Why Mick McCarthy is to blame for Ipswich Town’s current struggles

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 27 October 2018, 08:46

To most outside IP1, the accepted theory is that Ipswich Town’s early-season blues are down to the exit of Mick McCarthy.

The Yorkshireman maximized a limited squad and Paul Hurst, who has this week lost his job as Tractor Boys boss with just one win to his name, was unable to match his predecessor’s ability to perform on a low budget.

Of course, the off-field issues do not help any Ipswich Manager.

The club are continuously selling key assets and not spending anything like the same amount of money on their replacements.

And yet, that is also the case for Swansea, Bristol City, Brentford and – forgive me Ipswich fans – Norwich.

Those four clubs had been challenging in the top half under Graham Potter, Lee Johnson, Dean Smith and Daniel Farke – even if Smith left the Bees recently.

What those four head coaches have done is trust in young players and, over a long period, introduce a modern brand of football that fans can buy into.

This is what McCarthy has failed to do...

Firstly, he generally favoured experienced performers.

Eight Ipswich players made more than 35 appearances last season and of them, only Jonas Knudsen and Grant Ward were under 28; one could ask the question as to whether Knudsen or Ward have the potential to improve beyond the level they are currently at.

Old players tend to be cheaper in the short-term, they are often more vocal in the changing rooms and can be more predictable in terms of performance levels.

It is understandable, in some ways, that a manager without much spending power who has the brief of survival looks at this profile of player.

 

In the long run though, a reluctance to entrust young players with a prolonged run of games means that Ipswich cannot create sale-able assets; they only made £8 million this summer from the sales of Martyn Waghorn and Adam Webster.

By contrast, their friends from Norfolk effectively gave Daniel Farke the 2017-18 season with the remit of reducing the average age and developing individuals.

They have reaped the benefits this summer with the sale of Jacob Murphy and James Maddison for a combined £31 million, re-investing that money very shrewdly in the likes of Teemu Pukki and Jordan Rhodes.

Norwich’s in-form full-backs are academy graduates Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis, who were given regular game time.

 

Ipswich’s Josh Emmanuel and Myles Kenlock – who showed equal potential at the start of their careers – featured less prominently.

At this point, the obvious question is if McCarthy was doing so badly, why have Ipswich finished in the top half in four of his five full seasons in charge?

Of course, the Barnsley born boss deserves immense credit for the work he did in his first three years at the helm and leading them to the Championship Play-Offs in 2014-15 was an excellent achievement.

 

More recently though, relations have soured – not helped by the fact McCarthy had a dig at the fans after his side took the lead in last season’s derby draw at Carrow Road.

The reason Ipswich haven’t fallen into a relegation battle is due to the point-saving performances of key men.

Bartosz Bialkowski has been among the best stoppers in the Championship over the last two seasons and the Pole has saved the Suffolk outfit on numerous occasions.

A large proportion of the goals have come from individual moments of magic. Tom Lawrence, top scorer in 2016-17 with nine, had the capacity to run past two or three defenders and unleash a delightful strike from distance.

Bersant Celina, on loan from Manchester City, did similar work last season.

In fact, Ipswich won the first four games of 2017-18 by scoring nine goals with just 11 shots on target.

Clinical finishing from the likes of Joe Garner, David McGoldrick and Waghorn was a bigger factor behind them finishing 12th than McCarthy’s tactics, which delayed the process of them attempting to modernize.

Hurst, appointed manager in the summer, successfully implemented incisive, high-pressing football while at former club Shrewsbury, who bridged the budgetary gulf to challenge strongly for promotion in League One, even if they lost the Play-Off Final to Rotherham.

The problem he found is that he did not have the personnel to implement those methods at Portman Road.

 

Firstly, Skuse does not have the energy to close down effectively like Abu Ogogo or Ben Godfrey did for Salop.

Secondly, while the Shropshire outfit were able to spot quick, early balls from the back, Ipswich have Luke Chambers, who tends to take a lot longer to pick inventive passes and that’s where the team has sometimes been caught out in transition.

Thus, Ipswich had a team that either wasn’t trying to play the way Hurst ideally wanted them to, or was trying to play that way but did so ineffectively.

The dismissal of the 44-year-old and the appointment of Paul Lambert, who tends to favour old, British players in a defensive system, represents an attempt to get back to what they were doing before McCarthy left.

The problem is, what they were doing before McCarthy left is what got them into this mess in the first place.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
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