Lambert: You've Got to Look at Yourself
Wednesday, 10th Jun 2020 11:08
Boss Paul Lambert says there were “one or two things” he would have done differently during Town's curtailed 2019/20 campaign, in which they finished 11th in League One, their lowest position for 67 years, and admits “you’ve got to look at yourself”. The Blues manager is aiming to "put it right" next season, although is currently in the dark about when that might start.
In a wide-ranging interview with Radio Suffolk (3hrs 9mins 10secs), Lambert again expressed his frustration that the EFL took so long to come to a decision on whether League One should be played to its conclusion or curtailed and decided on unweighted points per game, as was finally confirmed yesterday.
“I think the length of it has been shocking, I’ve said that before,” he said. “I thought the way it was handled was really, really poor. I don’t think there’s ben great leadership and if the Premier League plays and the Championship plays then League One and League Two should play.
“The issues go right down the pyramid really and I don’t think it’s a good thing to curtail it, I don’t agree with the points per game system and I said that when we were even in the play-offs.
“We were sitting first at the end of January. Two months, February and March, have certainly cost us. Darren Ferguson up at Peterborough [missed out on a play-off place due to points per game having been sixth] and Wycombe go in. It’s not a fair system.
“It should have been sorted sooner, that’s the thing. What’s absolutely apparent and evident is that the game’s nothing without the supporters, 100 per cent. You look at the Bundesliga, which I’ve watched quite frequently and done some TV work on, without the fans it’s not a game.
“You need the fans to come in and Ipswich being the only team in the town, it’s so important the community’s right behind it and we’re going to need them, without a doubt. The football club’s going to need the supporters.”
Lambert says that at present he doesn’t know when 2020/21 might start or when the players need to come back to train.
“Not officially, that’s the frustrating thing,” he added. “Obviously the season’s been curtailed now but the start date, you’re hearing different dates, whether it’s September, but that’s us playing. I don’t think fans will be allowed in at that time until everybody’s safe, and I totally get that.
“And you’ve got the added thing of the testing as well. You’ve still got to get tested. I think there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge before we can say when we’re going to start.
“There’s got to be a lot of heads together and talking, we’ll have to get tested, that goes without saying, and the next step is to try and get supporters back into the stadiums when it’s safe.”
The Scot isn’t a fan of playing matches behind closed doors: “Without the supporters, that’s the game, the game is for them. The game is for the fans, they come and they generate the atmosphere and give us the support that we need, and you need that, without a doubt you need that.
“As I said before, I’ve watched the German games and it’s a high standard of football but without the fans it’s not a game.
“When they will come back, I really don’t know, hopefully it’s soon. The idea of closed doors is not a great idea but if that’s what’s got to happen then you have to do it.”
Looking back at last season, Lambert was asked where a campaign which looked so good - the Blues were top in the opening months and again in January -
“It was bizarre because at the end of January I think we went to Wycombe [sic] and we were sitting top of the table and we were never outside the top six, we were always between one, two, three, four or whatever it was.
“But in the last two months, February and March, we came right off it. I’ve analysed it, there will be things I’ll do differently without a doubt. You’ve got to look at yourself as well, where you went wrong and hopefully put them right.
“But for so many months we were in really good form, we were top of the league in January. We lost a lot of players through injury at certain times, big players as well.
“The last couple of months, February and March, we came right off it and couldn’t get it back.
“We were hoping that in the last eight games, five at home, [we could push on]. I think we had to win about six of those games to get into the play-offs, which we’re more than capable of doing. Everybody would have been back fit, but we had to go on a run. February and March definitely cost us.”
Asked what he’d change, and specifically his controversial rotation policy, he responded: “There are one or two things that I would do differently. The rotation thing, that was working at the beginning when we were winning and nobody was really bothered, it’s only when you start to lose people start to have a go at it.
“I get all the arguments about it, it’s one side I would look at. We were forced to change [the team] because of the number of games they were going to have. We blooded some young ones which I think was important for the football club going forward, the young ones in the Leasing.com Trophy, I think it was important for them to gain experience.
“And this pandemic has put those kids where they might make a mark on the first team because the finances won’t be the same as they were. So there are loads of positives out of it, but there are definitely certain things I would look at.”
Quizzed on whether he has considered his future and whether he is the man to take Town forward, he said: “Absolutely, I’ve been in the game long enough to know the pitfalls of everything that goes on. But we’re going to give it a right good go and try and correct everything that was wrong last season and try and put it right.
“We go again, we try and get everybody upbeat, we try and get everybody going again and hopefully the lads come back ready to go again and we’ll try and get out of the division. That’s what we have to do.
“We were top of the league at the end of January but February and March was when we came right off it and never performed.”
