|Has Mick Found a Formula?|
Written by Pickersblue22 on Tuesday, 14th Feb 2017 09:49
On November 22nd, Exeter City were bottom of League Two, bereft of confidence, ideas, and without a home win since April, all the signs were pointing to a season of struggle. A 1-0 win at Leyton Orient that night was the start of an marvellous 12-match unbeaten run, containing 10 wins. That run took them from below the dreaded dotted line to the fringes of the automatic promotion places, and was only ended by defeat in the Devon derby at Plymouth on Saturday.
What does this have to do with our Ipswich, I hear you ask. Exeter found a formula. They found a way. They clicked. That is what might, just might, have happened with Town. The performance against Reading, followed by then the terrific result at Aston Villa, have changed the mood around the club. I appreciate these are small signs, baby steps. But the dreams can now become bigger. We can now actually look forward with optimism rather than the doom and gloom that has rightly enveloped the club for the last couple of months. I am well aware that we could easily take another step backwards at Brighton, but our chances of recovering from a setback are far brighter than they have been.
Because of the signings we have made, our squad now has a lot more depth. Looking at the bigger picture, it is worth thinking about who will be here next season. We have to accept that Tom Lawrence won't be, as he is destined for bigger and better things. The futures of both Luke Chambers and Christophe Berra are very much up in the air. The fact that Chambers has not already been offered a new contract suggests that he will now not be, although it is a strange situation as he was outstanding at Villa, and is an outstanding leader. Berra has given strong indications that he wants a return to his family in Scotland, and as with Chambers, it is surely a case of reassessing things in the summer.
It is the same thing with Mick McCarthy's own future, as he continues to tell us. All of this depends on how the rest of the season goes. Of the loanees and short-termers that we have signed, Emyr Huws and Toumani Diagouraga look like really good bits of business.
It is easy to say that because they are signings from fellow Championship clubs, they are not good signings. However it is important to look at the bigger picture. Huws has always been a classy footballer, almost wherever he has been. We have seen already just what a cultured player he is. You don't get picked for Wales without being a really good player, and Huws is. As Neil Warnock has confirmed, he has been unlucky not to be involved at Cardiff.
Diagouraga may have been out of favour at Leeds, but was superb in Brentford's midfield in 2014/15 alongside Jonathan Douglas. Indeed his presence was a big reason why Douglas was able to get in the box and score eight goals that season.
However, a solely defensive midfielder he is not. In the short time he has been with us, his qualities have become clear. Whenever he gets the ball he looks forward. He was key at Villa as he always seemed to be thinking two or three steps ahead. I'm not sure it's a coincidence that without Cole Skuse, the balance in our midfield looks far better. Huws and Diagouraga absolutely must be at the top of our wanted list in the summer and will surely be within our price range.
Steven Taylor is an experienced player and, especially if Chambers and Berra leave in the summer, would surely be a worthwhile signing. He has played well over 200 games in the Premier League, and has not become a bad player since then. His attitude and professionalism are an example to young players. It is a great shame that he is injured for the next month.
Dominic Samuel will have to pull up plenty of trees when he comes back from injury, as we have quite a few striking options, and will look to add to them in the summer. Jordan Spence has done very well so far and is a good option to have but Josh Emmanuel is our first choice right-back and Spence may struggle to displace him.
Jonny Williams has had such a bad run of injuries that his value will have gone down a long way. So much so that we may be able to compete for his signature should we wish to. He is a fans' favourite, and without Lawrence, we will need to sign creativity.
Here is a list of 19 players who are likely to all be in the squad come pre-season in July:
We have to wait and see whether Chambers and Berra will be on that list as well, while it is difficult to see Douglas or Giles Coke at the club beyond this season. We may well add Diagouraga, Huws, Williams and Taylor, as well as possibly Spence.
There are the foundations for a promising squad, without a doubt. It just depends on what happens between now and May, in terms of whether Chambers and Berra want to stay, or if Huws and Diagouraga are keen to sign. Of course, we will need more, and some of those 19 may well move on, but the ingredients are there.
There have been too many occasions this season when we have wondered if our latest win was a turning point. And each time we have been disappointed, as shown by the results following our last five wins.
2-1 at Sheff Wed - defensive horror show in 2-0 defeat at home to Forest.
We now go to Brighton after the latest win at Villa and it would not be a surprise if we were beaten. They have won their last six at home and are flying high. However, even if we do lose, I would have far more confidence in our ability to bounce back than earlier in the season. Already we seem to have far more about us.
The team that Mick is putting out there has to play with the ball on the floor, as we don't have the players to play it long. In reality, we should have played that way all season, but we haven't had good enough footballers in the middle of the park until now.
The balance there is chalk and cheese with what it was before the new players came in. The Villa game just encapsulated everything that we weren't before, and are now. Huws is for me the first genuine box-to-box midfielder we have had under Mick. For the goal, he won a header in our penalty area, then busted a gut to get on the end of McGoldrick's cross and win us the game. We just haven't had that kind of player for so many years.
We had three strikers on the bench, and not one of them came on. Spence and Kenlock seamlessly slotted into the back five, and Knudsen was superb moving across to the centre. This again highlights the options Mick now has at his disposal, compared to just a couple of weeks ago. To have three strikers left sat on the bench is very encouraging, although due to our injuries, we were fortunate that none of them were required. The increased competition for places will surely bring better performances.
Our next three games are very difficult on paper, but after the win at Villa, they suddenly don't seem quite so daunting. Brighton will be tough, but we have shown we are capable of going there and getting a result. Leeds look to be faltering slightly and it could be a good time to face them. Norwich are looking in ominous nick. However, derby games are different occasions and it could be a case of two confident teams meeting each other. A potential humdinger.
We still need to get back to back wins at some point. It is a monkey on our back that needs to be shaken off as soon as possible. All we have had is one terrific win, and an encouraging performance against Reading. There is no cause to put up the bunting whatsoever. But it is hard not to feel like there is a resurgence about Town.
The pressure will hopefully come off Lawrence so that he can go and express himself, in the knowledge that the goalscoring burden is being shared. McGoldrick certainly looks to be getting back to his best, which is huge for him and for the team. Tommy Smith is nearing a return, which is massive with Taylor out injured.
Mick McCarthy has said frequently that he will consider his options at the end of the season. If we continue to be as inconsistent as we have been, then the chances are that he will go, but if we carry on improving, then he will surely stay. My gut feeling is that he has taken us as far as he can, and that a fresh start in the summer would be the best option, but the foundations would certainly be there for someone else to take over.
We have to finally replace Daryl Murphy - that must be a top priority, as we have unquestionably missed him this season. We will also need to find a new Tom Lawrence, and for that I go back to where I started - Exeter. They have a young boy called Olly Watkins, an absolute diamond of a player, who is destined for the top. I would love to think that Ipswich would be the perfect next stage in his development.
We may be priced out of it, but a bit of hope never killed anyone. The play-offs may also be out of reach, but let's get our chins up and enjoy whatever the rest of the season has in store. Then we can dream big.
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