|I've Seen This Happen in Other People's Sides, and Now it's Happening in Mine|
Written by Mullet on Wednesday, 14th Dec 2016 19:37
In my last blog Town were on the verge of change. Mick had opted to sell Daryl Murphy to the presumed champions-elect Newcastle with a number of strikers considered as signings. Trialist Leon Best, joined and despite the signs of potential promise it's fair to say along with the rest of side, the Blues strike-force seems rather broken.
If the spectre of decline was considered, it's now in need of full-on exorcism. The player who has offered several clubs a brief purple patch amid a season or two of anonymity followed by acrimony doesn't look like bucking the trend any time soon. If anything Best's career at large and at Town, mirrors the season thus far. He was nowhere to be seen while Lukas Jutkiewicz (one of the other strikers the Blues considered in August) faced Town as a starting striker for another set of Blues last night.
It was there at St Andrew's Mick McCarthy's Town reign began and now we come full circle. For years Mick has gone at variable rates from messiah to a one-trick pony for some.
The difference is that in the past miracles came easily and regularly. Even when mocked, dismissed, faced with fury and humiliation from the mob. If Mick is to redeem himself, it needs to start now and our current standing makes that climb look almost as steep as when he first got here.
He has always divided opinion wherever he has gone and the longer he has stayed. He has a distinct style, record and manner that will always span gaps in opinion, talent and resources.
It's undeniable he has managed that here, as he has several places and stages before. At one time he (and in no small part Murphy) sent fans over the moon. Now it feels like we are stranded on it. This stretch in the second tier has become a desolate expanse in a vacuum. The small bounces in results all the more exaggerated by the conditions they come in.
Even at our best and boldest McCarthyist Town rarely hammered teams. Nor did they need to. Mick's grinding approach to success more of file, but rank is the milk of Suffolk kindness. As for the first time in his four years the murmurs are becoming moans. Disbelief is becoming disgust. Criticism of McCarthy for being McCarthy is a fruitless task. But the whines become roaring discontent deserving of an audience when we all too easily lose that granite exterior and solidity dug deep from Barnsley dirt.
A recent 3-0 win over a typically erratic QPR was the top of a sandwich of victories between a defeat in the West Country to identically placed Bristol City. At Hillsborough Town looked superb. Crisp passing, space to play and parade with the ball and a sense of belief that felt a bit but not exactly like the zenith of the current regime. But it has looked to be the exception not the rule.
After another Town defeat came the managerial axe, but not for McCarthy. Such is the conundrum of success and survival in the league. In isolation these 90 minute deposits seem ordinary fare. But together they serve to muddy the waters.
It would be easy to look at Gary Rowett's dismissal right after another dogged contest the home side edged and think that not beating us enough right now is a sackable offence. But look a little longer term not just at Rowett but the oddly named Chinese board who just removed him and these cowboy antics make a little more sense of our own situation and yield more questions of Marcus Evans.
Goals might come at Portman Road as well as away from them, but so have mistakes. Capitulations and questions that seem unanswerable or dripping with rhetoric. Months later there is no main man to step into Murphy's boots. Soon after he left, Town were utterly outclassed by a Toon that would take more than just our talisman and leave St James' Park cruising to an easy victory. That result might well be understandable if the wider picture was so erratic and abstract.
That game proved to be Conor Grant's last. The Premier League starlet was relieved of his duties here as pressure began to creep. Murphy was missing not just in the Town team, but struggling with fitness he has rarely made the bench since his last minute move. It's easy to point to one moment, one game or one player but there seems in doing so we reveal a much starker and wider issue.
Teddy Bishop encapsulates what so many hoped for and so many got in terms of Ipswich this season. Tweeting frustratedly before our last game, the midfielder lamenting another injury, another restart yet to come in a season full of them. I'm starting to worry he might stagnate very rapidly. What looked like a player to take us up a level when he emerged has long slipped from view.
At best we're going to get half a season out of him from the last two. I know it might be fairly similar to Will Hughes at Derby who was touted as a huge prospect before injury seemed to temper his trajectory, but it's hard to say just how good Teddy might well become at this point in time. Talent must combine with time to prove anyone's worth.
What worries me less than the idea of him being a saleable asset is the strain its clearly putting on the first team. He's a sizeable part in the many pieces of the puzzle right now, that's just not going anywhere.
