Paul Lambert (right), with assistant Stuart Taylor
Paul Lambert has won 35 and lost 48 of his 110 games in charge of Ipswich

“When I look at that team I’m thinking where’s the backbone? There’s not even a finger bone.”

Former England full-back Mick Mills is Ipswich Town’s all-time leading appearance maker and was part of the club’s greatest era.

But from the dizzy heights of trophies and the Premier League, the Suffolk side have suffered a steady regression that sees them staring at the possibility of a third successive season in League One unless results improve.

Fans, ex-players and even the local newspaper have called for boss Paul Lambert to be sacked, but just how deep-rooted are the problems at Portman Road and how far will a change in manager go to turning things around?

‘I think Paul’s days are numbered’

Mills won the FA Cup and Uefa Cup with Ipswich in 16 years as a player between 1966 and 1982, playing a club record 591 league games, and captained England at the 1982 World Cup in the absence of the injured Kevin Keegan.

The 72-year-old is now a co-commentator on the Tractor Boys for BBC Radio Suffolk and says he felt “sad” watching Tuesday’s goalless draw with Northampton, leaving them four points from the play-offs on a run of just two wins in nine games.

“I do think that Paul’s days are really numbered, I really do – I’m not sure whether he’s ever going to get out of it,” Mills said after the match.

“There will be a change, [but] I’m not sure whether we’ll have a change until the end of the season.

“The type of person that could do something is one that could come in here, shape this group up, no nonsense, and maybe with the amount of games we’ve got to come and the fact we’re not too far behind, he could get a reaction from this group and we could get promoted.”

It is 20 years since Ipswich finished fifth in the Premier League, but relegation from the top flight in 2002 saw them spend 17 consecutive campaigns in the Championship.

They eventually went down to League One in 2018-19 under Lambert, who took over the side when they were already in trouble at the foot of the table.

Their two League One seasons have followed a familiar pattern so far – a lightning-fast start followed by a steady decline which has seen them drift down to 11th, where they finished last season and where they stand after 26 games this time around.

Mick Mills
Mick Mills was captain when Ipswich won the Uefa Cup in 1981

“It’s almost like everybody can see it but the right people can’t,” Mills said.

“Nobody seems to be able to arrest that slide. They didn’t in the first year and they haven’t in the second year.

“I believed at the start of the season that our squad was well capable of promotion and I’m not going to change that – it’s got to be better managed.”

Protests, sympathy & ownership

Ipswich fans memorably applauded Lambert and the players off the pitch on their relegation from the Championship, but that goodwill has long since evaporated.

Last month regional paper East Anglian Daily Times took the step of calling for a change of managerexternal-link while supporters group Blue Action this week protested at the club’s training ground.

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Supporter Amy Downes is a regular on the Talking Town podcast and believes fans are on the same page over the issue.

“In all the 30 years I’ve supported them I’ve never seen our fan base so united in wanting our manager to go,” she told BBC Sport.

“Lambert’s tenure has been a series of mistakes and a story of Ipswich fans giving him a chance. We are a nice, patient fan base – we don’t jump on people’s backs, it takes a while for us to turn.”

Since winning five of their opening six in League One this season, the Tractor Boys have picked up just 24 points from 20 games.

“I’ve gone from spending every Saturday night really cross to feeling really sorry for him [Lambert] – he’s stuck in a situation and doesn’t know what to do next,” she said.

“Without being nasty if he went I think there’d be quite a lot of joy, but then when we wake up the next morning it’s the realisation of dealing with the hangover of what’s next.”

Ipswich fans
Ipswich fans stayed behind their side despite going down from the Championship in 2019

That is because there is an awareness that the club’s predicament is not only the fault of one person.

Owner Marcus Evans took over at Portman Road in 2007 and has regularly faced criticism for not investing enough on players.

“He backed the first couple of managers, they blew his money and all of a sudden he’s become very careful about what he does,” Mills said.

“What you had here all the time was the man at the very top didn’t know football at all and wasn’t giving the right leadership at the right time – backed the wrong managers at the wrong time and didn’t back the right one [Mick McCarthy] at the right time.”

Lambert wants collective responsibility

After months of defending his side’s displays, former Norwich boss Lambert acknowledged on Tuesday that “it hasn’t been good enough for a number of weeks now”, and showed sympathy for the fans’ frustrations.

“I hate it, I hate that the club is in the position that it’s in. I hate the way it’s gone not just this year but I don’t know how many years,” the Scot told BBC Radio Suffolk.

But he said “a few others” are to blame for the club’s malaise, as well as himself.

“Why the hell has it happened? Why has everything gone the way it has? I don’t know. We’ve been here two and a bit years. It’s an accumulation of years gone by and I get it all.

“I’m loathe to say the last nine, 10, 11, 12 years of no success is my fault.

“I just think everybody at the football club needs to take a right good look at themselves – everybody – with what’s happened to this football club. There’s no way it should have happened. But it has happened.

“I get Marcus puts a hell of a lot of money in. But it’s a build-up of years and years and years. This football club needs a bit of help without a doubt.”

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