There was only one place to head for a Q&A with an opposition fan ahead of Sunday’s derby. TWTD , the renowned Ipswich Town fansite, is no lover of anything yellow and green and so, armed with only a keyboard, I went in search of an interviewee. Harry Wainwright – a blogger for the site – drew the short straw and agreed to chat all things Old Farm:
Hey Harry. First up… could you give us a few words on yourself and your own Ipswich Town story?
Harry: Although the majority of Town supporters have some connection with the county of Suffolk, the club has gathered a remnant from further afield. I ended up supporting Ipswich as a teenage boy in Dublin following their European exploits under Bobby Robson and it was their first UEFA Cup participation, when they beat Real Madrid and Lazio, which got me hooked. It was a combination of a team in a small Town in England ripping it up in Europe coupled with the sheer decency of their manager which reeled me in
We were blessed having a manager of Bobby’s stature and ability, but the other person associated with the club who I greatly admired was John Cobbold, who was chairman of the club in the Robson era. He left a legacy of many amusing anecdotes but behind this veneer was a man who saw things in the longer-term and who had a deep love of the club and its supporters. I have no doubts that Canaries get the same warm smile of recognition when they mention the club they support to any new acquaintance. The truth is that both clubs are liked and respected by the wider footballing world.
Was wondering if we could agree on a few ground rules; notably I’ll not mention crowd size if you promise not to mention history, and I’ll not mention prolonged stays in the Championship if you agree not to highlight ‘UEFA Cup 1993/94 participants’. Does that work for you? 😉
There are enough fans on both sides out there to lob the familiar hand-grenades across the trenches. It is all good fun and in many ways is en essential component of the rivalry but I am one of the small minority (maybe it’s age) who actually wants both teams to do well.
In terms of what’s occurred so far this season, how’s it looked through your eyes?
Most Town fans would have taken the start we have made this season. There is definite progress and the manner of our victories against the weaker sides in the division will have given Blues as much comfort as the results themselves. Nobody has overwhelmed us either and Leeds were hanging on in our recent defeat at Elland Road as we tore into them in the closing stages of our 3-2 defeat.
Most notably we have more quality and variety in attack.
The decision last season to sell Daryl Murphy without securing an adequate replacement was a huge blunder in hindsight and the contrast to last season’s stultifying low-scoring games and this season’s occasional seven-goal thrillers we have enjoyed could not be greater.
Our variety up front is worth noting. Joey Garner is an old-school in-your-face striker who is surprisingly good in the air and just as good winding opponents up. He has been a terrific foil for the creative and cerebral David McGoldrick who pops up in unexpected places and has made his fair share of killer passes. Martyn Waghorn has played up top and on the right, he is a clinical finisher and uses his strength and body shape to tie up defenders.
Bersant Celina, the Kosovo international on loan from Manchester City, is the other player who will need watching. He operates on the left or in behind the strikers and is technically adept, not needing a huge amount on room in which to operate. Like any young player he blows hot and cold, but he has a natural balance and can pass the ball to himself, and he is not afraid to let fly on goal.
We have struggled against well-balanced central midfields, most notably at home to Fulham. Central midfield and the heart of defence have lacked balance more than anywhere else this season, partly due to injuries. There seems to be a Bermuda Triangle which causes our creative central players to disappear. We have lost Luke Hyam, Teddy Bishop, Emyr Huws and Tom Adeyemi this year and Jonny Williams (on loan from Palace) went the same way last season.
This has caused a problem in that Mick McCarthy has tried to build the team with a two-man attack. When Adeyemi was fit, he played successfully alongside the more defensively minded Cole Skuse with McGoldrick dropping back. Otherwise we have had to improvise with Grant Ward switching in from out wide or playing our two promising teenagers, the elegant Tristan Nydam or the more feisty Flynn Downes.
In central defence, Adam Webster is a comfortable ball-playing defender and a natural foil to the more combative and less technically adept Luke Chambers. Webster had his first game back from injury at the Blades and was not quite on his game, but we are hoping that this was him just clearing the cobwebs off as we look more cohesive at the back with him playing.
More generally playing 4-4-2 suits our squad rather than the 3-5-2 which we have switched to in order to maintain a strike pairing. The wing-back system is seen as a messier compromise and leaves us more unbalanced with players not quite in their preferred positions.
All of the above certainly helped you to hit the ground running and there’s no doubting, despite some of those names being unfamiliar to me, your squad looks stronger than it has for a few seasons. Did your flying start catch you and your fellow Blues off guard?
Expectations were very muted at the start of the campaign. There is a running joke on TWTD about finishing 15th in the Championship and most of us would have settled for that at the start of the campaign. Maybe the fixtures have helped but any Championship fan knows that no result is guaranteed in this division. The three points we picked up against Bolton and Sunderland as worth the same as any garnered from other teams.
But the consensus is that we weren’t unlucky at Bramall Lane and the result echoed the pattern both of the game and of our season thus far. We have been comfortably better than weaker opponents this season but have always come up short – and usually by one goal – when we have played sides who viably will end up in the top half of the table.
