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Pragmatism Comes Before a Fall
Written by obliquewordsmith on Wednesday, 11th Apr 2018 10:08

So, he’s gone and we can all find out what it is we’ve been wishing for.

I came late to the McCarthy out party, for a long, long while I was agnostic, accepting that the football was grim, but looking at injuries, accepting McCarthy’s assertion that it was the results that mattered and, being an optimist, always looking upwards at what a little run of consistency could bring.

Then came Sheffield. I went up and saw us beat Wednesday, a good hard-working away performance, efficient, McCarthyite. Two home games, two wins, on the shoulders of the play-offs, it’s all worth it.

Or not. The failure to go for the win against United – Sears dropped after a bright display against Wednesday in favour of playing Celina out of position, bring Ward on after an hour, bring a striker on before the 81st minute - was the death knell for my support for him, and then the team sheet against Hull confirmed it. I think that team sheet was the cause of the atmosphere against Hull, everyone could see in advance how it would go.

Since he stropped off – or didn’t strop off, but gave an previously orchestrated strop with one last barb at the fans – I’ve been busy ‘discussing’ on social media McCarthy’s merits as a messiah and us fans’ delusions of grandeur, sense of entitlement and teenage lack of gratitude. There just aren’t enough characters available on Twitter, and I get frustrated having to reword things 800 times and lose all nuance, so I’ve been musing at length on McCarthy here.

The team, the squad, the set up that McCarthy leaves is way better than that he inherited. Keane’s volatile approach of alienating everyone then giving them frees to go and play in the Premier League, and then Jewell’s haphazard tactic of signing anyone over the age of 30 and hoping a random selection in a random formation would work meant he took over a chaotic mess.

He has changed that, Waghorn, Garner, Skuse, Knudsen, Webster, Spence, Ward, Huws, the loans (how I’d love to be able to sign Carter-Vickers). The youth, Downes, Folami, Cotter, Nydam, Emmanuel, Kenlock and others just beneath the first team. Then Hyam, Bishop, Chambers. It’s a decent, balanced side (as long as you don’t want to play wingers) with a good spread of ages and more than a dash of flair and potential. So much better than Ingimarsson, Ellington, Bullard and Edwards at right-back. If the manager was judged on squad building, he’d have got a new contract. But.

Favourites. I don’t think he has unfathomable favourites, a charge previously levelled against Magilton. Chambers is his captain, of course he’s in the team, Skuse is underrated and was unfairly tarnished by being paired with the too old Douglas.

My charge would be that he has made continual unnecessary changes, something Carlos Edwards alluded to when interviewed recently. Kenlock has a good game, dropped next week. Sears goes 40 games without scoring, scores twice, missing next week. Spence/Iorfa swapped week by week, Celina in, Celina out, Gleeson/Bru/Douglas not seen for months then suddenly in the starting line up for one game, Hyam plays well then benched again. Surely if you play well, aren’t injured, then that position is yours to lose? You’re only as good as your last game and all that nonsense.

Which leads to youth. McCarthy’s safety-first approach meant that while he talked up youngsters, promoted them to the squad, gave them a game here and there, he didn’t trust them. Kenlock has made mistakes – so have all the defence – but he never holds a place down for a long run. We haven’t scored in 800 years, but no sign of Morris, Drinan, still the sad figure of Sears as a target man covering every blade of grass forlornly as he seeks the chance to create and score, one day.

Downes comes in, looks a good player, sits on the bench, vanishes to Luton, Marriott (of course), Emmanuel – who surely should have been pushing Spence like Kenlock/Knudsen, Michael Crowe – who rather than play McCarthy resurrected the ghost of Gerken for one night only. I don’t think players should be played just because they’re young, don’t think a team of teenagers could suddenly ignite Portman Road into a fortress, but a run of games, trusting them rather than an odd game here or there, and assimilating them into first team regulars should be the way. Caution, caution, caution, everywhere caution.

Then the football. Oh, the football. My suspicion is that he boxed himself in mentally, and I look at the play-off season as when it started. We had the organisation and attrition to escape Jewell’s catastrophic mess, then the rebuild.

Up until the Southampton replay we’d played excellently; we pressed, harried, camped inside the opposition’s socks and counter attacked with pace. We could have beaten, should have beaten, Southampton away, then, for me, the rot set in. We started to sit back, our intensity dropped, we started to grind results out – Murphy stopped scoring every week, McGoldrick had his first long lay-off – and we scraped into the play offs. Since then it’s been attritional, not just the last two seasons, but the seventh placed finish too.

