The view from the Dark Side
We caught up with Vital Ipswich editor Darren C ahead of tonight's East Anglian derby at Portman Road, and got his views on Paul Jewell, the big game and City's promotion prospects...
The game at Carrow Road earlier in the season surprised most people, I know I four-one was shocked at just how one-sided it ended up being. What do you think went wrong for Ipswich that day?
What didn't go wrong...(!) To be honest, something was just rotten at the club. We had lost three straight matches prior to that game and you only needed to hear the atmosphere at Portman Road during the second of those defeats against Barnsley to know that Roy Keane was running out of time. Frankly, we were in no way ready for a clash as crucial as the derby, and we got plenty wrong on the day as well.
Admittedly Keane wasn't helped by injury problems in several positions - particularly in the defence - but I personally found his decisions in both tactics and substitutions throughout the game to be highly questionable. Ultimately he couldn't dig us out of the hole, and a few weeks later, he paid the price.
And what has changed since then that makes you think it'll be different this time around (assuming you do of course!)?
I would expect it to be different this time. The acidic atmosphere around the club back in November has been replaced by a feelgood factor following our recovery under Paul Jewell in expectation of us getting back in the promotion hunt next year.
What's more, we were badly missing Gareth McAuley in our defence at the time of the last derby, but with him back, we've looked much stronger. If nothing else, I think this time, you'll be coming up against a team that truly believes in themselves.
Last time we spoke you guys were in the middle of a horrible run of form that ultimately cost Roy Keane his job. Paul Jewell has come in and seems to have steadied the ship, but how do you think he has done so far?
He hasn't performed miracles, but he certainly has transformed the atmosphere around the club. The air seems lighter and the lads are playing with much more confidence.
Having said that, I think it's still early days to get too excited about what he has achieved so far. A lot has been made of the good runs we have enjoyed since he took over - we won four of his first six in charge and four of our last six games as well - but to be fair, most of the teams we faced in either run had either been out of form or just lacking in quality overall.
Jewell's record against the better teams has so far been rather patchy; with the exception of Cardiff (for whom we are a bogey team) and Burnley (who were in a slump at the time), I don't think we've beaten any other teams from the top half since he took over. Time to correct that on Thursday then...!
Young Master Wickham looks like he has caught the attention of a few Premier League bosses - do you expect him to still be at Portman Road next season?
I wasn't sure earlier in the campaign, but since he signed a new deal in January - and then another one for a further year in March - either the club is making a contrived effort to seriously jack up his price, or he simply isn't going anywhere.
As it stands, I'd be surprised if he does leave now, and if he were to go, I would be disappointed. In fact, I don't think he is ready for the Premier League - he has a lot of talent, works all over the pitch and plays with a lot of confidence, but if he wasn't only 18, I'd be saying he should be scoring a lot more of the chances he has had.
How do you see the end of season promotion race panning out? Confident there'll still be an East Anglian derby in the Championship next year?
I hate to admit it, but... not really! It was bad enough watching you win the title in 2004, but after everything you have been through in the past couple of years, I would be absolutely gutted if you still make it to the Premier League before we do.
his game could be pretty decisive either way, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed of a late collapse(!) but I have to put my hands up - if you do make it, you will have deserved everything you get. You've built on the momentum from last season and grabbed the Championship by the proverbials with some very good attacking football and a never say die attitude. There's a lot I think we can learn from that.
You're six points off the play-off places with four games to go, do you think you still have an outside chance of being in the mix?
Personally, I lost pretty much all hope of us getting promoted this year after that debacle at Carrow Road, and I wrote off any chance of us making a late charge for the playoffs after we lost against Reading in March. For people to still be talking about us as 'outsiders for the playoffs' is frankly absurd in my view, and Paul Jewell himself has insisted that the club isn't even thinking about it.
We'd need a lot of teams to slip up, and we'd have to win every single game between now and the end of the season. Admittedly, we've done well to win four of our last five, but the upcoming run is much tougher - we have you and Swansea right up in the promotion mix, then Preston who are fighting for their lives at the bottom, followed by Leicester who probably haven't given up on the playoffs themselves.
I don't really see more than five or six points at the most coming out of that run, and that won't be enough. Besides, any team that manages to lose six straight Championship matches doesn't deserve a chance of promotion to the Premier League, if you ask me. If we did do the unthinkable and make it into the top six, I would be genuinely gobsmacked.
Which Town player do you think holds the secret to derby day success for the Tractor Boys?
As I've said already, defender Gareth McAuley could make a major difference in this game after missing out on the last derby. Local boy Arran Lee-Barrett has been in blinding form and could well do his hometown proud if he keeps his place in goal.
I think the player I'm most keen to see against you though is Josh Carson. Connor Wickham's been hogging the limelight as the young star at Portman Road, but in the last six weeks, Carson has come out of nowhere. He's been playing out of his skin down the wing and has scored three goals in our last two matches. What's more, he's two months younger than Wickham!
And do any City player(s) make you nervous?
Plenty, if I'm honest. I still can't get the nightmarish vision of Grant Holt's moustache out of my head, and I'm hoping and praying he is injured for Thursday! Russell Martin, Wes Hoolahan, Andrew Surman, Henri Lansbury... even Simeon Jackson's been in decent form lately.
If the game at Carrow Road is anything to go by, we're going to have to be tight and organised, and we need to match you blow for blow in attacking ambition - right up to the final whistle.
Finally, what's your score prediction for the game?
These games are rarely dull, and I'd be surprised if this one were to break the tradition. In all seriousness, I've no idea what the score is going to be - you need the points more than we do, but that also means the pressure is all on you. We want revenge for November, but I'm not 100% convinced we have what it takes.
Truthfully I'm not confident of us taking all three points, but for the sake of maintaining a certain level of bravado, I'll go for 2-1 to Ipswich!
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