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St Mirren Supporters’ Thoughts on Jack Ross…
at 21:11 10 May 2018

I thought it might be helpful to gather the thoughts of St Mirren supporters on their manager Jack Ross in the light of Phil’s story today confirming that we had asked the Buddies for permission to discuss our manager vacancy with him.

Ross left Alloa Athletic to take charge in of the Paisley-based club October 2016 with the side bottom of the Scottish Championship table with just four points from their first eight games. After steering them to a seventh-place finish last season, they won this year’s league title by a 12-point margin.

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“What we are seeing now is what we having been hoping to see for years. Guys are playing well as a cohesive team under the guidance of a manager who is very good at his job and passionate about our team. The atmosphere at our stadium is now much better and there far more positivity.”

There is an understandably euphoric mood in the club right now. “I used to look forward to away games because the support was far more behind our team, but now we have that at home. I even have work colleagues who support other teams saying how great our team is.”

“We all need to be eternally grateful to Jack Ross and [assistant manager] Jack Fowler for giving us a season which must rank as one of our best ever in terms of sustained excitement and satisfaction as Saints fans”, “I truly believe we have an absolute diamond of a manager on our hands here.”

“The short time he has been with the club have been some of the most enjoyable and memorable times I have had as a Buddie. He likes the club, gets on well with the Chairman, likes the fans and in return is liked by the massive majority of us and has a group of players who respect him massively.”

“I can’t remember liking a manager as much as Jack, the guy is brilliant”, “It's great to hear the passion he and a number of the players have for the club. It's not a forced thing. it's a genuine affection for our club. I love listening to him chat about us”, “Manager of the fecking Century!”

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“This is going to be a long haul for Jack Ross”, “He inherited the poorest squad in a generation.” Turning the clock back to when he arrived, there is wide agreement that the playing side of things was in some chaos. He had no honeymoon period, losing his first six league games in charge.

Despite the poor results, fans could still see what he was trying to achieve. “There is a deep-rooted problem within the playing staff. Or another way to say it is an unbalanced squad which Jack Ross inherited that. Mary f**kin Poppins could not wave her magic wand to fix this sorry state.”

“You could see the level of performance improving, even though it as worrying as it was that we were not getting any points. The players were growing in confidence and it was evident that Jack was working hard to introduce his methods.”

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“Before the transfer window closed - 13 points from 22 games. After the transfer window closed - 26 points from 14 games. Jack did an incredible, incredible job to rebuild a team mid-season, get the new boys to gel, get the fans and team united and, ultimately, keep us up!”

“This has been one hell of a window.” Ross moved swiftly and ruthlessly to overhaul the squad in his first transfer window in January 2017. There were no fewer than 10 arrivals and 11 departures, but fans in hindsight believe that much of the success which followed stemmed from this overhaul.

“The January signings stepped up and took the pressure off the younger players. Performances have transformed since he had a chance to complete his January transfer dealings. When was the last time we brought in so many players and they all worked? Not one has been poor when selected.”

“You saw the problems we had, and Jack had to work in what is usually a very difficult window to change things around. But change things around he did and brought in some needed cash. The squad on paper looked far stronger, more balanced and deeper than it had two weeks previously.”

“He was frustrated at the attitude of most of the players when he arrived at the club. They weren't interested on high intensity training and he couldn't wait to get rid of them. My observation was that at that time something was rotten about the club culture.”

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“Ross strikes me as man of substance. He is clearly analytical in his approach, but there is a thread of pragmatism running through that and he has genuine passion”, “He believes in what he is saying and doesn’t offer clichés. One thing I like is that he never bangs on about budgets unlike predecessors.”

He has a hard-working and pragmatic management style. “Ross identified the areas we needed to strengthen and did a fine job bringing in the correct personnel”, “He trusts his players and if they adapt to his ethos he will back them to the hilt. If you don't like his methods you're out the door.”

“Articulate, driven, confident and focused” “There's a controlled passion in there, and you can see that this is a man who wants to succeed”, “I particularly like the fact that he is prepared to question his methods continuously”, “He doesn't seem the sort of guy that would walk away.”

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“I like and admire the Jack Ross energy and high press set up”, “Jack appears to favour a playing style whereby strikers who thrive on route-one style balls into the box are not part of the plan. He wants players who move the ball about and create goals from the 18-yard area, not the six-yard area.”

“If you like your teams to shell it up to a big guy up front and then playing for scraps, then Jack is not your man”, “Results over the season have been excellent and those have almost invariably come via our busy passing and movement”, “Honest and attractive football using width and pace, hallelujah.”

“We are not a physical team.” St Mirren’s success has come from pass-and-move brand of football using a 4-2-3-1 shape and keeping more possession. Fans have felt that he is not wedded to this philosophy and that he would be prepared to alter it in the more demanding Scottish top flight.

“Jack’s refusal to be tied down to a ‘philosophy’ takes pressure off him and makes it easier to change the approach if needed. Clearly his preference is for his teams to get the ball forward quickly and to make the most of the time spent in the final third of the pitch.”

“The big problem as everyone can see is Plan B. Jack is a ‘Do Plan A’ better type guy who believes in his wee players. On some occasions Jack has shown how our wee team can destroy bigger stronger teams and give them a good thumping but if that team also has any kind of ability, we can't cope.”

“Teams like Livingston and Dundee United used physical, psychological and rule bending tactics to stop us playing. This lack of plan B and the consistent push of passes on the ground makes it harder for us to score. Other teams now know that we don't do high balls apart from set-pieces.”

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“It's taken a bit longer than I had thought but we are now seeing some great signs on the park and finally getting a bounce”, “We are playing as a team and some of the new signings are starting to really look the part”, “The belief and positivity amongst the squad is apparent for all to see.”

Although it took several months for the team to click, St Mirren fans by last summer could see the team starting to blossom. “The form of established stars has improved beyond compare since the new squad has been in place”, “We possibly have had the best midfield in the league since January.”

In August, many sensed how well this season would play out. “To finish seventh albeit on goal difference is stunning, but it’s the way we did it, the style, the goals, and the fact that he has got 1500 fans back when we were not chasing glory but relative survival. Basically, what a guy!”

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Lee Mair played alongside Jack Ross and he discussed his leadership on the pitch in one interview which St Mirren fans picked up: “I know Jack well. I played alongside him at St Mirren and you could tell he was a leader. He commanded respect amongst the boys and always gave 100 percent…

“You tend to find with every manager there will be one or two who are saying quietly away from training, 'he’s rubbish', or 'he’s no good' but with Jack, I haven’t heard one. Honestly.

