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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Can JET help Bristol City soar to promotion?

Undoubtedly the headline signing of the summer so far, Paul Anderson made way this week for Jay Emmanuel-Thomas' arrival from Ipswich Town, a somewhat maverick character but one City fans will remember in particular for a stunning performance when directing unfashionable Doncaster (now, who was their manager that day?) to a 5-2 demolition at Ashton Gate.

The flourish of his signing was matched by significant fan's excitement, at the potential of having an impact player who can unlock games and score stunning goals as well as cause havoc amongst the opposition defence, the type of player we've seen all too rarely over these past few, fairly barren years.  A crescendo was reached when 'JET' took to Twitter, engaged in mass interaction with his new fans and introduced them to #WED (apparently an abbreviation of an East-London phrase What Else Den), seemingly exclusively used by JET.  If he'd had a massive and expensive PR team behind him, I doubt they could have done a better job at introducing their man to his new, already adoring public.

But what lies behind the fanfare and the social interaction?  Some lingering doubts remain, and this is undoubtedly a bit of a make-or-break move for JET.  If he's that good, that talented, why has he not made it at Portman Road? Why did he have a disappointing short spell at Cardiff City on loan?

As a former highly-rated Arsenal trainee there is certainly a basis to work with, but no more than that.  Clutches of performances for a series of league clubs have produced some flashes of what is possible, but without ever having enough consistency to look like getting back into the top flight.

Every time we sign anyone who has played for Ipswich I'm personally delighted, as it gives me the opportunity to invite the eloquent Gavin Barber back to these pages to talk all about him.  Gavin's posts always invite comment and praise in equal measure, so let's find out what he thinks of our new man:

"The first time I encountered Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was, ironically, at Bristol City. In the away dressing room to be precise. It was the first game of the 2011/12 season and my son was the Ipswich mascot: he’d been invited into the dressing room before the game to get some autographs. He’d been round most of the team when one of the other Ipswich players that day, Damien Delaney, kindly stopped to ask if there were any autographs he hadn’t got. “I just need Jay Emmanuel-Thomas”, he replied. “Jay Emmanuel-Thomas!” exclaimed Delaney, puffing out his cheeks. “He could be… anywhere”.

JET had been an Ipswich player for less than two weeks at that point, so I was instantly impressed that his team-mates already considered him to be a man of such mystique that he could completely disappear from inside a changing room. “He’ll be in the toilet”, piped up one of the coaches, “listening to his music”. And sure enough he emerged, high-spec headphones over his head, seeming contemplative over his upcoming Ipswich debut. My son got his autograph (as you can see from the picture) and JET seemed like a nice chap.

A week later it was JET’s first league game in an Ipswich shirt at Portman Road, a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Hull City. I remember the moment when I heard the first moans about JET from the miserable sod who sits a few rows behind me – I looked at the time and it was precisely one hour into that home debut. “Bladdy hell, JET” barked our reliably glum friend, “git a bladdy move orn. Or git orf”.

JET’s distinctive style of play – apparently languid but usually astute – was always going to be a source of frustration for the sort of supporters who see Running Around A Lot and Kicking The Ball Very Hard as the primary virtues for any footballer. Judging by his later tactics and team selection, it was a view shared by then-Town manager Paul Jewell. By September JET had been relegated to the bench, considered a luxury in what quickly became a struggling side, and he was to be in and out of the team for the rest of his Town career.

That was a shame because on his day, JET is one of the few players in the Championship who can really lift a game out of the sludge of mediocrity that characterises so many fixtures at this level. The style that some mistake for laziness is in fact a well-drilled technique for anticipating and controlling the long balls and cross-field passes that come his way. Admittedly, his execution doesn’t always match the clarity of his vision, but on the occasions when he does manage to take down a pass, spin, twist, turn and shoot, it’ll inevitably bring delighted gasps from the crowd and – usually – a sharp left-footed effort that hits the crossbar or sails narrowly over the top.

When Mick McCarthy arrived last season, taking over a team rock-bottom of the Championship, JET was a long way from his thoughts. Badly out-of-form, JET was consigned to the reserves, sometimes struggling even to make an impact at that level. But later in the season, JET began to impress McCarthy with his application and improvement, and was brought back into the fold: usually as a substitute, but sometimes to devastating effect. His introduction in the home game against Bolton last March brought a new dimension to Town’s otherwise dogged but unimaginative play: his trickery down the left wing produced a cross that was slammed home by Carlos Edwards to bring Ipswich a vital three points in their relegation fight.

Some people say that JET has an attitude problem. I don’t think he does. He’s always come across as someone who just wants to play football. When he was ostracised by McCarthy it would have been easy for him to sulk or seek a loan move, but it’s to his enormous credit that he worked his way back to form.

As with many players signed by Paul Jewell for Ipswich, with JET it was ultimately a case of “wrong place, wrong time”: he joined a struggling, directionless club, led by a manager with no strategy or tactical awareness. It was only when McCarthy’s arrival brought some much-needed coherence and organisation to the side that things started to pick up, and even then, the survival imperative meant that chances for players like JET to shine were necessarily few and far between.

Perhaps it was also “wrong time, wrong place, wrong salary”. Having arrived from Arsenal it’s safe to assume that JET was on a fairly decent wage at Portman Road. McCarthy is required to trim his playing budget this summer, so players on big contracts are being moved on. Were that not the case, I genuinely believe that McCarthy would want to work with JET to improve his game and introduce more consistency to his contributions, but finances won’t allow that. Again, it’s to JET’s credit that he’s prepared to drop down a division to play football, rather than sulking out the last year of his Ipswich contract.

JET’s finest moment in a Town shirt was unquestionably the 5-1 win against West Ham in January 2012, when he scored two goals, set up another and generally tormented the West Ham defenders all night, relishing the chance to bring out his full range of tricks. I fully expect Bristol City to be challenging at the top of League One next season and I hope that allows JET the opportunity to unleash himself with abandon. It may take a bit of time for his team-mates to get used to him, and for Sean O’Driscoll to work out how to make the most of him, but once that starts to happen, fans at Ashton Gate could be in for a few treats."

Thanks to Gavin for that insight, certainly food for thought and I echo the view that it's credit to JET that he must have taken a significant pay-cut to join the SOD revolution - and how much a part has he played in this transfer, with JET perhaps feeling he's played his best football under our current leader.

Time will tell, but JET could just be the difference between a mediocre season and a great one, he can be that good, and needs to be for his own career to get back on the path it probably deserves to be on.

The Exiled Robin

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  1. As a footnote, today's Bristol Post article that suggests SOD is planning to use JET in behind the striker, where he feels he can do most damage, surely points towards the reigniting of the career mentioned above.

    From everything I've read & heard, if we can give him the space & not expect as much defensively as some might, he could be an explosive catalyst.

    You do feel its one of these situations where if anyone can get JET playing to his full potential, it might just be our boss.

  2. Could JET be Jackie MkII?

  3. I have seen Jay play quite a few times having relatives all over the country a few of whom support Ipswich, and even to my eternal shame the Gas, I think he shines when played in the attacking midfield role or in what is called the Trequartista role in spanish or even Italian football the role played by Zidane, Maradona, Baggio and Bergkamp to name a few of the luminaries if he becomes our version of one of those AG will become a great place to watch football this year, Jay has all the abilities to do this role with the added advantage that he is happy to drift wide and hit in some devastating crosses. What it needs is for the fans to take to him like we did Jackie and allow him the indulgence to lope through games looking for the one bit of magic that will spark something special, he is not the Gow type player or even the Tinman type but he is probably better that Jackie and when he shines we will know we have been at a match.


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