Ipswich Town Season Preview: life without McCarthy

With the 2018-19 Championship season around the corner, The Football Lab spoke to Oliver Allen (@oliverallenITT) from the brilliant Ipswich Town Talk

Mick McCarthy clearly endured a strained relationship with fans in the last two years of his Ipswich Town tenure, before leaving in April. Is this the season in which we discover whether he was holding his players back with defensive tactics, or doing well to keep a limited squad afloat?

McCarthy had his preferences with players and would often sacrifice agile, creative players who may be less hardworking for reliable, consistent hard workers who did not necessarily have good technical ability. For example, McCarthy tended to play two defensive midfielders and a box-to-box midfielder in front of them, which would frustrate the fans, as the two in front of the defensive were normally slow and poor technically whilst we had the talented Manchester City youngster Bersant Celina on the bench.

I would not say that any of the players were held back due to his defensive tactics but the players who were, ‘McCarthy’s favourites’ have left the club such as Luke Hyam and Kevin Bru. As fans, we hope that Hurst will be more inclined to use the bright, youngsters that we have in the squad and his refusal to offer new deals to some of our rotational players may be a statement of what kind of players he wants in the squad.

New manager Paul Hurst earned credit at Shrewsbury for his ability to pluck less-fancied players from the lower leagues and mould them into a team greater than the sum of its parts. Is he the best man for the job?

As a Town fan, hoping for a very ambitious, expensive managerial appointment is completely unrealistic, as Marcus Evans can simply not provide the funds for someone like Frank Lampard or Scott Parker. For me, Paul Hurst was one of the managers I would have been most happy with us acquiring due to his impressive work with a poor Shrewsbury squad and little money. At the end of the day, us fans just want the fun factor being put back into watching Ipswich and for the team to start playing the attacking football we have been known for. Personally, I am not too bothered where we finish this season as long as we survive because understandably the rebuilding job will not be completed within a year. If Hurst can build on the impressive signings made so far and bring in a solid, first team centre half who can replace Adam Webster and then I reckon we will be fine.

You have already recruited from Leagues One and Two with the signings of Gwion Edwards and Jordan Roberts respectively. How do you feel about your wide options?

Delighted. I like the fact Hurst has gone out and purchased players that he has targeted and his proven method of buying lower league players and moulding them into a side should hopefully pay off for us. As I previously stated, we cannot afford to purchase anyone for a large sum of money so recruiting proven players in lower leagues (as well as loaning) is one of our only options. It is refreshing to see exciting, quick players coming into the club, as towards the end of McCarthy’s time as manager, these sorts of players were not making regular appearances and hoofing the ball up to the striker was becoming a regular tactic.

There was a period at the start of last season when everything striker Martyn Waghorn touched seemed to fly in. Can he find another purple patch?

I believe that most Championship clubs would jump at the chance to sign a player like Waghorn, he is brilliant. He racked up sixteen goals and eleven assists last term, contributing to more goals than any other Championship player. Although he did have periods of more regular scoring than others, I did find him to be one of our most consistent players and his assists prove that there is more to his game than goals. With the new wingers coming in, I believe that Hurst’s preference to play out and out wide players will allow for Waghorn to get more chances in the air hence heightening his opportunity to bag more headers, something which he didn’t do too often last season. I feel as if Waghorn will strive under Hurst and I reckon he is a good outside bet for the league’s top scorer.

Hurst likes 4-2-3-1 with an extra creative midfielder, rather than a second striker. Does that suggest David McGoldrick or Joe Garner might not be able to start as often as they would like?

Hurst made his intentions very clear from the start as one of the first things he did as Town gaffer was not offering McGoldrick a new deal. Garner may find that regular game time could be limited under Hurst but his physical presence and aerial threat would be effective when brought off the bench. The extra creative midfielder mentioned is something that I believe will benefit the team, as our ‘chances created statistic’ was one of the lowest in the league last season.

Goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski has been arguably your best player over the last couple of seasons. Following speculation of a move to Birmingham, you must be delighted he has signed a new deal?

For many fans, this was the best business we have done all transfer window. Bart has been so, so crucial to our side over the last couple of seasons, saving us from potential draws and defeats on many different occasions. He is generally adored by everyone connected with the club and actively gets involved with the community on a regular basis. Although he unfortunately did not make a single appearance, his impressive season last term earnt him a call up to the Polish national squad for the World Cup leading to us as fans being worried due to the flooding of attention he was going to receive. Roughly, two weeks ago, a bid from Birmingham of around £3 million pounds was suggested, a bid way too low for a goalkeeper with his ability. The eventual announcement of his new deal made me feel indescribably relieved, he really is that crucial to our side.

