Stuart Watson's verdict: Cook sacking shows Town owners mean business
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town are looking to appoint the 19th manager in the club’s history after sacking Paul Cook. Chief football writer STUART WATSON looks back and ahead.
No more Pauls please - that’s my first thought.
Jewell, Hurst, Lambert, Cook... It’s not worked out has it?
Those four have certainly brought down the average tenure of a manager at Portman Road – a club that not so long ago had a proud reputation of giving their bosses time.
Cook was the last of the Marcus Evans appointments. Within weeks the club had been taken over. The new owners stressed that the Liverpudlian had also been their number one choice. We’ll never know how true that was.
What we do now know is where the bar is set for what the US powers described as ‘healthy impatience’ back in the summer.
‘Demolition Man’ has ended up part of the rubble.
It’s a move which, taking into account pay-offs and future player turnover, will have cost millions. But that’s a price the owners are willing to pay in their pursuit of progress. Nice guys they may be, but Johnson, Bakay, Detmer and co haven’t got where they are in life without making rapid, ruthless, tough calls. The Three Lions have, after careful consideration, shown their teeth.
Some of the players who were discarded by Cook back in the summer will no doubt be having a wry smile to themselves. Many of their replacements will be feeling like they’ve let the boss down and be a little apprehensive about what happens next.
Ipswich thrashed Doncaster 6-0 little more than two months ago. They won 4-0 at Portsmouth on October 19. It was only 30 days ago that they won 4-1 at high-flying Wycombe.
At that point, Town had claimed 20 points from a run of 10 league games – promotion form. Things felt like they were beginning to come together following that eight-game winless start.
And yet here we are.
Yesterday’s goalless home draw with Barrow was uninspiring in the extreme.
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It was the fourth time this season Town had failed to beat a League Two side in the cups. It came hot on the heels of a Papa John’s Trophy exit at the hands of Arsenal U21s. The Blues had been left hanging on against rock-bottom Crewe before that.
No doubt about it, the feelgood factor was fading fast. Old wounds had been opened for the long-suffering fans. False dawn syndrome was kicking in.
Town’s hierarchy decided they simply couldn’t afford for that mood to take hold going into some crunch League One games – including the #PackOutPortmanRoad matches over the festive period.
Cook’s passion and honesty was refreshing. So was his desire for front-foot, attacking football. Even during that eight-game winless start, there was an underlying feeling that this was at least a team worth paying to watch.
It’s a results business though and the three-times title winning manager simply didn’t get enough of them in Suffolk given the tools at his disposal. He leaves with a record of P44 W13 D17 L14. Just seven of those victories came at Portman Road.
For every ‘statement win’, there was at least one lifeless equivalent. In ninth months under Cook, Town never won more than two games in a row (and they only did that once). One step forward was always followed by two back. It was becoming increasingly difficult to see how they were going to catch those above them.
As much as he wanted to gloss over the end of last season, it’s a fact that Cook took over a team that was seventh with 16 matches to go and they ended up finishing ninth with a whimper.
It’s also fact that, backed financially at a time when others were tightening the purse strings mid-pandemic, he could handpick his own squad back in the summer.
That should have acted as something of a shortcut when it came to the gelling process. As Cook himself admitted as far back as mid-September, ‘talk of newness is wearing thin’.
Wigan signed nearly as many and they currently sit joint-top. How much did Cook miss his trusted right-hand man, Leam Richardson? Again, we’ll never truly know.
We’re almost halfway into this campaign and it’s still not clear what the strongest team is. Not enough partnerships have developed before our eyes.
An inability to hold leads. An inability to string wins together. The sense there was no real ‘Plan B’. It all ended up going against Cook.
And so, as is always the way in the most ruthless of businesses, the show goes on.
Where do Ipswich Town go from here? Just how attractive a job is this? Will it be an appointment for short-term success or with a long-term vision? Will it be a manager or a 'head coach'? How many of Cook’s 19 summer signings will the new man fancy? We’ll soon find out.
This, arguably, is the sound of the real starter gun being fired for the Gamechanger era.