Diary of a Tractor Boy: 16th – 22nd April

Tuesday 17th March

After all the speculation and negativity of the last few weeks, it feels as though everything is settling down again and we can start to focus a bit more on events on the field. Even though we are yet to find a permanent replacement, there is a definite sense that people are now moving on from McCarthy and feeling more positive about the future, which can only be for the benefit of everyone.

Our first home game since McCarthy’s departure is also a ‘kids for a quid’ game which has helped to boost sales. As it stands, 17,000 tickets have already been sold for Saturday’s match, which would represent a significant increase on recent attendances. There is something of a feel-good factor amongst the fans, or at least less doom and gloom following the change of manager, so hopefully this will translate into a more positive atmosphere than we’ve seen recently.

Thursday 19th March

Maurice Steijn’s name has been linked on a number of occasions to the Ipswich job but it appears that he’ll be staying in the Netherlands next season. The VVV-Venlo boss looks set to join Heerenveen, having achieved promotion and then avoided relegation with his current club. Steijn was first linked to Ipswich last summer, though that appeared to be little more than paper talk, and speculation resurfaced once it was confirmed that McCarthy would leave at the end of this season.

The job he has done at VVV-Venlo has seen his stock rise so it’s little surprise to see interest coming in from bigger Eredivisie clubs. Many Town fans wanted him to replace McCarthy, although that seemed to be based on little more than the Dutch connection that has served the clubs so well over the past 40 years. I’ve never seen his team play so I’m not in a position to form any informed judgement on him, and regardless we don’t actually know whether the club has ever shown any genuine interest. I suspect the rumour mill will continue to turn for another few weeks…

Friday 20th March

Tomorrow will be Klug’s first home match as caretaker manager, at home to promotion-chasing Aston Villa. Steve Bruce’s team are guaranteed a play-off place but with a four-point gap to Cardiff they look very likely to miss out on the top two, so their main focus now will be on building momentum. Their squad depth combined with an experienced manager would make them my favourites to win the play-offs at this point.

Jonas Knudsen came out with some comments that caused a bit of a reaction in an interview with The Sun, defending former manager McCarthy and questioning the way some supporters had treated him over the course of the season. He even muttered that phrase “be careful what you wish for”, something which I thought I’d heard the last of now that McCarthy has left. Knudsen also implied that the club could have been relegated last season under a different manager – a slightly odd comment, and one which doesn’t suggest much belief in his team-mates. It would be wise not to read too much into these comments but it wouldn’t shock me if he left in the summer. No other current player has been quite so vocal in their backing for McCarthy, though some might argue that his honesty is admirable and refreshing.

One further bit of news emerging today was the announcement of goalkeeper coach Malcolm Webster’s retirement at the end of the season. He initially joined the club during George Burley’s time in charge, following him to a number of his subsequent jobs before returning to Suffolk to work under Paul Jewell. The 67-year-old is highly thought of at Portman Road, particularly by current goalie Bialkwoski, and will be sadly missed by many at the club.

Sunday 22nd March

The day had a similar feel to last season’s home match against Newcastle – a spring game against a promotion-chasing side in front of a bumper crowd, unfortunately this is where the similarities ended. Bersant Celina returned but the side was otherwise unchanged, and the early stages of the game were relatively quiet before Villa took the lead in fortunate circumstances. Grabban’s shot deflected heavily off Skuse and hit the post, after which the ball fell kindly to Conor Hourihane to tap home.

The key moment of the game came shortly before half time. Grant Ward tried to control a high ball on the turn but only succeeded in stamping on Neil Taylor’s planted leg. The tackle was clumsy and ill-judged rather than malicious but if it had happened the other way round I would have been calling for a red card. His foot was high and the contact with Taylor could be considered dangerous, though the reaction of the Villa players was a little over the top.

Klug switched to a 4-4-1 but the game plan had gone out of the window and the Blues were overrun in the final twenty minutes, with two goals for Grabban and one for Henri Lansbury, resulting in the club’s heaviest home defeat in seven years. The result was a disappointing one but largely inconsequential – with no manager, so many injuries and nothing to play for, we are essentially in limbo until a new boss is appointed. Villa’s squad is something we simply cannot be expected to compete with – Adomah, Lansbury, Hogan and Snodgrass didn’t even make the starting eleven. Although money isn’t everything, there’s only so much you can do with our resources especially considering the length of the injury list.

A big shout out for the 20,000 fans who turned up for yesterday’s match – even after the fourth goal, the atmosphere was excellent and everyone was totally behind the team. It remains to be seen how long this new-found positivity lasts, but for the first time in a while everyone is pulling in the same direction and there is some sense of unity amongst the supporters. The question is, how quickly will the mood turn if we start next season poorly? Perhaps that’s a question for another day – for now, everyone is behind the club and feeling a little more positive about the future, despite the heavy defeat.

Bialkowski was announced as the Supporters’ Club Player of the Year for the third year running ahead of Waghorn, while Flynn Downes won Academy Player of the Year. The award was fully deserved and means that only John Wark has received this accolade more times than the Polish international keeper. His comments regarding his future at the club were interesting – despite supposedly agreeing a contract extension in January, it is still yet to be signed and he is now saying “I don’t want to do anything before the end of the season”. This may just be a case of him keeping his options open but it is a little worrying from an Ipswich perspective, and the chances of him starting the first game of next season look to be decreasing as time passes. His performances over the last three seasons have earned him another shot at the Premier League, so nobody would begrudge him a summer transfer if the right offer comes in.

While we hover in mid-table, the race for the play-offs looks set to go down to the final day with seven teams scrapping it out for two spots. Middlesbrough look likely to finish fifth which leaves Derby, Millwall, Brentford, Preston, Sheffield United and Bristol City to fight over sixth. It’s a shame we’re not involved, but from a neutral perspective it’s set to be a thrilling finale…

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