|A Plea to Mick: Don't Hold Us Back|
Written by Pickersblue22 on Tuesday, 23rd Aug 2016 15:04
After nearly four years, we know exactly what we get. Mick McCarthy arrived in November 2012 with the club at a low ebb. He lifted us from a dreary, uninspiring outfit, consistently languishing in mid-table, to the surprising, joyful, wonderful highs of 2014/15.
There has been a gradual influx of quality with each season that has passed, as Mick has continued to plot our way to the promised land.
The stars did not align last season. These stars were numerous, as top player after top player was struck down. But is that all that conspired against us, or has Super Mick run his course with the Blues. The way this season kicked off makes it one that could go in any direction.
The 2014/15 season will live long in the memory of Town fans. It was the season when Daryl Murphy rewrote his own history books, with an epic array of powerful, frightening, and downright unplayable displays.
We had a rock solid back four, a highly effective midfield, lit up by the youthful yet brilliant Teddy Bishop. As Hoolahan, Redmond, Jerome and Co fired Norwich to Wembley, there was a feeling that we would come back stronger than ever before.
The 2015/16 campaign seemed like it might be the season where everything came together. But then those pesky stars failed to align.
Hindsight is wonderful, yet frustrating. After his 27 goals, there was inevitable interest in Murphy. Looking back, we may have been well-served cashing in. A fee of £4.5 million for a 32-year-old would have been outstanding business. But you can't blame Mick for wanting to keep hold of his star man, after such a magnificent year.
All the same, it was a long shot that he was ever going to produce that kind of form again. And it remains a long shot. The injuries to Bishop and David McGoldrick were horrible bits of luck, and honestly our season could almost have been written off at that moment.
Ryan Fraser was everything fans want from a player - excitement, skill, determination, effort. A fantastic signing. It was a travesty that he only played 21 times for Town. Ben Pringle and Liam Feeney did everything they could, but neither were ever likely to inspire us enough.
Mick has undoubtedly suffered from the crest of the wave that was 2014/15. So the lifeless garbage served up last season has no doubt been regarded less favourably after expectations soared. Finishing seventh was a minor miracle given the level of performance and entertainment value.
All of which means that Mick can approach this season in a more relaxed mood. Last season it was Burnley, Hull and QPR. This time it is Newcastle, Norwich and Aston Villa. There is a heck of a difference.
The money spent by these three has created a canyon-like gulf in the Championship. There are those who missed out last season who are back with a vengeance, and no little money to spend. Sheffield Wednesday were a joy to watch. They have added further and will again light up the division.
Brighton are the model of consistency for others to follow. They have no standout players, except perhaps one I would like most at Ipswich, Anthony Knockaert. Again, they will challenge without doubt.
Derby are an enigma. However, they now have a manager who actually knows what is needed, and will bring their ocean-sized pool of quality together. Sides like Bristol City, Huddersfield and Wolves look reinvigorated and ambitious, and will be a match for most.
I mentioned the money. We will never really know how willing Marcus Evans is to help Mick out. I have a nasty suspicion that Mick is the unwilling one, that despite the fees paid for Grant Ward and Adam Webster, he is not keen to spend the seven-figure sums that will give us fans another stick to beat him with should things turn pear-shaped.
Those fees are peanuts when compared with those spent on Ross McCormack, Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle et al. Of course, I do not expect Mick to spend anything like that much. Mainly because he can't. But I think we would all welcome a clear message from Mr Evans, in terms of what he is prepared to sacrifice to help the club.
In fairness to Mick, he repeatedly says that we should challenge for the top six whatever, and not hide behind the big spending of our rivals as an excuse for not being up there.
A top-six finish this season would be a significantly bigger achievement given those who we must compete with. I question whether the ingredients are there for us to be able to have success.
Murphy is unquestionably an important part of the way we play, but in the derby, he looked like one of the weak links. People will say that he needs to get his confidence up, but I think he is going past his best.
On Sunday, he was picking the ball up in a really good area, but whereas two years ago he would run at centre-backs and leave them for dead, he no longer backs himself to do that. That is because he does not have the pace or power required to run defenders ragged.
