‘The problem wasn’t getting rid of McCarthy.... It was what came after’

Mick McCarthy

Mick McCarthy - Credit: Andrew Partridge

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It rather narks me when I hear people lauding Mick McCarthy as if he was some sort of revolutionary football manager. No more than revisionist history ahoy.

Yes, McCarthy absolutely saved the club from relegation when he came in.

To deal with the mess that previous bosses had left behind was nothing short of miraculous, and for that, he deserves our respect and thanks.

The play-off season was also a highlight, but I think it masked a style of football whereby, if we didn’t win, there was little else going for it. For me, and others, the football was dire, tactics were defensive and line-ups were (a couple of attacking players aside) set up to capture a point rather than tickle three out of the opposition.

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I’ve been going to Portman Road since 1982 and the standard of football on offer was even worse than John Duncan’s time- and for any younger fans, I promise you, that was not good.

The style of football McCarthy is renowned for is for the history books.

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There isn’t one team in the Premier League that plays hoof-ball any more. Giving the ball back to the opposition is considered a sacrilege because you may not see it again for several minutes. Playing long balls up to a target man to win the second ball off their knockdown was always a 50/50 chance anyway, but now the top teams are so full of players with the composure to work in tight situations it killed the tactic off.

Hoof-ball might serve a purpose, of course, to get you out of a mess, but unless it coincides with a couple of players having their best season ever (Murphy and Berra, anyone?), success with it is short lived and it should be consigned to the tactics bin.

Sure, I know there are a number of fans keen to blame the lack of financial support from Marcus Evans, but take a look at Sheffield United as an example of a team that played progressive football on a shoestring and succeeded.

I think we would all love Evans to throw more cash at the team, but he clearly isn’t going to.

Unless someone can find a billionaire that will, it strikes me as a pointless argument. A club of Ipswich’s size is only ever going to get back to the Prem via three ways:

1) A progressive, almost revolutionary, style of play that gains momentum and produces promotion (i.e.. Sheff Utd)

2) Prioritising the youth set-up, selling where the money is big and prudent purchases (i.e.. Southampton)

3) Roll out the Multi-Billionaire!

None of these options involve hoicking a ball up to a target man.

The fact that, even a couple of years after he exited, we continue suffering as a club with players still ‘going long’ shows how deeply ingrained it was. Just watch the opposition at Portman Road (as and when we get that joy again!), as they close down our strikers, close down the midfielders and almost allow certain central defenders have the ball because they know, one hoof later, they will have it back again.

McCarthy’s exit wasn’t due to fans thoughtlessly driving him out, it was because hope had gone.

The football was terrible to watch and I think it dawned on people that there was no way that style of football would ever get us close to the Prem again. Attendances were spiralling down, atmosphere was toxic and a goalkeeper (awesome as he was) had won three Player of the Year trophies on the trot. It is telling.

I’ll grant, if Mick had stayed we would likely still be dragging points out of dull fests in the Championship, but we would still have no chance of promotion and a dwindling amount of bored fans. Sure, I get how it might sound stupid from the division below, but getting rid of Mick was still the right thing to do.

In short, the problem wasn’t getting rid of Mick, it was what came after.

Poor recruitment in Hurst and the fact, two years on, there is still a vacuum where a progressive/coherent style of play should live.

I’m not sure Lambert is the right man to be leading us now, but I do know this: I’m glad it isn’t McCarthy.

Matt Thomas

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