I believe that McCarthy’s pragmatism, which kept us up, which scraped us into the play-offs, then came to dominate his tactical thinking, so that he couldn’t see beyond the expedience of grinding out a result. Grinding them out saved the club from relegation, it heaved us over the line, it became the thing.

In one way I agree with McCarthy about results. If you win you feel good, Leicester fans weren’t complaining when the won the title because they had poor possession stats, I’m sure Liverpool fans don’t care Guardiola’s side saw more of the ball.

I suspect that had McCarthy fashioned a side up there with Wolves and Cardiff much of the criticism would be muted, but not losing isn’t a worthwhile aim in itself, any more than possession is. McClaren’s Derby had wonderful levels of pretty, pointless, possession, and failed. Direct football can be incisive, thrilling and successful. Burley employed it, Salah’s first goal last week was pretty direct, it does need to be more than a hopeful punt to an isolated Sears though.

The matches against Newcastle last season – a beautiful, beautiful surprise – and recently Millwall and Barnsley last night showed what could have been. Imagine if we’d done that against Sheffield United and Hull, gone for it, tried to win, attacked. Even after all the rubbish before, how different the season could look, how McCarthy could even then have rehabilitated himself.

That’s what I find saddest, that McCarthy has done some excellent work, and but for a rigid and increasingly inflexible approach could have tipped himself, and the club, across that fine line of success, but he was permanently hobbled by a stultifying fear of failure.

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rickw added 10:54 - Apr 11
Excellent blog - I think I agree with all of that!! :-)

runaround added 11:42 - Apr 11
Totally agree with everything you said there. It’s a shame that much of the good Mick has done for the club gets forgotten because of the mind numbing stuff but in many ways he has caused much of this himself. I truly believe that most fans understand where we are as a club and do not demand promotion or success or to win every game. However we do ask for our team to set out to try & win & entertain. Entertaining attacking football can be direct or passing based but it’s not about strangling the life out of every game Home or Away hoping to grab a goal, not being the one to blink first boring pragmatic football.
Time will tell if Mick’s successor does well or not but we finally have hope that, win or lose, we might just get attacking entertaining football back at Portman Road again

naa added 12:21 - Apr 11
Agree completely with this.

The sacking of Mick must be bemusing many people outside of the club. Given our resources he has always got results in line - or above - the expectations that I suspect Evans has put on him. But he is actually going because of supporter power - he couldn't ignore the dropping attendances any longer.

But his assertion that results are all that matters is when he lost me (and I suspect many others). The result isn't all that matters when you have to sit and watch the game - which is the whole point of football after all. If results were all that mattered people would just sit at home and watch Sky Sports News.

The hopeful football failed as a tactic when Murphy left, but Mick couldn't ever see another way of playing. I do truly believe we tried to pass it more in the last two seasons as a result, but that type of football requires a commitment to attacking that Mick was never going to allow us to have.

Luckily, Mick has a good eye for a player and has done very well in the transfer market so we are left with a half decent squad (especially when everyone is fit). Here's hoping Evans makes the right appointment here.

BlueandTruesince82 added 12:28 - Apr 11
Agree with almost all of that.

Think Mick has to be commended for saving the Club and the first 3 seasons we all hoped, well most of us. 7th, 6th and 7th is decent no matter how it comes.

But don't lose became the mantra. Any away point is a good point, Well yes but week after week of whatever you do don't lose home and away is what really got to us. If we played tight away and went for it at home Mick would still be in a job but it didn't matter where we were. Don't lose first and win 2nd.

Yes players need to do the dirty bit but some players need to be unleashed and plenty can do both if you just trust them. It's ironic that for the first few seasons Gerks and Bart were interchangeable with Mick saying they've come in, taken their chance now it's for them to lose, why didn't that apply to the outfied?

We sore at the start of this season what young hungry players can bring. When forced to play youth and give them a run how were we rewarded? 4 wins from 4 so why didn't thoseplayers keep their places.

Too young, dont have the legs yet etc. 18 and don't have the legs to play twice a week.... c'mon Mick.

I am grateful for so much Mick has done and in equal measure frustrated for it too.

We need the change...... 6 years is long enough unless you're Fergie

carsey added 13:56 - Apr 11
This is the sort of thing I wish the press would run because it really shows how the fans feel and why. Great read.

