After the malevolent nature of Mick McCarthy’s departure at Ipswich Town, there was an unusual air of freshness and optimism that ascended over Portman Road.
Packaged as a bold new era, Paul Hurst was appointed as McCarthy’s successor and he was the beacon of hope those of a blue persuasion were hoping would lead them to a bright new future. Hurst’s job at transforming Shrewsbury Town was nothing short of remarkable, excitement was at fever pitch prior to the season beginning.
Many in Suffolk would have seen him as the man to insert a bold new philosophy and drive them away from McCarthy’s negative, anti-football and pragmatic approach.
Despite this being published on a Norwich City site, this isn’t one clouded by rivalry or bitterness, but simply because the Ipswich Town case study is both intriguing and fan driven.
Hurst’s Ipswich are in a period of transition.
For spells in games, they look threatening, self-assured and competitive. For others, they press sporadically, are littered with individual errors and still operate with a very direct approach. This isn’t a side who are an opposite to McCarthy’s organised yet uncreative outfit.
Despite the spells in games, Hurst’s reign to date will be overshadowed by the fact Ipswich are yet to record a competitive win during his tenure.
Two months into Ipswich’s new era and the only thing they have to show for it is 11 games without a win, eight goals scored and sitting in the relegation zone.
After letting a two-goal advantage slip against Birmingham City last Saturday, Hurst was quoted as saying it is simply to early to judge his graft at this stage. Moving away from five stable, if unexciting years under McCarthy’s stewardship was always going to take time.
Similar to Norwich, they have ripped out both staff members and cultural approach in search for excitement and grass significantly greener.
Loud mouth pundits have criticised their divorce with McCarthy, and this isn’t an article designed to boast about how change isn’t always for the better. If Hurst doesn’t happen to be the man to lead Ipswich into a new era, then someone else ultimately will be.
McCarthy’s belligerence towards supporters won him no friends.
He is one of football’s oldest characters, one who doesn’t understand how football is evolving and craves the power to live by his decisions. His value, though, is rising with every Ipswich performance, and somewhere he will be sitting smugly, smiling because at the moment, the job he did at Ipswich is looking rather remarkable.
The supporters drove the agenda for change.
City supporters can sympathise from watching Chris Hughton’s lack of experiment and bland style of football whereby opponents where respected and entertainment invisible.
Ipswich resembled Mick McCarthy, run down, negative and uninspiring.
For a club who mentions history at every opportunity, for the highlight in the last five years to be a home win against Newcastle and an equaliser against Norwich to top the list displays how the mighty have fallen from their cup winning exploits decades ago.
Embracing history is expected, most football clubs will display statues or memorabilia to those gone before, but history alone doesn’t translate to results currently. Ipswich need reviving and modernising. They are club living on those great highs and not in the moment.
Financially, they have nothing, on the pitch they lack quality and the outlook, which was previously clear skies, has transcended into murky, deep waters.
Attendances are dwindling, expectations lowering, quality lacking, and, make no mistake, this is a club regressing rapidly. There is no joy about the above on my part. Ipswich and Norwich should be competing on the top level.
Ipswich resemble Norwich’s 2008-09 side. Devoid of quality, leadership and passion.
There is an apathetic cloud over Portman Road that they don’t seem able to shake, despite their positive spells and nice phases of play, they lack cutting edge and punch.
That winless weight is getting heavier.
Against Middlesbrough, they looked comfortable playing in front of Tony Pulis’ organised side. Boro didn’t have to use quality or slick play to deconstruct a defensive shape. It was individual error and then Luke Chambers showing Stewart Downing on his right foot, when it is almost universally known Downing is predominantly left-footed.
For what it’s worth, I think Ipswich will stay up.
The longer they go without a win, however, the more confidence will get sucked out of their play, the more negative they will become. When consuming Ipswich against Norwich, they didn’t play with the aesthetically pleasing philosophy so many of their supporters expected.
They should have beaten Norwich, Blackburn and Birmingham, and had they of done, Hurst’s side would be operating with self-assurance as opposed to self-doubt.
That said, however, Ipswich were unbeaten in three (until last night), are somehow creeping up the table despite not winning games, are hard to beat, are certainly not being blown away in matches and are not yet detached in the relegation zone as a result.
Progress can get overlooked when results aren’t being recorded, and signs of improvement are tangible.
Supporters campaigned for change. They voted against McCarthy unanimously with their feet and verbal chants witnessed at Carrow Road. So no, perhaps the grass isn’t significantly greener, but there is an argument that the seeds haven’t yet sprouted.
And so, they must see this through to its conclusion, be it positive or negative.
That’s drinking from a very different glass to most.
Hurst’s Shrewsbury side would most probably beat his Ipswich one. They played with discipline, courage and togetherness. Currently, it feels as though Hurst is throwing his cards into the air and hoping they land.
He looks broken already, bereft of ideas and bemused as to why his team isn’t responding to his methods.
Change can be a positive thing if embraced successfully. Hurst has set upon constructing an Ipswich Town so far removed from Mick McCarthy’s model that he has lost his own way, and the players that remain that championed their ex-manager’s belief are simply unable to produce.
Leading their line is Kayden Jackson, a player who was operating as a winger for Accrington Stanley in League Two last season. He has looked promising in spells but looked suitably out of his depth in others.
This was always going to be a long-term project. It was always a voyage into the unknown once it became clear a change was needed at Portman Road after nearly six years of Mick McCarthy.
Those signs of progress need to be translated into results. Baby steps need to be turned into significant strides.
To progress to the second international break minus a win would be considered a disaster. Ipswich are being watched by those campaigning for change all over the division, and so far, there step in the unknown has proved unsuccessful.
Change isn’t always for the better and the grass isn’t always greener, but Ipswich required reviving from McCarthy’s monotonous reign. It remains to see whether that means continued regression or eventual progression.