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Five Reasons to Be Optimistic and Five Reasons to Remain Cautious
Written by adamisablue2 on Monday, 10th Jan 2022 19:00

Just after Conor Chaplin crashed home his penalty and Town's fourth against Gillingham on Saturday, I turned to my friends in the stand and uttered the [probably] famous last words of “the road to Wembley starts here boys!”

Back in the cold light of day and after the buzz, booze and hangover had finally worn off and I am safe in my home after an epic away day, I started to wonder to myself if it actually possible that a season that looked dead and buried bar the shouting three weeks ago could actually end in the ultimate away day of a trip to Wembley or even promotion. After all, I've seen stranger things happen in league football.

After even considering the notion had seemed so daft after the Charlton fiasco, I have come up with five reasons why we should be Googling “How do I get to new Wembley?” and getting excited about the giant awakening. And five reasons why we should get used to the fact that waterproofs and Gillingham away is in our foreseeable future for at least another season, maybe beyond.

Reasons to be pessimistic

1) We’ve seen Saturday's performance before

Saturday's display against Gillingham was possibly one of the most complete performances that I have personally witnessed from an Ipswich Town team.

Thing is, we all knew that this particular Town team is more than capable of putting in a performance of this calibre. We have witnessed it a few times already this season in the shape of Doncaster at home and Wycombe and Portsmouth away.

The key theme of this season has been a complete lack of consistency and, let's face it, we were playing Gillingham who are near the foot of the table.

To go a step further in my hyper-criticism, the recent home win against Wycombe would have been a 3-1 defeat if Wycombe could have converted some gilt-edged chances.

The first real test of the new manager's metal will come in this month as we take on two teams around us league table-wise and two long away games against teams near the bottom

2) Who really manages the first team?

Mark Ashton seems to be a very divisive character, judging by the way Bristol City fans talk about him in the football forums that I am a part of on social media.

Some hold him in high regard, most think of him as some sort of pantomime villain. This is mostly down to the fact that his transfer record at Bristol City was questionable in their eyes and was seen as more of a selling man that a recruitment man.

Some went as far as to say that he wanted to play Football Manager with the club without the fear of actually getting sacked like as an actual football manager would be.

It's also rather telling that when looking for a new manager to replace Paul Cook, he went in more of a head coach type instead of a traditional club manager.

If, as I suspect, the first team is being run as a CEO and first team manager partnership, then what happens if and when this partnership breaks down? Could Kieran McKenna’s successors maintain that balance as and when it's his time to move on? Will there be a clash of egos at some point that will affect team selections and player recruitment? All of these questions remain to be answered.

3) Kieran McKenna. Messiah or a very naughty boy?

We’ve all seen the reports. We’ve all heard the stories, interviews, that bloke you met on the train whose hairdresser’s cousin is Roy Keene’s dog walker who says that... and all that jazz.

It also won't have escaped your attention that the man is very dry, direct and to the point in his interviews and some of the Manchester United players he worked with are quoted as saying that he has 'a school teacher-like delivery'.

Now whilst his football CV and tactical acumen absolutely cannot be called in to question by the likes of me as I never made it out of the BUCCS University leagues, I am left to wonder what his man management skills are like. Is he even capable of giving a blood and thunder Neil Warnock-esque team talk at 2-0 down and needing a win? How will he handle having to drop someone or a player in a strop because he is not playing?

By all accounts he is very precise and methodical so how will he handle footballs curve balls and what are his plans B, C, D and E? All things that will need to be tested in due course

4) League One is tougher than it looks

Straight to the point here, this ain't yo mama's League One no more. Gone are the days when your team could have a bad season in the Championship or get unlucky with a points deduction and just stroll through a League One season without breaking a sweat to come straight back up.

There are some long-haul journeys, some hard, physical games along with teams that, not too long ago, were top six in the Championship and even sustainable Premier League clubs at points in recent memory.

Bottom line, no one team has an automatic right to go up from this league and we will do well to remember this fact.

5) We need others to slip up to gain ground

Saturday was pretty much the perfect day if you happened to be a Town fan. A 4-0 dominant victory away from home and just about every single result went in our favour.

Along with the victory at home to Wycombe, the Gillingham game went a very long way in closing the gap, making a 15-point (ish) gap into an eight-point deficit.

However, we still need a three-game swing involving five teams just to sneak into the play-offs in sixth and most of those teams have games in hand.

I understand that this isn't a massive amount with around 20 games to go and indeed stranger things have happened but is this just too much of a gap to rely on luck as well as being near perfect as a team for the rest of the season?

