Matthew Crichton: Paul Cook was recently sacked as Ipswich’s manager despite many backing him to achieve promotion - what went wrong in the end?
Rich Woodward: The ongoing debate is whether Paul Cook was ever favoured by the new ownership group.
He was appointed just prior to our takeover, so was always on borrowed time if our form deteriorated. A complete squad rebuild in the summer didn’t lead to an upturn in fortunes and probably increased the pressure on him.
Long-time number two Leam Richardson’s impressive form with Wigan may have damaged Cook’s credibility too. His ITFC backroom team certainly didn’t have the same level of reputation.
MC: Manchester United first-team coach Kieran McKenna is set to take over, what is your initial reaction to this considering it will be his first job as a manager?
RW: It’s a bold appointment – one with potentially massive upside over time if he gets things right, but a risk in the short-term if the main job at ITFC is too big for him.
He’s got a great track record as a methodical coach at the highest level with Spurs and Man Utd which bodes well. I think most Town fans were bored with the ‘same old names’ – certainly anyone called ‘Paul’ - so welcome this.
Whilst a short-term gun for hire (e.g. Warnock) did feel like a necessity after recent performances, it would probably have been a panic move.
MC: Ipswich are currently 12th in the table, if you are to get your promotion challenge back on track, what does McKenna need to change?
RW: Everything. Seriously! We’re as close to the bottom three as we are to the playoffs right now.
This season is starting to feel like a write-off, given the size of the job for McKenna to reprogramme a squad bereft of confidence and coherent tactics.
This team needs proper coaching, so I’d not expect results to pick up immediately, but hopefully in the coming weeks in a sustainable way. Playoffs don’t seem likely but you never know!
MC: When we last spoke I highlighted that Macauley Bonne had scored 11 goals, but fast forward to now and he is still on that figure - is he going through a baron spell?
RW: Afraid so. He’s not been presented many meaningful opportunities – we simply don’t create enough chances - but the openings he is getting are being wasted.
He’s had some challenging off-field issues which must be occupying his mind, and Cook didn’t help him out by pinning all our attacking hopes on him. Joe Pigott has rarely featured this campaign so isn’t yet match fit or ready to step in for Bonne.
MC: Ipswich signed 20 new players in the summer, are you expecting McKenna to have to bring the best out of your current bunch or will the club dip back into the market?
RW: Our summer recruitment was really disjointed looking back.
A combination of CEO Mark Ashton and Paul Cook both identifying players to sign, led to a good chunk simply not fitting with Cook’s preferred way of playing.
Scott Fraser, Rakeem Harper, Joe Pigott, Tom Carroll, Louie Barry have either rarely featured or when they have don’t feel like a fit.
MC: On the other hand, given you have some a large squad, which players would you like to see the club part ways with in January?
RW: I’d be sad to see the players above head off as I think they’ve been poorly utilised by Cook, but not surprised if some departed. I’d expect 2019 strike pair James Norwood and Kayden Jackson to head off to make room for a better out and out forward.
MC: Now that we are close to halfway through the season, who are the three best teams you have seen who you are backing to gain promotion?
RW: It looks like Rotherham’s division to lose. They dispensed with us easily at Portman Road a few weeks ago.
We managed to get a point against the odds at Wigan last week, but they look pretty good under Richardson.
Plymouth have fallen away which I expected, and Ryan Lowe’s departure won’t help that situation.
It’s a case of who can find consistency out of Oxford and Sunderland, who both go on streaky runs of wins or defeats. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sheffield Wednesday made a late dash though.
MC: What tactical approach have Ipswich taken under John McGreal and which eleven players do you think he will select?
RW: Cook favoured his 4-2-3-1 for better or worse, but McGreal has tried two up front recently.
It worked in the second half against Wigan, but was found out by League Two Barrow(!) in the cup. We tried a 3-5-2 in the 2nd half of that game and looked steadier, but it’s a gamble to experiment against Sunderland.
I’d expect us to go back to 4-2-3-1 in anticipation of McKenna taking over (he’s rumoured to favour that formation himself) with the first teamers who dropped out against Barrow brought back in.
Wes Burns (probably our best player so far this season) will be missing, along with Bersant Celina who is injured.
MC: Sunderland beat Ipswich 1-0 during their last visit to Portman Road - what is your prediction for the score this time around?
RW: I’d be pleasantly surprised if we didn’t lose on Saturday, sadly.
As much as the bumper crowd in front of our new owners and management team may give the team a boost, I just think we’re too fragile at the moment. I think it’ll be a 2-0 Sunderland win.
It’s worth noting your win over us at the SoL – an undeserved win I think we can both agree! – kick-started the poor run under Cook that led to his sacking.