“The way you can tell is that even boys he has dropped are still saying good things about him. He has that respect. He lets them go and express themselves and understands they will make mistakes.

This was echoed by the recollections of one St Mirren fan: “Jack Ross was the guy all those years ago who geed the team up in our do-or-die battle against Falkirk and we utterly destroyed them…

“He took that match completely by the scruff of the neck but more importantly in this case, he made sure that the match was won in the dressing room before it by saying the right things to the right people about what former team mates in the opposing dressing room were saying to him all week.

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“I hope Jack stays with Saints but I'm sure he'd be a great appointment for Ipswich”, “This approach is definitely more worrying than the Dundee or Barnsley ones.” Ross has also been linked with both of these clubs in his time at St Mirren.

“Jack restored pride, passion and pleasure to our team”, “He has been a great find but it scares me to think what could happen if he goes”, “I'm praying that it won't come to that but Ipswich are a big club, much bigger than Barnsley, I'm not surprised he wants to go and hear what they have to say.”

“Let's face it if it's not Ipswich it will be another club next week and so on. It looks pretty inevitable to me he won't be here come the first game of the new season.”

For many St Mirren fans, the risks involved revolve around Ross’s relative lack of experience, the step up in scale and pressure from a club with average home gates of 5,000 and the perceived hit-and-miss track record of lower-league Scottish managers who have switched to the Championship.

“Ipswich could provide Jack with a fantastic platform to further his ambitions or they could ruin them like so many Scottish managers have had them ruined by going down South. The money will be ridiculous in comparison, I would imagine, and that surely is a massive factor.”

“I wouldn’t imagine it’s a done deal by any means as Jack, good as he is, would represent a gamble by Ipswich and hopefully they’ll look for more experience for their next manager”, “He would go with our best wishes, but in all honestly I'm sure we would rather that he didn't.”

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Villa Supporters’ Thoughts on Tim Sherwood…
at 00:49 8 May 2018

I thought it might be helpful to gather some thoughts from a West Midlands’ perspective on Tim Sherwood after the story earlier today reporting him as a serious candidate to replace Mick. I have separated out their comments to highlight different themes which became apparent.

The caveat I would add is that these are comments from just one chapter of his career. His time at Villa Park was brief, arriving in February 2015 and departing in October of the same year. He took them to the FA Cup final but left after eight defeats in their first 10 games the following season…

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“When he initially came in he did as well as any of us could have hoped in keeping us in the Premier League and taking us to the FA Cup final. That semi-final against Liverpool is arguably the highlight of the last handful of years.”

Many fans have fond memories of his honeymoon period and their decent Cup run, even if it did end in a 4-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Final. “He might be an idiot but he gave me the best two games of watching Villa since Martin O’Neill left, namely the West Brom and Liverpool FA Cup games.”

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“Sherwood lost the four best players he inherited in Fabian Delph, Christian Benteke, Ron Vlaar and Tom Cleverly. We spent £50 million trying to replace them and improve a squad that overall lacked quality and had been struggling for years.”

Sherwood lost some talented players but was given funds to replace them, bringing in defenders Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Jordan Amavi, Jose Crespo, and Tiago Ilori (the latter on loan), midfielder Jordan Veretout, winger Adama Traore and strikers Rudy Gestede and Jordan Ayew.

Most of his signings didn’t work out. “He had the biggest budget out of any of our managers in that time. In that one window (his first ever) he was given more money than Paul Lambert's three seasons (and six windows) combined. Alex McLeish also got a fraction of that in his two windows.”

“It was crazy decision by the club to give the funds from Benteke and Delph's sale to a manager who had never managed a team through a transfer window and to entrust him and the backroom team with a squad re-build after losing the best two players.”

“Any manager would struggle let alone one that had never bought or sold a player before and you could certainly argue for that reason alone he should never have been in charge over that summer”, “His hands were not really tied and to do as poorly as he did was down to him and him alone.”

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“Sherwood was given ample funding to be honest and was shown to be a complete tactical fraud.” Claret and Blues were pretty damning when assessing him tactically. “He takes the blame for being an utterly incompetent manager and not having a Plan B once Benteke left.”

“His tactical knowledge was laughable. He was a decent motivator of players and they liked him and I think there's a place for him alongside someone who knows how to manage a football team. He is essentially football management's equivalent to Bez from the Happy Mondays.”

“Sherwood was nothing more than a delusional youth development coach”, “The first warning signings were the 6-1 at Southampton [the penultimate game of his first season] where our tactics were non-existent.”

“He thought Richards and Lescott would be a good central defensive pairing. It was borderline crazy, two defenders known more for their goalscoring”, “He was more found out for having a high line, no second tactic and being rubbish with his substitutions. No tactics, no idea, no solutions.”

“Sherwood continued to divide the dressing room and play with absolutely no clear style or system or... well, anything. He then tried to save face. It was all incredibly embarrassing and has led to where we are today”, “His line-up selections were some of the worst I've seen.”

“For me it was the interview he gave to the official site where he said he would continue to change the system until he found one that worked. That dartboard approach to management told me he needed to be sacked immediately...

“Up to then I had been in the ‘it's not great but he needs time’ camp, but that told me he had no clue what he was at. It was a staggering admission of his own incompetence and it never dawned on him what he had said. He was gone soon afterwards, so someone high up obviously read a similar message between the lines.”

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“I honestly don’t think Sherwood knows the truth. He is so full of his own self-importance and bravado he probably believes the rubbish he comes out with”, “He has that brashness that rubs people up the wrong way but I enjoyed it at the time so I can't knock him.”

Many supporters struggle to trust him and felt that he failed to take responsibility when things went against him. “Sherwood would constantly throw players under the bus publicly in his interviews to cover for his ineptitude, with his pathetic ‘just about to cry’ face.”

“In typical Tim Sherwood fashion, he claimed he had the final say in the transfers and scouted them all himself at first. Once it was clear they weren't working out, he tried to wash his hands from them. He's a self-aggrandizing narcissist. The Donald Trump of football.”

“He spent money on players (whether his call or not, they were bought) only to completely ostracise them when the going got tough... for him, of course. Because it didn't really matter about the club or the players. After results fell off a cliff, he had no idea how to get it back on track.”

“I find him humorous. His unflappable self-confidence is fascinating, commendable and utterly bewildering, hence the hilarity. Basically, it's not his fault that he's him. I can't help admire on some level the black-belt levels of blaggery that has got him the jobs he has held over the past few years.”

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“The mauling at Southampton is what turned the tide on Timmy's chapter here. He didn't know how to respond to it properly. You could see during the game he was on the verge of tears. He is too emotional for management in my view”, “The job was too big for him after the Cup Final really.”

