Last season Ipswich started in stunning form and won their first four games of the campaign; this season, however, they’ve taken just three points from the first six. Can you sum up the first month?
It’s interesting re-visiting the start of last season because even after they won the first five games in all competitions, I don’t think anyone was kidding themselves that Ipswich were heading for promotion. Likewise with the start of this season, they started with no wins the first seven, but I don’t think there’s any real concern at the moment, though it might be famous last words!
Most people are understanding that this is a calculated risk, but a risk that was called for in the summer in terms of a change of manager and going down a different route. Mick McCarthy did a stellar job with very little money over his time at Ipswich but things had just gone a bit stale, things needed freshening up; the attendances were on the slide and everyone was feeling apathetic about things.
It’s been all change over the summer, the new manager – who is unproven at this level – has come in from the lower divisions and has completely overhauled the squad having signed 12 new players, so I think people are looking beyond the below-par start and are seeing this as a long-term project that needs some time to come together.
With Mick McCarthy having been in charge for six years at Portman Road, is it taking some time for the fans to warm to Paul Hurst?
I think, first of all, he’s been an antidote in terms of what he’s been saying compared to Mick, who was starting to enter into a war of words with the fans and I think that probably added to the strain on his relationship with them as much as the football. Paul has come in and been very open and honest about things, which has immediately got him on side.
The style of football was another issue for Mick as many felt it was a bit too cautious, too pragmatic and there have now been signs that the football is easier on the eye. They’ve played some nice stuff in the middle third, the issue has been that they’ve just not been clinical enough in both boxes and the majority of the goals they’ve conceded have come from set-pieces.
In an attacking sense they aren’t creating loads of chances at the moment but there’s enough encouraging signs to suggest that if this team is given time to gel and is able to work on things on the training pitch, that things will hopefully come good over time.
Town sold a key trio in Adam Webster, Joe Garner and Martyn Waghorn this summer, but also loaned some eye-catching youngsters. What do you make of the squad in its current form?
It is still a work in progress but the bulk of the squad have played at Championship level or above. Paul Hurst has gone to the players that he knows from the lower divisions and what I would say is that none of those look completely out of their depth or out of place, which is a good sign.
I think bringing Jon Walters in on loan from Burnley could be a very shrewd move; as encouraging as the performances had been in the first few weeks, you were just concerned that there was a lack of experience and leadership that you need at this level. Having previously played for the club from 2007 to 2010, he was quite popular in these parts already and signing him could be very shrewd.
They’ve had James Collins training with them and there’s a chance that he might sign in the coming weeks after he recovers from injury. That will add another bit of experience to what is a young squad, full of potential, that might need a little bit of experience around to help them navigate this transitionary period.
Should everything click into place correctly, what would you say is a realistic target for the club this season?
They ended up finishing 12th last year but though it is hard to sum up an entire fanbase’s thoughts, I think it is fair to say that the general view is that fans would accept a lower finish this year if there was a sign the long-term plan was coming together and if the entertainment value increased.
If attendances rise at Portman Road this season then I think a big part of those expectations will have been met; avoid relegation, get attendances up and then that’s pretty much mission accomplished. There’s a sense that there’s a team here that will grow over time and that’s the sum total of people’s expectations.
In terms of results, there hasn’t been much for fans the celebrate as yet but is there one player in particular who has conjured up some excitement?
Yes, that would have to be Gwion Edwards who they signed from Peterborough for £700,000 this summer. He’s a Welsh winger who has really had people off their feet with some exciting performances. He’s very direct, takes on his marker at every opportunity, is quick and skilful and is the one that has caught people’s eyes, having given Norwich a torrid time in the East Anglian derby just prior to the international break.
It’s nice that Ipswich now own their bit of ‘X Factor’ because in recent years that player has always been somebody on loan; they had Bersant Celina from Man City last season, Tom Lawrence when he was at Leicester and also Ryan Fraser from Bournemouth. He’s been good but there have been encouraging signs from all the new players so far in one way or another - Matthew Pennington came in on loan from Everton and produced a man-of-the-match performance on his debut against Norwich.
They’ve all done OK so far but it sounds silly accentuating the positives with no win from the first seven games but if you actually look at the stats, Ipswich are coming out well and they’ve not been outplayed in any of their games, they are just waiting to get that first win to get that monkey off their backs because the longer the wait goes on for that win, the longer people get increasingly edgy and question all the changes that have taken place.
What sort of style do Ipswich employ and can you give us some early team news?
There’s certainly a bit more football being played, which is going down well because I think the criticism under Mick was that it was a bit too direct, too cautious. Some of the football in the middle third has been decent, with plenty of one-touch play and an increased ability to play their way out of danger, with midfielders showing for the ball from the defence.
In terms of formation, it’s generally been 4-1-4-1 but with an emphasis on the wingers supporting the striker, though saying that, he did play a more traditional 4-4-2 against Norwich so we will have to wait and see what system he opts for against Brentford. Trevoh Chalobah – on loan from Chelsea – has been playing as the holding midfielder who is the link man between defence and midfield and almost drops into defence at times to make it a back three, allowing the full-backs to bomb forward. It’s pretty fluid and when it’s working, it looks good.
I think Brentford fans may be surprised by this new look Ipswich side as they’ve previously been seen as a physical, robust side to play against under Mick McCarthy but I’d say that’s changed in these first few weeks.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
It’s a difficult one because I know Brentford have had a good start. I get the feeling that the win might come where they least expect it and they might just sneak a win against Brentford on Tuesday night. It’ll be under the lights and if the performance against Norwich encouraged people, they might come down to be the 12th man and help the team get over the line against Brentford. I’ll go for a 2-1 Ipswich win.
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