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How Much Do We Need to Rip Up to Start Again?
Written by Steve_M on Sunday, 13th Mar 2016 20:56

That small amount of promise and hopefulness at the start of the year has been well and truly dashed and this looks like it’s going to be one of those frustrating seasons; one where Ipswich is competitive enough against all but the best sides in the division but just not good enough on a consistent basis to ever build the momentum necessary for a sustained promotion challenge.

We’ve been here before though. The parallels with Jim Magilton’s side in 2008/09, his final season, are very strong. That season was equally frustrating coming as it did after a relatively successful one with Ipswich dominant at home and strongly challenging for the play-offs right up to the final match of the season.

Expectations rose but rather than building on the entertaining, if occasionally fragile, football of the previous season Magilton went on a spree of buying midfielders in an attempt to make the centre of midfield more robust. That succeeded but at the cost of any fluency, a failing exacerbated by the haphazard rotation of so many players.

By the end of that season, it was clear to most that Magilton had failed to manage the increased expectations that the Marcus Evans takeover had bought to the club and that a more experienced manager would probably be needed to take the club forwards. Despite the idiotic bedsheets wielded by a few, it was a sad end for one of the best Town players of the modern era and a man who brought such enthusiasm and passion to all he did.

Still, with the failings of an inexperienced manager with a very mixed record of success in the transfer market and a tendency to fall out with players obvious to all then surely the next manager would not be someone with similar failings. With a generally good but slightly unbalanced squad, we wouldn’t need wholesale changes to the playing staff but sensible enhancement to allow us to improve that necessary amount.

And then Evans decided to appoint Roy Keane who ripped the squad apart, fell out with players and oversaw a 14-match streak without a win at the start of the following season. Still, he was very famous and the press conferences were lovely.

Why the digression? Because the frustrations of this season are pushing many to think that a change of manager would be a panacea, that just that would change the whole approach of the club whereas the appointments of Keane and his even more hapless successor, together with the expensive and generally underperforming signings both made set the club back years. Not quite as much as the reckless mistakes of George Burley and David Sheepshanks in the summer of 2001 did but that’s a digression too far.

So, what of this season? Contrary to the one-dimensional caricature that underpins much of the lazier criticism of him, Mick McCarthy attempted to change the style of football. For a while it worked before Mick reverted to something more basic after two fairly poor defeats in a row. At times since we’ve looked decent at times before putting in some more incoherent performances.

Last season saw us a play high-pressing game which, at its best, gave us a base to play some decent football, notably in November and December 2014 when we successfully rotated a combination of Teddy Bishop, Kevin Bru, Jonny Williams and David McGoldrick coupled with a solid base from two of Cole Skuse, Luke Hyam and Jay Tabb and the boundless energy of either Paul Anderson or Stephen Hunt. That was not only effective but enjoyable to watch.

For the most part though, the season was more prosaic than that – highly competitive but a little too direct at times and reliant on Daryl Murphy for too many goals, although Freddie Sears took some of that burden away.

Most importantly, we could compete properly with the best sides in the division: Neither Watford or Bournemouth were able to beat us and the matches against Middlesbrough and Brentford either side of Christmas probably the highpoint for ITFC since 2007/08, perhaps even the Summer of 2005. Yes, we didn’t do quite as well against Norwich but we matched them in the play-offs for the most part, even with a man disadvantage

Perhaps the change was too rapid, certainly to lose the enormous work-rate of Tabb and Anderson without any countervailing increase in ball retention has left us caught between two different approaches. The ease with which both Brighton and Reading counter-attacked a stark demonstration of that.

With a small core of key players then a drop off in performance from last season’s best two performers has also had an effect. It is not that Murphy was likely to score 20+ goals again but that he hasn’t managed any sustained form; he’s working hard but not as successfully as last season even without the goals.

Christophe Berra’s autumn of suspension and injury was a big part of the early-season mess, rushing him back for the Reading game definitely a big factor in that defeat.

