Saturday, June 19, 2021
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Ipswich Town and Covid Problems

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As the COVID pandemic loosens its grip on football ever so slightly, a case study in its knock on effects- Matt Byard, Ipswich Town's physio, was open in his support for the suspension of the Football League season as the virus took hold. Ahead of a raft of Boxing Day postponements over the 2020 festive season- including the Tractor Boys' own post-Christmas game, he told the club website-

 

 

“In previous cases at clubs, the confirmatory source can normally be isolated down to a coach journey or a lengthy meeting indoors. We however, have had the same protocols in place since we started pre-season training.

 

I have looked at every avenue and the only scenario for transmission has to be our match against Burton last week and because it seems to have been passed on in a matchday environment, it is confirmation of a new development.

 

We still have stringent protocols in place in terms of use of the dressing-rooms, I might add.

 

This new strain of the virus clearly transmits far quicker than the original Covid strain and we have the data and symptom profile that confirms that is what we are dealing with here.

 

We have tested all the playing and coaching staff and from the results, we can detect the level of infection and see the patterns emerging, however it’s the speed of the transmission that tells us it’s the new strain.”

 

All a far cry from the odd injury update he might have been used to giving out pre- everything going south. But, as we're constantly being told that life as we know it will change in its wake, is this a sign that the role of the physio is undergoing a fundamental shift as well as a wake-up call to the EFL to do more to help clubs affected?

 

It's perhaps telling that Byard never got his wish for a temporary suspension of the season, with two games postponed for Town in the immediate aftermath. Then- manager Paul Lambert & no less than five first team players tested positive, not exactly helping the Scot's cause given the uncertainty around the club off the pitch even besides the medical situation. Criticism from the stands was dismissed as nonsense by the bullish boss after his injury- hit side limped to a draw at Oxford.

 

Speaking to BBC Radio Suffolk, he said “We've taken absolute nonsense criticism. You (the media) stoke it. It's not easy, the expectancy level at the club is huge and it's not right.”- five defeats in nine games prior to that having seen them slip out of the League One top two after having started the season with wins in each of their first six home matches.

 

To put that into perspective they now sit in seventh spot, after another Paul, Cook, took charge following Lambert's acrimonious departure from Portman Road at the end of February & his own jumping ship from Wigan.

 

It could be said that the local media Lambert had railed against have now actually had the last laugh, the East Anglian Daily Times vocal in its call for a change of leadership.

 

“Paul Lambert has had time to make it work at Ipswich Town. In this newspaper's view, that time has run out. Today, we call for Blues’ owner Marcus Evans to make a change.

 

More than two years on since his appointment, the club is struggling to compete with the top six in the third tier of English football. The third tier.

 

Saturday’s lacklustre home defeat to promotion rivals Peterborough - described as a “really good” performance by Lambert - was proof again of his side’s apparent inability to beat the better teams in the division.

 

And, proof again, that expectations of the fans and the club are seemingly in completely different places.

 

Ipswich are not playing well enough to make the play-offs, and show no signs of doing so. The team is in danger of losing touch with many of those in the top six.

 

Here’s the evidence: The record against last season's top 10 and this season's top 10: P27 W4 D8 L15. 20 points from a possible 81.”

 

Indeed, a look at the stats since Ipswich were relegated shows that a quick start followed by going off the boil was something of a hallmark under his stewardship having inherited a team that at the time of his appointment was struggling at the wrong end of the Championship, applauded off the field even after the drop was sealed.

 

Owner Evans hinted that there had been significant disagreement between the pair over how best to take the club forward in announcing Lambert had left, having in his own words been close to going to hospital after being diagnosed with COVID just a few months prior.

 

Yet it was the owner, he said, who had dipped into his own pocket for additional tests in the wake of the EFL apparently not being willing to do so!

 

I think you're putting people's lives at risk by not getting them tested regularly. It's been shocking. It's the protocols that have worried me more than anything else- we've been left out there to fend for ourselves.”

 

And even the gaffer's critics at the Daily Times conceded that it wasn't all the fault of the man who eventually agreed to walk away.

 

“This squad of players is good enough so, we question, why is it not performing?

 

True, Town have been hit by injuries, though many have now returned. The last year has also been disrupted by Covid.

 

But where are the ‘green shoots"? The consistent signs of progress that we could hang our hopes on?

 

Five defeats in the last six home games have left an amazingly resilient and patient fanbase completely disillusioned.

 

The slow, sad decline of Ipswich Town needs to stop.

 

Of course, there is no guarantee a different manager would make this talented squad tick, and save this season. But Plan A doesn’t seem to be working, and there is still a chance to turn this around.”

 

While there may be no guarantees, Paul Cook's talk of a top two finish & automatic promotion following similar achievements with both Portsmouth & Wigan has to be fuel for the engine of what has been a stuttering tractor in recent months.

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