|Expectations of Paul Lambert's Ipswich|
Written by radiogaga on Friday, 26th Oct 2018 08:34
I, my brother and my father have gone to watch Ipswich for a decent stretch of time between now, albeit not as long as many of you. My first game was back in 1998, as a 1-0 home defeat as Bolton and Bob Taylor stunned us in injury time.
Since then, I have witnessed the sublime (of winning promotion at Wembley, a 5-3 play off win against Bolton which I maintain will always be the best game I have seen, qualifying for Europe, beating star studded Inter Milan/Arsenal teams, the weekly goal banquets served by Joe Royle and flirtations with promotion until Mick McCarthy).
I have also witnessed the outright ridiculous (of 7-1 defeats to Peterborough, FA Cup humiliation against non-league opponents, snatching defeats from victories in injury time in a way we know better than most, countless derbies against Norwich that were lost with a whimper, and Roy Keane taking the hotseat).
Up to this point, there has always been an unwritten rule. Players and managers once regarded as heroes by those associated to Norwich City should never be warmed to. That is unless they can prove themselves worthy of, in our eyes, 'redemption'.
Many have tried, and failed to cross the divide and move beyond where they came from. We all know how Andy Marshall's time at Portman Road turned out most recently.
Texts and WhatsApps were sent to me to make me aware that Paul Lambert was lined up to succeed Paul Hurst. I was completely bewildered, disillusioned, underwhelmed and very unwilling to accept the notion that a man instantly known for his association north of the border, and to which we have naturally been battle hardened toward over the years, is to be the man we are expected to support to turn our immediate fortunes around. This certainly falls under the ridiculous category.
To confront the elephant in the room, it is obvious that Lambert's association with the lot up the road, coupled with his hand in the ugly derby demolitions in 2010/11, will be difficult for many of our supporters (including myself) to simply move past and dismiss, particularly if there is not a notable upturn in our results or performances from the off.
The only way for him to buy the required time to build the obvious bridges is to get a long lost feel good factor (much like the one his reign at Carrow Road generated) going here at Portman Road. For him to do that from the off, there lays a daunting task to say the least.
He will inherit a team that is out of sorts, out of form and requires better coaching, man management and tactical direction across the board. After 14 games, over a quarter of the way through the season, we deserve to be where we are. This is our worst start to a season since 2012/13, and we all recall how much it took to get us out of that situation.
Lambert inherits a squad that has been both very poorly recruited and relinquished. Martyn Waghorn, Joe Garner, Bersant Celina and David McGoldrick were worth 39 goals to us in all competitions last season but all left the building.
It would always ask a lot of Freddie Sears, Kayden Jackson (who, despite several years in the lower leagues and non-league, only hit his first double figure scoring season in League Two last year) and Ellis Harrison (11 goals in League One for Bristol Rovers last year) to replicate the contributions of their predecessors.
Gwion Edwards, one of the few shining lights from a miserable start to the season, has gone some way to offering a positive alternative in the wake of Celina's departure.
Defensively, Lambert has to find a way to get this team building from the back. Conceding from set pieces has been a massive Achilles heal throughout Hurst's tenure and that will need to improve massively.
Hurst's Ipswich have conceded two or more goals in five consecutive games - a trait that, especially when coupled with a lack of goals scored, is fundamentally obstructive to any team's hopes of surviving, let alone progressing.
Bartosz Bialkowski and Dean Gerken have both had time in goal. Whilst Bialkowski is without question a talented goalkeeper, Hurst was within reason to take him out of the pressure cooker for a few weeks after a catalogue of uncharacteristic and costly mistakes. Unfortunately for Hurst, Gerken produced some of his own.
Aside from former Peterborough and Crawley winger Edwards and an occasional positive display from Trevoh Chalobah, the midfield has looked disjointed, lacked a physical presence and been completely void of creativity on the most part.
