Ipswich Town fans are ready to ride the rollercoaster again
Eleven successive campaigns in the Championship, the last four of which have ended with bottom-half finishes. To an outsider, life at Ipswich Town must look dull. In reality it’s been anything but. Chief Football Writer STUART WATSON reflects on another eventful campaign at Portman Road.
They say it’s the lows in football which make you fully appreciate the highs.
Maybe that’s why Ipswich Town fans are this time feeling flush with endorphins – rather than just plain sick – as the rollercoaster ride of another season finishes in the familiar territory of bottom-half safety.
Let’s rewind to Tuesday, October 23.
Paul Jewell had farcically failed to turn up for the post-match press conference after his soft-centred side had somewhat predictably conceded yet another last-gasp goal to lose 2-1 at home to Derby.
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It was the fifth successive game that a 1-0 lead had been let slip and, apparently, the Blues boss was somewhere in Portman Road ‘watching back the DVD’ of the latest horror show.
That turned out to be a euphemism for ‘left by mutual consent’.
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In truth, the fire had gone out in the Liverpudlian’s eyes the previous weekend at Hull City. Following that 2-1 loss I’d asked him – almost apologetically – whether he was considering his position.
Braced for a withering put-down, instead his shoulders slumped as he publicly laid-bare his self doubts.
Up stepped assistant Chris Hutchings into the caretaker role. He gave a rip-roaring, table-thumping pre-match press conference ahead of the visit of Sheffield Wednesday. A limp 3-0 home defeat ensued.
Ipswich hit the foot-of-the-table with just seven points from their opening 13 matches and everyone wondered just how low things would get.
Thankfully, as it turned out, that would prove to be rock-bottom.
You could have forgiven Marcus Evans for feeling somewhat disillusioned. Twice he’d gone out and recruited managers with Championship promotions on their CVs. Twice he’d backed them in the transfer market. And twice they’d let him down.
Very quickly though it became clear that he was as committed as ever. Harry Redknapp and Ian Holloway were on the short-list, but it was Mick McCarthy that got the job.
And there couldn’t have been a more perfect appointment at that given moment in time.
A straight-talking, no-nonsense, pragmatic, level-headed, man-manager – capable of defusing situations with good humour and delivering home truths when required – was required to settle a dressing room that was devoid of confidence.
On his first day as Wolves boss in 2006, the Yorkshireman had quipped that his initials didn’t stand for ‘Merlin the Magician’.
After masterminding a 1-0 win at Birmingham on his first outing in the dugout, he was asked whether he was indeed a magician after all. The response? ‘I wish I could make you disappear!’
It was the first of many quips which would lighten the mood.
Privately, those that needed the proverbial kick up the backside got it, while those that needed an arm around the shoulder – the likes of Tommy Smith and Luke Hyam – were made to feel special again.
Improvements didn’t happen overnight, with 5-0 and 6-0 thrashings suffered at Crystal Palace and Leicester, but pretty soon you could see McCarthy’s back-to-basics, hard-to-beat ethos begin to shine through on the pitch.
The rest has been well-documented. Fifty-three points from a possible 99, including 14 clean sheets along the way, would have seen the Blues finish sixth in the table had the season started when Town changed boss.
So back to that rollercoaster analogy.
In previous years, when the carriage has come to a stop, the white knuckle ride has felt like more of a pointless endurance task. Standing in the queue to do it all over again, the question has always been ‘why are we doing this?’
This time though, there is a genuine feeling that there will be more thrills when the bars go down for 2013/14.
Mind you, we said that when Keane and Jewell – with those Championship promotions jumping out from their CVs – rolled into town.
They say it’s the lows that make you appreciate the highs.
They also say it’s the hope that kills you.
SEASON BY QUOTES
“Let’s be brutally honest about it – we lost to Luton, a Conference team, and Southend. The team is nowhere near good enough, I think everyone knows that. I must have tried for 20 players but for different reasons it hasn’t happened.”
