THERE’S a different feeling about Ipswich Town this season.
For years supporters of the famous old club have expected big names and big pushes towards the top of the table.
But there’s been a total change in strategy and culture at Portman Road.
Last season manager Paul Jewell went down the route of experienced Premier League journeymen, signing the likes of Richard Wright, Lee Bowyer and Jimmy Bullard.
It’s fair to say
his plans seriously backfired and a 15th-placed finish forced a rethink from top to bottom.
Out went the big earners – Bullard was released a year before the end of his contract – and in came players from the club’s academy.
In fact, for their 1-0 win away at Watford on Tuesday night, the average age of Jewell’s side was only 24, with six of his starting 11 – Aaron Cresswell, Tommy Smith, Massimo Luongo, Luke Hyam, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Josh Carson – all under the age of 22.
And so far it’s worked wonders.
A very credible draw against Blackburn on the opening day was followed by a last-gasp win over Gianfranco Zola’s all-new Hornets side.
After 11 years without promotion or relegation, Ipswich are now the longest-standing team in the Championship.
But after a good start there appears to be a feeling they could be onto something special, and midfielder Lee Martin says the atmosphere is better than ever.
“There is a now a massive togetherness in the squad that I have not known since I joined three years ago,” Martin revealed.
“The boys are pulling through and in the last 20 minutes of games we are on top – whether that is down to fitness or that little bit of extra belief I’m not sure.
“I think because we have a smaller squad, it is naturally easier to get to know everyone.
“Before we had a lot of loan players who were probably playing for themselves rather than each other.”
“The young boys have done well and they are hungry to show what they can do.
“We are a young squad and everyone wants to work together – that is the only way you are going to have success.”
Ipswich arrive at Bloomfield Road unbeaten so far this season and having named an unchanged side in their opening two games.
They are expected to do so again tomorrow, though they are hoping to complete a deal for Senegalese international Guirane N’Daw today.
He’s currently contracted to St Etienne but spent last season on loan at Birmingham City, where he played in the play-off games against Blackpool.
At 6’3”, he is exactly what manager Jewell is looking for.
The manager said: “We lack a little in height but we certainly don’t lack for fitness and quality.
“We’re trying to pass the ball and I enjoy watching us. You can tell the players are enjoying playing their football too.
“We’re not the biggest squad but we’ve got a lot of unity at the moment.
“In training things are slowly coming together.”
Starting on the right wing tomorrow for Town is likely to be a very familiar face to the supporters at Bloomfield Road.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who played 11 times for Blackpool in 2009 on loan from Arsenal, is starting his second season at Ipswich after joining from the Gunners for an undisclosed fee.