Monday Verdict: Time will tell if Mick McCarthy’s FA Cup stance is misguided or a masterstroke
12:00 11 January 2016
© Stephen Waller
The next six days will tell us whether Mick McCarthy’s FA Cup experiment was ill-conceived or a masterstroke.
The Blues boss made his usual wholesale changes for knockout football on Saturday and a new-look team produced a disjointed display in the 2-2 home draw with League Two outfit Portsmouth.
Ryan Fraser’s crossed free-kick ended up evading everyone in the 88th minute and dropping in the net. It was a fortunate goal that sealed a fortunate draw and a replay that neither promotion-seeking side particularly wanted.
Take nothing away from Paul Cook’s visitors. It shouldn’t be forgotten that they too weren’t all full strength. They were without three centre-backs, they rested their influential midfield skipper Michael Doyle and first-choice striker Caolan Lavery was ineligible.
And yet, unlike the hosts, they were able to play like a team, not a bunch of strangers.
Pompey refused to deviate from their usual pass-out-from-the-back approach and dominated possession. The uninitiated would have thought it was them, not Town, who were 46 places higher in the Football League pyramid.
It’s the sort of football that Town fans dream off seeing week-in, week-out. Mind you, Pompey’s magnificent fans dream of playing in the Championship week-in, week-out. It’s all relative.
Fair play to McCarthy. Searingly honest as ever, he called it exactly how everyone else saw it afterwards. ‘We were lucky, they were excellent’ was his paraphrased assessment. It would have been impossible to dress it up any differently.
So, I hear you ask, how could it turn out to be a masterstroke?
Well, tomorrow night the Blues host Leeds at Portman Road and then, on Saturday, Preston are in Suffolk for another Championship fixture.
If the likes of Christophe Berra, Kevin Bru, Freddie Sears and Daryl Murphy come back into the team all guns blazing following a timely rest then Saturday’s performance will quickly be forgotten.
Also, the likes of Piotr Malarczyk, Paul Digby, Tommy Oar and Luke Varney will be just that little bit more ready if called upon during the run-in. Securing a top-six spot is, after all, the ultimate goal.
Conversely, if Town endure any sort of hangover from either Saturday’s game or the inconvenient replay at Fratton Park a week tomorrow, then this could well be reflected on as the moment the Blues came off the boil.
Time, as ever, will tell.