|Where Have Our Standards Gone?|
Written by Pickersblue22 on Wednesday, 21st Mar 2018 17:51
If you were one of the 1,066 Ipswich Town fans at Ashton Gate on Saturday, ask yourself and be honest, how much does the result really bother you?
I was there and was thoroughly depressed by the performance, but in the grand scheme of things, losing the game 1-0 seems to scarcely matter. For those of you scowling at your screens, please bear with me. The whole issue of the 'bigger picture' is what I want to get to the bottom of.
So as to offer some context and perspective to this blog, I may as well set my stall out as a 'Mick Outer'. Since the start of 2016 I have felt that he hasn't used the resources at his disposal as effectively as he could.
After expertly guiding us from the bottom of the table and into the play-offs in the space of two and a half years, in my opinion McCarthy ground our progress to a halt by refusing to properly react to other teams finding a way to better counteract us. This has developed to a point where the majority of fans have lost all belief in his ability to produce a team capable of challenging near the top end of the table.
Tactically Mick now resembles someone who has gone out, left his keys inside his house and then bangs on his front door when he gets home, expecting someone to open it even though he knows there is no-one inside. In other words, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
I have a handwritten fixture list stuck on the cupboard in my bedroom, to which I add the result after each game, as well as the names of the Town goalscorers. That particular column says a huge amount about how our season has panned out. It can be split almost exactly in half. In our first 20 games of the season we scored more than one goal on 11 occasions. Eight on those 11 were games that we won, and only once did we score twice or more and lose in this period, away at Leeds.
In the following 18 games, we have scored more than once just three times (at home to Reading, away to Sunderland and Sheff Wed). Of course there are various factors to attribute this change to. At the very start of the season, practically every shot we took ended up in the back of the net, something that couldn't last forever. Multiple defensive injuries meant that our now eternally defensive mindset would likely have been punished, so we had no real choice but to go for it.
The crux of the issue is that the manager has not done enough to try and solve the problem. He has changed the set up of the defence but this has not had a real effect on how efficient we are going forward.
I admit that the injuries we have in midfield play a part in this, but we hardly ever move the ball from defence to midfield to attack anyway. The ball is always passed across the backline, and then either back to the goalkeeper or hit long into the channels. Our midfield is scared to offer for the ball - I could write an entire blog about why I think Cole Skuse shouldn't be anywhere near our team, but I'm not going to.
The main thing is why would you leave Martyn Waghorn in the same position when he hasn't scored for several games? Why would you put Bersant Celina on the bench and give him so little time to make an impact? Why would you take off Mustapha Carayol at Preston when has just cut them to shreds and park the bus?
Waghorn's form has been a microcosm of our season. Nine goals in that opening 20-game period was followed by a drought. This is something that happens to all forward players, but a positional change was certainly a factor in this. A forward line of Waghorn on the right, David McGoldrick in the centre, Bersant Celina on the left, all behind Joe Garner undoubtedly looked a real threat.
However, since around the time McGoldrick was injured, Waghorn has played almost exclusively in the 'number 10' position. He has offered plenty, including his wicked set-piece delivery and tigerish enthusiasm, but surely more should have been done to get the best out of the man who was, at the time, comfortably our top scorer.
It is a situation that smacks of what has been done to Freddie Sears. It is nothing short of a disgrace that a player who looked so lethal, so sharp when he came to the club, has been so wantonly taken advantage of.
Whenever the manager talks about him, the word 'selfless' is never far away. He was shunted onto the left wing by McCarthy, who was safe in the knowledge that Sears wouldn't dare to complain, to the point where all the confidence and belief has been sucked out of him. And now not only has McCarthy criticised his goal return, he has compared it to the goal returns of other players, such as Celina and Garner who have not only played many more games than Sears this season, but they have also been playing in their natural positions.
Anyway, back to this season. The falling standards that I refer to in the title of this piece can be found in a number of aspects of the club, but especially in the performances on the pitch. Of all the maddening attributes of Mick McCarthy, the one that winds me up the most is his constant overly-positive assessment of our performances. I cannot think of the last time when he and the fans were on the same page regarding how we have played.
Saturday at Bristol City was a prime example. We were so chronically defensive against a team with two wins in 16, with a back five and two holding midfielders. I can accept that selection, but once we went behind it genuinely blew my mind that McCarthy didn't immediately turn around and put Celina on the pitch. Or Aaron Drinan. Or Ben Morris. He waited 18 minutes to do anything resembling attacking intent. We hadn't looked like scoring a goal and yet he just let us carry on as we were. Again he was stubbornly doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
And then for him to come out and say that it was a 'really confident display' is simply ridiculous. The closest we came to scoring was a Waghorn corner that nearly snuck in. We created almost no chances whatsoever. Does he genuinely think we are stupid or is he just completely delusional? For me it was another addition to an ever-growing list of times where the fans have been taken for total idiots - the major example being the pathetic apology for McCarthy blatantly swearing at the fans at Norwich.
We literally have nothing to lose this season and yet we are fielding teams that are so painfully defensive. The Sheffield United game was classic - nine defensive players on the pitch against a decent, albeit hardly potent team. The manager practically shouted Brenner Woolley down on Radio Suffolk when he dared to ask whether he was tempted to be a bit more attacking.
It's not as if we are clinging onto our Championship status. We know we will be in this league next season so why not show some ambition. When Marcus Evans sees these types of games, how can he not get onto Mick and tell him to sort it out?
I'm trying not to let myself believe this, but I am starting to think that McCarthy just wants to annoy the fans as much as possible before he leaves in the summer. As long as he actually does leave. I said at the end of last season that I would put up with him for one more season, and then he has to go. And I feel this more strongly than ever now.
I am well aware that the owner has plenty to answer for, but he has no influence on the manager's tactics. The metaphorical gun of negativity should really be pointed mostly at Evans, but considering the number of times McCarthy has grabbed it and pointed it at himself, I thought I would spare him the trouble and point it at him myself.
There is another frustrating development that the players seem to think that the fans' expectations are too high. For Luke Chambers to essentially say that 'we can't play like Barcelona' is ludicrous in the extreme. We are not expecting that. But it is not unreasonable to expect some attacking intent and slightly more attractive football. Especially at this stage of the season with little to play for.
To touch on some of the other standards that have dropped, I would love to know what has happened to the Portman Road pitch. Obviously the recent weather hasn't helped, but it is now an annual occurrence that the pitch seems to deteriorate as the season goes on. It used to be one of the best in the country. The state of the stadium is just scruffy. It badly needs a lick of paint, a bit of tender loving care. Again, this is not an unreasonable expectation, and shouldn't financially be too much to ask for.
I go back to what I said at the start. Does any of what I have said really matter? If the manager leaves in May, then the answer to that is no, not really. His tactics are probably the least of our worries in many fans' eyes. But I do honestly believe that we are not getting near the top six with him in charge, even with a fully fit squad.
His strengths are defensive organisation and bringing out the best in players. In short, I don't think he is a good manager of good players. He will create a solid foundation and then hope that his attackers can make something happen high up the pitch. That is not exactly innovative or exciting coaching.
We need a manager that will do everything he can to build a team around the best players. The playing squad is one of the best things about the club right now. With the majority of the group fully fit, I honestly think we are strong. But that means nothing if the best players are not actually used properly.
So Marcus Evans, the ball is in your court. Actually it might be in McCarthy's. To be honest I really have no idea. I don't think anyone has any idea. At least there are only eight games to go.
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