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Mick McCarthy bringing solidarity to Ipswich Town

Michael Holden
Mick McCarthy 300x225 Mick McCarthy bringing solidarity to Ipswich Town

Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy

Mick McCarthy is beginning to make an impact at Ipswich and it’s ironic that the first warning of a significant breakthrough should arrive by virtue of his substitutions in the 2-1 win at Bolton on Saturday.

Trailing to an early Mark Davies wonder strike, few punters would have given the Tractor Boys much hope of salvaging anything from the game based on the evidence of the past two years. But Ipswich stayed in the game, itself an unfamiliar concept – the Suffolk club have shown an alarming tendency to crumble and lose by four, five or six goals after conceding early – allowing Big Mick to change the course from the bench with Darryl Murphy, Jay Emmanuel Thomas and eventual match-winner Michael Chopra all playing important roles in the second-half turnaround.

The irony is that McCarthy was so often pilloried for his substitutions when things weren’t going particularly well at Wolves, his relationship with the Molineux crowd open to the point that supporters wouldn’t think twice about screaming abuse in his direction. Ever one to protect his players, the stubborn Yorkshireman always made himself a willing target.

However, the distinction between then and now is worth noting. In the Black Country, McCarthy was managing in the Premier League with players barely adequate for the job of survival. He never had the options to make a significant impact from the bench and, besides, razor-sharp tactical thinking has never been part of his skill set in any case. That’s not to portray McCarthy as a mug when it comes to the subtleties of the chalkboard and the technical area, he’s just not at the high-end of a very competitive profession in that department.

Instead, McCarthy is a creature of culture, a proponent of value-judgement and long-term thinking. He comes into a club and implements a philosophy that, over time, will become ingrained with players following a code of conduct that doesn’t need explaining repeatedly. It’s an approach that, once established, serves a team well in any context for as long as natural ability meets the standard required for the task at hand.

This is good news for Ipswich because, right now, it’s exactly what they need. Nobody ever questioned Paul Jewell when it came to player recruitment because at no turn did anybody doubt he was bringing in players who, individually, were up to the challenge of competing towards the top of the Championship. The problem was a lack of motivation and, more recently, that shortcoming has led to declining standards in solidarity. Not only did Ipswich become an underachieving team, they become a team that stopped playing for each other.

So McCarthy’s substitutions on Saturday were significant, not in terms of how they changed the game from a tactical perspective, but rather how they represent a changing mindset from a cultural perspective. It’s a point that McCarthy explained perfectly in his post-match summary at the Reebok.

He said: “It’s lovely when subs go on and they don’t have a lip on because they’re on the bench. They are there to win the game – or save games – and I think all three subs won us the game. There was a bit of backbiting when I first came in, but now there’s a good spirit. It’s got to be a collective thing and they’ve bought into that now. We’ve got shot of the finger pointing.”

For too long, Ipswich have been infuriating with their spinelessness and inconsistency, so much so that few punters will be willing to trust the notion that a corner has finally been turned. But events at the weekend do suggest a changing identity. It might be a slow road back to top-six contention but it’s probably time to wipe the slate clean and erase those past reservations. In the short term, the Tractor Boys might still lose more matches than they win, but now they ought to lose them with more honesty.

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