“After the initial honeymoon, it was some of the worst football I have ever seen. It's like watching a kid constantly falling over and running back to mummy and daddy, but they keep trying that same walk across the same slippery patch and keep falling and crying. That was the tactics under Tim.”

One other issue flagged up was his ability to handle pressure. While any difficulty at Villa could be put down to inexperience, one incident from March 2017 last season while he was subsequently Swindon Town director of football was reported in the Birmingham Mail (below) and in the national media. This was also flagged up by Claret and Blues…

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21 March 2017

“Swindon Town Director of Football and former Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood has been handed a two-match stadium ban by the Football Association after his foul-mouthed outburst to referee Mark Brown at the interval of the Robins' match with Bury last month.”

“In his post-match report, Mr Brown wrote: After the half time whistle, and as I was walking down the tunnel Tim Sherwood of Swindon Town approached me and said “you’re the only f***** in the ground that’s f****** seen it you f****** mug.”

“I told him to calm down and stop pointing at me or he’d be sitting in the stands for the second half.
He then continued: “I wasn’t even in the dugout you f****** mug and you would be doing me a favour. I told him I wanted to speak to him at my dressing room but he ignored me and walked off towards the Swindon changing room.”

“I followed him and stood outside and told the coaching staff I wanted Mr Sherwood to come outside as I needed to speak to him. After approximately 45 seconds Mr Sherwood walked out and walked past me and I informed him that he would be reported for his comments towards me.
His reply was: “F*** off you mug.”

“I then entered my dressing room area and informed the stewards of my decision and that if Mr Sherwood tries to come down into the technical area he shouldn’t be allowed.” Swindon are seven points adrift at the bottom of the League One table with seven games to play.”

Swindon were relegated at the end of the season and Sherwood left the club in June 2017.

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“Sherwood was terrible. I liked his enthusiasm which was pretty infectious but that’s about it”, “He did motivate the players to Wembley and we stayed up for an extra season, so it wasn’t all bad”, “I am baffled how he supposedly did such a good job in the Spurs youth setup though.”

“To me it was simply a case of an inexperienced manager completely out of his depth at the task in hand in summer 2015 and boy did it show with our start to that season.” Some felt that the role of Villa manager came too soon but other fans are more damning. “A pathetic incompetent maniac”, “Genuinely embarrassing that he was our manager”, “Charlatan.”

“Sherwood isn't a football manager and I don't know why he parades himself as one. He's probably a reasonable coach and if he didn't reek so badly of failure he'd be an entertaining enough pundit”, “I don't think I ever really hated him, but I cannot for the life of me understand the allure.”

“To begin with it was all laughs and good intentions about turning around a terrible situation but disorder soon set in, disharmony and anger followed, resulting in tears before bedtime and a sudden demise. Essentially, Sherwood's reign at Villa was the managerial equivalent of “Lord of the Flies’.”

[Post edited 8 May 0:57]
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Who Do You Think Will Win The Championship Play-offs?
at 16:30 6 May 2018

Who Do You Think Will Win The Championship Play-offs?


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Good Omens – Some Late Reflections on Yesterday’s Destruction of Reading
at 19:27 29 Apr 2018

I’m not sure many people think of themselves as being superstitious, but I have yet to meet a fellow-supporter who doesn’t have a pre-match ritual or wear a lucky garment if only to hedge their bets. Landing in Theale for a pre-match pint with some fellow TWTD’ers, I seized on a pint of their Ghost Ship guest beer both literally and figuratively in the irrational hope that it might bring us fortune.

Seven visits here and not so much as a point from any of them were good reason to take any omens going. From Alex Pearce’s winner on a dull New Year’s Eve via Orlando Sa’s hat-trick in a 5-1 mauling (when we were “****ed on the telly” as the lovable locals chorused) through to last season’s penalty infused 2-1 farce. If football ever existed in a mythological world, the Madejski would be Tartarus.

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Despite being surrounded in a sea of asphalt, all roads to the stadium were somehow gridlocked and I arrived just as the teams were kicking off. We had a good balance of youth and experience in our 3-4-3 shape. Reading had opted for both the same 4-4-2 shape and 11 which rescued a point in a late cavalry charge against Sunderland. They were looking to outscore us, but they looked unbalanced.

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Our new style of working the ball up the pitch with good passing and movement was quickly obvious as the game started to develop. Both teams were imperfect but what little rhythm there was came from us. Reading looked disjointed and nervous, much as Birmingham in the early stages of our St Andrew’s game, and their two-man midfield of Liam Kelly and John Swift seemed very lightweight.

It was great seeing Luke Woolfenden on the right of the back three. He was a solid performer in the League Cup scare we gave a full-strength Crystal Palace XI back in August and it was a pleasure again watching him go about his work in a calm, reassuring and uncomplicated way. Apart from one slip in the second half, he broadly had the measure of Reading’s two strikers and the feisty Modou Barrow.

We will come up against more threatening opponents, but Webster’s was equally untroubled at the heart of the back three. His distribution is what he is most renowned for, but I think this is a greater threat when he does it instinctively and before opponents have time to react. His clearance played a role late-on in Sears’s goal, but Reading were able to cover his passes when he brought the ball out.

As the first half progressed, it was a poor-quality game with little fluency, but punctuated by exciting moments. Our most eye-catching dangerman was Muzzy Carayol. You could see the Royals wariness when he ran at them with the ball and his directness unnerved them. As is often with many wingers, his final ball or shot didn’t quite match his build-up, but he gave great balance to our attacking play.

We are often nobbled at the Madejski right at the end of first halves so I was braced for the worst as the interval approached. Apart from one unthreatening Reading set-piece there was nothing to fear. The half petered out with a series of injury stoppages. The complete lack of sarcasm from the home crowd was down to their insipid play and the fact that both Burton and Barnsley were now winning.

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My half-time conversation with a long-standing supporter was not so much about who our new boss should be, but it had more to do with preserving the club’s values in the coming seasons. He talked about the irreparable damage done by Roy Keane to our DNA when he fractured the relationship between the academy and the first team and of how this must never be allowed to happen again.

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Back at the game, events early on in the second half would play a huge role in what followed. Taking Carayol off for Freddie Sears was a minor adjustment for us. In contrast Reading’s replacement of left-back Omar Richards for Tommy Elphick meant three switches to their back line with right-back Chris Gunter now on his less favoured left and centre-back Tiago Ilori out of position at right back.

