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Where Did It All Go Wrong for Paul Hurst?
Written by Herbivore on Saturday, 27th Oct 2018 11:34

The dust has not yet settled on the reign of Town's shortest-serving permanent manager, a reign the significance and memorability of which is likely to be more dependent on our post-Paul Hurst fate than on his mere 14 league games in charge.

Should the new man, Paul Lambert, steady the ship and keep us up then Hurst's legacy will appear little more than a folly, whilst relegation casts it as being arguably the biggest disaster in the club's history.

Let me start by nailing my colours to the mast: Hurst was my choice from more or less day one, certainly once Tony Mowbray had dropped out of the running. Even when Jack Ross made eyes at us and promised sexy football and a dapper figure on the touchline, I remained unmoved. Why? At the time I viewed Hurst as providing evolution and not revolution.

Whatever the more rabid 'Mick out' brigade had to say, Town did not require a radical overhaul in order to improve our fortunes. We were sat in the top half for almost the entirety of the 2017/18 season and flirted with the play-offs for over half the season.

Post-Christmas, as so often under Mick, was disappointing. The goals dried up and so, inevitably, did the wins. Though hamstrung by injuries to the triumvirate creative talents of Teddy Bishop, Emyr Huws and Andre Dozzell then further limited by the disappearance of Tom Adeyemi and a season-ending injury to David McGoldrick, it was evident that Mick's rightful departure left us in relatively decent shape.

That it was right for Mick to go has not changed by what followed, the relationship with the fans was too sour and in an era where two years is considered a long time for a manager to stay in a job, Mick's tenure had run its course.

On such a basis did I hang my hat on Hurst. Having seen his Shrewsbury side play roughly half a dozen times there were clearly some of Mick's best traits in evidence: good organisation, a solid defence, and an ability to stop the opposition from playing.

Importantly, however, there was more passing on the deck and evidence of licence for the more forward-minded players to express themselves with more freedom than we were used to. No, they were not a League One Barcelona, but we did not have a squad capable of playing the famed tika-taka and we did not have the resources to equip ourselves with players who could play that way.

However, take a well-organised mid-table Championship side with a decent balance of youth and experience, get them playing a bit more by keeping the ball better and using it more bravely, what isn't to like about that? Hurst's evolution was the way forward for me.

This brings me on to the first of Hurst's mistakes: he gave us a revolution we were not ready for and did not need. The squad underwent a radical overhaul in the summer with 12 departures matched by as many new signings.

Quality Championship players like Martyn Waghorn, Joe Garner and Adam Webster departed for decent money, whilst experienced campaigners like Luke Hyam and David McGoldrick walked away at the end of their contracts.

Their replacements initially seemed like the kind of signings we had been hoping for, top League One and League Two talent ready to make the step up to the Championship and to be worth significantly more than we paid for them in a year's time. Gwion Edwards and Ellis Harrison fitted the bill perfectly and were later followed by Janoi Donacien, Kayden Jackson, Jon Nolan and Toto Nsiala.

In isolation, each looked a good signing with enough games under their belt in the lower leagues to know their way around a game of football, but young enough to have their best years ahead of them and room for improvement. However, and this is not merely in hindsight, there were too many players with no Championship experience needing to be incorporated into the squad at the same time.

The spine of the team was reduced to Bart, Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse. Less of a spine than a coat-hanger, for all of their qualities on and off the pitch. It was too much to ask six or seven players to step up together with comparatively little experience and quality around them.

This, coupled with the decision to let a number of promising youngsters - some with Championship games under their belt - go out on loan, led to legitimate questions about Hurst's transfer policy. Hurst tried to remedy the lack of proven quality in the squad with three late loan arrivals in Jonathan Walters, Jordan Graham and Matthew Pennington, all of whom know this league, and indeed the one above, to varying degrees.

This, however, leads on to the second key failing of Hurst's short-reign: he panicked. The early games of the season showed some promise. Though the good spells against Blackburn bookended 60 minutes of rather disjointed play and two poor goals, we showed real attacking intent and high pressing in the early and late parts of the game. Indeed, the strong finish seemed to suggest that Hurst's famous focus on fitness would reap rewards.

We largely dominated our next game at Rotherham and were denied a stonewall penalty late on, only to then be mugged by another poor goal to concede.

