No, this is not a blog about twenty or so years ago when we sold to rebuild our squad. What I am about to reveal is what is happening today! Since manager Paul Lambert took charge, we have had mixed fortunes. Getting the fans back on board is certainly a big plus, as is his engagement with former players and welcoming them back to Portman Road with open arms. Our style of football has improved a bit too – even if the results have not, but not everything in the garden is rosy.
Squad rotation has cost Ipswich Town dear this season. All this chopping and changing had its benefits in that it gave the whole squad a chance to gain collective match fitness, but the obvious downside was that we lacked a ‘togetherness’ on the field. Sometimes, it was as if we were playing as strangers because part of a successful team-building strategy, is an almost telepathic awareness of the players around you and their capabilities. Keeping a settled side may cause some unrest among the fringe players but they will keep their traps shut if the team is winning, and this was what was happening at the beginning of the season.
But then, injuries to key players and suspensions started to kick in and before we knew it, there was a loss of form and the winning habit began to evade us. In the main though, I get what Paul Lambert was trying to achieve but his hands were tied by not being able to spend and inheriting a lopsided squad. Those round pegs in round holes are what every manager craves for and yet several players were playing out of position to compensate for this imbalance.
And now onto the thing that I find very difficult to defend and that, ironically, is in attack! Selling Ellis Harrison to Portsmouth I always considered to be a serious error of judgement and so it was to prove. OK, he may not be an out and out striker in the form of a James Norwood, but I do think he is a much more technically gifted player. He is very good in the air and his contributions on the floor are one of the principal reasons that Pompey are in the play-offs.
Will Keane is another player who could trap a ball with consummate ease and yet we chose not to renew his contract, which I think is a big mistake. I understand that not every supporter would agree with me. He is injury-plagued and does not score enough goals for a player of his ability but he knows when a pass is on and he knows when to shoot. Sadly, however, James Norwood, Kayden Jackson and Jordan Roberts do not. I will not include Freddie Sears here because if he has made some poor choices of late it is only because he has been desperate to get back on the score sheet, after being out with a long term injury. Normally Sears also has the brains to know when there is a good opening for himself or one of his teammates.
At the end of the day, this is a team game and that is why, if we are to eventually progress in this division, we have to think and play as a team. Shooting from ridiculous angles as Alan Judge so often does – or not seeing another player in oceans of space is where we are failing miserably. It occurs far too often to be regarded as some sort of fluke.
As a person I quite like James Norwood but as a striker, less so. He gets his name into the ref’s book for some of the most inane reasons, and I think his close control leaves a lot to be desired as well. He has to work much harder on his technical skills and try to adopt a broader view of the players around him. All strikers are greedy and that is why they are pushed upfront but if you are a team player, you will instinctively know when to shoot and when to pass, and this is what all the best teams have in their locker. In fairness to Kayden Jackson, he is a more rounded player these days but once again, he should use his time away from competitive football to fine-tune his technical skills. He has tremendous pace but sometimes his decision-making leaves a lot to be desired.
It is all very well, trimming a big squad – especially in times of greatest need but we must not forget how we succeeded twenty years ago when we got back int the Premier League thanks to that 4-2 win at Wembley against Barnsley.
Chairman David Sheepshanks said on the subject that it was all about cutting our cloth according to our needs. ” It was really tough. Every year we had to sell and we really did have no money, so whatever we managed to hatch we could spend alongside some very careful husbandry and as much as we could twist out of the bank.” And when Sheepshanks and manager George Burley sold players, that money became available to re-invest in other bargain buys. Our current owner Marcus Evans should try to learn something from it.