Ipswich Town are rock bottom of the Championship and relegation’s a real concern... so how has it come to this?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 23 October 2018
Paul Hurst’s Ipswich sit bottom of the Championship with just one win to their name. Here ANDY WARREN looks at how it’s come to this for Hurst and the Blues.
Not capitalising and setting a tone
So here we are. We’re approaching the end of October, nearly a third of the way into the season, with Ipswich Town rooted to the bottom of the Championship.
The new era wasn’t supposed to be like this.
It started with a bang when Gwion Edwards headed Paul Hurst’s Blues in front just five minutes into the opening-day clash with Blackburn, but that now seems an awfully long time ago.
They ultimately needed a last-gasp Tayo Edun goal to rescue a point from that game despite being on top for long spells, and were the better side at Rotherham a week later before being beaten in the 90th minute. Three days after that they exited the Carabao Cup on penalties at League Two Exeter.
How different could things have been had one or more of those games resulted in victories and a different tone set?
There were positives to come from many of Ipswich’s early games but as the wait for a win went on, so the pressure grew and there was evidence it was weighing heavily on a group of players including many with no Championship experience prior to this season.
The victory at Swansea was supposed to rid the Blues of the pressure which had begun to hang heavily from their necks. But now it’s firmly back on again, with the Blues booed off at the weekend and shots on target greeted by ironic cheers from a home support who have seen it all before.
Saturday’s home defeat by QPR represented more regression that progression and that’s the real worry, with fears of relegation becoming more and more real.
Evolution rather than revolution?
The Paul Hurst era to date has been characterised by change, change that was in many ways needed, yet there was a feeling of groundhog day inside Portman Road during Saturday’s 2-0 loss to QPR.
A dozen players departed at the end of last season following the end of Mick McCarthy’s reign and a dozen have arrived since Hurst’s appointment.
There has been an overhaul of the backroom staff, a new approach to sports science, a new joined-up thinking between academy and first team and an attempt to introduce a new playing style.
But, right now, all that change has resulted in the Blues sitting rock bottom of the Championship with just one win to their name and relegation to League One becoming a real concern.
The departure of Adam Webster to Bristol City at the end of June, just 10 days after Hurst had officially begun work at Portman Road, gave the new manager more room than he ever imagined he would have to recruit his own players.
The signings of Gwion Edwards (the biggest positive in terms of new signings), Ellis Harrison and Janoi Donacien soon followed, before the initial £5million sale of Martyn Waghorn opened the door for the signings of Jon Nolan, Toto Nsiala and Kayden Jackson.
Things undoubtedly needed freshening up, with four loan players (Callum Connolly, Dominic Iorfa, Bersant Celina and Cameron Carter-Vickers) returning to parent clubs and the likes of David McGoldrick, Stephen Gleeson, Kevin Bru, Luke Hyam and Mustapha Carayol moving on at the end of their contracts. But this was major surgery.
There was a sense that a new manager could get more out of a group of players who appeared to have more to offer, when not restricted by system and tactics, but that hypothesis was not really tested.
It was always going to take time for the new-look side to gel - that was accepted given some of the early signs were promising - but the fact there is now more evidence of regression than progression is a real concern.
New signings have outnumbered inherited players in eight of Ipswich’s 13 Championship games so far this season and, while none of the new arrivals have looked out of their depth at Championship level when you look at their body of work as a whole, for so many players to be stepping up a level at the same time is an extremely big ask.
Did Ipswich Town need evolution, post McCarthy, rather than a revolution?
Own worst enemy
Hurst is right when he says the Ipswich players need to take their share of the blame for the current situation the club find themselves in.
A Dean Gerken own goal and a penalty converted after a needless Nsiala lunge cost Ipswich against QPR but these were the latest in a string of individual errors. Hurst says he does not remember such a catalogue of mistakes in such a short space of time.
Bartosz Bialkowski could have done more when he juggled a cross into the path of Danny Graham for Blackburn’s opener in the first game of the season, needless free-kicks were given away and then not dealt with for goals at Rotherham and Exeter before Trevoh Chalobah left Lucas Joao all alone to head home for Sheffield Wednesday. Moritz Leitner had far too much time to pick his spot for Norwich in the East Anglian Derby.
Hull were gifted possession for their opening goal just four minutes into the game at the KCOM in September before Jordan Spence’s error presented them with their second, while Brentford’s first-half goal on September 18 was all-too easy.
Gerken’s poor punch led to an equaliser at Birmingham which the Ipswich defence had further opportunities to stop and the least said about Middlesbrough’s two goals in front of the Sky Sports cameras the better.
Those are just some of the errors resulting in goals. You simply can’t expect to be successful in the Championship if you make things easy for the opposition.
Hurst has stressed since his arrival at Portman Road in the summer that he would judge his players on what they have done for him, not on their past achievements and standing at Portman Road.
Roll back a few weeks and it would seem unthinkable that Bartosz Bialkowski, the winner of the player-of-the-year award in each of the last three seasons, would be sat on the Ipswich Town bench.
But that is exactly where he finds himself. The Pole was not at his best during the opening weeks of the season, but to see him named among the substitutes for the visit of Norwich at the start of September was still an almighty shock.
To leave Bialkowski and Jonas Knudsen, who started in the last 16 of the World Cup in July, on the substitutes’ bench is an extremely bold call.
Hurst spoke of being ‘very blunt’ during pre-season and his assessment of Ipswich’s cup humbling at Exeter was testament to that. Captain Luke Chambers’ reaction in a video posted by the club in the days after the game spoke volumes.
Injuries and bad luck
The Blues haven’t simply been the architects of their own downfall – they have been on the wrong end of some bad luck, too.
The red cards picked up by Edun and Nsiala in games against Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday ultimately cost the Blues any real chance of victory, with the dismissals changing the complexion of matches during the formative weeks of Hurst’s reign.
The signing of Walters before the end of the loan window in August seemed the perfect fit at the right time, for both player and club, but his romantic return was cruelly cut short by an Achilles injury which will keep him sidelined until the new year.
Emyr Huws and Teddy Bishop would undoubtedly add a new dimension to the centre of an Ipswich midfield which hasn’t been able to stamp its authority on games, but neither has been fit enough to take to the field in a Championship game.