Diary of a Tractor Boy: 12th – 18th March

Monday 12th March

The games are coming thick and fast at the moment and next up is Hull City at home, rearranged after the Beast from the East forced the postponement of the game earlier this month. At the pre-match press conferences it was clear someone had pissed in Mick McCarthy’s cornflakes, as he refused to talk about his own future, tactics or seemingly any-football related subject.

In his defence, I think we’re all a bit fed up of the endless speculation regarding his future. Nobody has benefited from the silence of the owner on this subject, and it would be in the interests of all parties to resolve the situation as soon as possible. Ian Milne spoke over the weekend of how news on the manager and season tickets will be announced together in the next couple of weeks. I took this to mean that a final decision had been made and that they were simply finalising the details, but maybe that’s not the case.

Meanwhile, captain Luke Chambers was speaking much more candidly on a range of topics. He also appeared to be jarred off, particularly about the failure to finalise Bialkoswki’s contract extension and the uncertainty of McCarthy’s future. This isn’t the first time Chambers has had a veiled dig at owner Marcus Evans, and with some justification given the ever-decreasing playing budget and the lack of communication from the top of the club.

As for tomorrow might’s game… Hull Tigers City have had a rotten season, thanks in part to the continuing incompetent ownership of Assem Allam. They took a risk in appointing former Russia manager Leonid Slutsky which didn’t pay off, leaving Nigel Adkins with the task of steering the team to safety. They’ve hovered a few points above the bottom three all season and it seems unlikely that they’ll be sucked into a relegation scrap. Given Hull’s dreadful away form and our current run of goalless home games, this match will be seen by many as a must-win.

Wednesday 14th March

Oh wow. Where we do start with that?

I don’t think even the most pessimistic of fans would have predicted a 3-0 defeat to Hull, a side with one of the worst away records in the division. McCarthy made sweeping changes to the team, both in terms of personnel and formation, and it’s safe to say that it didn’t pay off. The 3-5-2 used since the derby was ditched in favour of a 4-3-3. Gleeson, Hyam and – from outta nowhere – Tristan Nydam were the three in midfield behind Ward, Sears and Celina. This meant that Adam Webster dropped to the bench, where he was joined by Waghorn and an apparently unfit Joe Garner. Mick had been robust in defence of his tactics after the Sheffield United match so it was a surprise to see him change the team so drastically.

The visitors took the lead in the 18th minute when Markus Henriksen struck from outside the box, after which the mood of the small crowd started to turn. Both teams went close before Hull got their second shortly before half-time. From this point on, the atmosphere shifted from negative to deeply unpleasant, with regular sarcastic chanting and jibes mostly aimed at McCarthy.

Two changes were made at half time, with Waghorn and Connolly coming off the bench, but we made the worst possible start by conceding another soft goal within two minutes. The game was now out of sight, and Hull were happy to sit back to claim only their third away win of the campaign. Only Bolton and Birmingham have taken fewer points on their travels this season.

The most memorable moment of the night actually came after the final whistle, when McCarthy gave a brief team talk in the centre circle. Some thought this might signal the end of his time at the club, but this was wishful thinking. Hell will freeze over before Mick even considers resigning. Even if we were relegated, I’m sure he would convince himself that he would be the right man to get us back into the Championship. This was a show of unity, demonstrating to the few people left in Portman Road that, even if they had turned against him, the players and staff still backed him. Mick likes to talk about how everyone should be “on the inside of the tent pissing out”, and this was his way of publicly displaying the togetherness of his squad.

The negativity of the crowd was to some extent justified – this was the fifth successive home match without a goal (have a look at my in-depth look at McCarthy’s home record here), stretching back to the 1-0 win over Leeds on 13th January. McCarthy will no doubt argue, with the team positioned in 12th, that the criticism is over the top and having an impact on his players. But the sheer tedium of the last two seasons in particular is impossible to argue, and even hardcore supporters are turning their backs on the club. The club has been in no danger of getting relegated all season, but in the last couple of months in particular McCarthy has reverted to type and often picked overly defensive lineups. What makes this even more frustrating is that earlier this season we did see some exciting, attacking displays at Portman Road – the 4-2 and 5-2 wins over Forest and Sunderland in particular spring to mind. When you have a result like this, you can’t help but wonder if another manager on the same budget, or with the same squad, would be capable of more.