Does he accept the season was a failure? “When you don’t win any trophy it’s a failure, or any title it’s a failure. In my career I’ve had so many highs, winning a lot of stuff at the highest level of the game. And when you don’t win it hurt like hell, and it’s something that doesn’t sit right with me and we’ll try and put it right.”
The calamitous way the season fell away has soured Lambert’s relationship with fans, which he spent a lot of time working on in his early days at the club. How can rebuild that bridge?
“The fans are so important to the football club,” the 50-year-old added. “Whether I’m here or wasn’t here, they’re so important to the club. All we gave everybody was enthusiasm when the club was ailing.
“As I said before, I watched a game before I came in, I always go back to it, the game against Middlesbrough, nobody booed and I think they were tired, there was nobody turning up. Now you’re getting over 20,000 people, which is great.
“But I’ve played in front of big crowds and I know what it’s like, I know the criticism comes with the game, but I tell you, you meet it head on, you go through it again and you get the crowd back again.
“And you only do that by winning and trying to play exciting football, and that’s what we’ll try and do. It’s not something that’s going to put me on the back foot, you meet it head on and you go again.”
Lambert says he has spoken to owner Marcus Evans and they will speak again next week: “We spoke yesterday and we have done over the last few months and we’ll have another meeting again.
“He’s obviously disappointed with the season being curtailed and disappointed with the finish, but he knows himself that for long parts of the season we were right up there and should be better than we were.
“But that’s the reality of it, we didn’t perform in February and March and when you don’t perform, results go against you.
“He’s disappointed, but he’s a realist as well, he’s got a realist’s instinct in his head to think ‘Where does it go wrong?’ and next week we’ll talk about everything that we think is relevant and going to help us going forward.”
Inevitably fans have expressed their concern that the club’s prized assets, the likes of Flynn Downes and Luke Woolfenden, might be targeted by sides from higher divisions hoping to get the for a relative song given the financial situation across the game and particularly in the lower leagues.
“That can happen anyway at the best of times,” Lambert said. “If big clubs come in for players and the money’s right, clubs can’t stop it.
“The money would have to be right but you’ve got to realise the position the club’s in and where this pandemic is.
“When big clubs come in with X amount of money, sometimes it’s very difficult to stop it and that’s why you’ve got to have a conveyer belt of younger ones coming through and then you blood them and then they go again.
“There’s so much to discuss on where this pandemic has hurt football clubs, not just ours but I think everybody.”
Those youngsters who were blooded this season are likely to get more opportunities in the campaign ahead, whenever it starts.
“We can only go by what we see in training with the kids and the games that they play,” he said.
“And I’ve always said that if you’re good enough you’re old enough to come in, that’s always the case with me, that’s always the way I look at it. I needed a manager to do that for me and I do that myself with the kids.
“It’s going to be entirely on their heads to try and get in the team, that’s the game of football, you know you have to perform to force a manager’s hand to get in the side, and if you’re good enough it doesn’t matter to me what age you are. And that goes right across the board, you’ve got to perform to get in the team.”
He says he and Evans will discuss the squad and where it might need strengthening and which players might move on at their next meeting.
“Myself and Marcus will have a chat next week to see where we are with everything like that,” he said.
“But there’s got to be this realism now about what’s happened with the pandemic and how it is going to affect football clubs. I think that’s important.
“You’ve got to remember as well that fans won’t be allowed into the stadium, so really we have to take a lead from Marcus and see what says about the finances, and everybody has to respect that because of what’s happened.”
Yesterday general manager of football operations Lee O’Neill’s said “Our target was to try and make the play-offs this year” to the consternation of many fans, who believed the top two was the Blues’ goal, and Lambert believes first should always be the aim.
“When you’re in any sort of professional sport, it doesn’t matter how you dress it up, you’ve got to try and win to be successful,” he said.
“That’s always my mantra and when next season starts we’ll try and win the league, not to come second, we try and win it. Second is always failure in any professional sport, you want to try and win.
“And again, the most important people at the football club are the supporters and the players.”
Given fans’ current disenchantment at another disappointing season, what is Lambert’s message to them?
“Come again, come in your thousands again,” he said. “The fans have been absolutely brilliant since I’ve been here, they really have.
“Sometimes they criticise, which is totally part of the game and it’s not something I think is new. As long as they keep supporting the team and come back, and I’m pretty sure they will because the stadium in the good times was absolutely rocking, and we have to give them that back again.
“We have to get performances up to where they were again and we have to get everyone really bang at it through this period. We certainly need them, without a doubt, we need the supporters to come in their thousands and do exactly what they did when we stopped.
“That’s the nature of the game, you take the good and the bad but the good times will come again, that’s for sure."
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