Monday Verdict: Negativity is mounting, but all is not lost yet
It was the sight that Ipswich Town fans feared the most.
No, not Matty Phillips stooping to nod home an 88th-minute winner for Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, thus knocking the Blues out of the Championship top six again.
Sure, that was a suckerpunch, but Town have scored their own fair share of late winners recently and sometimes you just have to take your medicine.
The worst thing about Saturday was the moment when Ryan Fraser pulled up sharply clutching his hamstring. The fact that Mick McCarthy had risked playing his star man with that muscle already reported tight, tells you just how invaluable he has been to the team. The fact that the flying winger suffered the set-back in virtually the last phase of play made it all the more galling.
Town are now going to have to draw on every last drop of their famed team spirit and never-say-die qualities if they are to reach the play-offs again this campaign.
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Last season the Blues were always ‘flying under the radar’, they were always ‘punching above their weight’ and ‘the surprise package’ in the division.
Expectations were realistic and positivity seemed to snowball. Teddy Bishop emerged from the youth team, Daryl Murphy couldn’t stop scoring, Tyrone Mings was a non-league success story and his charitable acts epitomised the good characters policy that McCarthy puts at the very top of his recruitment priorities. Fans felt they had a club to be proud of again.
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Town are still very much all of those things and they are not far behind the points total they had on the board at this stage of last season. There just doesn’t seem to be the same feelgood factor that swept them over the line in 2015.
Bishop and David McGoldrick, arguably the club’s two most technically-gifted players, have been mysteriously sidelined for months. Fraser – one of their few remaining players who can get fans off their seats – now looks set to join them for a lengthy spell out.
The FA Cup exit debacle left a bitter taste in many fans’ mouths and another transfer window of restricted spending left many disillusioned. The flat atmosphere inside Portman Road last Tuesday night reflected that.
McCarthy will now dip into the emergency loan market, but, as he himself admits, finding a player capable of filling Fraser’s shoes (for just 93 days) will be nigh-on impossible.
It’s not exactly been a bed of roses for Town’s promotion rivals of late either though. Big-spending Middlesbrough and Derby are feeling pressure of their own.
If any team can rally together and defy the doubters, then it is this Ipswich Town one. Maybe, just maybe, they are best when their backs are to the wall.