It was not the only one; getting caught with too many players forward and defensive indecision also played a part. After all that then, a retrenchment to a more basic approach was probably the right solution in the short-term but it has been in trying to balance an attacking threat with a more solid defence that this season has stalled on more than one occasion. Rarely has there been the sense of belief that was present for most of last season, both on and off the pitch.

Despite a run of 26 points from 12 matches from November to early-January, at no point did we ever look a side totally confident in our own ability. The excellent performance at Brighton, well-fought draw at Burnley and the battering of Leeds seem more like outliers given the typical standard of performances. The sluggish start and poor defending in the Preston match is far more typical of this season.

Again, good wins at Huddersfield and against Forest might have started something of a run but throwing a (completely undeserved) 2-0 lead away to Bolton and the non-event of a defeat to a side no more competent or enterprising than we were have punctured those hopes. We’ll probably take points this week and hang around in touch with sixth but, without gaining some momentum, that’s as good as this season will get for us.

So, what’s next? Mick McCarthy has undoubtedly made some key mistakes this this season, far more than in previous ones:

1) Overly rapid change of style.
2) Not changing a defence that has been leaking for over a year.
3) Force-fitting too many strikers on the pitch at the expense of balance, four strikers with no midfield has not worked even once.
4) Filling the squad with players not good enough to seriously compete for a place.

This though is not the disastrous management that became all too familiar under Keane and Paul Jewell, the team remains competitive, rarely conceding more than two goals in a game and capable of playing well at times.

Personally I’m broadly happy with how we play at our best – even this season – but when we are bad, we can be really appalling to watch. Nor is it McCarthy’s fault we’ve been in this division for 15 seasons and for the last 10 years have looked more likely to exit it in the wrong direction than the right one.

I can see the argument for appointing a younger manager with a medium-term plan, to replicate the footballing structure throughout the club that has brought Southampton and Swansea success. I would like that and to repeat the overall success of the Burley years in the late 90s (preferably without the heartbreak of play-off failure quite so often) but there is one key reason why that will not happen – Marcus Evans.

Very little that Evans has done at ITFC has been for the long-term, he bought a club which he had been told could easily get promoted but failed to understand that throwing money at managers to spend was not on it’s own enough to do that.

The current approach of spending enough per season to tick over is not a long-term one in the current footballing environment. For the reason why, have a read of itfcjoe’s excellent blog from a few weeks ago.

I think that the success McCarthy has had here means he deserves another season at the very least. That Evans shows no signs of changing the approach means that a manager capable of maximising returns from limited players is what the club requires to remain broadly competitive and there are few out there better than McCarthy at that. The upheaval of players and coaching staff that each successive management change has brought has done little good overall.

However, something has to change before next season. Another season of muddling through with inconsistent form will just increase the sense of apathy and frustration amongst Town fans. It seems weird that after the best season in a decade that this one has caused such frustration but the little things not working hard up and that long stay in the division has understandable consequences. So what do I want to see:

1) Full-backs linking with midfield.
2) At least one player who can beat a man, either with pace or skill, preferably two on the pitch most of the time.
3) Some balance between strikers and midfield.
4) Being brave enough to allow our young players some real game time – there isn’t much point in spending on the Academy otherwise.
5) Much, much better ball retention.
6) Some attempt to be the side controlling the tempo of play.

Not all of the above are compatible, some are easier than others but we have not done enough of any of these this season and without results then it is all a bit dull and pointless.

As in 2008/09 though, we are not totally dreadful just not quite good enough for where we want to be. Wholesale change is rarely the right option in football but this summer could be quite pivotal for the club.

