Stuart Watson's Sunday Verdict: Forget talk of Lambert getting January funds... there's no time to wait for the cavalry
PUBLISHED: 18:16 28 October 2018 | UPDATED: 21:51 28 October 2018
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Ipswich Town are bottom of the Championship table and five points adrift of safety following yesterday’s 3-0 defeat at Millwall. STUART WATSON gives his verdict ahead of Paul Lambert taking charge.
Forget talk of Paul Lambert being lured to the club with a promise of a £10m transfer war chest because the damage could be done by January.
There are 10 games before the window opens. Things need to turn quicker than that. The experienced Scot, somehow, needs to breath instant fire into the squad he has inherited. There’s no time to wait for the cavalry.
We can’t just keep dismissing each passing moment. Paul Hurst said last week, before he got the chop, that he didn’t detect a big game feel about the visit of QPR.
He’s right. Too many of us were simply expecting things to pick up after the win at Swansea.
The subsequent trip to Leeds was seen by many as a ‘free hit’, despite them having not been in great form. Saturday’s game at Millwall then had a weird limbo feel about it after the dramatic events of the previous 48 hours.
It’s time we all faced up to the severity of the situation. Just because the Blues have beaten these odds twice in recent memory – Roy Keane turning things around in 2009/10 and Mick McCarthy completing the rescue mission in 2012/13 – it doesn’t mean we can be blasé about it happening again.
Town are in very serious danger of dropping into the third tier for the first time since 1957. The novelty of facing the likes of Rochdale, Wycombe and Scunthorpe (possibly even Colchester if they carry on the way they’re going in League Two) would soon wear off. Clubs as big as Ipswich have got stuck in League One for a long time.
It’s looking like a seven-way fight to beat the drop. Town now face two of the sides in that mix – Preston (h) and Reading (a) – prior to the next international break.
Too dramatic to call these next two matches as season-defining? Hyperbolic to label them both relegation six-pointers? I don’t think so. In fact, I think we need to all embrace that language over the coming days.
Saturday’s game at Portman Road needs to be treated like a Cup Final by fans and players alike. As Mr Lambert is sure to say at his official unveiling tomorrow, we’re all in this together and the lads needs a bit of help.
The symmetry with 2012 is stark. Town had just lost 3-0 under a caretaker manager, were rock-bottom and five points adrift of safety when McCarthy arrived. That remained the case at the 15-game mark.
They subsequently won six of their next 10 to reach the new year in much better shape. That sort of run is required again. Were the starters from that time – Henderson, Chambers, Orr, Higginbotham, Smith, Cresswell, Edwards, N’Daw, Drury, Wellens, Hyam, Reo-Coker, Martin, DJ Campbell, Barnett, Chopra and Murphy – better than what’s available now? Make your own mind up.
A bit of luck wouldn’t go amiss. All anyone sees in the history books is that Town won their first game under McCarthy 1-0 at Birmingham. Those there that day will know that towering home forward Nikola Zigic missed a couple of sitters.
One concern is that player power helped engineer Hurst out the door. If one or two didn’t like his blunt words and hard training sessions, then they may be in for a wake-up call with Lambert. Perhaps his CV, both as a player and manager, will afford more instant respect.
Or maybe the Glaswegian took a more measured approach when meeting the squad for the first time today. If you tell people they are not good enough for too long then they start to believe it. A more positive style of motivation is perhaps the order of the day.
Town may have looked flaky and flaccid, but one crumb of comfort is that they are not getting carved open. If – and this is a big if – the defensive errors, particularly at set-pieces, can be eradicated then there will be a platform there to nick a result or two. And from there confidence could quickly grow.
Lambert went to Norwich, inherited players with lower league backgrounds such as Russell Martin, Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt, and turned them into stars of the team. Might he be able to do the same with the likes of Toto Nsiala, Jon Nolan and Kayden Jackson?
At Villa, he put the emphasis on youth as the Midlands side successfully fought the drop.
Going back to 2012, McCarthy moved players to their preferred positions, most notably with Carlos Edwards and Daryl Murphy. Might Lambert be able to do the same? There aren’t any obvious answers on that front.
Whatever he does, the impact needs to be immediate. January could be too late.