Derby v Ipswich: managing expectations


Mick McCarthy –

Football management can be a thankless task. Not only could you be sacked based on one bad run of form, you will often be judged on how your time at that club ended, rather than whether you left them in a better position than when you took over.

For example, Steve McClaren’s time at Derby County is commonly viewed as a failure, but this blog would argue he was a victim of his own success. The club did not achieve what only three clubs out of 24 can achieve and win promotion, yet they would not even have even challenged to do so without McClaren’s work.

He watched his first game from the stands on 1st October as Derby were getting thrashed 4-1 by Ipswich. At half-time, he went into the dressing room to make two key substitutions and produce a team talk that inspired his players to score three second half goals and earn a point. Derby then went from being a stable mid-table team under Nigel Clough to one challenging for promotion, arguably the best side in the Championship for the following 18 months. After a terrible run that saw Derby slip out of the play-off places last season, McClaren was then judged based on the high standards he had set himself and the team, as the board opted for change.

Mick McCarthy now finds himself in a similar position. He had taken Ipswich from relegation trouble in 2012 to the play-offs last season, meaning the only achievement that can perpetuate the feeling of progress, is a serious promotion push. With the budget Ipswich have, McCarthy would ordinarily be commended for getting his side to finish 10th, but now that feels to fans like a backward step.

What perhaps adds to their frustration is the uninspiring football on display, with Ipswich playing more long balls per game (98) than any team in the Championship. Although, Saturday’s 3-2 win over MK Dons suggests this changes when Daryl Murphy (188cm) does not play and David McGoldrick (183cm) is the main striker with Liam Feeney (183cm) and Freddie Sears (170cm) either side of him. McGoldrick has never been a classic target man and so with him up top, The Tractor Boys scored three goals and played just 78 long balls per game, which would on average be the joint-fifth lowest number in the Championship.

The match saw promising displays from young full-backs Joshua Emmanuel and Myles Kenlock. Emmanuel impressed Squawka Dave in his performance at Old Trafford in September and the 18-year-old is unlucky not to have been given more of a chance. Luke Chambers has been the first choice right-back over the last couple of years, but he is a centre-back by trade and Emmanuel offers a lot more in an attacking sense.

Ipswich have a good recent record of developing left-backs and Kenlock could be next in line. The 19-year-old enjoyed an excellent debut last week and put in a pinpoint cross for Luke Varney to score the winner. McCarthy likes to get Ipswich to press high up and it helps if you have two dynamic full-backs willing to get forward and provide support.

Derby’s full-backs do that relentlessly. Even though the quality of left-back Marcus Olsson’s crosses are not quite to the same standard of the injured Craig Forsyth, he has a bit more pace and that allows him to break into the final third. Cyrus Christie is another quick full-back and has been Derby’s most improved player this season. When he first joined, you saw a young player who had plenty of energy but was a defensive liability, making the team vulnerable to counter-attacks. He now looks savvier to opposition breakaways and that, along with the improvement of centre-back Richard Keogh, is why the Rams do not concede as many as they did last season.

Derby and Ipswich have hit the point of no return. Fans have seen their team challenge for promotion, now they have to achieve that within the next 12 months, or in Ipswich’s case, at least make the top six next season. Anything below that, rightly or wrongly, will be seen as regression.