As a Southampton fan, I empathise with Ipswich Town. It wasn’t so long ago that my beloved Saints finished 8th in the Premier League and harshly lost a League Cup final to Manchester United under Claude Puel. Now, we’re staring relegation in the face for the second season running.
Ever since the fans – myself included – turned against Claude, the outside world has been wagging its finger and chanting a line that still gets my goat to this day: “You got what you deserved”. Now, Ipswich fans are facing the same shallow scorn.
Mick McCarthy was a brilliant Ipswich manager. Given the development and financial expansion of the Championship, to have kept a side with such a meagre budget in the league – and even make the Championship play-offs – is an amazing feat. But ultimately, football is entertainment, and after six years of the same football and the same “keep us up” directive, something had to give.
Ipswich needed to take a chance. They needed something fresh, and in Paul Hurst, they seemed to have found it.
Hurst had, after all, just worked miracles at a club that you almost call the Ipswich of League One. Shrewsbury Town were, by any logical metric, cannon-fodder when he took the reigns in 2016.
Under Hurst, the Shrews blew away the low expectations and started his first (and only) full season in charge unbeaten in their opening 15 games. A day out at Wembley in the 2017-18 play-off final was a pipe dream before the season started, but it was a reality nine months later.
When Ipswich came calling in the summer of 2018, it seemed the perfect match: a young, impressive manager at a patient club with tempered expectations. Yet, 149 days into his reign, Hurst has been replaced with Paul Lambert. It rather feels like Ipswich are back to their McCarthy days.
Ipswich are bottom of the league with a single win to their name, and the outside world are at it again – wagging their fingers and chanting a line that must frustrate Ipswich fans: “You got what you deserved.”
Ipswich were stagnating under McCarthy – you could even argue regressing. They needed something new to cheer, something new to believe in, a project to revitalise the fading heartbeat of Portman Road. Hurst was an excellent choice, given the Tractor Boys couldn’t have realistically hoped to persuade Frank Lampard to take the reigns when Derby came calling.
The problem wasn’t parting company with McCarthy. The problem wasn’t hiring Hurst. The summer transfer window wasn’t perfect, since Ipswich lost key players across the field and replaced them with up-and-coming talents from League One and Two, but even that isn’t the real problem. The real problem is settling for Lambert.
Hurst didn’t work, and that’s a shame. Too many changes, a characterless style of football and some unfortunate results (see Rotherham, Norwich, Aston Villa etc.) all played a part in his downfall, and Ipswich should be prepared to admit it just wasn’t meant to be.
However, to hire Lambert and essentially revert to type is to plunge Ipswich Town and their beleaguered fans back into the McCarthy era they were trying to break free from.
Lambert may well keep Ipswich up, but will the fans have something new to cheer? Will they have a new project to invest in? Are Ipswich Town set for a new lease of life? At this stage, it seems doubtful.
Rolling the dice on Hurst was the correct decision, even if it didn’t work out as hoped. The dice should have been rolled again, but it wasn’t. Instead, it’s a case of the “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.
So, have Ipswich “got what they deserved?”. Not yet, but if Lambert turns out to be a return to the stagnant, colourless life that drove McCarthy from his hot seat, then yes, they will have.
Follow Ross on Twitter @rossbramble
Read all of Ross’ articles on the EFL