Diary of a Tractor Boy: 9th – 15th March

Monday 9th March

The games are coming thick and fast at this stage of the season, with Barnsley the next team to visit Portman Road tomorrow evening. One of Mick McCarthy’s former clubs are in serious danger of relegation back to League One so the match will have wider meaning for at least one of the teams taking part, but this looks like a good opportunity to back up the positives from the 2-2 draw against Millwall in the last home match.

McCarthy once again made some strange comments in his pre-match press conference, insisting that he doesn’t “put the shackles” on his players and claiming that his team attack with seven players, with the wing-backs apparently regularly appearing in the opposition penalty box. If this has been happening then it hasn’t been at any of the games I’ve seen recently, and the bemused reaction of many fans spoke volumes. He also suddenly seems very keen to discuss Emyr Huws’ transfer fee at every possible opportunity. McCarthy appears to be publicly managing his reputation now that his exit has been confirmed, knowing that the national media will buy into whatever claims he makes.

The team may have a makeshift look to it tomorrow evening, with Webster and Chambers both suffering injuries. There is the option to switch to a back four but there could also be a debut for Barry Cotter, the young Irish right-back who was signed from Limerick in January. Hopefully the atmosphere will be a little less toxic than at Brentford, where in my opinion the abuse went well over the line.

Tuesday 10th March

What a dramatic night! To be honest my attention was more focused on the Champions League ties taking place, such as my apathy for the remainder of the season. While Liverpool were knocking out Manchester City and Roma stunning Barcelona, Ipswich were edging past Barnsley by a single goal, the first win in seven games. The only goal of the game came from a Jonas Knudsen header, beating former Town man Kieffer Moore to the corner and flicking the ball home. By most accounts this was a deserved win, with more attacking intent shown than in many previous games, though Barnsley did hit the woodwork and have a number of other chances.

The standout player was the debutant Cotter, starting at right wing-back in a 5-2-3 formation. He looked far more suited to that role than Spence or Iorfa have done this season, though he ran out of puff early in the second half and was replaced by Ward. It wasn’t surprising to see Cotter not last the ninety minutes but the substitution invoked a negative reaction from a small section of fans. Folami also got another half-hour under his belt as the team switched to 4-4-2. Both teams had chances in the closing minutes but Ipswich were worthy winners based on their second half display.

Then came the news… Mick McCarthy had resigned with immediate effect. Having taken charge of four games since his summer departure was announced I presumed he would hang around until the end of the season, but for whatever reason his stay was cut short, with the decision agreed with the club between the Brentford and Barnsley games. Mick had clearly thought about how he would announce his departure, brandishing the reaction to Cotter’s substitution “a disgrace” and slamming his hands on the table then walking out on the written media, leaving a shocked group of journalists to tell the world that McCarthy was gone. The national media had picked up on this dramatic and somewhat staged exit which made it appear he had left in a fit of rage following the Cotter substitution, but we subsequently learned that was not the case.

My initial reaction was one of both relief and sadness. I agree that it was the correct decision not to renew McCarthy’s contract, and that he should have left as soon as that was agreed, but it would have been nice to have had an opportunity to recognise the good work he did in his time at the club with a farewell match. The relationship has turned sour over the last two seasons but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the rise from the bottom of the table to the play-offs between 2012 and 2015. And yet, his continued presence at the club only served to hold the club back at a time when it should be building the foundations for next season. McCarthy had already admitted that his only concern for the rest of the season was picking up results, even though with the team safely in mid-table this is the perfect opportunity to test a few youngsters and different systems. The circumstances of his departure are a little unsavoury but at least we can now start planning for our 17th consecutive season in the Championship.

Wednesday 11th March

It’s not until today that news of McCarthy’s resignation has finally started to sink in. The reaction from Ipswich fans has been mixed – some are over the moon, some are disappointed but I think most are both thankful for the good work he did at the club and also happy that we can now start planning for next season under a new regime. He should have left as soon as it was agreed that his contract wouldn’t be extended, and his continued presence at the club has only exacerbated the ill-feeling that has been growing between himself and the supporters. I had hoped that both parties might be able to put their grievances to one side for the last few games but that hasn’t been the case, with things coming to a head at Brentford on Saturday. The attitude of a vocal minority at that game was embarrassing and I don’t believe it is representative of the wider Ipswich fan community.

The national media have naturally picked up on McCarthy’s dramatic exit, framing his resignation as a sudden decision rather than one that had been mutually agreed before the game. Sadly the analysis of the situation by many pundits has been one-sided and lazy – very little attempt has been made to understand the views of the supporters. The likes of Chris Sutton have been very quick to brand supporters as “deluded” and the dreaded phrase “be careful what you wish for” has been wheeled out repeatedly by numerous ex-pros, many of whom probably couldn’t point to Suffolk on a map, let alone actually watch any of our matches. If you were to only look at the table and transfers from the last few seasons then their conclusion would be a natural one to arrive at, but they’re not the ones spending £30+ to watch it. It’s hardly entitled to hope that your team might go and attack teams that are in the relegation zone, or to want your team to set up to do more than simply stop the opposition, regardless of the situation. There are so many stats that can be used to back up this view – one in particular that caught my eye was that we’ve scored no first-half goals in our last eleven home games. Zero. Surely we should be doing better than that?

Academy boss Bryan Klug has been given the job of caretaker manager until the end of the season, with the assistance of coaches Gerard Nash and Chris Hogg. Given the recent success of the academy, many will be hoping that its graduates will see more first-team in the remaining four matches.