Promising showings against Villa and Sheffield Wednesday yielded one point and two contentious red cards, but followed on in displaying some promise of better things to come. As when Hurst arrived, tweaks were needed to make us better: cut down on the mistakes, particularly from set pieces, and find just a little more quality and cohesion in the final third.

What followed post-Sheffield Wednesday, alongside the arrival of the three loanees (taking our total to a Jewell-like six), was a veritable ripping up of the early season blueprint. Selection became somewhat scattergun. Six changes were made for Norwich, including dropping thrice Player of the Year Bart, bringing in all three loanees - none of whom had enjoyed the fabled 'Hurst pre-season' - and moving to a 4-4-2.

It appeared that Hurst wanted to go all out for the short-term gain of three points, and it didn't work. We led, briefly, but aside from a good 10-minute spell after half-time we looked the poorest we had all season. Gone was the attempt to play passing football and press the opposition, instead we reverted to direct balls to Walters and into the channels. This, for me, was the first real warning sign.

What followed over the next eight games was a mish-mash of line-ups and formations rarely stuck to for more than 45 minutes. An experiment with 3-5-2 against Brentford resulted in a car crash of a half, at the time the worst Town performance since the end-times of Jewell. That accolade was soon taken by the performance against QPR, whilst honourable efforts to match it were made against Bolton and Middlesbrough.

At home at least we have seen only one good half of football - the second period against Brentford where we ostensibly returned to what was looking like it could work in the opening five games of the season - in more than two months.

Away from home things have been a little better, a first win at Swansea showed fight and some of the incisive counter-attacking play Hurst's Shrewsbury had upset the odds with last season. It was a false dawn.

A third key error Hurst made, seemingly underpinning some of the others, is the way he approached the task of managing Ipswich Town. It seems that he underestimated the job at hand, that he did not necessarily appreciate the size of the gap between League One and the Championship. It may be that in League One a side being well-organised and super-fit is enough to be competitive. In the Championship, such things are a minimum requirement.

There have been rumours for some months now of disquiet on the training ground, a manager and his assistant too keen to stamp their authority on a group of players who are not known for causing problems.

Perhaps that management style worked at the lower level, where Hurst's and assistant Chris Doig's own playing careers elevated them above the players they had plucked from non-league, hungry to prove themselves. Stepping up a level and with relatively little to fall back on in terms of name, experience or reputation worthy of the Championship, perhaps a less bombastic approach was required.

Finally, and crucially, perhaps Hurst just was not good enough. On the pitch he made the crucial error of abandoning the things that have worked well for him elsewhere and that led to early promise here at the first sign of trouble.

From Norwich onwards, the calm and measured approach we expected, the organisation and clear way of playing instilled at his previous clubs, was replaced with an entirely haphazard approach to selection and style. We did not know how we were meant to be playing because Hurst did not know how he wanted us to play. We lost our identity, and Hurst lost his.

On the other hand, off the pitch it seems that Hurst and his team were not able to adjust to managing a bigger club in a tougher league. If stories of disharmony are true - and there are enough of them to think there must be a kernel of truth at least - then it is quite a staggering achievement to have turned a relatively placid but committed squad of players against him in a relatively short space of time.

The methods of focusing on fitness rather than training with the ball, particularly given the two early season issues of poor set-piece goals conceded and a lack of cohesion in attacking play, also looks very naïve now.

Ultimately, Hurst was both too flexible and too rigid. He was too eager to make changes on the pitch, too reticent to make changes off it. Taken together, that simply looks like a man out of his depth. Perhaps Hurst will learn from this and come again in the Championship, however on the evidence here it appears that he may have found his level. No doubt managing Ipswich Town is a hard job, we have a small budget but retain a level of expectation. The club is weighed down by a history that becomes ever more distant.

However, Hurst was fortunate to inherit an experienced Championship squad with a very decent spine, coupled with a generation of young talent that would be the envy of most clubs at this level and a few above.

We were set up for an up and coming manager to prove themselves, at least with a season of mid-table safety. Hurst, somewhat like the proverbial kid in the sweetshop, or perhaps the bull in the china shop, ripped it all up in an attempt to make the club his own. It failed. It may not have done had he stuck to his philosophy, but he further ripped it up again just five league games into the new season and all chance of success was lost as chaos reigned.

