|The Pleasure, the Privilege, Decline?|
Written by Mullet on Monday, 29th Aug 2016 10:10
There's a 6ft 3in hole in Ipswich Town right now. Behind the tears in some blue eyes as we enter the international break without Daryl Murphy, the changing of the old guard at Ipswich looks almost complete.
Skipper Luke Chambers is still at right-back, Cole Skuse in the midfield trench and thanks to injuries at least a reinvigorated Jonathan Douglas helps implement Mick McCarthy’s cunning plans.
Alas, as they look up and ahead, no more will the hulking lump of man-candy that straddles four spells and Mick's greatest moments thus far be there. When the league resumes and the fog of Championship war descends once more, so much of our former firepower will be deployed on Tyneside.
The merits of the deal need little discussion. A “no-brainer” said Murph and no complaint was really forthcoming from Mick. Perhaps we all assumed the summer would see us look to life after Daryl, but the scenario is thrust upon us so where does Mick turn? Fifty goals in 123 matches for Mick as a permanent Town striker means that a goal every 2.46 games was scored by the Waterford Pelé.
Already in the building is Leon Best, who is on trial. When you hear the name, you may well feel reassured. It is familiar but not altogether famous. He is a striker who is well travelled but never really scaled the heights his early career promised. Like Murphy he is more than six foot tall and capped by Ireland.
Starting at Notts County as a youth he was snapped up by Southampton who were then in the Premier League and before losing to Ipswich in a FA Youth Cup final alongside David McGoldrick, who was also a team-mate at Meadow Lane, began an odyssey around English football, making his debut at 18 before being loaned over three years to QPR, Sheffield Wednesday (twice), Bournemouth and Yeovil, playing in League One before ending his time at Southampton in their play-off final.
A £1.5 million signing he spent a season frustrated behind Andy Carroll and Peter Lovenkrands before scoring a hat-trick in a five-goal demolition of West Ham. It was a performance which seemed to show just what talent he possesses and included some stunning finishes, from close range, with his head and a one-on-one. There is a sense from watching these highlights that Best is a complete striker. A natural athlete that excels.
Certainly, he has a powerful left foot, an ability to finish and while not the most dominant header of the ball he can score and cause defenders a nuisance. What might appeal most in terms of style is that he seems capable of taking defenders on utilising the ball over the top. Also he clearly flourishes when crosses are played into crowded six-yard boxes. Mick will need to recruit someone who can provide that from both flanks to harness this potential threat if he gives Best a contract.
His last big transfer came with Blackburn recruiting him for double what Newcastle paid and for the sake of symmetry what we just received from Newcastle for Murphy.
He managed an unlucky 13 appearances for his club between another spell of wandering. Two goalless stints at Derby and Brighton came after another spurt of four from 15 at the Owls (perhaps we want him just for the Hillsborough fixture alone). It is in these years Town fans may well have got a better view of Leon as he struggled to hit form or find the target.
In 2015 he went to another club in flux and signed for Rotherham. For the Millers Best scored half of his goals in a fightback against promotion-hopefuls Derby. If Best could muster scoring against former clubs, he would be worth his weight in gold clearly.
His career haul of 63 in 300 appearances means he averages a goal every five games, but his most impressive spell at Yeovil was an unbelievable goal for every game and a half, highlighting the lean and scattergun nature of his professional life.
One area Mick may want to consider carefully is character. In fact one area Mick will consider carefully is character. Best has been dogged not only by Marcus Bent levels of insinuation about his game and demeanour but also off-field questions have been asked. Having worked under Neil Warnock last, and clearly here with the master baiter of the North Stand's opinion hanging over him, the bedding-in period spent with our U23s and senior squad will have been a proving ground no doubt.
You might watch this other video from his time at Newcastle and wonder as to why he and a clearly injured Nile Ranger are performing some sort of duel in the toilets. Unfair to judge a man when he is in his early 20s and at his zenith but it might allude to how he trod a path well worn by those with the ability but not the application to stay at the very top of the game.
Contains partial nudity and terrible attempts at punching.
If Best is not to Mick's taste or only one of the potential replacements within the squad, then the other option to emerge is another semi-familiar name Lukas Jutkiewicz. He completes the trinity of strikers who showed great potential early on before leading an almost nomadic existence between relatively large transfers and semi-serious injuries.
The man we may well hope will trouble defences as much as spell-checkers in and around Suffolk has just recovered a major knee problem missing out on Burnley's promotion season with only half a dozen appearances and one this season so far.
Along with Jutkiewicz is a rumoured double-swoop for Kightly (who incidentally signed the same summer as Jukiewicz at Burnley). Certainly a known quantity to Mick and long-term link for journalists of all work ethics since McCarthy joined the Blues.
There is a sense that patching in two players from the same side (even if it's Burnley's second string) makes sense. Part of us will recall the success Darrens Bent and Ambrose had in stepping up together having familiarised themselves in youth football. It's solid principle but not a certain outcome.
Jutkiewicz is a tad smaller than Murphy at 6ft 1in and is perhaps again not a traditional target man. It's his all-round game that makes the link likely and while he may in some ways be more akin to Luke Varney in not just his injury record but recent ‘goalshyness’ he brings a certain pedigree and hustle that will appeal to Mick as much as it will appal the defences and purists.
He will have passed Leon Best coming out of the door at Coventry and technically replaced him for the Sky Blues. Being recruited by Aidy Boothroyd means Mick's detractors may well be getting sweaty palms at the connection and career trajectory alone, although he took just a week to find the net and scoring a total of 18 goals in just under 70 appearances.
It was this respectable tally that saw Middlesbrough recruit him for just over a £1 million again and while injury early on meant he took a while to get going before his eventual move again, via a loan initially to Bolton, saw him hit double figures on Teesside. A clear demonstration of the no frills poacher more common than the odd long distance drive comes here:
Mick certainly has lots of youth, but not a lot of time to reshape and reignite an opening month blighted by terrible refereeing decisions and dropped points.
The collapse at Brentford looked remedied and by rights Town should be sitting second in the table, not begging Premier League ones for scraps as most in our position might.
Town's two best strikers are gone, one only until November. In the period where Mick has rebuilt the side, the faith and the belief he has also drawn fire and flak for his approach. One might be flashy off the pitch, the other might have a name for Scrabble but neither are flair players. Let's not kid ourselves.
Murphy's massive boots held up the ball as his lovely Irish shoulders held up the entire team at times. While he has received cult status and criticism for his 27-goal haul in 2014/15 he also demonstrated what happens when a player, a system and a manager achieve synergy.
While you mull over the implications, consider the type of devotion a striker can inspire and ask yourself if a replica shirt bearing the name of either is a sound investment, or is something more unique required?
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