-back trips to Rotherham and Sunderland.
Get through that spell in reasonable shape and Town then face Bristol Rovers (a) and Portsmouth (h). Then comes that kind on paper finish...
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With all the above in mind, the bigger picture debates can be put on ice.
There was talk on social media about a protest against owner Marcus Evans ahead of Saturday's game. That, as has often been the case in the past, never materialised.
You can certainly make an argument that Ipswich Town fans haven't been vocal enough during the slow and steady decline of the Evans era, that the 'sleepy Suffolk' mentality has contributed to a drifting of standards.
Screaming 'Marcus out' or 'spend more money' isn't going to achieve anything though. Certainly not at this crucial juncture anyway.
There's no point clapping on the way to relegation only to moan and groan in the midst of a promotion push. That would be an act of self harm.
Then there's Paul Lambert. Had he done enough to prove that he was the man to tie the long-term project to? I'm neither his biggest cheerleader or his biggest critic. My personal view is he needs another summer transfer window before true judgement can be passed. Let's see if he can deliver another Kane Vincent-Young or three.
Last week he grew agitated when quizzed about the strength of his squad and size of the budget. All perfectly valid questions, particularly off the back of a prolonged spell of concerning form, and sadly the Blues boss didn't handle them particularly well.
The thing is, Paul's response should have been an easy one. 'You're talking as if this is over... but it's not over'.