As the Championship’s longest serving club, currently enduring their 12th season in the second tier – Ipswich Town fans have had relatively little to cheer about since relegation in 2002. Since the 2008/09 season they have been as mid-table you can imagine, with every season all but over by April Fools Day.
In that time Ipswich have racked up over £70m worth of debt, all owed to the clubs reclusive owner, Marcus Evans, as 3 managers spent big money chasing promotion. The last 2 (Roy Keane and Paul Jewell) ending up being sacked as the club looked to be exiting the league in the wrong direction.
Finally the club have a manager that has the club moving in the right direction, taking over in November 2012 with Ipswich cut adrift at the bottom of the league, Mick McCarthy led Ipswich to mid-table obscurity with a record that would have seen them in the play off zone if extrapolated for the whole season.
The big test was to see if he could stabilise the club which was overly reliant on loan players and those on short term deals – over the summer 10 new signings were made, with only £20k spent on transfer fees as the over spending of previous managers, coupled with the impending Financial Fair Play regulations meant McCarthy had to operate with one armed tied behind his back.
McCarthy has used the squad he has assembled and made us very hard to beat, while there can sometimes be a lack of flair on display no side will work harder than Ipswich, and the heavy beatings which were a regular occurrence under Paul Jewell are truly a thing of the past (Wigan, Leicester and QPR are the only sides to have beaten Ipswich by more than one goal this season).
After a difficult start to the season as the new players took time to gel, Ipswich went on an excellent run which culminated on them reaching the dizzy heights of 6th place on the 29th December – led by the rock-solid centre back pairing of Tommy Smith and Christophe Berra and the goals of David McGoldrick.
It was at this point the small squad and a lack of strength in depth began to catch up with them, a number of lacklustre performances and far too many draws saw them slide away from the play off zone and looking like another season of mid table obscurity was to occur. Again it seemed as though the season would be over by April 1st, especially when 16 goal top scorer McGoldrick was ruled out for the rest of the campaign after picking up an innocuous looking injury in added time against Blackpool.
As the season began to dwindle out, and thoughts began to turn to the 2014/15 season, McCarthy managed to bring in the very highly-rated Jonny Williams on loan from Crystal Palace. A defeat against Wigan left Ipswich 5 points of the play offs, and with a week that would define their season – fixtures against play off rivals Brighton, Derby and Nottingham Forest.
These games became must win matches, and the usually cautious McCarthy gave Williams a free role behind Daryl Murphy and tasked him with getting on the ball and making things happen – 2 Man of the Match displays and 6 points later, and with favourable results elsewhere – Ipswich are now 2 points off the play offs with a game against manager-less and out of form Nottingham Forest to come.
A win on Saturday, in what is due to be the last game of Williams’ loan spell, and who would bet against McCarthy’s boys making the play offs?
He has shown himself to be an equal of any manager at this level over last 18 months and his experience of taking teams out of this league will prove invaluable as we enter ‘squeaky bum time’ – he has been there, done that and got the t-shirt.
With Ipswich having a favourable run of games at home as the season ends Ipswich fans are beginning to believe that they can gate crash the play off zone, and no side would relish a trip to Portman Road to take on a side that may lack quality but never lack fight.
When McCarthy was Wolves manager he joked that the ‘MM’ on his jumper didn’t stand for Merlin the Magician – if he can take Ipswich from bottom of the Championship to the play offs in just 18 months, effectively using only free transfers – then the natives of Suffolk will begin to question that assertion.
Written by Joe Fairs
Joe tweets at @joefairs