Hurst can point to some bad luck, bad decisions and circumstances beyond his control contributing to the lack of points accrued in his 14-league game spell, but that would be to paper over the cracks. He made fundamental errors at different stages of his tenure and these errors suggest that the job was just too big for him.

Assuming Lambert can keep us up, I wish Hurst well. He seems a decent and honest man and clearly has something about him to have achieved what he achieved in the lower leagues. However, his spell at Town has to be considered possibly the biggest self-made disaster of the Marcus Evans era, and there have been a few.

Town move on, and we have to hope that the promise in the squad left by Hurst can be realised under a new manager. Time will tell, but the job inherited from Hurst looks an awful lot more challenging than the one that Hurst took on less than four months ago and that is the measure of his failure here.





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jas1972 added 11:56 - Oct 27
Spot-on analysis - or is it an obituary?
7

Guthrum added 13:10 - Oct 27
Very good summary. Really tells the tale of a lost opportunity.
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RegencyBlue added 13:15 - Oct 27
Pretty much sums it up.

Hurst ticked all the right boxes before his appointment but something went seriously wrong. I think it was a combination of things but he clearly grossly underestimated the sort of player needed for Championship football.

Somebody said to me that Hurst built the squad he would have liked at Shrewsbury and I think there’s a lot in that.
8

Oldsmoker added 13:21 - Oct 27
Good blog.
Lambert will realise on day one that the squad is lacking in depth and quailty.
Will he mouth that off to the press as an excuse as to why we are going to struggle or will he work at these problems on the training ground.
You suggest that PH didn't work on defending set-pieces and as we keep conceding from set-pieces, I have to agree with you. This is where I think PL should start. He must organise the defence to defend set-pieces properly and adequately. I also think that our corners have been a catalyst for the opposition to start an attack against us. This has to stop too so he needs to find a corner taker who was as consistent as Waghorn.
PL has a tough job ahead of him, confounded by a weak and disillusioned team. I think PL man-management skills and his experience at this level is something PH lacked and which ultimately cost him his job.
9

cbower added 15:00 - Oct 27
Pretty much as I see it. His public comments regarding players not being as good as he had been led to believe was just pathetic man management. As you say, his abandonment of identity for the Norwich game was, in hindsight, the real signal he was out of his depth. Well written Herbs.
7

parkinshair added 15:16 - Oct 27
Good blog and spot on analysis. Thankfully on this occasion Evans did not follow the Ipswich tradition of giving a manager time. It wasn't so much not working with Hurst but falling apart around him, the plug needed to be pulled
9

grubbyoik added 20:23 - Oct 27
That’s pretty much how I saw it... the line up against West Ham and then how we played filled me with hope and excitement.. but we never saw that line up again.. which confused us all..
9

Lombokblue added 07:36 - Oct 28
Good post, I was optimistic pre-season but we had a fairly decent team with a few promising young players and he seemed to want to start again without any money. Like Mick he brought in lots of average players to replace average players while the young players didn't get a chance.
4

kpblues added 09:22 - Oct 28
Excellent post Herbivore.
At the time I didn't see the Norwich game as the turning point but looking back you are right. Hurst abandoned is principles and panicked.

The line ups were confused and we saw yet again players being played out of position.

Good post.



8

WarkOn added 10:25 - Oct 29
Excellent analysis. Of the options on offer, I was a Jack Ross man, but he was never going to be content with a club and budget our size, once Sunderland came calling. And Hurst seemed Evans' man all along and did seem to tick all the boxes you've mentioned.

Hurst was probably right when he said the squad was not as good as he'd been led to believe and that probably panicked him into too much too soon.