It was still an experienced Reading back four but the central midfielders had their hands full with the industrious Tristan Nydam and Callum Connolly. Wingers Barrow and Sone Aluko meanwhile were more interested in counter-attacking, and in the £7.5 million Aluko’s case drifting infield to escape Myles Kenlock who had him in his pocket. This was a house of cards which was waiting to tumble.

Reading began the period with far more urgency but you felt it was a bluff, as all their attacks would end up with the ball ballooning wide or safely into Bart’s hands. With an hour played, I had the sense that they could be hurt if we were just a little more probing. We weren’t sitting back or sitting too deep, but we were being a little too supine and treating our hosts with too much respect.

The game’s turning point was Bart’s save, a brilliant tip-over after a swift Reading counter from our corner kick with 70 minutes played. You could see two Reading players sink to their feet after the save and two things hit me. The first was that a goal now could kill Reading and the second was the sad fact that this might be the last time I see a moment of Bialkowski brilliance in a Town shirt.

Martyn Waghorn was a brilliant focal point all game. From his arrival in August you could see that he was a finisher who was also very clever at using his frame to occupy defenders and win us free-kicks. He did plenty of the latter throughout the game but his goal was typically uncomplicated. He found a ridiculous amount of space near the six-yard box and just drilled Jordan Spence’s precise ball home.

It was fitting that Spence scored the second with Waghorn setting him up this time. Spence had one of the toughest gigs all afternoon dealing with Reading’s threatening Modou Barrow. No only did he dealt with the winger legally and effectively, he was often an effective out-ball, relieving pressure by stretching play wide and using his aerial or technical ability to receive the ball and attack space.

Ben Folami was also an unsung hero. He played a killer pass to Waghorn to unlock Reading’s defence at the start of the move that lead to Spence’s goal, but several times in the first half he used his pace to stifle the threat and smother the runs of Aluko and Gunter on Reading’s right flank. Just as Spence’s role increasingly swung from being defensive to attacking, so also did Folami’s.

Spence goal killed Reading. He had hoodwinked their back line and beaten Vito Mannone at his near post and you could see they were wobbling. The home crowd were probably as hostile as they could manage, which was about 10 percent Millwall. Most were now off to beat the traffic and apart from a couple of roars when Reading countered, they were as guilty as their team of failing to turn up.

We weren’t done yet, and it was Freddie time. There is something special about knowing you are just about to score. Webster’s instinctive clearance from a corner was chased down by Freddie, and the increasingly poor Gunter left his back-header a Weetabix short for Mannone. It was now a 50/50 ball which ballooned into the air and from behind the goal we weren’t sure where it would drop.

We knew soon enough as Freddie followed its trajectory. He had the ball, the goal and no keeper to worry about. The place broke into complete pandemonium when the ball went in, because if ever a striker deserved a goal it was him. The goal typified him, borne out of his resilience, determination and a never-give-up attitude. It was superb seeing Bart hammer up the pitch to join the celebrations.

As the players trooped back it was telling to see Jonas and Freddie walking together arm in arm. One of the overwhelming differences between the sides yesterday was our spirit and steel and Reading’s complete absence of both. I was thrilled to see Jonas with the captain’s armband and he played the role brilliantly. He is Chambers’ natural heir and the importance of his leadership was fundamental.

We had barely caught our breath when Connolly made it four. He has blossomed from cautious full-back into a solid midfielder as the season progressed. He and Nydam are unlikely to ever come up against such perfect midfield opponents at this level but they did what was necessary, imposing their game on Kelly and Swift and constantly disrupting Reading’s rhythm and balance.

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As the referee decided that Reading by now had enough punishment, I was starting to wonder what this carnage was doing not just to their morale but also their goal difference. The only comparison I could think of was our milky defending in the worst days of Paul Jewell. For a team to disintegrate like that with so much at stake will not have helped Jaap Stam’s chances of replacing Mick either.

Reading were getting ready for their lap of appreciation. This looked like it would be to a thin single line of supporters as everyone else preferred to sit in the traffic jam. I have little regard for their fans and their apathetic reaction to yesterday’s capitulation bore this out. Had that happened at Leeds or Wolves there would have been outrage and possibly a pitch invasion, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

We had our own moment of appreciation with Jonas, who had also urged us on after the first goal, doing the fist-pump honours. Goal and full-time celebrations are rare moments when the invisible wall between players and fans melt away and the raucous mood at the end of the game felt like one unbridled group hug between us all. It was one hell of a brilliant way to end the away campaign.

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We retired to the pub in Theale to relive the goals and savour this unique win with another pint of Suffolk’s finest. We had a fun game of ‘keep, sell, not sure’ going through the squad on the back of the matchday programme. It has been a unique season, a dull midtable finish punctuated by plenty that was anything but dull, with some remarkable results and the decision to change our manager.

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Driving back down the M4, my thoughts turned back to the half-time conversation with a supporter who had seen everything from Sir Alf via Sir Bobby through to Mick. What emerged from this was a sense of our greater provenance as a club, built on foundations of bringing talented players through and playing bright, open confident football. A sustainable model with us punching above our weight.

It’s not just a question of this being a sensible option as we think about what will happen in our next chapter and with our new manager. The only times we have overachieved were when we mingled home-grown talent with a judicious mix of clever acquisitions, something we caught a glimpse of at the Madejski yesterday. This is fundamental to our existence as a club the more you think about it.

We will see where we end up. It’s hard to avoid leaping on names, but I’m trying to think of who will best enable us to work within this model and not just in the short term. For now, I will head into the summer quietly confident that we have both the approach and the nucleus of a good squad to serve us well next season. It’s been a season. Let’s see where next year takes us.

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The Fellowship of the Klug - Some Late Reflections on Yesterday at Forest
at 19:42 15 Apr 2018

Apologies for posting some delayed thoughts on yesterday’s late defeat at the City Ground. A combination of getting back late to the West Country and work today meant that this was the first chance to piece an entertaining and informative afternoon together…


The afternoon started brilliantly with my second great pre-match meet-up in a week. A gentle drive up a quiet M5/M42 meant that we passed Burton and I caught myself idly wondering “what if…” about Nigel Clough once the Brewers’ campaign had finished.

There are a lot of these “what if’s” going through our collective heads at the moment, but at the get-together before the game I wasn’t the only person to make this Nigel Clough leap. The gathered assembly in the Notts County bar included amongst others Mullet, Mark, Steve M, Blue Monday’s Benjamin Bloom, Mach Foreign Blue, Guthrum and the artist formerly known as McCarthyEra.

It was an entertaining pre-match conversation in which the traction beam of our departed manager “just kept pulling us back in” Godfather-style as we tried to chat about anything else. Millwall fans’ love of Vaughan Williams, Guthrum’s new role as our Delphic Oracle and my anxiety response every time Alan Pardew’s name was mentioned were some of the highlights from a superb get-together.

