Tractor Boys are discipline without being boring
12 December ~ A bit too much has been made by the national press of the “£10,000 squad” that has taken Ipswich to second place in the Championship table, but Saturday’s visit to Bolton certainly does provide a study in stark financial contrasts. The £10,000 figure is the amount that was paid for the only member of the current Ipswich first-team to have cost a fee, defender Tyrone Mings, who was signed from Chippenham Town. The rest of the squad is a mixture of free transfers, former free agents and a smattering of home-grown talent, including this season’s new discovery, the skilful midfielder Teddy Bishop.
It’s slightly misleading to give the impression that Mick McCarthy has been forced to hunt exclusively in bargain bins – while the likes of Christophe Berra may have been recruited without a fee, their wages won’t be cheap – but nonetheless it’s a hugely impressive achievement for McCarthy to have got so far on modest resources, particularly in contrast to the millions wasted by his recent predecessors at Portman Road.
Bolton, by contrast, are one of the many Championship clubs still in receipt of parachute payments following relegation from the Premier League, but haven’t shown many signs that those funds will help them back there. This is their third season in the second tier, and it’s only the recent appointment of Neil Lennon that has yielded the sort of form – particularly at home – to give Wanderers fans any sustained hope.
McCarthy has been in post at Ipswich for two years and has delivered a remarkable upturn. The squad he inherited from Paul Jewell was demotivated, disorganised and ramshackle. McCarthy’s changes have been steady rather than sweeping – he’s taken his time in bringing in the players that he wants and discarding those he doesn’t – but the more important effect has been the improvement of individual players and the development of a strong team ethic.
Striker Daryl Murphy is a great example of the positive effect that the coaching of McCarthy and Terry Connor has brought about. Now 31, Murphy is in the form of his life, having already reached 13 goals for 2014-15, a figure which exceeds his previous best-ever figure for an entire season. Previously seen an industrious but occasionally plodding forward, Murphy has displayed great technical improvement as well as consistency.
McCarthy’s teams are rightly known for their strong tactical discipline and shape – when married with the sort of confidence that a winning run brings, that structure becomes a liberation rather than a constraint. Last week’s victory over Leeds saw pleasing glimpses of style to go along with the already-impressive substance. After several years of dross, Town fans are daring to believe that football can be fun again. Gavin Barber