As I alluded to earlier in my blog, a notable upturn in results and performances from the off is essential to Lambert. The players will be very aware that they have a new manager to impress away at 20th-placed Millwall on Saturday. Lambert's first official game in charge will be at home to currently 19th placed Preston, headed by another former Canary Alex Neil. After that, a trip to third bottom Reading will await.
The need for a good haul of points from those is obvious. In particular, a win against Preston would give a disgruntled home support a much needed boost. In 2018, Ipswich have only won twice at Portman Road. That's right, twice.
The immediate priority for Lambert appears to be to simply keep this team afloat (and within proximity of the other teams fighting for safety) by the time the transfer window reopens in January. At this moment in time, it is obvious that this could present a sizeable challenge.
I have criticised Marcus Evans heavily in my previous two TWTD blogs, in particular for what I perceive as being inept January transfer windows in 2015, 2016 and 2017. It is likely that Lambert will have discussed funds that will need to be made available come January. This, without question, is the biggest transfer window of Evans's regime.
Lambert will look to mould his own team of players as soon as he can, as historically he has struggled to get anything significant going out of other managers' squads (most recently at Blackburn, Wolves and Stoke). This will require Evans to spend money, and there is plenty of past evidence to suggest that Lambert could make good recruitments if given the right funds to do so.
Presuming that former assistant manager Ian Culverhouse joins his backroom staff, Lambert will have a familiar coaching set up to what he had at Norwich. I know several Norwich fans who have all said they believe that Lambert's most effective spells as a manager coincided with Culverhouse concentrating on the coaching side of the game beside him. Without Culverhouse at Villa in his final months and his subsequent roles, Lambert has found it much tougher to replicate the impact he made at Norwich.
In the same way that Ipswich's stock has fallen as a credible Championship club, a similar thing can be said of Lambert in a managerial capacity.
Since leaving Norwich, Lambert has seemingly leapt from saucepans to frying pans. Aston Villa, restricted by the lack of interest from Randy Lerner, was to be a hiding to nowhere for Lambert. However, he still preserved Villa's Premier League status under testing restraints.
His time at Blackburn yielded a respectable enough 12 wins from his 33 games in charge, despite the difficulties the club was having under the Venky's ownership.
Again though, he struggled to replicate the success he had at Norwich. Lambert cut his tenure short at the end of the season with Blackburn in severe debt and having been rumoured to have grown frustrated with the owners' lack of plans for the future. Evans, you would trust, has taken note of this.
He arrived at Wolves after the big spending Walter Zenga circus had left Molineux with the team struggling early in the season. Lambert left the club having engineered an impressive FA Cup win at Liverpool, but he will be remembered equally for failing to engineer a desired improvement in the league as they finished solidly in mid table after flirtation with the bottom three at one stage. Wolves would go on to steam roll the Championship 12 months later.
At Stoke, Lambert inherited a team that moved out of the relegation zone after winning his first game in charge (against Huddersfield on 20th January). Only one further win as Stoke manager followed, and the Potters were relegated in May. Lambert subsequently left.
All and all, Lambert's statistics are pretty consistent to the point that he does not appear to present a terrible risk. He boasts a career average win percentage of 38.4 per cent, including 49.3 per cent at Norwich, 36.4 per cent at Blackburn. Despite Lambert's largely underwhelming stint at Wolves, he still left with a win percentage of 42.4 per cent. Lambert also preserved Villa's Premier League status during two difficult seasons despite a 29.6 per cent win rate.
As few as 42 points secured Championship safety last season. It is quite feasible, given the current bottom five and the points currently obtained by each, that a similar/slightly higher return will be required again. Let's say 50 are required to be sure.
Ipswich currently sit on nine points from 14 games. Lambert's career average win percentage of 38.4 per cent, if followed into his tenure at Portman Road, would be worth 36 of the remaining 96 available and survival realistical with a handful of draws thrown in.
Unfortunately, football does not work this way and Lambert has many fires to put out first, both on a footballing level and a reputation level.
I must admit that I will struggle to warm to the appointment unless notable improvement is seen on all fronts. That, ultimately, will be of extreme benefit to all parties. Fingers crossed.
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