Concerns manager will move on
14 September ~ Five games into the new season and Ipswich and Middlesbrough are starting to look very settled in the middle of the Championship, a situation that neither club feels particularly happy about. They go into today's game at Portman Road in 16th and 15th place respectively, almost exactly where they each finished last season. Both clubs are of a stature and reputation that suggests they should be pushing higher up the table, but neither has managed a sustained promotion challenge for some while.
Back in the summer of 2011, Town splashed out on 13 new signings, including high earners such as Michael Chopra and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, and were many people's dark horses for promotion. The reality proved somewhat different as a chaotic season ended, once again, in lower mid-table. Two years on, and having spent this summer offloading those highly paid relics and replacing them with free transfers, as owner Marcus Evans tightened the purse strings, Town were once again many people's dark horses for promotion.
It hasn't quite worked out so far – only one win in five league games – but the main reason for pre-season optimism among pundits and supporters was the manager, Mick McCarthy. When the hapless Paul Jewell was put out of his and everyone else's misery last October, Town were bottom of the league. McCarthy performed a minor miracle in steering his new team to mid-table safety, with a points ratio that – if it had been stretched across the whole season – would have delivered a top-six finish.
On that basis, a play-off place was McCarthy's stated aim for 2013-14 and, while results haven't matched that yet, it isn't events on the pitch (Town have performed well enough to suggest that points will start to be picked up soon) that are causing the most anxiety for supporters. Giovanni Trapattoni's exit from the Ireland job has raised speculation that McCarthy could be tempted back into international management.
FAI chief suit John Delaney did little to quash that talk in the wake of Trapattoni's departure. "I don't think I'll comment on any individual," Delaney told Irish radio station Newstalk, before commenting specifically on what a good job McCarthy had previously done for the national side. McCarthy seems happy and settled in Suffolk but has admitted in the past that the chance to return to his old job could appeal to him. In the light of the newly straitened financial circumstances in which he finds himself having to operate at Portman Road, it isn't impossible that he could feel the time is right for a return.
Having a sought-after manager is an unusual sensation for Ipswich in recent years. With McCarthy having finally brought some authority and stability to the club, the possibility of losing him is a worrying one. Both Ipswich and Middlesbrough will be hoping to put their stuttering starts to the season behind them on Saturday, but of even more pressing concern to home supporters will be the continued presence of the silver-haired Yorkshireman in the dugout. Gavin Barber