Monday verdict: Pain will fade, then comes pride, followed by hope

Ipswich Town fans show their appreciation at the end of the match.

Ipswich Town fans show their appreciation at the end of the match. - Credit: Ashley Pickering

Ipswich Town’s season may have ended in bitter disappointment, but when the pain has faded everyone associated with the club will reflect with pride and look ahead with hope.

There was absolutely nothing between Mick McCarthy’s bargain basement Blues and their East Anglian arch-rivals for 140 of fiercely competitive Championship play-off semi-final football.

But then Christophe Berra saw red and the Canaries’ multi-million talent took advantage of an extra man and tired legs.

Even after Wes Hoolahan fired home a 50th minute penalty, Town displayed the never-say-die spirit that has been so apparent all season as Tommy Smith netted an equaliser on the hour mark.

Goals from Nathan Redmond (64) and Cameron Jerome (76) put an end to the prospect of a fairytale ending to an underdog success story. However, motivated by the image of jubilant City fans invading the pitch and celebrating in their faces, McCarthy and his players will be heading on their summer holidays fully determined to write another heart-warming chapter.

The likes of Derby, Cardiff, Nottingham Forest, Fulham and Wigan were far more fancied than Ipswich going into the campaign. McCarthy’s master man-management saw his close-knit group of carefully chosen positive personalities see them all off though.

Sixth-place and 78 points is comfortably the best season that Ipswich Town has had in a decade. Those statistics only tell half of the story though.

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There is a sense that supporters, whose apathy had grown during a Groundhog Day period, have reconnected with their club. The glaringly obvious hard-work and professional attitude of the players has more than made up for any technical shortcomings.

McCarthy has made steady progress throughout his two-and-a-half year tenure. He put out fires after inheriting a club in a mess, laid solid foundations and has only just begun building in earnest.

Young talent such as Tyrone Mings and Teddy Bishop can only get better following the steep learning curve of their breakthrough seasons, while there are more hot prospects coming through a rejuvenated academy.

There is a core of experienced players to build around, the talismanic David McGokdrick will hopefully be fully fit and firing again and, with no key men coming to the end of their contracts, if anyone does leave it will be at the right price.

Indeed, Town may have to sell in order to buy – just as George Burley did when he had to deal with three successive play-off semi-final defeats in the late 90s before eventually guiding his beloved Blues to Wembley glory.

Just a little bit of spending on transfer fees from owner Marcus Evans who, like everyone else has been swept up in emotions of pride, could go a long way. He did vow, in his recent programme notes, that he would strive to match market values.

McCarthy said recently that the pain of defeat lasts a lot longer than the joy of winning. It was plain to see that he was hurting in his post-match press conference at Carrow Road, but there was steel in his eyes during the deliverance of his parting words.

“Yes, may play-off record is poor,” he said. “But every time I’ve lost in them I’ve tended to qualify for a World Cup or win the Championship the following year. I think a few people should remember that.”