Interesting. Do you class us as one of those teams who “viably will end up in the top half of the table”? There seems to be a general consensus that in terms of quality both teams are closer now that they have been for some time – and with us in a transitional phase and you looking full of goals it’s a hard view to contest – but how do you see it panning out on Sunday? It may prove irrelevant – and I don’t mind telling you I’m quietly bricking it – but we have so far saved our best performances for away, where we’ve acquired more points than when playing at Carrow Road.
After your Millwall game I was wondering if the wheels were coming off but the evidence of the last eight games, with four away wins and three goals conceded, suggests one of two things. The most likely one is a play-off run as you have strength in depth and players to come back from injury. Less likely is that this is one of those Championship six-to-ten game runs which flounders as opponents work you out. Farke now seems to be getting to grips with this division and is instilling the shape and style which will allow players to over-perform.
If we had played eight weeks ago I would have fancied our chances better. We are a more threatening team going forward and we have a better goal threat than we maybe even had in our play-off season, but there is a neurotic quality to our football and we can end up being way too open, partly due to the lack of midfield and defensive balance I mentioned earlier. We can get at teams more easily, but we can also just as easily be got at.
City have a better defensive balance than Ipswich right now and this seems to be down to a combination of Farke’s time on the training ground plus more minutes playing together on the pitch. It’s a very settled back four plus keeper. However, there seems to be an imbalance on your right flank due to injuries and you seem to be less clinical when chances do present themselves. It could be that this is the key to your season – if you fail to crack this you will flirt with the play-offs but if you sort out the attacking midfield three and develop a habit of finishing then anything is possible.
Cold logic says that you will maintain your current away form and effective game management and it will either be a 1-1 draw or a 1-0 away win, and that is not me being diplomatic. The goals you are conceding seem to be from momentary errors rather than anything systemic. We tend to be quite ruthless punishing teams who have inherent defensive problems and Norwich are not that right now. We got back to within one goal against Bristol City but couldn’t crack a team with a decent defensive unit and this pattern was repeated at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
I am not being polite but this is how I see it (unless I am completely overestimating your defending). I suppose we could cut loose and grab two early goals and send all of Farke’s game planning out the window but you just seem a bit too resilient now to let that happen.
I only read the reports of your Millwall game but I went to the Den to see our mad 4-3 win there. They were a physical team who set out to batter us and we decided to get stuck in (we only played four strikers that night because we had 12 fit outfield players) and it paid off. We are not the same physical team we were when Christoph Berra and Daryl Murphy were here so our win there was more down to our finishing than us out-brutalising them!
One other thing worth mentioning is that we simply do not know this Norwich team and in many ways most Canaries are still getting to know it as it emerges from its chrysalis. One thing I guess that we don’t know is how it will handle the pressure of the derby game. I went to both Portman Road games in our play-off season and remember now nervous City were until Grabban’s and Howson’s respective goals. I can’t see it being an issue but you never know in a game like this.
You’re certainly right in saying we don’t know how this City crop will handle the derby atmosphere. I guess the same can be said of Ipswich given the number of new faces McCarthy has brought in. Some will be inspired by a raucous home crowd, others will shrink; the winners will likely be those who have more of the former.
For what it’s worth I’m more than a little unnerved by the fact we haven’t lost to Ipswich since 2009 and that damn law of averages will kick in at some point – possibly on Sunday. Add that to the fact this is probably a better Ipswich side than we’ve faced for a while, and I think I’d take a point now if I’m being honest.
It’s funny what you said about the law of averages – I remember a number of Canaries ahead of the derby game last Autumn saying that we were due a win, words similar to ‘it’s their turn’ sprung to mind from those discussions. Players like Joey Garner and Jonas Knudsen trade on their personalities and they will revel in the atmosphere but you are so right in saying that it will be a first derby for plenty of our lot as well. Like so many things about this game, we just don’t know.
That 2009 date may have Canaries worried, but I believe that a first win over Norwich since then will be an important psychological milestone for Ipswich. I know that the 9-2 references are good fun for City fans, but those defeats did hit our confidence and represented everything that was wretched about the Roy Keane and Paul Jewell era. A first win over Norwich, whenever it happens, will represent the turning of a corner.
One other odd point – keep an eye on the weather! Storm Brian (I think that what the Beeb called it) is due to land this weekend and it could make the game a complete lottery. I confess that I would love the game to be postponed and rescheduled under the lights as our ground, even if it is showing it’s age, is atmospheric and this is usually worth a goal to us in evening games.
Finally – and thanks very much for your time – you brave enough to forecast where both of us may finish come next May?
It’s really too early to call an end of season forecast but here’s my best guess. I reckon that Norwich are a 50/50 bet to make the play-offs, as much because this league is treacherous and I do think you need to fine tune your finishing. A fifth to eighth placed finish is about par. As for us, we are better than the weaker teams and weaker than the better teams so the overwhelming logic suggests mid-table, an 11th to 15th placed finish being par for us.
Cheers for your time Harry… enjoy Sunday (sort of…)