There's a weird limbo for him, and also Luke Hyam and Tommy Smith because of injury and the fact they are no longer youngsters in anyone's eyes. Nor are they really senior players that stamp their mark on the team - Adam Webster seemed to have leapfrogged Tommy even before his long lay-off.
With Christophe Berra going at the end of this season a seemingly open secret, you wonder with hindsight if Mick has built his squad a little too far apart or too far in advance?
We have had a lot of injuries, and a lot of those came on top of a now annually long list. But while Mick cannot heal the sick his options look too often, limited. Jonathan Douglas is not the player he was when we signed him, he's arguably better. But as he is now fully fit, he is far too old to play as much as he is. A different proposition but the same figure cut by Jim Magilton in his last days where his limbs beat less and more limply than his heart.
It's clear that Bishop was meant to make the role his in my mind and hasn't. With the understudy of Adam McDonnell unable to get fit and Grant gone, it is an area where there were once plenty of options and little choice. Much like the confounding use of Jonny Williams. Talented and fragile like David McGoldrick, when fans thought they were getting more of the same they clearly hoped for the best bits of the Welshman. Limited to Reuser-lite cameos, he has been as fleeting as he has mixed in his whole career at Town or otherwise.
There is talent, there is experience across the side but while tactically we have tight the football has left us inhibited. For all the promise across players like Tom Lawrence and Grant Ward they have been a little too young and inconsistent to carry this squad.
For all the talks of youth products, those coming up behind have found time on the bench too often kicking their heels and not nipping at the senior pros ahead of them. It's not unique to us that we build up these boys in our minds, and give them grace and grief as they become more familiar to us and with the job in hand. But it's hard to see clear moments when a 17-year-old Dozzell might take a game by the scruff of the neck, when the season is in full swing and so are the boots of the bigger, older uglier boys set to mark him in any way they can.
If fans feel that progress and promotion are now a mirage in this grand exodus from top-flight ambition, then programme notes aside only God knows what owner Marcus Evans sees and thinks. He is not the Great Oz like figure some would pretend, but he is not the face or guts of Ipswich Town. For all the gratitude both he and Mick deserve when they arrived, it seems scrutiny will only see one of them leave sooner rather than later.
Whoever decided we didn't need to spend to replace Murphy is irrelevant. Both must see in January it is imperative to spend wisely. To reinvigorate not just the fans, but the players too. To give a clear sign of intent that if the season is now gone, the long-term progress of this club has not under the current regime.
This all too often feels like Mick's last season. No result or performance yet like his last game. "Back him or sack him" is a neat little slogan, but there must be a product behind it. McCarthy will know how high he needs to finish to keep his job. It will never be high enough for some without the clout to sign, when they might instead sing for his P45.
However, January now looks to be a window into ITFC's very soul. For if Marcus is searching for a new manager, who will have us if they can see they will get no more money than Mick? Who will fancy us on their CV when elsewhere Sicilian savagery brings blood and gold and glory instead of long held derision?
As others, we once rode roughshod on pass and replace us in the top half, or top six, for however long it might be. There is a concern that Marcus was the right man for Ipswich when he brought us, but without a relapse to what he was one questions if it makes him the wrong man now? With the experiences of both any sum in Mick's hands might buy an untold return - this isn't so much a desire to go back to the 'nouveau riche-Ipswich Way' established under MEG with the cracks widening under market forces.
Something has to give and at first call that must be Evans. If it is a case of just spending now, then does it provide more than just the lipstick effect at Town? That in times now so lean, Marcus might attract another or simply appear with Rob Chandler's mic in hand like Mick's very own Dolly Parton.
Fear of relegation is healthy, preventing it still easy. In a season where a spot at the top and bottom seems taken care of, it would take an unnatural disaster to see Town drop even when the light at the end of Wembley's tunnel is too dim and distant for the Bluest of eyes.
All in all it seems unthinkable Mick will leave us where he found us, or even worse. That his reign will be reduced from titanic struggle, to a pleasurable cruise around the coasts of success.
Before it's run aground forever soiled by the silt of time's tide catching us all out. The glory and heroics of a decent set of campaigns will always be his legacy. But if he goes before the summer, or even remains after it, there is no doubt this has been his darkest days. That they cannot be allowed to darken further.
Evans's faults are not disloyalty or distance, but inertia. He has let much worse happen to us, to his club and should he do again to and with Mick, he might well be next. Nothing underlines that sentence more than a club allowed to go back to going nowhere without endeavour.
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