– Paul Jewell, following two pre-season defeats
“It’s a rude awakening. The spirit in the camp is good, there’s no doubt about that, but we’ve played exceptionally well against Blackburn (1-1 home draw) and Watford (1-0 away win) and then gone to this. It’s the sublime to the ridiculous really and that’s been our Achilles heel for a long time.”
– Jewell after 6-0 thrashing at Blackpool
“We have to look at the bigger picture for Ipswich and think ‘am I the man to take them forward?’ If I decide when I speak to Marcus (Evans) and one or two other people who are close to me that the best thing for Ipswich is for me not to be here, then I’ll do that.”
– After 2-1 defeat at Hull
“He’s not here because he’s in the office watching the DVD, going through trying to put things right. Has Paul spoken to Marcus yet? I don’t think he has. I think he’s in Barbados. As far as I know, no.”
– Chris Hutchings after 2-1 home loss to Derby
“They need to look at themselves in the mirror. It’s their job, they get well-paid for it. I didn’t hear the chants, but that’s their opinion isn’t it? From what you’ve just said (about not being fit to wear the shirt) they are probably right about one or two.”
– Chris Hutchings after 3-0 home loss to Sheffield Wednesday.
“The new manager needs to come in and put a rocket up a few backsides. There is not enough people here, for me, that care about losing a game of football, their careers and care about football in general.”
– Loanee Richie Wellens after Sheffield Wednesday defeat.
“He’s a genuine man. He’s too nice for his own good sometimes. I think we as players take advantage of the situation and not perform in the way that we should.”
– Town skipper Carlos Edwards on under-pressure Jewell.
“Maybe smashing a few earholes might help – if that’s what it needs I’m more than happy to do that. I have to say though, that’s not my management style.”
– Mick McCarthy upon appointment as boss.
“All the best teams work hard. That’s not a dirty word, it’s essential.”
– McCarthy upon appointment.
“A new manager always gets a response. It might be Christmas before we get out of the relegation zone. As long as we are out of it come May the fourth then I’ll be happy.”
– McCarthy following opening 1-0 win at Birmingham.
“It was an abject and awful performance, but there’s no point in finger pointing. The only way we’ll survive and thrive is by sticking together.”
– McCarthy following 6-0 loss at Leicester.
“We all get a kick from seeing it, but we can’t pat each other on the back and stroke each others’ egos. Let’s do that every week if we can.”
– McCarthy after a 3-1 home win over Nottingham Forest lifted Town out of the bottom three.
“The ones that were singing ‘Mick McCarthy out’ are doing it for Stale (Solbakken) now. All I’ll say is, ‘be careful, you might get what you wish for.’”
– McCarthy after win at former club Wolves.
“Livid, annoyed, angry, disappointed. We’ve let them off the hook and see others around us have won.”
– McCarthy after 2-1 defeat at Bristol City.
“I apologise for the **** standard of game that you’ve just all watched, but I’m not going to apologise for getting a point away from home – no way! If you’d have offered me a point before the game I wouldn’t have even got on the bus.”
– McCarthy after a forgettable goalless draw at Huddersfield.
“Halle Berry excites me, but I wouldn’t play her.”
– McCarthy after a journalist suggested that Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was an exciting player.
“I’ve got no sympathy with the player. If it was my centre-half, I’d be telling them ‘you let them upset you’. A little **** upset you and it’s cost us the game.”
– McCarthy after Leicester captain Wes Morgan was sent off in Town’s 1-0 home win over Leicester.
“I come in here all nice and calm, but I’ve just walked into my office to see my friends and family and shouted ‘YOU ******* BEAUTY!!! My wife told me not to swear in front of my granddaughter, but she’s only seven weeks old so she doesn’t know what’s going on!”
– McCarthy after last-gasp 1-0 home win over Bolton.
“We’ve burgled it. I heard the sirens coming and thought ‘the police are coming’.”
– McCarthy after smash-and-grab win at Derby.
“Instead of kicking the **** out of each other we could have all just stayed at home!”
– McCarthy on a 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday being fair.
Journalist: “If the season was a bit longer we’d be talking about the play-offs.” McCarthy: “If the season was a bit longer I’d have a heart attack!”
– McCarthy after 3-1 home win over Birmingham guaranteed safety.