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There were general nods of agreement when the line-up filtered through, with a blend of academy graduates and the solid Knudsen-CCV-Spence in front of Bart which would give them licence to play and a good defensive balance. Most of us were more interested to see if the style of play would be different without Mick on the touchline than the outcome of the game itself.

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The match started quietly and lacked intensity with neither side chasing promotion or clambering from danger. We were building out from the back with midfielders more available for passes from defence, and we were trying to work the ball up the field with the occasional ball over the Forest back line to a breaking Ward or Waghorn. It lacked incisiveness but it was prettier to watch.

You could see why Forest had not scored in six games. Carter-Vickers had Brereton under his thumb with the Reds’ striker dropping very deep to find space. The hosts lacked tempo and their final ball was inevitably amiss when they reached our area. It was all about us not making a mistake and Ward may have allowed Ben Osborn to steal in but Bart, as ever, calmly blocked the left-back’s shot.

The Ward v Osborn contest would define much of the game. Walking to the ground, a friend said that Ward’s inclusion made him nervous. I was more optimistic having seen the former Spurs man give Zeki Fryers a difficult time on Tuesday. By full-time we saw both sides of the argument, and while I couldn’t initially work out who scored our goal I was pleased when it was confirmed as him.

“McCarthy’s on the dole!” We were near the back of the away end and very close to the more vocal section of our support. Some of them were digging Luke Hyam out for a couple of misplaced passes, rather than thinking through why they might have been misplaced. The real cause of their hostility - “Hyam told us where to go at Brentford” – slipped out in a later comment as the half progressed.

Hyam had a terrific game breaking up play, linking with the strikers and wing-backs and breaking into the box to get on the end of moves. He worked well with Skuse and Nydam to keep an experienced Forest trio of Watson, Guedioura and Colback quiet. Our new style of building play from the back also suited Nydam as it really fitted his naturally good movement and neat passing playing style.

Nydam actually got on the end of a move and saw his effort deflected on to the bar just before the break. Waghorn fed him after yet another athletic driving run into the box and the Town striker was a proper handful for the Forest back line all afternoon. He tried to help take pressure off later in the game as Forest turned up the heat, but we were well on top now as the half-time whistle sounded.

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Everyone was predictably positive at the break and you could see a change of emphasis in our style of play under Bryan Klug. The ball was less of a hot potato and everything wasn’t habitually going down the channels. It was more patient and, although this may sound convenient, I felt that there was less fear from our players of making an error. The emphasis was more on trying to be positive.

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We started where we left off after the break and we were able to see how difficult a time Ward was giving Osborn first hand as Town attacked the goal at our end. Forest’s attack reminded me of ours in the Jewell era, playing in front of the opposition defence and not landing a blow. We nearly added a second goal in contrast but Hyam’s shot flashed across the goal after Waghorn played him in.

Ben Morris was the quietest of our academicians but he was up against two very solid Championship centre-halves in Toby Figueiredo and the sly Danny Fox, who left one nasty foot in on Waghorn. The withdrawal of Morris and Nydam for Connolly for Carayol just before the hour mark kept our shape, although the fan beside me pointed to Carayol’s name still visible on Forest’s pitch-side hoardings from his time at the City Ground earlier in the season.

“We kept you up last year!” By midway through the second half there was little to alarm us. Myles Kenlock had a terrific game setting up Ward’s goal but he was excellent both defensively and on the front foot on our left side. He kept that flank nailed down with Knudsen covering his back and set up a move which saw Waghorn played Carayol in on goal but the winger didn’t seize the moment.

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Forest boss Karanka now seized the moment with his switches. They changed their attacking shape with the ineffective passing game of Ben Watson, Adlene Guedioura and Lee Tomlin replaced by the urgency of winger Matty Cash and industrious midfielder Liam Bridcutt. Having a second striker in Apostolos Vellios now alongside the previously ineffective Brereton added pressure to our back line.

Wingers may be on opposite sides of the pitch but they operate as a unit. Cash’s introduction added an extra dimension to fellow wideman Joe Lolley’s game and left-back Osborn went from a defensive liability to an attacking threat. Bridcutt’s midfield American football style “hurry-up offense" was now the perfect foil to Forest’s pair of wingers, attacking full-backs and strikers. Here came the Alamo.

We became stretched with our back line and eventually Ward overloaded. The penalty was clear as day, a weary shove which saw the home crowd erupt and erupt again when Bart couldn’t quite keep the spot-kick out. Forest had lost all of their fear now and Lolley’s match-winner was as sickening as it was inevitable. Why we never win here and always win at Derby is just an Ipswich Town mystery.

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It was great to see the players pointedly come over and thank the away fans and it was especially great that Bryan Klug accompanied them. We have someone in charge for now who gets the club and understands how important the coming weeks and months are for our long-term future. Our substitutions were about long-term player development. Forests were about a short-term victory.

It was a subtle change of emphasis but our model of play was different throughout yesterday’s game and that this was the most important thing to take away. The football was riskier, less about playing percentages and more about players expressing themselves. As the game wore on, I caught myself gently wondering if a slight edge of cynicism has increasingly influenced McCarthy’s style of football.

The famous Danny Blanchflower quote about the glory game is often trotted out, but it is so utterly relevant for describing our route forward: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It is about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

“It is vital that we get this next managerial appointment right.” This kept coming up in various forms in the pre-match drinks and its importance cannot be over-stressed. We are at such a crossroads as a club. There are so many risks given the money-laden division in which we operate but watching the bright displays of so many academy players coming through there is also just as much to anticipate.

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Everyone knew there was no point in being angry about yesterday. Our season is over and we are now tilling the ground for August. Anyway, we need to save all of our anger for two weeks’ time at Reading, where the sneering suburbanites always seem to turn us over no matter what we do. They are in relegation trouble so the truth is that very few of them will probably turn up.

Gavin Barber has coincidentally penned a typically funny piece on football anger in the latest edition of ‘Turnstile Blues’, which I happily paid my £1 for before heading home. There is also an excellent analytical piece by Steve M on Mick’s style of football, but I was banned from Mrs HfromB on bad language grounds from reading aloud the hilarious spoof “Mick interviews Ed Sheeran” article when we sat down to supper at Gloucester Services on the M5.

There have been some happy footballing moments to glean in what have been two frankly mediocre seasons, but the one constant from yesterday after a tumultuous week by our standards was the fun we had before and after the game comparing notes and idly speculating on the future.

