Tractor Boys quench their Hurst


This article was originally published on Simon Moyse’s own blog “Are You Serious, Englishman” and is reprinted here with his kind permission.

Tractor Boys quench their Hurst

Simon Moyse wrote for the Seattle P-I in his time in Cascadia, but is back in the UK, covering football on his own blog

by Simon Moyse

Well, that happened quickly.

So Paul Hurst is out as manager of Ipswich Town after just fourteen league matches in charge.

For a club that has historically had a reputation for being incredibly patient – there are only two managers in the club’s entire professional history, dating back to 1936, have lasted less than 80 matches – this was, in many ways, a shocking development.

After all, it was only two games ago that Ipswich were celebrating an improbable away win at Swansea and wondering if this was the start of better things to come.

Of those two games since, one was 2-0 defeat away against Leeds, who are currently top of the Championship, so it’s hard to feel too bad about that one. The other, a 2-0 home defeat to QPR, was admittedly pretty appalling by all accounts, but still, the timing is still a bit of a surprise.

Looking at the fixture list, the next three games are Millwall away, Preston home, Reading away – all teams that are in the lower reaches of the table.

My thought was that owner Marcus Evans would give Hurst those three games, and then make a decision in the international break that follows the Reading game. After all, this is Hurst’s squad, one he had built almost from scratch since taking over in the summer, and if he can’t make it successful, it’s hard to see how anyone else can. Whoever takes over is going to be a busy man in January and will pretty much be treading water until then, cobbling together whatever points he can.

One wonders if the answer comes from an interview with Matt Holland earlier this week, where he said he had heard that Evans was looking at replacements for Hurst. Given how suddenly the firing happened, it seems likely that Evans may have already made up his mind on Hurst a while ago.

It’s all a bit sad, really.

It was never going to be an easy job for Hurst, given the lack of resources available to him compared to most of the rest of the division, and replacing a guy like Mick McCarthy who had been at the club for so long.

When Hurst came in, though, there was a whirl of enthusiasm about the appointment. He came in with a terrific record in the lower divisions and really came over as a guy who knew how to get the best out of his players, a no-nonsense coach who knew what he wanted.

He talked of giving youth a chance, playing attacking football, bringing the joy back to Portman Road after the dourness of McCarthy. He brought in some exciting-looking new players from the lower divisions. There was a level of enthusiasm for the new season that had not been seen for some time, and most Town fans were right behind him, willing him to succeed.

Ultimately, where the downfall really started was in the first week of the season, when both of last season’s top scorers, Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner, left the club.

The club had already lost a lot of last season’s squad, but the departure of those two was big. Hurst’s purchases of Ellis Harrison and Kayden Jackson, far from augmenting an already strong front line, now WERE the front line. The team hasn’t been great defensively, for sure, but it is at the attacking end that it has been a real struggle. Harrison and Jackson have got one league goal between them in a third of a season. That, unfortunately, has been a major, perhaps THE major factor, in the club’s struggles.

Hurst, unfortunately, has not coped especially well with the challenges facing him.

His decision to bench Bartosz Bialkowski, arguably the best keeper in the division over the last two seasons, reeked of making a statement, exerting his authority, rather than being a proper football decision, especially when he then did the same to Jonas Knudsen, the club’s other World Cup player.

The latter was especially baffling, with Matt Pennington, normally a centre back, getting absolutely torn apart at full back at Swansea, only to find himself at the same position for the next game. Then Hurst played one up front at home against QPR, a game the Suffolk side desperately needed to win, only to then turn around and play two up front away to Leeds, a game where caution may have actually been a smart idea.

In fact, Hurst never really seemed to know what his best team was, exemplified by him making seven changes for the Leeds game, and constantly changed personnel and formations throughout his reign, often playing guys out of position in the process. One wondered if this was a guy who just wasn’t used to losing too often as a manager, and didn’t quite know what to do.

Ultimately, the Championship may just have been too much of a challenge for Hurst. This is, after all, a very strong division these days, full of big clubs and big-money players.

Hurst had taken his approach (and a number of his favourite players) up through the divisions with him, and thought that he could just take that into the Championship and roll through that too. Like a young employee who embellishes his CV to get a job, one suspects that he probably realised quite quickly that he didn’t have what he needed to compete at this level, and his constant tinkering was more a desperate attempt to stumble on a formula that worked.

So what now?

Whoever comes in has a hell of a challenge.

The media is talking about Paul Lambert, and he’s probably not a bad option. Sure, his record since he left Norwich isn’t much to write home about, and he’s not renowned for exciting football, but he is at least an experienced coach who knows his way around the Championship.

Town do have some decent players and if Lambert (or whoever) can add in some experienced campaigners to go around them in the January transfer window, Ipswich could still survive.

After all, they only need to be less-bad than three teams come the end of the season, and there are a few bad teams knocking about. For now, though, the next few months are going to be about consolidation and grinding out enough results to keep them in contention.

I’m sad that Hurst didn’t work out, but I have to say, I was finding it increasingly difficult to see how they were going to survive with him. He was clearly struggling and was visibly losing confidence. With a new guy, the Tractor Boys might just have a chance.


About Author

Born in London, Simon went to his first Ipswich Town game at the age of 7 and has seen Ipswich play at over 50 different stadiums in the UK, as well as in Moscow, Russia, in UEFA Cup competition. He lived in Seattle from 2004 to 2017 and followed the Sounders upon their introduction to MLS in 2009, and also wrote about the Sounders for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He started his own site, 'Are you Serious, Englishman?’ in early 2016, and also writes live music reviews for Bristol In Stereo magazine.

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