So here we are then, that time of the season Sir Alex Ferguson once colourfully described as “squeaky bum time”. The final run-in where every little twist and turn in a game gets psycho-analysed by fans, pundits, players and coaches with all the possible permutations of survival, relegation and promotion played-out in people’s minds.
For Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich side, it’s that old chestnut of having “our fate in our own hands” as things stand in the Championship table with eight games remaining.
Sadly, I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with that position given the resurgence shown by sides in the bottom six since the turn of the year and the ever-popular addage that “anyone can beat anyone in this division”.
I don’t even want to begin to imagine what might happen over the remaining weeks with other teams’ games against supposed higher fliers in the division. What I know is that Ipswich probably need to realistically win another two or three games from their last eight to make themselves secure.
Currently, we sit four points above the drop zone with 46 points from 38 games, but having played a game more than the two sides immediately beneath us and with a far inferior goal difference.
My feeling is that our “fate” will ultimately be determined by two games away at fellow strugglers. Millwall on Easter Monday and Sheffield Wednesday on 20 April. The Hillsborough clash is the third from last game in the season and in theory, we could already be out of the picture by then. But, with the run of results teams currently in the bottom six have shown the capacity to produce, I think not.
People who know me well and my opinions towards Ipswich Town’s fortunes will recognise a track-record for pessimism, but what gives me confidence in this current crop heading in to the final stretch is the resilience they’ve shown in recent matches. Admittedly, we’re not pulling up any trees in the goalscoring charts (just three goals in eight games at the time of writing), but we’re not shipping bucket loads at the other end either. That has without question been a hallmark of McCarthy’s influence since he took charge in November.
Looking at things from a wider perspective, if the Championship season had started on the day McCarthy took charge, Ipswich would currently be 7th in the league table rather than 19th. The reason why we find ourselves still very much in the dogfight is down to the abysmal start we made under Paul Jewell this season with just seven points in the bag on 1 November.
There were some early thumpings handed down to McCarthy when he first came in, notably at Palace and Leicester, but you would have to go back to New Year’s Day to find the last time a side truly ran through Ipswich, in the shape of Brighton. Even a free-scoring Watford were limited to just a 2-0 win at Portman Road at the height of their form in February, while the division’s flavour of the month Nottingham Forest took until six minutes from time to finally break down a nine-man Ipswich side at the City Ground earlier this month.
So who have we got to contend with in the remaining games? Leeds (h), Millwall (a), Derby (a), Hull (h), Crystal Palace (h), Sheffield Wednesday (a), Birmingham (h), Burnley (a).
At home, I fancy us to beat anyone at the moment, given the performances we’ve produced recently against Leicester and Bolton to efficiently engineer 1-0 wins through late goals. Away from home, it’s a less than clear picture, but I don’t see why we should fear anyone. The players appear to have bought-in to the McCarthy way of keeping a solid shape as the away team and frustrating the hosts into making mistakes of their own.
With a bit more luck and better discipline, we would have arguably got more from recent trips to Huddersfield, Forest and Peterborough.
Come 4 May, I’ll either print this out and reassure myself that my early spring confidence wasn’t misguided or I’ll cry quietly into a pint as I contemplate a season in the third tier.
Written by Adam Williams, We Are Going Up’s Ipswich Town blogger
Adam tweets at @adam_j_williams