Reading the fanzine and thinking back on the pre-match parliament of wisdom brought home how much the enjoyment and friendship we share and indeed this whole mad caper adds to our lives. Whatever Marcus Evans decides - even God forbid if it is Alan Pardew – nothing can take ever this away from us.

[Post edited 15 Apr 20:17]
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An Irretrievable Breakdown – Reflections on Tonight’s Win Over Barnsley
at 02:13 11 Apr 2018

“So then, apart from the Church going up in flames, did the wedding go well?” It’s hard to piece a match report when one over-riding event at the conclusion overshadows everything that has gone before, but it’s worth taking time to look at how the wider evening played out…

I wanted to get over to Portman Road one last time this season not just to see the mother-ship, but to understand the wider context to how the relationship between our manager and some of our fans deteriorated so badly. The mood had been pretty amicable at Birmingham and Bristol but clearly less so at Brentford so I was intrigued to see how things might play out in a routine Tuesday home game.

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The evening started brilliantly. A visiting Barnsley supporter struck up a conversation with a few of us in the Greyhound. It ranged from Kieffer Moore via Dickie Bird and Neil Warnock through to the legendary Tykes folk hero ‘Skinner’ Normanton, who had a healthy tendency to send fancy-dan players careering into the stands. Our Barnsley friend worked with him in his later years in the collieries and confirmed that ‘Skinner’ was as gentle off the pitch as he was uncompromising on it.

“It looks like a 3-4-3.” When the line-up was announced, all talk was of former Limerick man Barry Cotter who would debut as a right wing-back. I was more relieved to see that Skuse was starting and that Mick had included Carayol and Celina. It was a balanced attacking line up with a Spence-Carter Vickers-Knudsen trio giving us a very solid base in front of Bart.

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“That pitch is looking a bit ropey in places.” MrsHfromB is a very decent gardener and winces for the grass when goal scorers perform their inevitable knee-slides on Match of the Day. Kieffer Moore was a clear and obvious target-man for the Tykes from the first minute and he came very close to getting to do one when his header crashed against the bar from an early Barnsley corner.

Moore has a knack of doing this against us. I remember him nearly dismantling a goalpost at Huish Park when we beat Yeovil a few years ago. One great sub-plot throughout the game was his ongoing duel with Carter-Vickers. It reminded me of the Luke Chambers – Bradley Johnson battles when we played Norwich. No quarter was asked or given as the two knocked lumps out of each other.

Carter-Vickers increasingly got the upper hand over Moore as the game progressed. The game itself was bright and open, with both teams playing positive football, albeit imperfectly, on the front foot. Celina and Carayol were altering flanks with Waghorn dropping back only to run at a high Barnsley back line at pace. Connolly was also industrious in midfield trying to thread passes where he could.

Cotter looks a natural. He was comfortable and patient on the ball, and it was clear that team-mates were trying to find him with the ball rather than protect him. He can beat a defender with a trick and has a long throw on him, something which caught Barnsley out after the break. He kept it simple at first but grew into the game once he realised that he had the measure of the Tykes’ Zeki Fryers.

Carayol was everything you expect from a winger really. He was occasionally wasteful with the ball or would mistime passes or runs, but he turned on the burners with one surging run late in the first half which unnerved the visitors’ defence. His clever earlier flick to Waghorn was squared to Celina who was clean through on goal, but the crowd applauded the move rather than criticising his miss.

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Half time was signalled by Mr Linington, who has never lost his knack for indicating to an absurdly precise degree where freekicks should be taken. Barnsley had marginally the better of what was an even and entertaining game and everyone was applauded off. The one funny moment was the cheer from the away end when “QPR 3 Sheffield Wednesday 0” was announced. We all have our rivals.

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The pattern of the early second half exchanges resembled everything that gone before. Both teams were still playing brightly and probing for openings but our moves had a growing urgency, fluency and quality in contrast to the Tykes. Some neat interplay between Celina and Kenlock on our left saw the ball fall to Skuse who had ventured far enough forward to have a crack on goal.

Carayol – Knudsen – Goal. Walking back to the car after the game I wondered if Barnsley fans rued the absence of a man on the back post. It was a superb header from a dash by Knudsen to the front of the penalty area and an equally superb delivery by Carayol. It was a moment of quality in a game distinguished more by effort and industry and it also hit Barnsley’s confidence for six.

They tried to hit back straight away but the header from their centre-half Adam Jackson shortly after the goal from a freekick lacked quality and typified an attacking threat that rarely troubled Bart. Mick wisely decided to take Cotter out of the fray and let Grant Ward have a crack at Barnsley’s flaky left-back Zeki Fryers. Cotter would have been mentally cooked by the intensity of that hour’s play.

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I had forgotten about the wider mood of the supporters and was more absorbed in the game, so the booing which came out of the blue for the switch caught me off guard. It did come from all around the ground but didn’t last that long as Cotter was correctly and warmly applauded off the pitch.

The reason for the booing was clear. It brought home how deep the breach of trust has become, as fans were convinced that Mick was shutting up shop and trying to kill the game. The fact that Cotter is technically a defender and Ward is a winger was pointed out by a friend but it mattered little. Even though the moment passed quickly it took so little for ill-feeling to rear its head in a game going well.

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Meanwhile back on the pitch, Barnsley were now chasing the game and it gave Celina and Waghorn time and space to try out a variety of ideas. Celina’s cat-and-mouse standing with the ball and daring a defender to bite is an entertaining motif, while one can’t fault Waghorn’s effort no matter where his shots might end up. At least Celina’s late effort was on target but straight at the Barnsley keeper.

Ward offered more of a threat than Cotter with his direct running at a tiring Fryers seeing the left-back eventually taken off. It worth praising Spence who dealt with the threat of Barnsley striker Olly McBurnie cutting in from the left wing. Knudsen grew into the game as it progressed, and he took a yellow card for the team after fouling the Reds’ Tom Bradshaw after a Skuse pass went astray.

Ben Folami’s introduction for the tiring Carayol shortly after Cotter’s withdrawal was very well received. He found increasing time and space to link with Waghorn and Celina or hold up play. Barnsley grew increasingly desperate raining ‘Hail Mary’ balls to the box by the end in a vain attempt to carve out a chance. Set pieces were the visitors only threat and these weren’t causing us worry.

“I still have a 100 percent record at Portman Road.” Mrs HfromB was justifiably happy with her work on the night and the players trooped off in great spirits. Everyone stood and applauded while Skuse gave Jonas the nod to fist-pump the North Stand after Cotter had skipped over to salute the fans. All seemed well as Mick and Terry stood by the players entrance thanking all of the departing players.