Lightningboy added 14:33 - Apr 11
Totally agree with this blog.

Imho he was never the right appointment for a club who’s supporters have been brought up on attractive a short term fix he was what was needed and he initially did sort out the Keane/Jewell mess..the problem is Mick’s pushing 60,stubborn and always right in his own little world,he was never going to change to suit what “we” wanted & will never change..what you see is what you get with McCarthy and I don’t blame him for that..I for one though am relieved he’s gone because it’s been fairly miserable supporting our club for much of the last 6 seasons (9 counting Keane/Jewell)...the only person to blame is our owner and his string of poor managerial decisions.

We’re due some happiness at our club..hopefully the next few weeks will be the start of better times 🤞🏻🤞🏻

BlueandTruesince82 added 16:14 - Apr 11
I think that's harsh on Evans LB.


If then someone had said do you want a footballing legend (like or loathe him he is) who has won every domestic title going, played for the biggest club in the country, has a contact book as long as your arm and took his last club from bottom of the championship to promotion in 6 months, a young hungry ambitious manager with a reputation of determination and having a winning mentality would you have said no?

Not many did, most Town fans were thrilled witj the Keane appointment at the time.

Equally post Keane if you were presented with a still fairly young but more experienced manager with a reputation for getting similar sized clubs up and who had established one of those in the PL would you have said no? Yes Derby could have been a warning but he inherited that squad and had no support to turn it round.

As for Mick you say yourself it was rigjt at the time and again a man with promotions on his CV known for working on a shoestring and great at spotting talent. We can all see Mick has been here to long. agreed. But all you can level at Evans as far as managerial appointments go is bad luck.

A touch to much patience perhaps BUT the one thing you get at Town is time and patience from an owner who won't interfere, which actually should make us an attractive proposition for many applicants.

Not saying Evans doesn't have faults but as far as appointments go I understand every one even those I never agreed with (Keane) and whilst hindsight is great based on the facts at hand at the time of each you can't hold his feet against the fire too much

obliquewordsmith added 18:16 - Apr 11
BlueandTruesince82 - I agree, although I was sceptical about the Jewell appointment. I think that's the thing with most appointments, however much due diligence is done, they're something of a lucky dip. I think Keane wasn't far away, possibly an ego too far, he was sorting the defence, but wouldn't accept enough assistance/challenge behind the scenes and alienated so many senior players.
On paper Moyes was a decent bet for ManU, there was no reason for Monk to fail at Middlesbrough... There are undoubtedly random, baffling, appointments - some that are just asking too much - such as Palace's misguided experiment - or not learning from other's experience (anyone who ever employs Pardew or Redknapp), but generally there's an element of luck to a rational thought process.
If we appoint McLaren, which I wouldn't be happy with but would match Evans' pattern to date, he might make things click and buck his story since his time in Holland. Equally, Cowley might carry on his success story, as might Steijn, or Kuqi could be the romantic hero, but dividing lines between success and failure are so narrow it's only with hindsight that an appointment can properly be judged - too late too often.
Just think, if Keane's side hadn't conceded so many late goals... Or JET's multitude of woodwork bound shots had been six inches lower... Or McCarthy's hadn't lost McGoldrick after Southampton... Or this season Dozzell and Huws had been fit all season and Iorfa had been the player reputation made him.
Lots of people weren't happy with Burley's appointment - Colchester and Ayr, not exactly setting the world alight - and being an optimist, I'll believe he'll be the one to restore good times (even if it is the awful Pardew) until such time as the evidence before me is dire and a Saturday afternoon only offers gloom. The future's bright, the future's Blue.


BlueandTruesince82 added 18:35 - Apr 11
Thanks OB

It's true that sometimes managers just click at a club.

When you think Fergie was one FA cup lose away from the sack...... and then......

God we all hope it's not Pardew.

Blue041273 added 14:18 - Apr 13
I believe there is a degree too much importance conferred on Managers these days. Of course a manager plays a pivotal role in any teams fortunes but once a Manager loses the confidence of his players or the supporters his days are inevitably numbered. The players need to accept some responsibility for the teams fortunes and not let the Manager take the flak every time performances and results go wrong! I recall the hapless Chris Hutchings tasked as caretaker manager for a game against Sheffield Wednesday following the departure of Paul Jewell, having to endure a thoroughly inept display by the players who clearly had no interest in helping him out. To MM’s credit he had no problem with his players but I hope they feel professional enough to help BK in the last four games and not just start their holidays early.
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