The Matt Holland Column: We've worked hard, and now we are ready to win

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It is no secret that this season has been disappointing so far but there has been a definite shift in mood and atmosphere in the past week. I have felt it most during training at Ipswich where the air has been less fraught and this is because the players feel that we are starting to play better.

Admittedly we have not won games, but neither have we lost them. A lot of clubs would love to be unbeaten in their last five matches and there is a belief that we are close to winning. The mid-week outing against Southampton shows our improvement. Even at 3-1 down, despite dominating possession, I felt we were going to salvage something, and if it had gone for another 10 minutes we would have won it.

A lot of hard work has been done since the Helsingborg game and we are now ready to reap the benefit. Everyone knew we were awful against the Swedes, a point which was beautifully put by our striker Marcus Stewart. "We're crap and we know we are," was his published quote, which made for an interesting discussion among the players at the next training session.

He was immediately apologetic and claimed that he was misquoted. Somewhere the word-playing got lost and that left Marcus with some explaining to do. The rest of the squad soon generously forgave him and settled into the session. So generously, in fact, that when he missed a sitter in a five-a-side no one shouted out: "You're crap and you know you are!"

I think his comments, whatever they were, were the result of frustration at his own performance. We all felt it. Playing poorly hurts and yet we are in a reasonable position for this Thursday's second leg against Helsingborg. Remember that we had conceded an away goal in the previous round against Torpedo Moscow. Unless you completely dominate the home leg and win 2-0 or 3-0, the chances are you are going to need to score away from home. Yes we were poor and lucky to keep it 0-0, but the fact remains that a score draw wins it for us.

Before then however we have today's home fixture against my first club, West Ham. A win would bolster our confidence further by contributing a much needed three points and at first glance, West Ham at Portman Road seems the perfect match. Why? Because their away form is terrible. It must be to lose 5-0 to Everton and 7-1 to Blackburn Rovers. No disrespect to those two but they are Manchester United score-lines, if at all.

The Hammers must not be under-estimated though. They are erratic, poor defensively, particularly without Tomas Repka, and struggling but they have a wonderfully talented group of attacking players. Di Canio, Kanouté, Hutchinson and Sinclair can create chances, lots of chances. We need to nullify their threat, or hope that unsettled feelings or discontent are doing it before they get on the pitch.

Frédéric Kanouté has been hampered by injury but I think he is one of the best strikers in the League, Trevor Sinclair apparently wants to leave and bids are being put in, Don Hutchinson has just moved back from the North-east and Paolo Di Canio, well, who knows with Di Canio? Press reports suggest he is unhappy at not being offered an extension to his contract, despite publicly proclaiming at every opportunity that he wants to finish his career at the club.

I do not know if this comes from him, his agent or has just been made up to fill column inches, but with only 11 points so far this season and a manager under constant threat of being sacked, the players who really care for the club would be more worried about getting some results and alleviating some of the pressure.

I know at Ipswich the only things being discussed are how to turn our season around and move up the table.

There was an interesting comment a few weeks ago by a journalist on Jimmy Hill's Sunday Supplement show, the gist of which was that Di Canio has a poor record of playing away from home, particularly when his club are most likely to need him. I am not sure of the exact figures of games he missed, but at the time I felt it was a revealing point.

The real problem West Ham have however is their defence. Losing Rio Ferdinand would hurt any club, and Repka is a very good player, but there is little solidity about the rest. They have been linked with Taribo West, proving that they are trying to strengthen the back four but today Repka is suspended so we really have to take advantage.

Plotting our downfall will be our old youth team manager, Paul Goddard. He left us in the summer to become Glenn Roeder's assistant and no doubt will have had a lot to say this week, but it will be good for him to return to Portman Road. And it will be good when Finidi George returns. Initial reports put him out for three months but the latest news we have at the club is that he could be back in six weeks. However, he still may not feature for us as Nigeria will be competing in the African Nations' Cup.

Today and Thursday in Sweden are our immediate priorities though and I'm sure Marcus will grab the headlines for football reasons, and I hope Di Canio the unpredictable doesn't.

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