It was 78 days ago when City strode imperiously to the “top of the league at Portman Road”. It was emphatic. As 1-0 wins go, it was about as comfortable as you would ever wish to see.
Ipswich looked poor. A ragtag bunch of journeymen more notable for their trendy hairstyles and hipster beards than their prowess on the green stuff. Despite the pain of relegation we smugly took comfort from the fact that, despite playing in the same division, as clubs we were poles apart.
We smirked when their managing director suggested that Town can compete with City despite a smaller playing budget. Interestingly, in that same interview he said: “Maybe Mick is the difference. Good managers can make all the difference – he inspires confidence”.
But perhaps he had a point.
As things stand Mick McCarthy’s team is on a steady upward curve, which last night culminated in the Blues leapfrogging the Canaries in the pyramid for the first time since 2010/11. In fairness, it’s been coming for a while but was no less painful as a result.
City’s curve in the meantime has a rather different slant. The decline has been equally steady, but in the opposite direction. Top of the league turned into some dallying around in the play-off places before, courtesy of last night’s walloping in the north-east, slipping to seventh.
The journey of travel is southerly; destination mid-table. Cause for concern. And what makes it doubly disappointing is that we have all seen it coming.
Friday night’s win over Bolton was welcome but, minus the green and yellow tinted spectacles, unconvincing. Good performances from Messrs Howson, O’Neil and Jerome served to detract from other deficiencies in the side that have become gradually more apparent over the last few weeks.
The back-four of Martin Olsson, Michael Turner, Russell Martin and Steven Whittaker has creaked of late, yet Neil Adams has persisted. Sloppy goals have been conceded, passes have gone astray, tackles have been missed, but as a unit they have been afforded time to gel.
Last night they imploded, along with the rest of the team. Time for a shake-up.
The Whittaker / Martin conundrum continues to fester and should be the first to be addressed. Both are under-performing, one is being played out of position. Adams needs to act.
With the inexperienced Reece Hall-Johnson the only alternative at right-back (another possible option having departed on loan to Brighton), one suspects the answer will be to revert the captain to full-back. It is hard to see Adams’ on-pitch deputy being dropped completely, even if the form warrants as much.
Equally the whispers that Martin is being deployed at centre-back, ahead of three shiny, new, bona fide centre-backs, because he wants to play there are hopefully wide of the mark.
Either way, changes have to be made ahead of Saturday’s trip to Nottingham. More of the same in the defensive third will lead to another defeat.
Olsson, at left-back, is also struggling for form. Hindered by an unavoidably interrupted pre-season and an opening day horror show at Molineux the Swede has looked a shadow of the player who performed so well in the Premier League. The swashbuckler isn’t swashbuckling and is also making defensive errors.
Another one for Adams to ponder.
If anything positive has emerged from last night’s debacle it is that the Adams ‘if we keep playing like this the goals will come and we’ll be fine’ mantra is no more. More of the same will most definitely not be good enough.
The early season promise has well and truly evaporated, the honeymoon period long gone. Now it gets tough.
Since those heady days of August and September City have largely steered clear of the division’s ‘big boys’. Last night’s defeat – played out in front of a 554 strong travelling Yellow Army – was a shot across the bows.
For weeks folk have been warning us that when the big boys come out to play this current crop will be found wanting. I was less convinced. I hoped, when faced with quality, they would show their mettle.
On last night’s evidence I was wrong.
While we remain just four points from the top of the division – such is the crazy world of the Championship – there is yet plenty of time for the ship to be steadied. But it won’t happen by sitting tight and waiting for the ‘best squad in the division’ to finally click.
Adams and co need to learn from mistakes and learn quickly. To elude to a gung ho approach may have been a good sound bite in the aftermath of Hughton’s conservatism but in the real world needs to be measured. ‘We’re gonna score one more than you’ is great if you’re actually scoring goals. Three blanks on the bounce away from home renders that particular theory void.
The approach on the road needs to be borne of a solid base. One that doesn’t concede soft goals inside the opening five minutes. And, based on some defensive solidity, the passing then needs to be precise and crisp and the ball retained.
Until that circle can be squared the travelling faithful had better be braced for more pain.
So… over to you Neil. Time to show us and Mr McNally what you are made of.