|A Death of Our Club By a Thousand Cuts|
Written by radiogaga on Wednesday, 1st Feb 2017 21:10
Around this time a year ago, I posted a blog on TWTD with concerns that we would fall further behind our rivals as every transfer window came and went, unless noticeable changes were made.
At the time, we were seventh and a handful of points off the play-off places. In spite of that, I and many others voiced concerns that our position papered over a lot of cracks.
Fast forward three months. We finished seventh, which is a very respectable finish. Realistically though, we fell out of play-off contention from January onwards after a run of horrific performances and poor results. We effectively finished seventh by default off the back of the results that had us in fifth on New Year's Day 2016. The year before, we started New Year's Day in the top two.
On neither occasion was Mick McCarthy substantially backed in the respective Januarys. Instead, players sufficient enough to be mere squad players at other Championship clubs came in on loan and left, our seasons petered out on both occasions.
Call me naive but, given what he'd done for us by January last year, McCarthy should have had the trust of the owner to go out and spend what he needed to add one or two players to the squad, and show serious promotion challenging intent. Unfortunately, Marcus Evans's failure to truly back his manager last January was a repeat of his failings the previous season.
Too much is made of McCarthy and the sixth place finish in 2014/15. Finishing sixth was a season to be proud of. In so many ways it was unprecedented success, as we did it with a wafer thin squad.
We were a galvanised underdog that made the play-offs against the odds. People too often forget that we effectively limped into those play-offs, having fallen from top two at New Year's Day to needing results to go our way on the final day. Whilst sixth was an excellent improvement, we should not ignore the serious opportunities that were missed by Evans to truly back McCarthy and give us the best possible chance of winning promotion in that January transfer window, to take us further or at the very least strengthen us for an improved crack the following season.
Ironically, it is Evans's regime that seems to have generated this underdog mentality that made our sixth place finish feel so monumental, existing only as the result of years of mediocrity under his ownership. Evans bought a club that was in good shape in every way except finances in 2007. I remember a genuine feelgood factor around the club as Jim Magilton had us playing attractive attacking, winning football at Portman Road with a young group of players that were ours and proud to wear the shirt. Fans were responding and returning through the turnstiles. It merely shows the scale of which our expectations have been lowered.
This season has been disastrous from start to finish. A poor disjointed pre-season followed our limp conclusion to last season which yielded a measly two wins from our last 10 games. Once again, a lack or reluctance to invest in new players cost the club dearly as only Grant Ward and Adam Webster arrived in exchange for six-figure sums.
Evans hinted in his programme notes for our last home game of last season that the money was available for McCarthy to buy the right player at the right place. It clearly remains to be seen what the maximum right place is defined as being, but this appears on the eye as being another cheap PR gesture to sway undecided season ticket holders with an early bird renewal deadline looming. We've had too many of them that it simply feels like the club are crying wolf, and the conclusion of the August transfer window and yesterday's are arguably the straws that may have broken the camel's back with many wavering over season ticket renewals.
Evans and McCarthy allowed Daryl Murphy to leave late in the previous transfer window. Our poor recruitment efforts in the summer compounded our disillusionment further by the sale of a popular fans' favourite for a sum of money that few other championship clubs (if any) would allow their top goalscorer to leave for.
Even Rotherham valued their top goalscorer Danny Ward at £5 million, considerably higher than we sold Murphy. Admittedly Murphy was 33 and wanted the chance to play for Newcastle, that cannot be held against him. However, it was weak of the club to sell a player that they had happily committed to keeping on a new contract without getting a replacement signed first.
Three million pounds is not a great amount money in the modern game and certainly not enough to replace a goalscorer, it was a backwards move for us beyond comprehension. Leon Best was brought in to plug the gap - hindsight is a wonderful thing, but even the most staunch Town fans expected little of Best. Much like the unforgettable fire sale of Jordan Rhodes, we shot ourselves in the foot big time by undervaluing the difference good goalscorers can make both in the immediate and long-term future.
So we were told, the money from Murphy's sale would be used in January. Technically it has been invested during this window in loan fees, paying player wages for our new free agents, but it's a paltry and desperate excuse. Too often under Evans, the club has been left on bare bones as we sell/lose our best assets without making adequate replacements.
