What a difference a few weeks make in football.
Wind the clock back just three weeks to mid-October and everything was looking rosy in the Ipswich Town garden on the back of a six-match unbeaten run with a starting eleven who remained unchanged throughout.
But, three matches and three defeats later the team suddenly look woefully short of depth, ideas and a creative spark.
October began positively with a come-from-behind win at home to Brighton, followed a couple of weeks later by an encouraging and slightly unfortunate draw at Cardiff – a dubious handball decision for a penalty while 2-1 ahead making it two points dropped, rather than a point gained.
A less than convincing 1-0 home win against Portsmouth came next, but fans weren’t so bothered as signs Ipswich were becoming a “win when not playing well” side were emerging.
Sadly, as I hinted rather pessimistically in my previous up-tempo blog at the end of September, injuries (where do you start? Mainly Ibrahima Sonko) – absence for personal reasons in Michael Chopra and suspensions to the likes of Aaron Cresswell have coincided with a dip in form that’s seen defeats at the hands of Crystal Palace, Millwall and Doncaster and a drop from 6th to 14th in the table.
Breaking up the midfield diamond quartet of Jimmy Bullard, Lee Bowyer, Keith Andrews and Grant Leadbitter has illustrated the team’s lack of depth and adequate cover. That goes for not just the midfield, but all over the park, as the likes of Nathan Ellington, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Ivar Ingimarsson have yet to make their mark when handed an opportunity.
Added to that, question marks now hang over the gang of players aged 30+ and if they can keep up with the pace and tempo of a Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday playing schedule.
While this has happened, fans have had to revise their expectations for the rest of the season. Paul Jewell has come out and said this is a “work in progress” side and promotion this campaign may not be the ultimate aim. This might not sit comfortably with some supporters, but it does have an element of sense.
Firstly, losing seven games out of fifteen is certainly not promotion form. To elaborate, since the start of 2011 when Jewell took over, Ipswich have gone from the midst of a relegation scrap to having improving top-half prospects. The last three games have shown they are still searching for the right blend of faces and more importantly, those strong enough to press the first-choice eleven and be up to the task when they step in.
Some fans might not share his long-term vision though. After all, Ipswich are the second longest serving side in the division behind Coventry and mid-table-obscurity has been the tale of too many recent seasons.
Without doubt, there are at least ten sides on their day in the Championship who could contest the promotion and play-off places. Breaking into that promised land might need to be the first aim for Paul Jewell’s men before looking to stretch their ambitions somewhat higher.
Back to matters closer to hand and while the last international break may well have come at a bad time, with the side in the midst of a good run, this next one might just have happened at the right time. The Blues need Sonko back and fully fit, Bullard to knuckle down and work harder on his match fitness and more time on the training ground to find tactics and formations which can threaten the pace and confidence of younger, more energetic sides.
The rest of November sees Ipswich travel first to Nottingham Forest, still very much a side coming to terms with dramatic changes, then a home encounter against an always dangerous Reading, rounded off with a midweek trip to Burnley.
Three games to show how the club can bounce back from some poor results, but three games that will test the team’s still fragile defence.
Finally, it would be wrong of me not to pay tribute to the tremendous gesture shown by fellow Town supporters during the defeat to Doncaster when Billy Sharp scored the visitors’ second goal of the game. Paul Jewell’s made no secret Sharp has been and still is on his wish list, but whatever might have transpired before paled into obscurity when we all learnt of the tragic death of his two-day-old son.
His choices and affinity to Rovers went out of the window both during that game and when he scored in the game before against Middlesbrough.
The applause and subsequent standing ovation he received at Portman Road clearly touched Sharp as his poignant post-match interview on the Football League Show revealed. It also served as a timely reminder that after all, football is just a game and life and death are far more important.
UP THE TOWN!
Written by Adam Williams, We Are Going Up’s Ipswich Town blogger
Adam tweets at @adam_j_williams