COMMENT: Forget the future for one moment and show Mick McCarthy your appreciation for his incredible first year
- Credit: Andrew Partridge
Friday marks Mick McCarthy’s one-year anniversary as Ipswich Town manager. STUART WATSON reflects on how the Yorkshireman has stabilised the club on and off the pitch in the space of just 12 months.
Quite simply, Mick McCarthy has become a victim of his own success.
The very fact that some supporters are even discussing any perceived shortfalls in tactics and team selections after fine margin defeats is proof of some quite incredible achievements over a 12 month period.
Think back to this time last year. They may be bad memories that have been repressed, but it’s necessary to recall the true severity of Ipswich Town’s situation back then to fully appreciate just how much rosier the picture currently is.
The Blues were propping up the Championship table with just seven points from their opening 13 games.
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A confidence-rocked team were crumbling at the slightest hint of a set-back on the pitch. Following four successive matches in which defeats had been plucked from the jaws of victory, Paul Jewell – after analysing the DVD – left ‘by mutual consent’.
His right-hand man, Chris Hutchings, delivered a tub-thumping rallying cry after being appointed caretaker boss, but a heartless 3-0 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday followed and the prospect of dropping into English football’s third tier for the first time in more than half a century suddenly looked a very real prospect.
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Selling this thankless task can’t have been easy for owner Marcus Evans.
The new man would be inheriting a mish-mash of a squad. An ever-changing recruitment policy had started with Roy Keane shelling out big transfer fees (Lee Martin, Carlos Edwards, Grant Leadbitter), Paul Jewell going for ageing former top-flight talent (Jimmy Bullard, Lee Bowyer, Michael Chopra) only for the purse strings to suddenly be tightened.
Make no doubt about it, this was one hell of a mess to clear up – both on and off the pitch. Town needed an experienced, strong character to make the best out of what they’d got and quickly turn things around.
Step forward McCarthy who, in his own words, was ‘putting his backside in the bacon slicer’.
On the pitch he took things back to basics. Off the pitch he commanded respect from his players with a straight-talking, well-rounded style of man-management. There couldn’t have been a better man for the situation.
Somehow, a season which saw the Blues use 40 different players – 16 of them loanees – ended with Town in promotion form. The stats have been often quoted, but they’re worth repeating – 53 points from a possible 99, including 12 clean sheets from the last 23 games. Incredible.
Don’t underestimate what has followed either.
Not only has McCarthy made the team consistent on the pitch, but he’s also added some real stability off it too.
Big-wage players like Michael Chopra and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas were quickly shipped out in the summer, with the loanee count reduced to just one heading into the new campaign.
Not so long ago the squad contained numerous ageing former top-flight stars on the wane, now 20 of the 28 professional contracted players are 25 years old or younger.
The players that have arrived are not only solid Championship performers, but great characters too. Team spirit is an over-used term in football reportage, but it really is palpable when you speak to this current group.
There is no getting away from the fact there are deficiencies in this squad – a lack of creativity and flair the most obvious. For that reason, a mid-table finish already looks highly likely.
Any disappointment with that must be considered within the wider picture though. You’d have snapped the hand off anyone who’d have offered up this scenario one year ago.
Town could quite easily have been in League One this season – a division which many a ‘big’ club has found difficult to get back out of.
Instead solid foundations are in place to push for the next level.
In a new era of Financial Pair Play and increased parachute payments there is no guarantee it will happen in the near future. One thing is for sure though, promotion seems a lot more achievable than it did 12 months ago.
So when Town take to the Portman Road pitch for the visit of Barnsley on Friday night, put all of the Republic of Ireland speculation and thoughts about how Town are going to push on to one side for just a moment and simply show Mick your appreciation for the past year.
You dread to think where this club would be without him.