Our survival indeed rests on a coat hanger and not a strong spine. PL better have a rabbit in his hat.
3

ronnyblue added 11:51 - Oct 29
It all started to go wrong when he met Marcus Evans and agreed to take the job !
3

Suffolk_n_Good added 12:07 - Oct 29
Great blog, spot on 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼
3

Dyland added 14:13 - Oct 29
Excellent summation Herbers.
2

GFH added 20:28 - Oct 29
Hit the nail smack on the head with this summary, I am truly gutted it didn't work out for Hurst. It had so much promise early on but as soon as he brought in Walters on loan I knew things weren't working as planned, I think at that point he realised his mistake of letting too much experience go. Good luck in what ever he does next I just hope he hasn't cost us too darely.
3

Bluefox added 22:26 - Oct 29
An excellent analysis, although I wouldn't go along with the new signings being " young enough to have their best years ahead of them and room for improvement." Most of them are 25- 26, which other than in exceptional circumstances is too old to be stepping up the leagues. Mings and Cresswell for instance were around 20 (I think) when they came to ITFC. The lower leagues are heavily scouted and if a player has genuine Championship potential they will have been picked up before they are 26. So as said elsewhere in the article, it was another example of PH fundamentally under-estimating the Championship.
4

vilanovablue added 19:48 - Oct 30
Excellent blog, very insightful and matches my thoughts.


1

caught-in-limbo added 19:51 - Oct 30
Great report. Thanks.

Tiki taka
0

bucket99 added 16:01 - Oct 31
Listening to the Leeds game it seemed obvious that the players on the pitch were unable to compete in any meaningful way, but crucially imho it was also crystal clear that Paul Hurst had no idea how to change things. There was no Plan B, and it seemed like there was no Plan A either. In other games he would play Sears up front and bring on Jackson in the second half - not to play with him in a different formation, but to replace him. All very strange.
1

naa added 09:11 - Nov 1
Excellent blog and the final sentence is sadly very accurate.
I have to admit that I never took to him, he was berating the players from pre season onwards. Anyone who knows football knows that you don't berate them in public (look at how Fergie always defended them).

He also ignored our scouting network and seemed to disagree with Klug and other people's opinion of players.

To come into a club and ignore all advice and help on offer is ridiculous.

He wasted money on players we didn't need and fundamentally failed to strengthen the areas we were lacking (up front, after everyone left).

By the end his selections and formations became a guessing game.

Yet he was still bullish in press conferences and going on about how the club needed to change whilst, at the same time, refusing to accept he'd made any mistakes.

It's a shame it didn't work out as he was my choice too, but it seemed wrong pretty much from day one.
1

Radlett_blue added 14:11 - Nov 1
That's an excellent analysis. Very little there with which I disagree.
I presume this potential fiasco has put Evans off "up & coming" managers & I also see more huge turnover of players in the summer, irrespective of which division we're in. Back to the old revolving door policy of Keane & Jewell.
0

CalneBlue added 17:59 - Nov 1
Interesting read but a tad unfair at the outset. I'm sure Evans told Hurst he would have to sell players first to finance his evolution/revolution. That would have meant selling the high-value players like Waghorn, Webster, etc. If Evans had been more generous then PH could have kept some of the better players and the outcome might have been better. I've been surprised and disappointed to hear about some of the poor man-management but maybe that gets exaggerated when the team is losing.
1

naa added 20:39 - Nov 1
CalneBlue: I'm sure you're right about PH being forced to sell but given the tight funds he should have been far more careful with his purchases. Buying players we didn't need used up much needed funds for those we were desperate for. Expecting a strike force comprised of average lower league players to score 40 odd goals was crazy.

I'm not sure what PL is going to be able to do with the squad he has if I'm honest. But fingers crossed.
0

Lightningboy added 10:10 - Nov 4
500 games for Rotherham,mostly in the bottom 2 leagues meant he had not much realisation of the gulf in difference between the bottom 2 leagues & the championship.

In hindsight a very poor gamble...was like a rabbit in the headlights from day 1.
0

KiwiBlue2 added 08:22 - Nov 5
Sadly he turned out to be a legend in his own mind. I became concerned when it became obvious that he was reluctant to take advice. Hopefully he can find another club in the lower leagues.
0

andygri added 14:23 - Nov 7
Fantastic article. Balanced and forensic. You rightly pinpointed the Norwich game as the turning point. I came away from that game really flat, feeling like Hurst had got it so badly wrong. Dropping Bart was a stupid power move, designed to shake up a group of established senior players who were guilty of nothing more than failing to adapt to Hurst's new style. Did he not think maybe it was down to his coaching, rather than the desire and commitment of 4/5 players with a few hundred Ipswich games between them. It also sent out the message 'make a mistake and you're out'. No wonder our confidence receded badly after that game.
1
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