With the exception of Aaron Cresswell (which paved the way for Tyrone Mings' emergence), the likes of Grant Leadbitter, Gareth McAuley, Damien Delaney, Connor Wickham, Jon Walters, Mings, Jon Stead and Murphy all left the club without being suitably replaced at the time. Whilst our recent managers have had many failings, they have not been aided a great deal by the lack of resources they were given in rebuilding teams around losing key players.
And alas the latest transfer window farce which completely contradicts the mysterious Five-Point Plan recently outlined by Evans. For the record, I like the Five-Point Plan. It promotes everything I want to see the club doing - building itself around a successful academy, shrewd player recruitment and a stable management set-up that delivers attractive football.
The problem is that saying it is much easier than putting it into practice as the club frequently demonstrate. Fast forward a few weeks, not a single youngster starts against Derby or Huddersfield. Our promising young academy striker Ben Morris barely makes the bench in spite of our struggles for goals and pledges that youth will get their chance. How a £10,000 signing from non-league strolls into the club and is getting on the pitch within weeks of signing, whilst a young academy striker desperate for a chance to prove himself sits in the reserves, really is incredible.
More perplexing is the loan signing of a young striker that can't even get in another Championship side. No disrespect to Dominic Samuel, but where is the commitment to our academy that the club has the audacity to ask fans to donate to when purchasing their season tickets in exchange for an unrealistic and unforthcoming reward of a free Premier League season ticket?
Emyr Huws is a player I rated a couple of years ago, but the most we will gain from having him is at best two or three good months before he returns to Cardiff. You can be sure that if he does well here, he won't be coming back here next season. Where in the Five-Point Plan is signing other Championship teams' players on loan to develop them, when we should be committed to developing our own? The arrivals of three other experienced short-term signings hardly matches up to the Five- Point Plan description.
Expecting any manager to build a successful team under such constraints is almost like asking a chef to cook with half of his ingredients. McCarthy is the victim of his own success, after three progressive years having been built on a foundation of good free transfers and loans.
Sadly the standard of achievable free transfers are no longer of the same standard that McCarthy was able to bring in a few years ago. We appear to continue to perservere with a transfer strategy that worked very well once but will always fail more often than it succeeds. For every Daryl Murphy, you have to go through five or six Balint Bajners, and that is the market that Town appear to primarily operate these days.
This is a team that now needs desperate rebuilding - Luke Chambers and Christophe Berra are no longer the dominating centre-halves we had two years ago, nor are Cole Skuse and Kevin Bru ideal for this level. Freddie Sears is a completely different player to the one that was brimming with confidence and goals when we bought him, whilst David McGoldrick and Teddy Bishop (regarded by many as our most creative players) are simply not reliable.
Our team is anything but settled or building for the future, with gaping holes for next season all over. The persistence with 35-year-old Jonathan Douglas is further evidence of both our manager's short-termism and the lack of options our wafer thin and recruitment malnourished squad possesses.
The football has been extremely poor and McCarthy does not help himself by stubbornly persisting with starting/refusing to criticise underperforming players, nor does he help his cause by talking about youth getting their chance only to field sides with no youngsters in the squad.
There is no long-term plan or identity in this current team and there appears to be absolutely no prospect of it any time soon. Performances have dropped to a whole new low this season (last night, Forest on Sky and Fulham on Boxing Day are as bad as we've looked for many years), although both FA Cup ties against Lincoln were the ultimate humiliation.
Let's put lack of investment to one side, we played like an out of date team against a Conference team who looked far more creative and industrious than us. That has nothing to do with investment, that is all to do with how your players are managed to play football.
The club responds with no suggestion that the defeat is a low point in the club's history, only the empty gesture of offering free coach travel to the last game of the season if you went to Sincil Bank. Fans are more than customers - all of us who went to Lincoln would have said no to a refund or free coach travel in exchange for a January of genuine long-term improvements to the squad, but we have once again been let down.
It remains to be seen where this barren period is going to take us next. But for the second year running, my thoughts remain the same. Unless major change is made, the club is dying a very slow death.
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