And so it begins. Sacking time in The Championship is here. Already! Eleven games into the season and two Football League Championship managers have bitten the dust. The league table is still fluid and few trends can really be read at this point, with three quarters of the season yet to play. Nonetheless, quick trigger fingers at two under-achieving big city clubs have fired their managers. Roberto Di Matteo has been ousted from Villa and Paul Trollope has been exiled from Cardiff. Two down. Or three if we include poor Kenny Jackett from Wolves, who was out for the count back in July, before the season had even begun.
Premier Punditry’s Championship podcast on October 3rd was on the money. Di Matteo’s firing was discussed. Then our new Cardiff correspondent, David Fundalski, predicted that Trollope’s firing was imminent, and he was proven correct within hours. Sacking is in vogue.
So speculation now turns to the inevitable question: Who will be next? Nigel Pearson at Derby is a fairly popular choice, because as always there is great impatience and unrest at that club. No-one is ever safe at Leeds, of course, and QPR is an unpredictable place to work. But a different, more unlikely candidate for sacking is emerging, if the East Anglian press is to be believed. Could it be true? Could steady, old, reliable Mick McCarthy really be in danger of a sacking?
It must be pointed out that the local papers in Ipswich are Norwich-owned, so their football loyalties are always suspect. But the rumblings go beyond the pages of The East Anglian Daily Times and The Ipswich Star. Ipswich Town’s very popular on-line fanzine, Those Were The Days, is bombarded these days with scathing criticism of Old Mick, and BBC Radio Suffolk’s football phone-ins are dominated by calls for his head. How can this be ? Isn’t Mick a fixture in The Championship ?
Indeed, Mick McCarthy is The Championship’s longest-serving manager. On November 1, he will celebrate his fourth anniversary at Ipswich, and McCarthy’s current tenure is actually the 11th longest in all of English professional football. But therein lies the problem. If four years is the longest reign, then sacking is obviously the fashion, and in modern football, patience is clearly not a virtue. Ipswich are in their league-leading 15th season in The Championship, and sit in 16th place in the division. The natives are restless.
Here’s the case, in a nutshell, for McCarthy’s sacking:
Irish international Darryl Murphy, Ipswich’s prominent goal threat, was sold to Newcastle United right at the transfer deadline, and was not replaced. Since that debacle, one number has begun to feature prominently in discussions about Town’s “gaffer’. And that’s the number four. Ipswich have scored only four times since they scored a promising four goals in the opening game of the year, and they have been held scoreless in the last four games.
Incredibly, Ipswich have not scored in their last three games at home. They also lost, spinelessly, at home to Stevenage in The Football League Cup. They have earned only two points from their last possible 12. They just suffered a home defeat to Huddersfield, who have an American manager, for goodness sake. They sit below Burton Albion in the league table. Critically, attendance is down to 15,000, which is less than half the capacity at Portman Road and is about 7000 below what has typically been regarded as a good home crowd for Town. McCarthy is playing 4-5-1 at home. Town lack midfield creativity. Town never ATTACK.
So he’s as good as gone, right? His sacking must be imminent. But not so fast. It just ain’t gonna happen.
And here’s the case for mitigation:
When Mick McCarthy joined Ipswich Town on November 1, 2012, Ipswich were languishing in last place in The Championship. McCarthy dragged them to 14th by season’s end. The next year they finished sixth, and lost to Norwich in the play-offs only after conceding a penalty and receiving a red card. Of course the promotion of our local rivals stung for a while, but that didn’t last long. (Neither the sting nor the promotion!). With an arguably weaker side, Mick’s Ipswich flirted with the play-offs again last year, eventually finishing seventh. And these three relatively successful campaigns were conducted on a shoe-string budget.
Tyrone Mings represents a typical piece of McCarthy business. He was signed for ten thousand pounds from tiny Chippenham and sold on for eight million to Bournemouth of The Premier League. And he also represented Town’s entire transfer outlay for the 2013-14 season. Ipswich have competed quite well in The Championship for a team largely composed of journeymen professionals, academy graduates and loan players.
Owner Marcus Evans, having tried and failed to buy Championship success during the turbulent and best forgotten reigns of Roy Keane and Paul Jewell, seems more than content to keep his wallet in his pocket and let his experienced Championship manager manage, frugally. Remember, Mick McCarthy is not at his first rodeo. He has been a manager for 24 years, most of them in The Championship, and has taken Wolves and Sunderland to The Promised Land of The Premier League. He went to a World Cup with Ireland. He is generally regarded as a steady hand at the tiller, and I am sure Evans believes he is the right man to right his ship.
After Murphy’s departure, the mantle of leading the line fell to the experienced Brett Pitman, but he was quickly lost to the injury list, where he joined Town’s most gifted player, David McGoldrick. With Freddy Sears scoreless in nearly 30 games, McCarthy has had to place his scoring hopes on the nomadic Luke Varney and Leon Best, neither of whom is yet close to match fitness. Star loan player and Welsh International Johnny Williams has yet to make an appearance, due to injury. Home-grown midfield starlets Luke Hyam and Teddy Bishop have each had sustained absences.
So that goal drought could reasonably be attributed to absent talent rather than managerial shortcomings, and the lack of creativity in the middle of the park could equally be blamed on the absence of any fit creative midfielder. McCarthy and Evans will share the belief that all that is required for a turn-around is the return of McGoldrick, the eventual fourth loan debut of Williams, and a fully fit Bishop. Maybe those three players playing regularly will be enough to get the team flowing forward and the goals flowing in.
Amidst the fans’ gloom and doom there are a few other rays of light. McCarthy finally did get to spend some dosh this past summer, over a million quid, which may be pocket change in Newcastle but it is a fortune in Suffolk. And untypically, McCarthy splashed it on two young exciting players in Grant Ward and Adam Webster (who of course is injured!) Also added were two talented young loanees from Premier clubs, Tom Lawrence and Connor Grant, who have yet to have the impact they surely will have this season. Finally, in the gradual maturation of Teddy Bishop and the exciting emergence of teenager Andre Dozzell, already a crowd favourite and son of an Ipswich legend, McCarthy will claim to see a bright future.
So no, don’t expect the sacking of Mick McCarthy. He ain’t going nowhere. I’ll place my money on him to retire or die at Ipswich.
Photo via Wikipedia