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cbower added 21:32 - Mar 13
As always Steve, well thought out comments. The loss of Fraser for such long periods has been a tremendous blow. He offers the pace, skill, direct threat and workrate that is needed. Squeezing Pitman, Sears and Murphy into the starting 11 is an error, I agree but our problem lies in the midfield. You linger on the Magilton era and whilst it is his management that is your focus, it is a player in his mould that we lack. For all his technical ability, apparent comfort on the ball and updoubted contribution to the team, Skuse just not want the ball like Magic did and he rarely controls games. Combine that with nobody in the centre of the park wanting to get beyond the strikers a la Wark or even Holland and our midfield just doesn't offer enough threat. Add to this an almost non existent threat direct from free kicks (when did we last score one?) and we just wont compete with the best in this league. Mick will be busy this summer but again I agree, he is the best man for Town with Mr Evans current approach to finances. Nice blog. Thanks

Garv added 22:01 - Mar 13
I don't think Mick is actually interested in achieving any of your numbers one to six unfortunately.

alfromcol added 22:07 - Mar 13
Great post Steve. A balanced and considered view and IMO spot on in many respects. You mentioned Tabb, seeing a number of performances this season,we would have done better with him on the pitch. 100% work rate PLUS can find other players with his passing, something that many others in this team find very difficult to do.

Your point about young players. I saw Josh Emmanuel play in the first game of the season at Brentford. He was clearly targeted by Brentford in the opening quarter of the game, but he grew into the match and showed considerable maturity. However, most young players don't get much of a run out with MM. There is a chance that Josh could be a top RB now if he had been given a run in the team.

Anyway who I am I to judge the great man, I'm a simple season ticket holder!

Churchmanschild added 22:08 - Mar 13
Good points very well made and very accurate. I won't be renewing my season ticket. The lack of entertainment by far outweighs the cost......and I'm really bored with it all.

muccletonjoe added 22:23 - Mar 13
I can not see much point in evans remaining at this club unless he is prepared to finance a team capable of sustaining a promotion challenge over 8 months. We have reached the stage now where bart is probably the only member of the back 5 worth retaining and of the midfield and strikers i would say only sears and a fully fit bishop could feasibly be members of a promotion
bid.. Failure to invest this time will see us leaving this league in the wrong direction within a very short space of time

textbackup added 22:28 - Mar 13
Easily the best piece I've ever seen written on TWTD. So spot on. I agree with Garv though, not sure mick wants any of the 1-6

Guthrum added 22:41 - Mar 13
Good stuff, Steve.

Point 1 is vital, one of the big things we're missing this season. Seeing Knudsen in the left back position, with the ball, opponents in front of him but no-one to pass to (even for a one-two to by-pass the obstacle). What can he do but go long, even if there is no viable target?

On number six, I'd really like us to increase the tempo of our play. Not to dawdle over throw-ins or the 'keeper putting the ball into play. Speed can catch the opposition out, create openings. Taking two minutes on the goalie putting the ball on the ground, flapping his arms and finally kicking gives them a chance to mark likely targets and fill useful space. Instead, rolling it to a defender or a swift kick out of the hand could get something going before they're ready and while bodies are still up-field.

edwardeberneezer added 22:52 - Mar 13
Great research and well written article,with the benefit of hindsight,would swap back to Jim Magilton era within a heart beat,soap opera at times but bloody exciting,passion too and we STUFFED the canaries.

BondiBlue added 02:15 - Mar 14
Great blog. Very reasonable requests for next season. Difficult to know what to make of Evans because he's so reclusive - would be great to hear from him regarding the masterplan at some point soon.

Superfrans added 09:20 - Mar 14
Good blog. Agree with most of this, although I personally don't think it's "weird that after the best season in a decade that this one has caused such frustration". Surely one follows the other.

We overachieved last season - not least through Murphy's 27 goals, There isn't a team in the division which could lose 27 goals player and not be affected (without spending £8-10m to replace him - and we would never do that). We'll finish within 1/2 places of last season, which is broadly where we should be. Fans are frustrated because we haven't matched or stepped on from last season - most of this frustration is unwarranted and based on unrealistic expectations, imho.