Meanwhile, Marcus Evans has reiterated his plan to go an on-camera interview in the next couple of week, where he will hopefully outline his plans for the club for the coming months and years. He also stated that we should not expect to see a new manager appointed before May, which would strongly suggest that their top targets are ones that are currently employed elsewhere. That would only rule out a handful of options, with the likes of Cowley, Mowbray, Hurst, Cook and Steijn all currently managing other clubs. I don’t expect anything too groundbreaking to come out of the interview, but at least it suggests the club is showing more willingness to communicate directly with the fans.

Thursday 12th March

Bryan Klug was speaking to the media again today on a number of topics, once again emphasising that he has no idea to take the manger role on a full-time basis and speaking about events at Brentford on Saturday. He revealed that McCarthy had to be escorted to the team coach after the match, saying it was “totally wrong” and “not the club I know”. If there really was a group of Ipswich fans waiting to abuse Mick after the match then I find that rather depressing and concerning. Regardless of what you think of the last couple of seasons, there is no way that anyone at the club should have to put up with that kind of behaviour. Of course, Ipswich aren’t alone in having a minority of dimwits (or “numbskulls” as some might say) amongst their support but the way some have acted over the past few weeks has been well out of order and it’s sad that a club legend like Klug felt he had to raise it publicly. I can only hope that the atmosphere will be more positive now that McCarthy has left, but I suspect that may not last long if results don’t improve next season.

Shefki Kuqi has thrown his hat into the ring, officially applying to take over from Mick McCarthy and giving an interview with TWTD to outline his credentials. The big Finn was a crowd favourite in his time as a player at Portman Road, finishing as the club’s top scorer in the 2004/05 season before leaving for Premier League side Blackburn Rovers. It wasn’t just his goals that made him a cult hero – his relentless work-rate and belly-flop goal celebration will be remembered fondly by those following the club in that period.

Since retiring, Kuqi has gone on to manage three Finish sides with mixed results, so his appointment would certainly represent a big risk, even if it would be a popular move with some fans. He clearly has a lot of passion for the club and the job would be a huge honour for him, so in terms of re-engaging the fanbase he is a strong candidate, but for me I don’t think this is enough on its own to justify his appointment. As much as I was a fan of the Finn when he was at the club and I like the way he spoke in this interview, his managerial credentials are the weakest of all the realistic candidates. This would be a romantic appointment but also surely a heart-over-head decision, and I think that while the club needs to more to get the supporters onside this should be an ongoing process over the coming months and years, not just a token gesture of appointing a former player.

Friday 13th March

After a lively few days off the field, the attention turns back to matters on the pitch with tomorrow’s trip to Nottingham Forest. Our record at the City Ground is rotten but there is a sense of excitement and optimism heading into the match now that McCarthy has finally left the building. We are expecting Klug and his team to offer a few more opportunities to academy players between now and the end of the season, and to that end Chris Smith has been recalled from his loan spell at Chelmsford City and will join the matchday squad in Nottingham.

As well as more young players, the travelling fans will hope to see more of the short passing style of play with which the under 23 and academy teams will be familiar. Given that this has been one of the supporters’ biggest gripes with the recently departed manager, I think most will accept not winning the match if they saw more attacking intent and a more attractive style of play.

Having said that, the recent form of Forest is disastrous – no goals in the last six games – so they will be low on confidence and have nothing to play for. Their season has been an improvement on the last one, where they only stayed up by beating us 3-0 in the final game, but there are few other positives that can be taken. Mark Warburton was sacked mid-season and replaced by Aitor Karanka, but if anything results have got even worse under the Spaniard with the Reds currently down in 18th place, so you would think that Klug and his team will fancy their chances of taking all three points.

Sunday 15th March

Klug’s first team as caretaker boss included a first league start for young striker Ben Morris but the rest of the team had a familiar look to it, with injuries limiting the available options. Ward started at right wing-back in a 5-3-2, with a midfield trio of Hyam, Skuse and Nydam in front and Waghorn partnering Morris up top.

The change of manager had an impact on the team’s approach to the game – the passing style that the academy players will be familiar with was to some extent brought into this match and the team had a much stronger goal threat. Forest were also creating chances but it was the visitors that broke the deadlock when Ward bundled home Kenlock’s cross. Incredibly, this was only the third time the Blues have scored in the first half in the last 18 matches. Klug’s men stayed on the front foot in the early stages of the second half and created a number of good opportunities that they were unable to take, which sadly came back to bite them in the closing minutes. Ward gave away what looked like a soft penalty which Brereton converted, then Joe Lolley volleyed home in the 95th minute to give Forest the win.

It was a frustrating end to what had been a positive performance by a makeshift Ipswich side. Academy products Kenlock and Nydam impressed and Ward looked like a natural at right wing-back. The performance was not drastically different to many that we had seen under McCarthy this season, which was to be expected given the number of injuries and how little time Klug and co have had to work with the squad. The manner of the defeat was particularly annoying – we were the architects of our own downfall, rather than losing out to moments of brilliance.

Steven Gerrard is the latest name to have been linked to the job in the Sunday papers. According to The Sun on Sunday, Evans has sounded out Gerrard via a third party to gauge whether he’d be interested in taking over from McCarthy. The Liverpool legend is currently working with the under 18s at Liverpool’s academy and has no managerial experience, so I find it unlikely that he would be Evans’ first choice. All of his previous appointments had achieved promotion from the Championship, and given the low budget it would be a huge risk to bring in someone as inexperienced as Gerrard. We have also previously seen that bringing in a big name doesn’t always have the desired effect, so my preference would be to go with someone with at least a few years of management under their belt. It would be great if we could get a new manager in before the end of the season, to give them as much time as possible to work with the team, but equally that doesn’t mean we should rule out the likes of Mowbray and Cowley if Evans believes they are right for the job.

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