Hurst paid the price be­cause owner won’t

THRIFTY EVANS STALLS TRAC­TOR

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY - Chris Dunlavy

IT WAS just af­ter 2.15 on a Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon in Au­gust when the re­al­i­sa­tion dawned that Ip­swich Town were doomed.

The Trac­tor Boys were at Hills­bor­ough to face Sh­effield Wed­nes­day, their fifth match of an al­ready cheer­less cam­paign.

Early form is rarely a re­li­able barom­e­ter, of course. In Au­gust 2006, Sun­der­land sat bot­tom of the Cham­pi­onship with­out a point to their name. By April 2007, they were back in the Premier League and wav­ing two fin­gers at ev­ery­one who’d writ­ten them off.

Maybe this was just a teething is­sue; the stolid con­ser­vatism of Mick Mc­Carthy segue­ing jerk­ily into the brave new world promised by Paul Hurst. A col­league from Suf­folk cheer­ily in­sisted they’d been play­ing well.

Then, 45 min­utes be­fore kick-off, the teamsheet ar­rived - and the true scale of Ip­swich’s prob­lems was laid bare.

Scan­ning that warm piece of A4 was like yank­ing a ran­dom page from the phone­book. The names meant noth­ing.

Loa­nees, kids, sign­ings from the lower leagues; with the ex­cep­tion of Luke Cham­bers, Jonas Knud­sen and keeper Bar­tosz Bialkowski, none of them had played in the Cham­pi­onship.

Up top, they were re­ly­ing on Kay­den Jack­son, a 24-year-old sign­ing from Ac­cring­ton Stan­ley who was jump­ing two di­vi­sions.

It showed. Hurst’s men were lively enough but they were out­smarted at set-pieces, up front and even­tu­ally lost 2-1.

Since then the gloom has thick­ened, the form col­umn a stormy sea of yel­low and red. De­feat to Leeds in mid­week left the Trac­tor Boys bot­tom of the pile and Hurst, just months af­ter leav­ing Shrews­bury, is out of a job.

Gloom

Hurst must shoul­der his share of the blame for a re­cruit­ment drive that left Ip­swich woe­fully short on ex­pe­ri­ence.

Barns­ley last sea­son and Rother­ham be­fore that demon­strated that gam­bling on too many rough di­a­monds rarely re­sults in sparkling per­for­mances.

Sim­i­larly, the use of 27 dif­fer­ent play­ers so far – the most in the di­vi­sion – can’t have helped a side short on con­fi­dence and co­he­sion.

Re­mem­ber, though, that Hurst was ex­plic­itly di­rected to sign po­ten­tial by an owner un­will­ing to pay the go­ing rate. His fail­ings are a symp­tom of the prob­lems at Ip­swich, not the cause.

Ip­swich are £90m in debt and, like Mike Ash­ley at New­cas­tle, Mar­cus Evans has no in­cli­na­tion to spec­u­late his way to profit. He spends only the bare min­i­mum in a bid to main­tain the sta­tus quo.

Since the start of the 2012-13 cam­paign, Town’s to­tal out­lay on play­ers is less than £10m. This sum­mer alone, eight of their ri­vals spent more.

Speak­ing af­ter Hurst was dis­missed, Evans hailed the “strong core” of his club. “This group of ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers along with the ad­di­tions we made to the squad this sum­mer of younger devel­op­ing tal­ent, plus the on­go­ing pro­gres­sion of play­tooth­less ers from our academy, means the new man­ager will have a solid group to work with,” he said.

What ex­pe­ri­ence? Which solid group? It was ob­vi­ous back in Au­gust, and it re­mains ev­i­dent now, that this Ip­swich team – starved of in­vest­ment and re­ly­ing on kids – can­not sur­vive in the Cham­pi­onship.

As Ash­ley has found at New­cas­tle – and will be forced to ac­knowl­edge again in May – re­peat­edly sail­ing so close to the wind in­evitably re­sults in calamity. But for Mc­Carthy, Ip­swich would have gone un­der years ago.

Would the York­shire­man have kept them up? Prob­a­bly. He’d have spent his mea­gre bud­get on crafty vet­er­ans, drilled them to de­fend and slogged to sur­vival.

Sur­vival

But sup­port­ers were tired and numb, and fair enough. Pun­dits who pa­tro­n­is­ingly warned them to be care­ful what they wished for have clearly never paid good money to watch bad foot­ball with no hope of suc­cess. As one fan elo­quently put it this week, you have to risk hell to es­cape pur­ga­tory. Yet all that – the turgid foot­ball, the tetchy fric­tion be­tween Mc­Carthy and sup­port­ers – was a symp­tom, too. At the root of it all is an owner who will not spend what is re­quired to con­struct a suc­cess­ful Cham­pi­onship team. Un­til that changes, pur­ga­tory is the best any­one at Port­man Road can aspire to.

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