Do pre-season performances set the tone for campaign ahead? A look back at recent summers
Ipswich Town head to Spain today for a training camp under new boss Paul Hurst. Stuart Watson looks back at the six pre-seasons under Mick McCarthy.
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The summer started well enough as the Blues, attempting to get fans back onside after a dismal season, produced some easy-on-the-eye football despite an illness bug sweeping through the camp.
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New signing Joe Garner bagged six goals, while teenage midfielder Andre Dozzell caught the eye.
And then, just a week before the season opener against Birmingham at Portman Road, Town were thrashed 6-1 at League One side Charlton. In truth, the margin of defeat could have been bigger.
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Mick McCarthy didn’t hold back afterwards, labelling it ‘embarrassing’ and ‘a shambles’, but insisted it could be the ‘kick up the arse’ his players needed.
His words proved to be prophetic as Town went on to win their opening five competitive games in all competitions – the club’s best start to a season in 17 years.
Drogheda Utd (a) W 5-0
Southend Utd (a) W 4-1
Peterborough Utd (a) W 3-1
Gillingham (a) L 2-1
Colchester Utd (a) W 1-0
Charlton Ath (a) L 6-1
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There were definitely some warning signs ahead of what proved to be a disappointing campaign.
Belgian second-tier side Royal Union Saint-Gilloise looked a very poor outfit, but somehow left Portman Road with a 2-1.
That final warm-up game a continuation of some worrying summer themes – dominate possession, not be ruthless enough in attack and then make sloppy errors at the back.
“On Saturday there will be an added intensity,” said McCarthy, who had already voiced his transfer frustrations. “You walk out and there is 15 to 20 thousand or so people here, there are points at stake and it’s just a better feeling.
“Pre-season isn’t the same because there is, I don’t know, five per cent that gets lost.”
Town subsequently beat Barnsley 4-2 in their season-opener courtesy of a Grant Ward hat-trick, but it was pretty much all downhill from there onwards.
Shelbourne (a) W 2-1
Barnet (a) L 1-0
Colchester Utd (a) W 1-0
Cambridge Utd (a) D 1-1
Charlton Ath (a) D 0-0
Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (h) L 2-1
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Flying wingers Ryan Fraser and Ainsley Maitland-Niles had arrived to add some more flair to a side who had just battled their way to sixth with Paul Anderson and Jay Tabb on the flanks.
The Blues were certainly easier on the eye during their friendly fixtures, but conceding 10 goals in four games provided a slight concern.
A trip to Germany to face Fortuna Dusseldorf was great fun for the fans and a sense of feelgood factor carried into the campaign as Town played superbly in a 2-2 draw at Brentford before winning the next four on the spin.
Town’s new expansive approach didn’t last long, with McCarthy slamming the tactical breaks on following a 5-1 defeat at Reading in early September.
Shelbourne (a) W 6-0
Fortuna Dusseldorf (a) L 4-3
Cambridge Utd (a) W 3-2
Peterborough Utd (a) D 0-0
Colchester Utd (a) L 3-2
Utrecht (h) D 1-1
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My abiding memory is that Daryl Murphy looked a leaner, meaner machine. An incredible 27-goal campaign followed with the number nine on his back.
Ten goals scored and just two conceded as a team was also an indication that the Blues were ready to hit the ground running.
Big Hungarian striker Balint Bajner became an instant cult hero by celebrating a pre-season goal at Southend like mad that summer, but he was subbed at half-time on his debut and never started again.
By the time Town had recorded back-to-back wins against Wolves and Watford in early November you knew something special was coming together.
Shelbourne (a) W 4-0
West Ham (h) D 0-0
Colchester Utd (a) W 3-0
Gillingham (a) W 2-0
Southend Utd (a) W 2-1
Leyton Orient (a) D 1-1
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Murphy (5) and David McGoldrick (4) scored nine goals between them as Town enjoyed a near flawless first pre-season under McCarthy’s management.
Only a couple of late goals conceded at Notts County prevented the clean sweep of six wins, but that form didn’t carry into the season as Town managed lost 2-1 at Reading and managed just one victory from their opening six games in all competitions.
Shelbourne (a) W 2-0
Crawley Town (a) W 2-1
Chippenham Town (a) W 1-0
Gillingham (a) W 2-1
Barnet (a) W 1-0
Colchester Utd (a) W 3-0
Notts County (a) D 3-3