So much of the good work being done by Ward is wasted because Murphy is never there to get on the end of crosses. He holds the ball up well, lays it off, but then stays stationary. He jogs towards the edge of the box, when he should be between the centre halves, getting his head on the ball. If we want to play like our striker is Jamie Vardy, then why not play someone up there who actually resembles him in some way, such as poor old Freddie Sears.
In fairness to Murphy, he did lack support on Sunday. Ward and Sears were so deep at times, it was like we were playing 4-5-1, which is ridiculous for a home team. We are lucky Norwich did not have a great day with the ball, as they could have cut us to shreds with the way we sat off them at times.
I just wish Murphy would show a bit more urgency at times, especially when up there on his own. Jonathan Douglas is not the man to be providing support for him - it should be someone who can actually play behind or alongside a striker. My hope is that McGoldrick will fill this void when he returns.
Ward is a snip at £500,000. He is effervescent, fast, skilful, and a real bums-off-seats player. He will be our key player this season. He is likely to be targeted by opposition defenders, and we must hope that he stays fit.
Just as Ward is an upgrade on Feeney, Conor Grant already looks like an improvement on Pringle. I would love to see him on the left of a midfield three, with Bishop alongside, and Cole Skuse behind.
A cultured left-footed player is such a weapon, especially if Mick persists with the right-footed Sears on the left wing. I hope Mick backs him, and allows him to play his natural game, rather than shackling him.
I mentioned Sears, whose confidence has been so shattered by being shoved out onto the wing, when he would be surely be a bigger threat down the middle, especially now we are apparently trying to keep the ball on the ground more. He is such an unselfish and hard-working player, and Mick is unfairly taking advantage of that. It is just such a waste of his talent.
If Murphy was playing well up front then I would understand, but he just doesn't look a threat, and Sears would surely do more. On at least two occasions on Sunday, Jonas Knudsen had the ball in a really good area. There was a run begging to be made by Sears, and the Dane could play the ball between right-back and centre-back. But Mick has tied him to the touchline. An example of players being held back.
At the back, Webster looks a prospect. It was as much a risk as a statement of intent from Mick throwing him in the team immediately. It shows that there is a focus on improving the style of play, but he must be allowed to learn and improve, and not be cast aside after one mistake. He has Luke Chambers and Christophe Berra either side of him, so he will be learning all the time.
It was a very smart move to give Tommy Smith a new contract. He is the future of our defence, and potentially our next captain, and Berra himself said in Sunday's programme that eventually the lure of returning home to Scotland will prove to strong. We will need to have Smith there.
The argument about Chambers at right-back will rage, but while he has Ward in front of him, he stays hidden, because his lack of pace and composure on the ball will be compensated for.
I predict a really bright season for Knudsen. He has started off well, and has dovetailed nicely down the left with Sears. He has got forward well, and continues to improve game after game. His goal against Norwich will only help his confidence. Behind him, the 'Big Pole in Goal' continues to show how much better he is that Dean Gerken. Laughably, whenever Mick mentions Bart, he feels the need to bracket Gerken with him, which is just ridiculous. Last season tells its own story about which is the better keeper.
The midfield is one area where we are over-supplied, yet seemingly woefully ill-equipped. There is quite simply no room for Skuse and Douglas in the same team. Now Skuse is an absolute dead-cert to start every game, as he has been since he signed.
He only gets noticed when the rest of the team plays badly, but I just wish he had some more tempo to his play. He always slows the ball down and allows the opposition to set themselves up. His range of passing only ever stretches to Knudsen and Chambers. As the pivot in front of the back four he has to do more.
Douglas is a strange one. Two years ago, he captained Brentford to fifth in the table, scoring eight goals in the process. He is undoubtedly a good footballer. His range of passing is better than Skuse's, but we do not play to his strengths. We could get a lot more out of him if we allowed him to spray the ball from in front of the defence, but we play so deep that our midfielders never have sufficient time to play the ball forward.
