Is ex-Canary Lambert the man to revive Town’s fortunes?
Written by Bethany Taylor
Football has a habit of throwing up unusual plot twists. The personal stories of the players, managers, fans and owners make for their own soap opera that eats up column inches and the announcement of the new Ipswich Town manager offered a narrative that deserved to be accompanied by the infamous Eastenders ‘doof doofs’. Like any good recurring character, Paul Lambert arrives with a rich ‘back story’ and is familiar to fans in this part of the world having taken to the dugout at Colchester United and Norwich City.
It’s this association with Town’s bitter rivals that adds the greatest sense of drama to this Suffolk soap opera. But will it get in the way of the job needed to haul the Tractor Boys off the Championship basement?
It’s perhaps understandable that Lambert himself is keen to move on from the past. In his press conference, he said: “I don’t want to go back to the Norwich time, because it was seven years ago,” 49-year-old Lambert said.
“I had three fantastic years there, but I don’t want to hark back because I want to focus on Ipswich now, to try to get this club away from the bottom of the table.”
He added: “Time moves – you have to let that go and never look back. They’re great memories that’ll never be diminished, but I’m here for Ipswich and I’m going to try and do everything I can to make them successful.”
The simple fact is that Lambert’s past associations will soon be forgotten if he stops the rot and gets things moving in the right direction. The scale of the challenge ahead should be underestimated. Bookies such as Betway now make Ipswich odd-on favourites for relegation and the table makes for horrific reading this Halloween, with a third of the season now gone.
But, in some respects the only way is up. With just one win all season – and just eleven goals in 15 games – even a modest improvement would be welcomed at Portman Road. There’s definitely a real sense of the need to bring some sporting entertainment back to a fanbase starved of joy in recent times.
So, can Lambert do the job? Well, his record at Carrow Road would certainly suggest he could. In three seasons he took the Canaries on a rapid rise, with back-to-back promotions and a very-impressive win percentage of 49.3%. It’s easy to forget now that the Scot was, at that point, seen as one of the rising starts of management.
It’s fair to say his next move didn’t work out as planned – and his spell at Aston Villa certainly put a dent on his rising reputation. Yet, perhaps people are failing to put his Villa Park tenure into a fair context. He arrived in the Second City as the club was looking to scale back after the Martin O’Neill era and in his second season did appear to be making a good fist of a tough gig. Come January, his side was tenth and the attacking talents of Christian Benteke, Andreas Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor showed real promise. Yet, partly due to a Benteke injury, that promise faded, Villa slipped to 15th and Lambert’s third and final season was a tough and attritional slog that was a far cry from the swashbuckling style of his high-flying Norwich team.
Given the high profile nature of Aston Villa and the Premier League, it’s easy to let this job – and the way it ended – become the defining image of Lambert as a manager. But is that really fair?
Before a brief stint at Stoke City at the end of last season, Guardian writer Paul MacInnes mounted a defence of Lambert in the face of a slightly sneering reaction from some pundits.
As he noted: “Lambert has managed five other clubs and only one spell was a failure. He left his first job at Livingston after winning only two matches but then took Wycombe Wanderers to the semi-finals of the League Cup. He needed less than a year to make Colchester League One promotion candidates before he was then poached by Norwich. More recently he kept a distressed Blackburn Rovers in the Championship and steadied a rocky Wolves in the same division, knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup in the process.”
That experience at Blackburn and Wolves should stand Lambert in good stead for the challenge ahead and, alongside his Norwich work, is more instructive when it comes to job that awaits at Portman Road – and the fact that both clubs weren’t blessed with an abundance of resources (this was before the full Mendes revolution at Wolves) shows that Lambert is someone who can get plenty from the resources he has at his disposal.
It’s important, then, for fans to look past both the unfortunate Norwich connection and his demise at Villa – a club that has proven an unhappy hunting ground for plenty of managers in recent years. Paul Lambert is a man who has shown that he can survive and thrive in the harsh and competitive world of the Championship and might be just the sort of character needed to revive the team’s fortunes. He’s also enjoyed five wins and a draw in his seven games against Norwich as a manager – and continuing this would definitely endear him to the Ipswich faithful and deliver the sort of drama and plot twist that the fans would really enjoy.