There are suggestions that Bialkowski has sometimes bailed out questionable centre-backs. Is that fair? And is Luke Chambers still as good as he was in the 2014-15 campaign?

Personally I feel as Town have always been fairly strong in terms of central defenders, yes that doesn’t necessarily mean our defence works well together as a unit but in terms of ability, our centre backs are normally decent. Don’t get me wrong, Bialkowski has saved our bacon many times from defensive errors but I don’t think that is down to the centre halves being poor; it’s more down to the organisation. And no, Chambers isn’t as good as he was during our promotion push but that is purely down to him aging and losing pace. Chambers is still very solid; his positioning and reading of the game is second to none but he’s not getting any younger so I reckon he may only have two more years left in him at this level.

There were a few games last season when you started with three centre-backs, conservative wingbacks in Jordan Spence and Jonas Knudsen as well as a seemingly limited midfielder in Cole Skuse. Are you hoping the setup will not be quite so defensive this year?

Definitely, although potentially effective on a tough weekday fixture up North, I generally felt as if the ability of our team was being hindered by the constant need to play negative, defensive football. Spence and Knudsen have very little going for them offensively and with great attacking fullbacks such as Joshua Emmanuel (who was out on loan at Rotherham) and Myles Kenlock being unused caused a lot of frustration. The fullbacks would get in the right positions but due to the lack of decent ability going forward, we would normally not make the most of chances down opposition flanks. Three centre halves did provide defensive stability however we no longer have Tottenham youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers on loan who was so effective in this system due to his physicality and tackling ability. Adam Webster’s brilliant passing ability from the defence (who I like to compare with John Stones) also worked very well with three at the back but due to his departure I just feel as if we don’t have the men to make this formation work anymore. And on seeing this overly defensive type of football anymore, Hurst has repeatedly stated that he wants to play pressing high up the pitch and with an attacking mindset so I do not believe that the old, boring football of Mick’s reign will haunt the club any longer.

Injuries appear to have been an issue in central midfield over the last few seasons. With no talk of a loan return for Callum Connolly, would you say that area is wide open?

No, I feel as if the centre of midfield is definitely our most saturated position in terms of players. Injuries have really hampered the squad over previous seasons but with so many bright, young midfielders coming through I do not believe we will struggle to field a solid midfield. Players such as Tom Adeyemi, Andre Dozzell, Teddy Bishop and Emyr Huws were sorely missed last term through injury but with them returning and Town’s Young Player of the Year Flynn Downes coming back from a stellar loan spell with Luton Town, I reckon we will be really strong in the centre of the park. Don’t get me wrong, Connolly was probably my favourite loanee last year and he was incredibly consistent but I believe it would be a waste of wages to attempt to bring him back into the club as we have so many decent central midfielders are at the moment.

Town aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

For me, this year’s Championship season will contrast hugely with last season’s. Most people could tell that Wolves were going to win the title before a ball was even kicked due to the outrageous signings that they made. For me no one in the league this year stands out for me like Wolves did so I feel as if the fight for play offs will be very exciting. If I had to pick champions however I would go for Middlesbrough, they still have the parachute payments from their Premier League relegation and Pulis’ efficient football is ideal for getting out of the Championship. Adama Traore is probably the best away side player that I saw at Town last season so I reckon with a good team around him he could be crucial to Boro potentially being crowned winners. For me the dark horses this season will be Brentford. There attacking, high energy playing style really impressed me last season and they always seem to hit form at the right time. I am a huge admirer of Ryan Woods as well and would happily swap any of our midfielders to get him at Ipswich.

Where will you finish?

I reckon around 15th-10th. As I said earlier, the players are going to need time to adapt to Hurst’s playing style and philosophy meaning that it will take at least a season before we hopefully start fighting for promotion again. For me where we finish doesn’t matter, like many fans I just want the feel good factor being brought back to Portman Road and for attendances to rise again. As a fan base we need to reunite, get behind the team and put the Mick In/Mick Out days behind us. I just hope Hurst can prove his worth and slowly bring us back to the glory days!

Thanks to Oliver for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on Ipswich can be found on We Love Betting from late July.