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Or so we thought. The first we heard of Mick’s departure was listening to BBC 5 Live in the car on the way back to the hotel. There was a jocular tone to the journalists’ radio chat with the “typical Mick” and “he has worked wonders” clichés being trotted out as they mentioned him apparently slamming a desk and finishing his press conference abruptly. The national journalists don’t know the half of it.

Mick was completely wrong to theatrically depart in the manner he did, as we inevitably now will be unfairly stereotyped as an impatient and petulant supporter base. It will be a simplistic and false interpretation if the media do this because I still believe that Mick mentally left the club when he put the phone down after his conversation with Marcus Evans a few weeks ago.

He has split fan-bases whenever he has left clubs and it's incapable of being amicable where he is concerned. Tonight’s self-righteous “I'm out of here” was a disproportionate and unnecessary reaction considering the mood of the home fans tonight, who were largely positive and supportive and who got fully behind the side in the brief periods when Barnsley had sustained pressure.

“That’s such a completely unfair thing to do to the players. Where does it leave them?” MrsHfromB’s spontaneous reaction in the car highlights one of the many damaging consequences of Mick’s walk-out. We have a rudderless club, a confused and split fan base and a confused dressing room. A part of Mick may have died when he left the club, but this has been one hell of a way to break up.

“When an irretrievable breakdown occurs, the situation exists where either or both spouses are no longer able or willing to live with each other, thereby destroying their relationship with no hope or redemption.” Sometimes it’s good to go to a definition as it can provide clarity. It is so sad that it has ended this way. The saddest part of all is that it will negate much of what has gone before the split.

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All of which takes us back to Marcus Evans, who in so many ways has been able to hide behind Mick and let him catch the bullets. This isn’t just about appointing a new manager now. It’s about showing some leadership, grabbing hold of the pikestaff and charting a positive and confident direction for the club. This sense of drift has gone on for too long now, Marcus. It really is over to you….

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Back to the Future – Some Late Reflections on Yesterday’s Game at Birmingham
at 15:14 1 Apr 2018

“What was the story of the game?” My Italian mate Vince always starts our Tuesday morning get-together with this question, often before launching into an impassioned monologue about Napoli and the glory or catastrophe he had just witnessed. It was an apt question to think about on the way up to Birmingham, because this would be a game with several strands simultaneously in play.

The clocks may have sprung forward, but winter had not yet departed as slate grey skies dominated a gloomy drive up the M5. The fact that Radio FiveLive were discussing the riven fan base at West Ham and quietly salivating at the prospect of more confrontation at their Southampton game added to an ominous feeling. We have had to live with the reality of a divided camp for two years now.

“Back to where it all started.” These were the first words greeting me from a fellow supporter when I arrived on the away fans’ concourse. I smiled, but I was more preoccupied with how we would act as a crowd if things started to turn against us. The teams were very predictable, us in our solid 3-5-2 and the hosts in their attacking 4-4-2 which they hoped would be their bridge to safety.

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The fact that Roger East was refereeing the game added to the circularity of things. The first time I had seen him live was in this same fixture in 2014, a 2-2 draw which saw Christoph Berra plunge two headers into the Bluenoses goal. He was to encounter Berra again in the play-off defeat at Norwich, awarding a penalty and a red card which were to prove fateful. Surely this wouldn’t be an omen.

“Going Down! Going Down! Going Down!” St Andrew’s was fuller than usual and the usual 20 ultras were stationed to our right and the good-natured “tracksuits from Matalan” banter started up soon enough. It was good fun and distracted from a very disjointed start as both teams were playing a succession of wayward balls in a vain attempt to establish any sort of rhythm.

In contrast to Bristol City two weeks ago, the Bluenoses were happy to sit back and keep two lines of four when we were ponderously moving the ball with two touches across the back line. They started more brightly and created a few early half-chances, but they were nervous about over-committing and there was no sense of us being really under the cosh in the early exchanges.

One thing which was immediately apparent was the difference between the teams when play broke down in midfield. When the ball broke to us, we would move it sideways and circulate it to the back three, whereas Birmingham were quickly releasing Jota and Jacques Maghoma with the two wingers hurtling forward, often infield, and trying to create chances or commit our defenders.

Roger East and penalties. We had a ringside view of the incident and there was a coming together if anything between Maghoma and Cameron Carter-Vickers. It was never a spot-kick, but you could make the case that Birmingham deserved the award for their willingness to play on the front foot. As was the case at Bristol two weeks ago, we now had the increasingly pressing problem of scoring.

We could all see how Mick’s problem was summed up in what followed. There are many dangerous three-man midfields operating in the Championship. Norwich, Fulham and even QPR have balanced trios but Birmingham were not one of them. A midfield of Ward, Skuse and Connolly saw us manning the wrong barricades as the hosts nipped in around the flanks just like Bristol did two weeks ago.

I still believe that Mick was right not to use Celina in the Norwich derby but the Kosovan’s habit of losing shape was never going to be a problem with seven players behind him here. The balance of the side was too defensive and what followed up to half-time was a futile Town attempt to unpick the unsophisticated defensive shape which Garry Monk’s team were now happy to use.

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“A lack of bodies, pace and imagination in the final third.” We had hardly troubled the portly David Stockdale for all our industry and the worst of it was that City weren’t really playing on the counter. They would wait for the inevitable turnover in possession and see what their front quartet could fashion. The half-time conversation confirmed that we could all see the same thing. “Far too safe.”

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Our lack of pace meant that the hosts could play a high defensive line which hindered the flow of the game. To be fair to Roger East, he was trying to keep things moving and consistently turning down appeals for petty fouls for holding and obstruction. We were on the wrong end of a few but the home crowd were amusingly getting more and more riled as a succession of blue shirts hit the deck.

Allowing for the fact that all our players was guilty of misdirecting passes there were a few bright displays worth highlighting. Knudsen has his usual share of wayward balls, but his battle with Jota was an entertaining sideshow and he linked well with Carayol and Celina when they both came on and we switched to a back four. Jordan Spence likewise had a bright game attacking the City box.

Carter-Vickers handled Maghoma well apart from the penalty even if City’s winger got pelters from away fans after the spot-kick. Carayol and Celina gave us the attacking balance we missed for an hour of the game - and it is fun watching opponents being frightened of Celina - but they didn’t have and weren’t given time to ask sufficient probing questions of a nervous Birmingham defence.

As for Birmingham, at times I wondered how the hell they got into this mess with the players they have, and at others I could see exactly why. They are a talented group of players desperately low on confidence and their willingness to find the corner flag betrayed their desperation for this win. The most telling moment of the game for them was how they hugged each other at the final whistle.

