|Life After Daryl|
Written by Superfrans on Thursday, 1st Sep 2016 10:36
Firstly, to lay my cards on the table, I would have preferred it had we signed a central striker in the last week of the transfer window. When Daryl Murphy was sold, I was hoping another striker would be on his way before the deadline shut at 11pm on August 31st. But he wasn't. And I'm okay with that.
I'm a big fan of Daryl Murphy. He seemed like one of us. He wasn't as overtly close to the fans as some other of our players perhaps. But we only had one other player on our books with 200-plus #ITFC games to his name at the point he left - Tommy Smith. Next closest is Luke Chambers, who will pass the 200 mark in a couple of games' time.
Also, Daryl is a rare recent player who has carved his name in our history for positive reasons, with those 27 goals in 2014/15. I also loved his hat-trick at Rotherham last season and his superb volley (from a sublime long ball over his shoulder) against Brighton 18 months ago. I love him so much, I bid more than I can afford to buy a signed pic of him a year or so ago.
But I also loved Paul Mariner and we didn't immediately replace him when he left (we made do with Mich D'Avray) - some might say we never have). I also loved Frans Thijssen (he was simply irreplaceable). Brian Talbot (personal reasons). Kieron Dyer. Marcus Stewart. The list goes on.
Players come and players go. Sometimes they are replaced directly, sometimes they aren't. But also I'm convinced we will do fine without Daryl. Football teams do.
Firstly, what do we need to replace?
When Daryl first joined us, it was as a winger. He ran the channels, worked his socks off, chased lost causes; he got the ball, held it up, retained possession. He was a key player in chasing and retaining the ball in the final third. That was his job. But that is a job that Freddie Sears has taken most responsibility for on the left since Daryl moved inside.
In the past couple of seasons, Daryl's job has been leading the line, as our target man - and scoring goals into the bargain. In 2014/15 he scored for fun - 27 goals in a league season has rarely been matched in our history. Last season, less so - 10 goals in total, goals in just six matches.
So, replacing his goals are not an issue. Brett Pitman scored more last season, 11 goals in 47 appearances (of which 20 were as sub). Sears is off the boil, it's true - just six goals last season and none since last December. But this is arguably because he is playing wider. If played more centrally, could he have done better? Will he do better?
Plus, we have signed Leon Best - four goals in 16 games for Rotherham last season, seven in 24 for Blackburn the season before. In his last 40 games, that's 11 goals. On par with Pitman and Murphy over their last 40-plus games.
So, the Daryl challenge is not in replacing his goals or his workrate - Sears, Pitman and Best can match these areas of his game. The key challenge will be replacing his presence. At 6ft 1in, Best should be able to offer some height at least, but whether he can pick up from Daryl is a big question. Pitman was offered the opportunity to claim the role in the first match without Daryl (vs Preston) and did well. Can he do so for the long-term? Another big question.
As some have pointed out, Mick was clearly aware of this - he sanctioned a seven-figure bid for a player on the last day of the window. Presumably this was to replace what we would miss with Murphy. Or maybe not. I had considered what would cause the biggest uproar on deadline day - not signing a striker, or a signing a 5 ft 6in striker.
It is unclear what kind of striker we were bidding for, that is likely to emerge in time. But the likelihood is it wasn't a Xerox of Daryl Murphy. Daryl is an extremely unusual player - team player, with the subtlety and speed of a winger, strength of an old-fashioned number nine, decent (but not great - certainly not Mariner 'great') in the air, good finisher. Finding a direct replacement was always going to be a fool's errand.
[This might beg the question, 'Why sell, if he's so irreplaceable'. This is another much longer blog on its own - for me though, it's simple. Because, love him or not, Daryl is 33, in decline, past his best and not going to improve. And he wanted to move. I'm old-fashioned. if a player who has given 200 games' service, wants to leave at the age of 33, you let him go. End of story.]
Best will replace some of what he offered, so will Pitman, so will Sears (who many of us have wanted to see playing more centrally, in any case). And then there's the midfield.
The other reason why I'm calm about the departure of Daryl is because of the way we have improved in the ammunition supply department. Back in May, we had a few creative options from midfield - two teenagers (Andre and Teddy), Didzy and Bru. This seemed reasonable, especially if the teenagers came on from last season.
To this, we have added four players in their early 20s, from Premier League clubs, but with experience in the Championship/League One - Grant Ward, Conor Grant, Tom Lawrence and Jonny Williams (aged 21, 21, 22 and 22 - and with 260 league appearances between them).
Only one of these belongs to us, but all of them are on season-long loans and initial indications are that another two could be ours at the end of the season, if all goes well.
We know what we're getting with Joniesta (if fit, of course), Ward is already pulling up trees, Conor Grant has also looked excellent and Lawrence remains (as yet) a mystery to us - although HarryFromBath's review, featuring reports from fans of Blackburn, Cardiff, Rotherham, suggested he is similar player to Ward. It is hard to think of a more creatively potent midfield force at Portman Road in recent years.
What is clear is that, even before Daryl's sale, we were preparing to mix things up a little more. Perhaps even play the ball on the ground a little more - something that many were clamouring for last season.
Will we still be in the market for an additional striking option, from the ranks of the contractless or perhaps in the January window? Almost certainly. But in the meantime we must do what football teams do - cut our cloth accordingly, work with what we've got, play to our undoubted strengths.
We have many more creative options after the transfer window. Lets play to them.
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