Stuart Watson’s Sunday Verdict: McCarthy badly misjudges mood of the fans as judgement day looms
PUBLISHED: 14:08 11 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:55 12 March 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
On a day where there was everything to gain and little to lose, Ipswich Town manager Mick McCarthy let down supporters with some typical unashamed ultra-pragmatism.
Following two big wins at Preston and Sheffield Wednesday, the Blues had an outside chance of gathering some momentum and making a late charge towards the play-offs places. Yet the handbrake was put firmly on.
Not surprisingly, as has so often been the case in recent times, things went flat at Portman Road on an occasion of hope. Saturday’s goalless draw with Sheffield United joins the long list of uninspiring football fare dished up on Suffolk soil over the last two years.
Five defenders and three battling midfielders started. Potential game-changers were left on the bench as the attritional action unfolded. Striker Joe Garner was only introduced with less than 10 minutes to go.
Despite having no target man, the ball was regularly pumped aimlessly long. Rarely are three or more passes strung together. The plan is always to keep things tight, play the percentages and try to nick something.
That’s now almost eight hours since Town have scored in front of their home fans. The binary scorelines are back. It’s all so safe. It’s all so cautious. It’s all so predictable and dull. There really is very little value for money.
In a radio interview at the weekend, Blues managing director Ian Milne revealed that there will be some ‘good news’ on season tickets in ‘the next couple of weeks’, cryptically adding ‘also probably a change, a letter of intent from the club of what we’re doing in the future and what have you, without going into too much detail’.
Asked if McCarthy’s uncertain future would be decided by then, he replied: “Yes, the two things will come together. You’ve got to bear with us on timing on all of that. We understand where the fans are coming from, we totally get it and we will come out with the announcement at the appropriate time so they can make the right decision.”
Make of that what you will. Would a cut or freeze in prices but sticking with McCarthy really inject the much-needed feelgood factor? Unlikely.
The Blues boss’ latest post-match comments show just how out of touch he is with the general mood of growing apathy and boredom.
Declaring himself very much satisfied with a point, he said: “Let’s go gung-ho and create loads of chances, make it an open game and get beat shall we? I’m not really into that. That’s never going to be the case. Hey, we set out not to concede, but we don’t set out for a 0-0 draw.”
He’s effectively saying he doesn’t think his players are good enough to try and beat opponents from the off. Yet Town were entertaining and winning games earlier in the season when injuries forced a more open approach.
It’s worth remembering that the final point in owner Marcus Evans’ five-point plan, published over a year ago, is: ‘To develop a team to play attractive and exciting football which fans are happy to pay to watch’.
You have to wonder whether that is compatible with the preceding point of: ‘Maintaining a stable management and coaching team’.
The supporting argument for McCarthy is that a limited budget has created such a cautious approach out of necessity. Also, that injured midfielders Emyr Huws, Tom Adeyemi, Teddy Bishop and Andre Dozzell could have made a difference.
But is it the personnel or the instructions which are given to them that is the root cause of this lack of entertainment? The recent slick football played on the floor against Cardiff, on the rare occasion the shackles were loosened, suggests the latter.
McCarthy attributing the lack of quality in Saturday’s game to the poor playing surface suggests Town would have attempted expansive football on a carpet. We all know that’s not the case.
And him suggesting that the positive atmosphere in the crowd means everyone has suddenly wised up to it being ‘a pretty good season’ is a gross misjudgement (it felt more like a temporary ceasefire).
Football is a constant risk versus reward balancing act and Town have been far too cautious on and off the field for too long.
To be clear, no-one is asking for a constant reckless throw of the dice. No-one wants Evans to risk financial instability, but there have undoubtedly been missed opportunities to strengthen from positions of strength. A little could have gone a long way.
And no-one is asking for McCarthy to dish up tippy-tappy, ‘sexy’ football on a weekly basis either. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. And certain qualities are required in the Championship. Yet it’s surely not too much to ask for a ‘fortune favours the brave’ tactical approach on appropriate occasions though? This is an entertainment business after all.
Evans, who ironically has made his millions through selling tickets, will surely have falling attendances at Portman Road at the front of his mind when making the big decisions over the coming weeks.