A George Honeyman last minute strike against Rochdale sparked scenes of jubilation amongst the travelling red and white army. The tenacity of the team had delivered us three points and you got the sense that this was a milestone moment in our season. From here on in we would kick on and make that charge for the top two, maybe even lift the trophy at the end of the season. The goal and the exuberant celebrations seemed to be the alarm clock to our sleepy indifference to our league position; here we go at last. Then we played Burton at home. 1-1. And then it was the ridiculous Coventry game. In fact, barring a good performance against Doncaster we, quite pathetically, wouldn’t win in the league again.
On the face of things, a 1-1 draw at Portman Road is perhaps more than many of us expected. It was, on paper, a decent result against a team who most expect will be at the front of any challenge for the league title. To accept that, however, ignores the standard of the performance. We had one shot on target all match and just four in total. In the face of those statistics you may think “Well it’s early days still, it will come good” or you may even think that the team need time to gel and we will improve. To the first point I would suggest that it may only be the second game of the season but including the play-off games we have now failed to win in 17 of our previous 26 league games. By anyone’s reckoning that is not promotion form let alone the form of champions. When the fixture lists were released I looked at the opening matches and thought, if we don’t get a win against Oxford we’re up against Ipswich and Portsmouth next and we could be well off the pace if things don’t go well. We didn’t win against Oxford and now we have the Ipswich performance to digest before we play Portsmouth.
Perhaps you fell into the latter part of reasoning behind a poor start and far be it from me to be judgmental of your reasoning, but I will offer a counter argument. Against Oxford the squad had six potential debutants in and the rest had served a season and a full summer of training. Last season our opening day squad had seven potential debutants and the club had undergone a massive transformation including staff cuts, ownership changes and a change in manager. We beat Charlton 2-1. In our opening two games last season we took four points from two clubs who are now playing Championship football. This season the team should already be united and prepared but we have two points from two games. It is too early to tell if the opposition have been comparable but I have seen little in Ipswich or Oxford to suggest they will reach the same levels as Charlton and Luton achieved last season.
Perhaps you think that the loss of Cattermole and Oviedo has hit us. Neither of those two played in our first game last season. If anything you would probably point to the team against Oxford this season and say it was stronger than our team on the opening day last season with the exception of possibly one player. A player who would score 15 league goals in 24 games for us before disappearing to sunnier climes. Josh Maja played 7 games for Bordeaux before suffering a season scuppering injury. Perhaps it would have been better for all if he had just run his contract out with us. There is no doubt that the loss of Maja hit us, but Will Grigg came in. Why wouldn’t we be happy about that. This was a bloke who’s last three seasons in League One had produced 19, 25 and 20 goals. He also had a very catchy song. Unfortunately, we have had very little opportunity to sing it, let alone believe the words. It appears he has lost some spark since joining us.
In fact, if you look at career statistics for McGeady, Maguire, Wyke, Grigg and McNulty they have 394 goals between them. They are capable of scoring. So why aren’t they? Against Oxford the claim of 34 crosses has been well publicised by Jack Ross. The three shots on target less so. We are not scoring many from open play at all; in fact, with the exception of Chris Maguire’s goal against Portsmouth the last goal we scored from open play was Max Power’s against Peterborough. Our players can score, but they aren’t. Many fans will lay the blame at the feet of Jack Ross now, and that is understandable. The statistics do him no favours. Giles Mooney wrote a piece for ALS recently highlighting the possible impact an effective right-hand man might have on Jack Ross’ ability to see problems. Against Oxford it was apparent to many that the effectiveness of Denver Hume was being undermined by a fairly inept Flanagan getting confused about where he should be playing. With Ozturk on the bench, Ross took no action to counteract this. If there is a positive to take from the Ipswich performance, it is that we improved in the second half. Jack Ross made substitutions and changed things around a little, harking back to last season when his substitutions were lauded as game changers
Jack Ross has played Scottish football and managed in Scottish football, but is convinced that his formation is the right formation, regardless of whether we have the right players to make it effective. I actually admire his tenacity with this; but when it strays into stubbornness it starts to look a bit daft. Ross has not had wide reaching experience either as a player or as a manager and the absence of experience around him means his tactics are shouted in an echo chamber. Ross is right and there doesn’t appear to be anyone around him to tell him otherwise. I have no doubt that the players respect him and many have spoken highly of him. I just think he’s sometimes a little obsessive about his plan at the exclusion of alternatives. If it carries on like this we will be too far behind the leading pack in no time at all, time is running out for Jack Ross and we’re only just over a week in.