Ipswich revelling in surprise start – Interview
Thursday, 7th Sep 2017 08:05 by Clive Whittingham
Ipswich have won four out of five games in the league so far, in stark contrast to a dire 2016/17. Phil Ham, editor of our sister site TWTD, explains what’s been going on.
Assess last season for us – looked pretty dire…
PH: It wasn’t great. We actually started reasonably enough but never really recovered from selling Daryl Murphy a few days before the summer transfer window closed.
Town were unable to secure a replacement and the season became a bit of a turgid struggle with fans making their frustrations with manager Mick McCarthy crystal clear from the terraces. The 16th-place finish was probably a fair reflection.
PH: Last season’s 11-goal top scorer Tom Lawrence’s loan came to an end - his best goal for the Blues probably his strike at Loftus Road in January - and the Wales international subsequently joined Derby.
Christophe Berra was the most significant departure from the permanent staff as he wanted to return to Scotland to be closer to his daughter and he subsequently rejoined his former club Hearts.
Brett Pitman moved on to Portsmouth having been a bit-part player last season. Other than Jonathan Douglas, who was released, the rest of the exits were fringe players or youngsters.
Most fans were pleased with the summer incomings. Joe Garner was brought in from Rangers essentially to replace Murphy and midfielder Emyr Huws was signed on a permanent basis from Cardiff after a successful loan spell at the end of last season.
Tom Adeyemi was recruited having been released by the Bluebirds to add further strength at the centre of midfield, then highly-rated 20-year-old winger Bersant Celina was signed on a season-long loan deal from Manchester City, while right-back Dominic Iorfa was brought in from Wolves on a similar basis.
Once the season got under way Martyn Waghorn joined Garner in making the trip from Ibrox to Portman Road, then just before the deadline Everton youngster Callum Connolly, primarily a right-back, became the third season-long loanee.
PH: After last season’s woes and a 6-1 defeat at Charlton in the final pre-season friendly the widespread expectation was that this season would be a continuation of the last with many fearing it might even be worse.
But having beaten Birmingham 1-0 at home in the opening game, away wins at Luton in the Carabao Cup, Barnsley and Millwall - 4-3 in a game more like a basketball match - built up some momentum and greatly changed the mood.
Brentford were then vanquished 2-0 at Portman Road before a very young side impressed as they were beaten 2-1 at Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup.
Just before the international break Fulham ended the 100 per cent start to the Championship campaign with a very comfortable 2-0 victory on their visit to Suffolk.
Probably more than anything we’re much more potent in front of goal this season. Garner and Waghorn have hit the ground running netting three and four respectively, while David McGoldrick is fit and has similarly made an impressive start to the campaign, also scoring three times. We’re much more of a threat on the counter-attack this season.
PH: The injury and illness situation is actually starting to improve - going into the Millwall game ten senior players were unavailable.
We’re still to see anything of Huws, who has an Achilles problem which is expected to require surgery, or Adeyemi, who was hit worst by an illness bug which was going around the squad in pre-season and then picked up a calf problem.
Celina is yet to make a Championship start, also due to being ill, while we currently have no fit out-and-out centre-halves with skipper Luke Chambers, Adam Webster (both ankle) and Tommy Smith (hamstring) all sidelined.
Midfielder Andre Dozzell, 18, who looked ready to become a regular first-teamer this season, suffered a campaign-ending torn cruciate on the opening day of the season, while Teddy Bishop’s injury problems continue, the 20-year-old having undergone groin surgery last month.
Another midfielder, Luke Hyam, is yet to play a part due to a knee problem but along with Adeyemi and Celina got some U23s minutes under his belt during the break and all three are closer to full match fitness and are likely to be in Saturday’s 18.
Can it be maintained? As great as continuing to average 2.4 points per game for the rest of the season and amassing a record 110.4 points would be, I suspect we’ll fall some way short of that.
The fixture computer was relatively kind to us in terms of our early season opponents and the one really decent side we’ve met so far - Fulham - taught us a bit of a lesson, “They bashed us”, to quote McCarthy.
But, as the cliché goes, you can only beat the teams put in front of you and in the first four Championship games we did that in not ideal circumstances injury and illness-wise.
Barnsley, Millwall and Brentford fans might argue that on another day their sides might have won those games as they created more chances than Town, but our strikers took their opportunities whereas theirs were profligate or were repelled by what is currently a makeshift backline featuring four full-backs and keeper Bartosz Bialkowski.
Has it thawed relations between McCarthy and the supporters at all?
PH: To some extent. There were the first airings of ‘Super Mick McCarthy’ on the terraces during the Brentford match.
However, it probably wouldn’t take too much for things to revert to where they were last season.
PH: Sadly we won’t see Dozzell until next season but there are a fair number in and around the first-team squad at present.
Myles Kenlock, 20, has established himself as a squad member of the last couple of years, although not yet as the first-choice left-back.
Midfield duo Flynn Downes, 18, and Tristan Nydam, 17, have broken into the side this season and have spent the international break away with the England U19s.
Six other young players made their debuts at Palace with McCarthy admitting that several of them did better than he thought they might on what was a very positive night for the academy, despite ultimately falling to a defeat as they ran out of steam.
There are also other prospects in younger age groups of whom academy coaches have high hopes.
How do you see the season panning out?
PH: Hopefully we’ll be in the battle for the play-offs and sneak into the top six. However, I suspect that we’re more likely to be in the division’s mid-table rump, familiar territory during our 16 years in the Championship, but an improvement on last season.
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