Rightly or wrongly, Lee Johnson heads into this week with a fair bit of pressure on his shoulders.
We had a great start to the season – a youthful team playing with enthusiasm, swagger and verve – and the past few games the wheels have come off a bit.
As good as performances earlier in the season were, the past three league games have been poor. Very poor. And no one really saw that downturn in form coming.
But in football, fortunes can turn back around just as quickly, and this weekend’s fixture is one that we all follow football for. It’s a massive game, and the pressure generated by the past few weeks only adds to it.
It’s a big game for the whole football club. Ipswich Town, who are in good form after a slow start to the season, and with Peter Reid now involved too, will offer a stern test; probably our biggest test of the season – certainly at home.
There’s been some talk coming from Lee Johnson about the expectations that surround SAFC, and this is something that he and the players are hopefully coming to terms with. Yes, he’s been here for almost a year, but half of that was without fans attending the games – with fans in the stadiums he’s now understanding the enormity of the task he faces.
I don’t buy into this notion that as supporters we are overly expectant – this is our fourth season in League One for christ’s sake – and if we’re not expecting to be in the championship at least as soon as possible then we might as well all pack up and go home.
For SAFC, wanting to be at least one division higher isn’t overly expectant or demanding, and the minute we lose that ambition we’re in trouble.
So these are the games we need to stand up and embrace, and bravery is needed in all quarters this weekend.
From the players’ perspective they need to relish the challenge, stand up to it and enjoy it. In League One terms this season, games don’t come much bigger. It’s going to be a pressure cooker and we need to be mentally and physically brave to take on the task that lies ahead, and be brave on and off the ball, too.
The more experienced heads in the team are going to be needed to lead and set that tone, but the whole team’s going to have to be on it.
Bravery is needed from the manager too in how we set up and approach the game – team selection is going to be interesting too; surely Nathan Broadhead will start the game alongside Ross Stewart, and there are a number of other positions up for grabs.
We know from experience that our crowd responds well to a team that comes out with attacking intent and looks to take the game to the opposition, and that needs to be the attitude we set off with.
If we approach the game in the right way the crowd will get behind the team – any concerns about current performances will quickly be put to bed and with a win – no matter how it comes – we’ll set ourselves up for another good run into Christmas.
There was always going to be ups and downs this season. I think the break this weekend just gone will do everyone good as we head into what feels like a pivotal week in our campaign.
Fingers crossed we’re back on track come 5pm on Saturday afternoon.