Anyway, Skuse has the screening role in his pocket. Instead Douglas gets asked to play behind Murphy, winning headers and flick-ons, which just isn't his game. Bishop was wasted when he came on against Norwich, sitting alongside Skuse, when he should have been in a far more dangerous area of the field.
Bishop is a diamond, and Mick is clearly desperate to get him back to 100 per cent fitness. We must enjoy him, and build the team around him, in order to get the best out of him. Who knows, we may not have him for much longer.
I feel sure Luke Hyam is a potential starter when fit, and I feel he can play with either Skuse or Douglas, rather than only one of them playing, especially away from home, when we will likely have less of the ball.
Kevin Bru is such a difficult player to judge. I just think we are a better team with him in. His discipline might be erratic, but we don't have anyone else like him. He does play as though the rest of the team is better than it is though. The magic balls over the top for Murphy are all very well, but as I have said, Murphy is no Vardy. Mick has to persist with Bru, as he tries things, unlike the likes of Skuse, who is an utterly unadventurous footballer.
The game on Sunday provided a great example of how Mick is holding the team back. He said afterwards he was disappointed we didn't win, but he could have done so much more himself. He left Bishop on the bench for a while, but when he came on, he played deep with Skuse, with Douglas further forward, when it should have been Bishop in the number 10 role.
Secondly, Bru was the man taken off. Why not Douglas? Mick just doesn't trust the Mauritian. He doesn't back him to use his class to influence the game.
Thirdly, Mick had about a 20-minute period when he could have gone for it. He had Andre Dozzell and Brett Pitman warming up on the touchline, desperate to get on, and get a taste of the derby. He could have brought Dozzell on for Douglas to provide a real spark at the top end of the pitch. Murphy could have come off and Sears could have gone down the middle. Pitman, perhaps the best finisher at the club, could have come on alongside Murphy.
Instead, Mick repeatedly glanced down the touchline, umming and aaahing, and plumped for Luke Varney in the 89th minute. About as underwhelming as substitutions get. Mick spoke in the week about the fans being fearful about the derby, yet he was the one scared about what might happen if he made an attacking change. There was just no Plan B.
This is where our season is so on a knife-edge. After Mick misjudged the 5-1 defeat at Reading last season, abandoning his plans for a more enterprising style, and once more fastening the shackles. Will he undo them again? He seems to be trying to, and Sky have rather cruelly moved the trip to the Madejski to a Friday night in September, perhaps hopeful for a repeat.
How persistent will Mick be if things get difficult this season? There is always the chance he will revert to type, and go back to his tried and trusted. We can wave goodbye to the top six if he does that. The couple of signings he is pushing for have to be players that will improve the team, not the squad. Martin Samuelsen is an exciting one. Young, skilful, and with Football League experience under his belt, he could prove a shrewd addition.
One name I want to throw into the ring is Patrick Bamford. Should he not be snapped up by a Premier League team, I think we should be in for him on a season-long loan. Villa are reportedly interested, but we can certainly offer him a starting berth, something that would be harder to come by at Villa. He is a wonderful player, who could combine to great effect with Murphy.
Perhaps he is slightly out of our league, but it would be a statement of intent. For those of us anti having Chambers at right-back, I would love to see Timothy Fosu-Mensah come in on loan. He is available on loan, and showed under Louis van Gaal last season what a prospect he is. Him with Ward on the right is mouth-watering.
We are not far away from having a team that can not only get fans on seats, but then get bums off them. The key word there is team. Mick has to resist the temptation to pick his best players, but instead his best team. A well-balanced team, where he gets the best out of the players, rather than fitting them into his system.
One of Mick's worst habits is matching the opposition's formation, rather than sticking with his own guns. He should now stick with 4-3-3 that is infinitely more flexible than adaptable than 4-4-2. As my title says, what Mick has at his disposal must not be held back. He has to squeeze out the talent he has, and use it to the best effect he can. The last two performances promise much. Let's now get the results to be at the same level. In the Championship, anything can happen. Maybe the stars will align this time.
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