Is Town's dream becoming a nightmare?

WHEN Blues chairman David Sheepshanks finally revealed that the club had at last 'found their pot of gold' there was euphoria among Ipswich Town supporters who believed the good times were coming back to Portman Road.

Derek Davis

WHEN Blues chairman David Sheepshanks finally revealed that the club had at last 'found their pot of gold' there was euphoria among Ipswich Town supporters who believed the good times were coming back to Portman Road. A year on, has the dream been tarnished? Chief football writer DEREK DAVIS tries to pinpoint what's gone wrong.

A year ago this month we revealed that a takeover was imminent and all Town's money worries would be over.

At the end of October 2007 the club announced that Marcus Evans, the eponymous multi-millionaire owner and founder of the Marcus Evans Group was to be the club's saviour and benefactor.

It looked the perfect scenario with Ipswich Town, cash-strapped until then and being guided by Jim Magilton, beautifully poised in fourth placed in the table after a dozen games.

Surely the new found investment would merely galvanise Town and give them that little extra needed to secure their return to the Premier League.

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Much was promised - promotion if not that season, then definitely this, would be Town's.

The £32m debt would be wiped out and a further £12m given for Magilton to build a squad to not only win promotion but also to compete in the top flight.

The owner would remain away from the public spotlight but would meet key people associated with the club and would ensure the club maintained its traditions and its community feel.

One year on and the reality is quite different.

Although new players were brought in during the January window, the Blues slipped down the Championship and finished in eighth place last May, missing out on a play-off place.

A further eight signings were made in the summer window but after a dozen games, the same as this stage last year when they were fourth with 21 points, Town today sit in 18th spot with just 14 points.

Supporters who were chanting 'Super Jim' before the turn of last year are now turning on him and calling for his head with a petition raised asking for him to be relieved of his duties.

So why has is all turned sour for many fans?

Magilton will argue, quite convincingly, that his squad is now of a much better quality, not bigger but better.

He made a big play about landing David Norris and Gareth McAuley whom he eventually secured for around a combined £3.3m

Both were touted as captain material, with McAuley getting the nod and in doing so ensuring a regular place in the heart of the side.

While the back four, five counting Richard Wright, has enjoyed four clean sheets the dozen league games, the amount of 'poor' goals conceded has continued from last year, and the year before that and beyond.

Few would have thought Richard Naylor would be the regular he has become, failure to land another centre half and various reasons with Alex Bruce, contract dispute, suspension and injury, means the club captain has been given a run but after starting to brightly has shown signs of wear.

Norris, although rested for the disappointing draw at Nottingham Forest, is beginning to show his true colours and vindicating Magilton's determination to prise him from Plymouth, who they go to on Saturday.

There is even more to come from Norris, whose similarity to Matt Holland on and off the pitch is striking although he is very much his own man.

Norris is a sign that the future can get better but is symptomatic of what has gone wrong in the past year.

He has been slow to make the right impression, as have Jim's new look side.

Part of the problem is Magilton clearly has not settled on a favoured XI and while he may argue he doesn't need to, all the chopping and changing has not been conducive to the sort of consistency in performances and results needed.

With a quarter of this season already gone and no discernible improvement in either even the players are beginning to voice their concern.

Summer signing Kevin Lisbie could not have had a better start to his Town career after the switch from Colchester United, beginning in pre-season and three goals in four starts but a stint on the subs bench has dented his ratio and confidence.

In midfield it is rare that the same quartet line up together and that is more often down to tactical reasons and the manager's whim than enforced absences.

Iván Campo, with Premier League experience with Bolton and Champions' League with Real Madrid, shows signs of quality but all too often his lack of a proper pre-season and age show.

Jon Walters has clearly been putting in the effort but is not having the same impact he had last season and it can only be wondered how much the possibility of a Premier League move in the summer, has affected him, even subconsciously.

All in all the team has not gelled as it should, or could, and patience is wearing thin.

Finally, the impact of a change of leadership, and leadership style, within the higher echelon of the club all too apparent.

While Evans maintains his right to silence, the gregarious approach from David Sheepshanks, now effectively the chairman in name only, has been stifled as he forced to take a back seat role, leading to a further loss of confidence among a section of the rank and file support.

It is clear the club is losing its tradition, incidents as silly and irritating as charging associate directors, ex-players and club benefactors for their pre-match cup of tea, later admitted as a mistake by the club, only highlight that changes within the club once thought of as a one big family, are not all for the better.

It is true of course that the club needed serious investment, the sort Essex property mogul Paul Bartlett, ignored as a possible investor in Town, gave Hull City along with Paul Duffen.

Evans provided that investment by buying the £32m debt for around £6m, although Ipswich Town still service the interest payment to the MEG, and a failure to find an independent sponsor means Ipswich rely heavily on Evans, hoping he doesn't decide to sell, and he alone will decide Jim Magilton, and Ipswich Town's fate.

So, bluntly, the ultimate responsibility for Town's position in the table must lie at the door of the owner - Marcus Evans.

In the final analysis, only he can make the changes to arrest the slide.