Reasons to be optimistic

1) Building for life atop the Championship and beyond

I have lived away from Suffolk for many a year now so I have had to support the club from afar online, watching on iFollow and getting to the odd game as and when I could.

Now that I am back and have a season ticket, I have noticed a few things. One of the most glaringly obvious was that the previous board, who did a reasonable job of bean counting in times of financial difficulty in my eyes, didn’t know the first thing about the sport actually being played.

They probably left the running of the first team to some out-of-date dinosaur football managers, whose idea of anything even remotely sports science was probably “it's a load of old codswallop", meant we got massively left behind as the game evolved in the last decade or so.

Maybe I'm putting two and two together and coming up with the word potato here but is it really a coincidence that a few decent academy products signed their first professional contract for other clubs and rejected us?

The injury list has been way too long for far too long to be a coincidence. Has the club been under some sort of curse? Or maybe a more reasonable answer is we haven't had any fresh ideas for injury prevention, sports management or sports nutrition for a very long time.

Hopefully, with the new board who know how to set up clubs near the top of the pyramid and the new management team having up to date sports science degrees this will all change, little by little, year by year.

In any case, it seems like the club is being run from top to bottom as a whole management team which has been sorely lacking in recent memory

2) A CEO that is doing a decent job, so far!

To counter my own argument for being pessimistic, Mark Ashton has done more than a reasonable job in the recruitment department thus far. He has managed to sign some top talent from top clubs and get them to drop down a level whilst doing it.

The real acid test on this is about to come up with Brighton and Christian Walton and QPR and Bonnelaldinho and when it comes time to sell some of these players on, something we have been embarrassingly poor at over the years.

It should also be noted that his pantomime villain status at Bristol City seems to stem from him selling more players than he bought, a position he probably isn't in in the Town boardroom but so far, so good in this department in terms of the job he is doing right now.

3) A board that is not afraid to take action

Now I know some people might say that 20 games aren't enough time to judge Paul Cook's management record. Some might even point to his recent stats which were not that poor really, if you only take into account the results without the performance to go with them.

I would disagree. Maybe in a future blog I will try to dissect what went wrong in Paul Cook's tenure but the bottom line is this. The chances he would have arrested the slide were pretty slim.

In one of his last interviews after throwing away yet another lead, he said words to the effect of “Maybe we are not as good as we think we are”. Yet with the same team Kieran McKenna managed to get one of the most dominant performances from a Town team yet.

The longer Paul stayed, the further behind we would fall and make it even harder for the team to get promotion in the seasons to come. Action needed to be taken and it was swift, concise and, on paper at least, the correct appointment was methodically made. Something we haven't seen in an Ipswich Town board for a very long time

4) A manager that knows how to set a team up for elite level football

Kieran McKenna and Martyn Pert's sports coaching CVs are both incredibly extensive and highly impressive. Furthermore, both men are formally educated in the modern game to the highest degree.

The laundry list of the clubs and franchises on this list read like a who's who in the world of 'sports ball', such as Borussia Dortmund, the LA Lakers, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United to name drop a few names out of many.

These teams are set up to play at the very top of their respective top leagues and the way they will approach game days is very much reflected in their position.

If Kieran and Martyn can translate even a fraction of that to the first team set up then ITFC might well be a force to be reckoned with once more

5) Backers with deep pockets

Much has been made about Ipswich becoming Chequebook FC. However, looking at who we have signed and who we have sold on, it would seem at a glance that it has kind of balanced out in some way, shape or form.

However, when all is said and done, success won't come from recruiting players to get out of this league. It will come with the first team set-up and the owners know that their pockets have to be deep to shell out for the backroom staff and things we can't see as fans.

We already have the stadium in place and the training facilities are pretty decent from what I can see from the outside.

Thing is, everything I've said about set-up so far couldn’t be achieved at a National League or League Two club without a massive cash injection from the owners and backers, and now it seems like we have three owners who know exactly what it takes to make an elite level sports ball set-up and they know exactly who to talk to get the job done.

So, there you have it. These are all just my personal observations based on what I can see and pick up from interviews, the media and everything else. I might be on the money or I might be talking a load of old rubbish. Let me know what you think I'm talking in the comments below.

Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.

not_a_witty_name added 20:43 - Jan 10
When it comes to Ashton it may be that he manages the squad rather than the team. It's been reported that he's a stat-fanatic which Cookie probably wasn't. It's going to be interesting now that he has a manager who is also said to be a stat-fanatic too.

not_a_witty_name added 20:50 - Jan 10
The best thing they can do to the stadium is to make the SBR Lower and SAR Lower standing areas.
There's talk of a new Cobbold Stand (I hope they keep that name) and a new pitch.
With a new Cobbold Stand and safe standing areas we could get the capacity up to the 40,000 mark just in time for return of Premiership football.

AlpineBlue added 21:00 - Jan 10
Really enjoyable blog. I am usually a very pessimistic supporter. After a couple of defeats I'm usually having us down for relegation, but for the first time since Joe Royle was manager, I am genuinely optimistic. I really do think we will make the playoffs. Mostly this is just a gut feeling, but there are a few reasons why I am so confident.

1) The gap is not THAT big. There is precedent for teams making up such a gap.
2) with the squad we have, we should be fighting for an automatic spot. The reason we aren't is because of lacklustre/poor coaching and terrible game management. The two games that McK has overseen have demonstrated excellent passing and movement and game management, which suggests the coaching is good.
3) the more time the players get on the training ground, the better the passing and movement will get
4) discounting the Gillingham game, the last two games have been against two of the form teams in the league and we've matched them.

I am going to be the ridiculous optimist and say that we will finish top 5.

Runner added 22:42 - Jan 10
35000 would be a better guess for the ground.
The Cobbold stand holds approximately 7000 now (2000 lower, 5000 upper, maybe get another tier of 5000 on top of that. The West Stand at present holds approximately 9000, that is not going to change.

adamisablue2 added 23:33 - Jan 10
I heard that about the Cobbold stand too. Apparently putting in a replay screen, new score board, proper state of the at stuff. I really do hope that they are not selling off the naming rights to pay for it though. I want shiny new things but I really don't want to sell the soul of the club to do so. And I think you might be right in regards to Ashtons first team role I did consider floating the idea that Cookies utter refusal to change tactics that clearly were not working was part of some old school belligerence to Mark Ashtons suggestions but that is total speculation and I try to avoid such things in blogs

Thank you. I am considering starting a YouTube channel of animated shorts covering bios and analysis (like Tifo Football but centred around Ipswich) but thought I would try my hand at blogging to get a feel for it first To be fair, I think that K McK had an unseen hand in that Sunderland game. I don't think J McG came up with the inspired switch to 3 at the back on his own. But yeah the difference between the two styles of play are night and day. Lets just hope that its not too little too late. Im with you though, its a crazy league and everyone beats everyone so theres still time and hope yet

billlm added 07:16 - Jan 11
Excellent piece, well written,

budgieplucker added 07:31 - Jan 12
Really good blog, thank you. Look forward to your YouTube channel and like the way you assess the position to give a balance. Too often we see views where somebody has a few good games and we think we have found the answer and then a few games later the complete reverse opinion surfaces from the same people. I like to use the Gareth McAuley situation as well - a significant number of fans were referring to him as donkey when he played for us and questioned whether he was of the right standard for us in the Championship. He left and it wasn’t if he was an improving youngster, he was an experienced pro, he went on to enjoy several years at Priemership level and many international caps. Even at the age of 38 there was some suggestion he might be tempted back. Ashton is the right person for this very moment in time, I don’t think there has been any secret that for this investment to work we have to be a selling club, he brought in 60 million at Bristol City and reinvested over half not necessarily all in to playing staff but into infrastructure.

Anybody interested should study the Ajax model and how the continually have to sell their best players but their production line keeps coming up with the goods and they still maintain a ranking in Europe that sees them eight across their history. There’s lots of good material on-line of interest on Ajax. Why ‘couldn’t Ipswich aspire to this type of model - interestingly enough Ajax’s CEO is Edwin Van der Sar former Man Utd goalkeeper. I know Mr Ashton wasn’t that good when he played for West Brom in goal but just perhaps for the foreseeable future he is a safe pair of hands for a CEO.

Generic added 13:55 - Jan 12
Not getting excited yet but with 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9th places all playing each other on Saturday then a comfortable win at Bolton could change my mind!

ElephantintheRoom added 09:35 - Jan 13
Interesting read. I think you could be a bit more pessimistic about “backers with deep pockets”. The cowboys from Arizona have very shallow pockets - and buying the club with borrowed money has given them precisely 5% of the club - the same as ‘the now departed Marcus Evans’. You might also include geography and economics in your pessimism - Ipswich is an isolated low population area with poor transport links - and is projected to get worse in future decades. On the plus side that massive gap to the heroic heights of six place is not as big as it looks because the clubs above will be playing each other every week.
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