Though relegation isn’t yet confirmed, it’s quite clearly only a matter of time before the dreaded ‘R’ accompanies Ipswich Town’s name on the league table. How would you describe what you’ve seen this season?
It's obviously been the most horrendous of seasons for Ipswich; the writing has been on the wall for some time now and it’s a case of when, not if, in terms of relegation and depending on how results go, it could be officially confirmed at Griffin Park. There was a sense that things needed to change because things had stagnated last season. Ipswich finished mid-table under Mick McCarthy, but the football wasn’t great to watch and the attendances had been on the slide for a long time. The owner took a gamble in recruiting a lower league manager in Paul Hurst, but that backfired spectacularly; he didn’t last long and Paul Lambert hasn’t been able to turn it around since. It’s a strange one, really, because they’ve never been battered, it’s just been a case of fine margins. They have just three wins all season and that’s why they are where they are.
Ipswich recently secured draws against Derby County, West Bromwich Albion and Bristol City during a run of just two defeats in eight games. How frustrating has it been to see that Paul Lambert has instilled a real fighting spirit in the squad, for little reward?
There’s definitely frustration there and you sensed a bit of that frustration from Paul Lambert after the 2-0 home defeat by Hull City last weekend. He’s repeatedly saying they are playing well and he’s right: they are playing well between both boxes and some of the football has been really good, but they are still finding ways to concede sloppy goals and they aren’t scoring – they just aren’t clinical enough in either box.
There’s no doubt that they’ve played a lot better, both in style of play and in fighting spirit since Paul’s arrival. If you look at recent results, they’ve picked up six 1-1 draws against some decent teams and, arguably, deserved to win at least a few of those matches. They’ve played really well in spells, but have not been converting it into points and they need to, somehow, get that winning mentality back at some stage.
Relegation is always tough for any team and their fans to stomach, but with the club having been in the Championship for 17 consecutive seasons – with just three top six finishes over that time – it must feel like a timely chance for a fresh start?
That’s the hope. I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that it is going to be easy in League One because there have been clubs the same size as Ipswich – if not bigger – who have found it tough to come back from the third division or who’ve not come back at all. But there is that thought that it’s a chance to hit the reset button and properly reboot after such a long stretch in the Championship, much of which has been spent treading water.
They have a manager in Paul Lambert who has done that just up the road at Norwich City when they went down to League One the best part of ten years ago and achieved back-to-back promotions, and Southampton went through something similar at the same time. They are the examples Ipswich have got to look to, but no one is under any illusions that it’s going to be a walk in the park.
Alan Judge left Griffin Park to join Ipswich in mid-January in a bid to get his career back on track, having struggled to regain his place in the Bees starting XI following 18 months on the sidelines with a broken leg. How has he fared in his first few months in Suffolk?
He's been absolutely fantastic. There’s a great irony that he’s ended up restarting his career at the place where it was derailed with that horrible leg break, but if he’d been here all season, he’d have been the strong frontrunner for Player of the Year. A lot of the hopes for next season are tied up in whether they can keep Alan. His best football has come at the point of the diamond when Ipswich were playing that system, but more lately he’s been playing wide left and, nominally, he’s been allowed to float and I think he’s been given free rein to express himself. He looks like he’s really enjoying his football and the only thing that’s really been lacking has been a goal. If you were being hyper-critical, you’d say he hasn’t found his shooting boots, but everything else about his play - his energy, his desire, his creativity – has been fantastic and I think Ipswich are in talks about a two-year deal and they are really hopeful that they can keep him.
How is Paul Lambert likely to set up on Wednesday evening?
It’s been 4-3-3 for quite some time now. There was a spell when it was a diamond midfield setup, but in a couple of games they looked a bit vulnerable down the flanks with that so he’s switched to a more traditional 4-3-3. Alan Judge plays on the left of the front three and is given freedom to roam. The cry from the supporters is to play two up front, but he’s not got the personnel for that at the moment. They’ve had a horrendous run of injuries this season, particularly up front: Freddie Sears, their top goalscorer, did his cruciate knee ligament and Will Keane who came in from Hull and had an impact did his hamstring so they are limited in terms of forward options.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
It’s going to be a very different atmosphere in the away end compared to the last time Ipswich were there, I can tell you that. Mick McCarthy got some pretty horrible abuse from the away end and that was really the moment that sparked his walkout a few days later. That was the moment apathy turned to anger for the Ipswich fans. But you’ll see a very different relationship between the fans and the manager this time out – Paul Lambert has, despite results, managed to get the fans on board and they are singing his name, they like the style of football, they like his positive demeanour off the pitch and everything he is saying.
In terms of a prediction, I can’t see anything beyond an Ipswich defeat, at the moment. I will go for 2-0 to Brentford because Ipswich have lost a lot of games 2-0, especially on their travels this season. They concede one, they put up a decent fight and then they somehow manage to concede a second.
Tickets for our final game under the lights this term are on General Sale. Join us tonight from £28 adults and £6 juniors.