It may seem fanciful to suppose a team that beat us twice last season, and comfortably each time, and plays in a higher division should feel any need to envy Sunderland and Jack Ross. But look at Ipswich’s current plight – winless and second bottom of the Championship while two disappointing home draws have failed to push SAFC out of the League One top four – and you begin to see why William Sundin, the Tractor Boy (and Sunderland University graduate) writing this piece, is wondering which club is better off …
Ipswich Town fans started this summer in a situation familiar to Sunderland supporters, having taken the plunge and finally said goodbye to Mick McCarthy.
Fortunately, Ipswich didn’t do as Sunderland once did and turn to Roy Keane, as they’d made that mistake a few years previously instead [though taking Sunderland from bottom to top may be seen by some as less than a mistake – Ed].
Instead, Ipswich’s owner Marcus Evans sought an exciting young replacement not yet entrenched on the managerial merry-go-round. Evans was keen to wait for Paul Hurst to complete his playoff adventure with Shrewsbury, but the other standout candidate Jack Ross was not so keen to wait around.
Ross clearly felt Sunderland was the project to tempt him to English football rather than treading water with Ipswich in the Championship.
Both clubs are in a period of transition, but Sunderland’s transition feels more progressive. The hope on Wearside is that the new regime will bring the unity and positivity from the top to the bottom of the club. Ipswich’s transition is more tactical, with fans fed up with the agricultural, albeit pragmatic football of McCarthy.
Chris Sutton recently scoffed at an Ipswich fan on the radio who suggested that relegation would be preferable to another season of McCarthy’s style of play.
Sutton is one of those arrogant radio “personalities” who listen only to their own voices rather than other people’s opinions, but it is perhaps naive to suggest that relegation is better than, well, not getting relegated.
Of course, it can pay off on occasion. Clubs like Southampton and Wolves have gone down to the third tier and come back stronger. Five years after being in League One, Wolves are now odds of 2.5 in Premier League betting with the Betfair Exchange to finish in the top half.
However, not everyone can sign half the Portuguese national team. Relegation is never welcome, but if/when Sunderland return to the second tier they will do so as a more stable side.
Perhaps Ross will benefit from this upward mobility that Sunderland offer. While Ipswich have been present in the Championship since what seems like the dawn of time itself, Sunderland have the squad to present an immediate challenge at the top of the League One table if a manager can coax the best from them.
From an outsider’s perspective, Ross already appears to be doing so. As an Ipswich fan, it is difficult to not look at Ross’s four league wins and three draws, without a league defeat, and think “it would be nice to have at least one of those”.
Hurst is managing in the Championship for the first time, and its reputation as an unforgiving league is well known.
Yet fans are already querying his tendency to persist with a lone striker in the face of a dearth of chances, while promising academy products have been sidelined in favour of other clubs’ promising academy products arriving on loan.
The cup defeat to Exeter is not too troubling as we’ve forgotten what a cup win feels like, but the lack of a league victory is a concern. The season is far too young to make any condemning judgements, but again Ipswich fans may be looking enviously at Ross’s willingness to slot 16-year-old Bali Mumba into midfield from the outset and his ability to adapt tactics during the match.
With the very significant caveat that these are early days, many Ipswich fans may be sneaking covetous glances up the country to the Stadium of Light and wondering what could have been.