Also, the five things you want to see next season - all of these are resolved had we not been without Bishop all season, and Fraser/McGoldrick for the rest of it. We are also not a club which can afford injury losses to the extent we have.

carsey added 09:33 - Mar 14
I agree with those who would take back the Magilton era - I wasn't impressed when it was announced that Keane was to take over, with all the press attention it was bound to generate. Ipswich just wasn't prepared for that and we're the sort of club who traditionally do things fairly quietly.
On the question of ME and his ownership nobody knows what he wants because the man never comes out and tells us. Is he a football fan? Is he a fan of ITFC? Is it just that he fancies owning a football team for some dark tax reason? Whatever the answer the manager/coach should be allowed to have the team playing football his way and that is the problem for me because McCarthys way is horrible, predictable, boring and intimately unsuccessful. I don't care that he can't/won't spend money on the quality players we all crave, he should be coaching the ones we have to pass and move. Play football on the ground like the academy kids try to do and use some of them when the old hands fail. It might mean a couple of seasons of mid table finishes but if fans can see progress I believe they will stick with it. What I would definitely like to see is our fortunes not being reliant on a loan player such as Frazer or Williams because however good they are they are not one of ours.
If the time comes when this season is mathematically over I hope McCarthy gives real playing time to Andre Dozzell and Emmanuel and one or two others so we and they can see how the future looks. If he fails in this that for me will answer the question as to whether the academy is really a waste of time or is it going to provide a long term answer.

Steve_M added 09:48 - Mar 14
@Super Frans. Yes maybe, weird isn't quite the right word but I do think people should look at a wider context.

re: Improvements for next season. Yes, it's mainly achievable, I wanted to illustrate that we don't need wholesale changes to start improving again, I think we're stuck with what we have for this season but that does not preclude next season being better.

Edmundo added 11:31 - Mar 14
Great blog @Steve_M. I think that we can look forward with hope rather than expectation. Let's be honest, our fans aren't like the idiots at the Arsenal game yesterday, we don't have that kind of "entitlement" complex. However, it's rarely about one person in the team, and likewise rarely about one person in the management area, although I think that as well as MM being a good fit for us currently (despite the obvious issues), Ian Milne is someone who, unlike the hapless "good old boy" Clegg, has quietly gone about his job. For me he is a better fit for our club - he understands it, although he has that detachment that means that he can p*** fans off, in the role as a CEO it's vital that he sees the club as a business that he's passionate about, rather than as a fan. He for me is the reason that we will continue to quietly go about our business, building slowly, and yes not year on year improvement (it's rarely possible to do this), but once we get to the Promised Land, we are less likely to be a flash in the pan like we were in the 90s or the noughties. Optimistic? Maybe, but we have a harsh reality of being the longest serving Championship side to drive us, and really we now have to look very long term to be anything more than a "fringe of playoffs" side.

Superfrans added 11:53 - Mar 14
Edmundo - unfortunately, I think our fans do have a bit of an entitlement complex. The younger ones who can remember our 2 years in the Prem under Burley which created the problems we currently have and don't fully understand why those days haven't returned. And the older ones who can remember when we were the best team in Europe and hanker for those days again. We're a clubs with a 20,000 average attendance at best and are roughly where we should be.

As for Milne, I don't share your view, I'm afraid. I've met him a few times and he has come across to me as a yes man, with few views of his own (beyond platitudes), who has no understanding what the club means to Ipswich, Suffolk or the fans.

rickw added 12:15 - Mar 14
Excellent blog, I agree with nearly all of what you've said!!
Next season lets give more game time to Emmanuel, Kenlock and Dozzell, let's hope Bishop and McGoldrick can stay fit and lets sign 2 hardworking but pacy/skillfull wingers of our own!! :-)

Gonefishing added 15:36 - Mar 14
The one huge problem in sticking with McCarthy is that even if he did scrape us up his record in the top league is terrible and a place where his style simply does not allow a team to survive. So what is the point?

exeterblu added 21:54 - Mar 22
Excellent article - could agree more with your observations and comments.

Thank you for a good read :)

norfstanda added 17:52 - Apr 24
A really good read. Which players should we bring in then? Bradley dack from Gillingham has had a decent season and has scored goals and set up goals. Also kemar roofe looks a decent striker from Oxford
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