Thursday 15th March

With the dust still settling from a disastrous Tuesday night, McCarthy came out all guns blazing at his press conference today, once again taking aim at the home crowd. He branded the atmosphere “a disgrace” and “ridiculous”, speaking at length about how the behaviour of the crowd can impact the players and clearly felt that the amount of stick given to him by supporters was unfair given the club’s league position. He also reiterated that he will at the very least see out his contract, and would be potentially be interested in extending it if asked by Marcus Evans.

Some of his comments were understandable to an extent, but he also made some daft statements such as, “The more people give out stick to me the more belligerent I get – so, you know, be careful”. Ooh, how scary. What exactly is he trying to achieve there? Clearly he’s not fussed about trying to get the supporters back onside. I can see his point that an atmosphere like that could be detrimental to the players – shouts of “hoof” every time a long ball is played is only going to wind people up, but most of the chants were undoubtedly aimed at McCarthy. Whether they should be more focus of Marcus Evans’ role in the current state of affairs is another debate, but surely he must recognise that five home games without a goal is unacceptable?

Friday 16th March

Apparently we have another game this weekend, though it hasn’t been discussed much online to this point. It’s a trip to Bristol City, another team who started the season well but have fallen away and on their current form will miss out on the play-offs. Some bad news emerging from the club today is that Joe Garner will miss the rest of the season, having suffered a minor skull fracture. The striker has had limited game time in recent weeks, as it’s become clear that he’s been managing a number of minor injuries over the course of the season. Despite that, he’s had a solid first season with the club, and hopefully over the next four months or so he can get himself fully fit and ready to go for the new season.

I’m not expecting much from tomorrow’s game, would it be too much to ask for a bit of attacking endeavour? Is it expecting too much for us to at least try to push Bristol City onto the back foot? To be fair Bristol City are a decent side, and I would expect them to dominate possession. Knowing McCarthy, the game plan will be to sit back and play on the counter, most likely reverting back to a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation.

Saturday 17th March

Yawn. It may not have been as bad as Tuesday night, but we’ve come away from another game without scoring, and only managed two shots on target. It won’t surprise anyone that Ipswich currently have the second lowest shots per game tally in the league (10.2), as well as the second lowest shots on target per game (3.2).

After the Hull debacle, McCarthy sensibly switched back to a 3-4-3 of sorts, with Webster returning to the defence and Skuse to midfield, while Sears and Ward supported Waghorn up front. Maybe describing the formation as a 3-4-3 is a little misleading; 5-4-1 would be more accurate. As was the case at Sheffield Wednesday, the plan was to sit back, absorb pressure and play on the counter. The first half came and went with few chances for either side, so in that respect you could say the plan was working up until that point.

The problem with setting up in this way is, if you fall behind, it’s hard to switch things up and suddenly play on the front foot. We huffed and puffed but ultimately can’t complain about coming away without a point. McCarthy said, not for the first time this season, that his side “blinked first”, but ultimately if your defence is doing most of the work you can’t be too surprised if they make the first mistake. The first attacking substitution didn’t come until the 83rd minute, which probably didn’t help matters. The goal was a disappointing one to concede, with Djuric beating Webster too easily and heading the cross into the net. The most positive aspect of the day was the superb travelling support – over 1,000 Ipswich fans made their way west despite the weather, and by all accounts made a very positive atmosphere.

So where does that leave us, heading into the international break? Somehow we still sit in the top half of the league, although Norwich are now only behind on goal difference after a 3-2 win over struggling Reading. There is nothing but pride and East Anglian bragging rights to play for in the final eight games. With so little at stake you might hope for some more open, attacking football, but that simply isn’t the McCarthy way. His team has only mustered 12 goals in 19 games across all competitions since beating Forest 4-2 at the start of December, leaving many fans praying for the season – and possibly the McCarthy era – to draw to a close.

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