Monday verdict: Stability shouldn’t be underestimated, but neither should the prospect of stagnation
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Watching Ipswich Town finish their home campaign with a 3-2 win over MK Dons on Saturday was akin to the feeling a high handicap golfer gets playing a couple of decent shots down the 18th hole of a mixed round.
All the frustrations which followed sliced drives, duffed chips and bunker fails left you almost chucking your clubs in the lake and vowing never to play the stupid game again.
Then the great feeling of a sweet iron strike into the green, followed by the sinking of a monster putt over-rides everything which preceded it and sees you walking to the bar convinced the next round will be better.
The Blues left it to virtually the last moment of their last home game to avoid setting an unwanted record – becoming the first team in the club’s history to go an entire campaign at Portman Road without scoring three or more goals in a match.
Teenage full-backs Josh Emmanuel and Myles Kenlock played with youthful enthusiasm, silky forward David McGoldrick again showed signs that he can rediscover his talismanic form of old, while talented midfielder Teddy Bishop finally made his first senior start of an injury-ravaged season.
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Town head into their final game, at Derby on Saturday, knowing they will finish either seventh or eighth. Not bad considering four of their best forward-thinking players have missed large chunks of the campaign through injury.
Had McGoldrick, Bishop, Ryan Fraser and Daryl Murphy been fully fit and firing all season, would Ipswich have finished higher? Probably. Would they have played far more attractive football along the way? Undoubtedly.
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The critics, however, will question why Mick McCarthy waited until there was nothing to play for to be bold with his team selection. Key injuries aside, he still could have been more pro-active than reactive during the dismal form of 2016.
“Maybe it was because we had nothing to play for but also the team was as offensive as it could be and that showed by getting three goals,” said skipper for the day Cole Skuse. It’s the sort of comment that will have frustrated supporters screaming ‘exactly!’
Ipswich Town appears to be risk averse, both on and off the field at the moment.
Cautious owner Marcus Evans said, rather vaguely, in his programme notes that he would ‘look at’ the possibility of spending more on transfer fees this summer and reiterated that it was his duty to keep the club on a stable footing.
Pragmatic manager McCarthy, even when things weren’t going well, wasn’t prepared to put greater emphasis on attack than defence.
No-one is asking for the club to throw the baby out with the bath water and rip-up everything that has got them to this point, but, with solid foundations now very much in place, surely now is the time to take some calculated risks?
On Saturday, a small banner in the North Stand was unfurled which read ‘No ambition = Bored fans’. A bigger-than-usual crowd of 19,631, many of whom stayed to applaud the players during their end-of-season lap at the end, suggests the quiet majority still see much to be proud of.
“When I first arrived people said the club was a shambles and players didn’t care, but that couldn’t be said now,” said McCarthy. “It’s a well-run club with a team that fights tooth and nail.”
Stability shouldn’t be underestimated, but neither should the prospect of stagnation.
A frustrating season is nearly over. Town have stood still while others around them have taken steps forwards. It’s not going to get any easier next season either with Aston Villa, as well two out of Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich coming down.
When you walk off the 18th green after a couple of decent shots, focus on those positives but, more importantly, then go away and dedicate time to addressing the fundamental problems in your game. Only then will significant progress be made.
But rock up on the first tee a few months later having done nothing and that is a surefire recipe for more of the same.
All is not broken at Ipswich Town, but there is also much work to be done. Have no doubt about it, this club finds itself at a major crossroads.