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So much for the game. Our supporters were positive throughout and they would have been more than happy to serenade the players had there been something to serenade. There were no songs either way about Mick and the sense was that digging him out was pointless. However, the fact that only Bart, Skuse and Chambers made a real point of applauding us at full-time was a real concern.

I said to a fellow supporter before the game that I felt that Mick left the club the moment he finished his conversation with Evans on Wednesday and his “strange feeling” after the game was echoed by the vast majority of a well-humoured travelling support. It was like a last date with an ex after an amicable separation. You find yourself thinking ‘what if’ and just as quickly excluding the possibility.

“And that’s why he shouldn’t stay for another seven games.” Walking up the ramp from the away end, the consensus was that Birmingham were a nervous side and a more threatening team would have got something from them. It certainly also felt that while this end-of-season run of games made sense in theory with Mick in charge, the reality of him as a caretaker manager is far from ideal.

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I said it before the game and you will be sick of me saying this: Mick is history now and is to be filed with Keane vs Jewell and Jordan Rhodes. It is all about next season and the players will be looking with some self-interest at us as a band of supporters and assessing whether it is in their interests to stick around. It is vital that we (a) unite and (b) show them our appreciation in the coming weeks.

Millwall tomorrow will be a test for both the team and for us as fans. In many ways they are the last mob we want rocking up as they try and 4-4-2 their way into the play-offs and the record books. They have no love of Mick and will be more than happy to up the ante if we turn sour. It may be tempting to have a pop at Mick, but I would implore anyone going that it will do us far more harm than good.

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How Mick McCarthy Accelerated His Own Departure...
at 11:10 1 Apr 2018

I'm not sure if everyone picks up on blogs, so please forgive my putting this essay on Mick's departure up on the forum. I have just highlighted three areas where I feel that Mick management style helped hasten his exit from the club...

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Celebrity adulation has never ceased to fascinate me. On so many occasions working in the book trade I have seen readers walking up to a beloved author with trepidation to get a book signed with the author smiling benignly at a stranger who feels they have a deep connection with them.

If this seems rather odd, think of what it must be like for football managers. Replace beloved readers for a thousand or so passionate supporters lacking patience and perspective, many with only a basic and tangential knowledge of playing the game, and you are in an irrational world most of the time.

As a Dubliner with a deep admiration for Mick following his 2002 World Cup exploits and with a sad enthusiasm for small tactical details, his arrival at Ipswich in 2012 was delightful. Press conferences were littered with pearls of wisdom and his small tactical adjustments during games were manna from heaven. I was secretly and romantically hoping for a successful cup run and a statue.

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Three things marked out Mick’s management style. He was intuitively strong at spotting and quickly nullifying opposition threats and dangers, often making switches or substitutions within seconds as he had anticipated an opposing manager's chess moves. The prioritising of the elimination of risk was vital in his early days as a chaotically inherited team needed organising and structure.

The concept of control was a strong motif in his world both on and off the pitch. His paternalistic style quickly became apparent, and when I brought my partner to watch our Jonny Williams-inspired win over Derby in 2014, she noted how tactical discipline played an over-arching role in the side’s make-up, with only Williams and Stephen Hunt expressing their personality with any great freedom.

The control paradigm stretched into the close collegiate world of his dressing room. I have heard ex-players talk time and again about creating strong bonds of trust on the pitch, and this was pivotal in Mick’s thinking. It was also possible to be excluded from this world. The departures of Michael Chopra and JET were unsurprising and we all nodded knowingly when Cameron Stewart was quietly sidelined.

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Little did we realise at the time but it was also possible for fans to be excluded from this close-knit world. The first obvious instances were Mick’s disagreements with supporters after the August 2016 defeat at Brentford and the drawn Norwich game at Portman Road two weeks later. I remember being horrified about the Brentford incident in particular but it was to be the start of a pattern.

As other teams overtook us and the football stagnated in the 2016/17 season, there was a growing schism between Mick and an increasing proportion of the fanbase. Every so often there would be an emetic release such as after the humiliation at Lincoln in the FA Cup. The fanbase also grew ever more divided with the manager’s approach becoming as defensive off the pitch as the teams on it.

It has to be said that our growing relative weakness on the pitch in the division didn’t help. As we declined in status from promotion hopefuls, the former certainties of being organised and efficient took hold. We reverted to a grim version of the unbalanced team Mick reshaped after his arrival, getting safe and grinding out results. Nullifying opponents became the objective in many games.

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Mick’s growing hostility to the fans was a shock in the 2016/17 season and it established a pattern which really took hold in this campaign, alienating an increasing proportion of the wider and more patient fanbase. Looking back now, I believe his foul-mouthed outburst after our win at Burton in October drove an immovable wedge between him and the supporters and sealed his fate.

“Bobby Robson would have turned in his grave if he thought that any Town manager would speak like that.” It wasn’t just middle-of-the-road fans who were confused by now. Loyal diehards such as myself felt that we were getting the Cameron Stewart treatment. The gently inquisitive local press was being treated with defensiveness, suspicion and occasional hostility as the weeks went by.

Things came to a head around the Sheffield United and Hull games this month, but the outcome was inevitable in hindsight. In a game which was crying out for an Ian Holloway approach, Mick decided to take the cautious route against the Blades – matching up opponents and stopping them playing – as one poster described it this weekend, trying to mug a 1-0 win built on solid heroic defending.

The wins over Watford and Aston Villa will linger long in the memory, but you cannot build a play-off or promotion campaign on these foundations. It felt like Mick had given up on promotion when the supporters had not, and it also felt as if his circling the wagons on the pitch after the Hull defeat was the moment he lost the remaining fans. He didn’t lose the dressing room, but he lost everyone else.

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This potential divide between the dressing room and the supporters is a source of profound danger. One of the most telling moments in Thursday’s press conference was Mick’s reflexive “absolutely” when asked if Bart or Jonas might rethink renewing their contracts. In Mick’s thinking, they were in his world and not ours, so why should they be loyal to the club or its supporters?

I felt that the other telling and related moment in that conference was when he highlighted the pattern of decline and relegation after he left previous clubs, but this may not be a surprise given how his approach here mirrored his time both at Wolves and Sunderland. I ran my thinking past fans of both clubs and it wasn’t long before they were finishing sentences for me.

The arc of Mick’s time here will be repeated at his next club. He is a brilliant football man who will panel-beat a team into shape, get them organised and win the crowd. Once the cold winds of adversity start to blow again, I fear that a fatal combination of a desire to control everything on and off the pitch coupled with the growing exclusion of anyone perceived to be against him is a toxic blend that will always doom him to failure.
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