Derby day. A game we simultaneously look forward to and dread. Andrew Lawn spoke to Gavin Barber from Ipswich Town fanzine Turnstile Blues for his take on Mick McCarthy, Marcus Evans and an increasingly alienated fan base.
Andy – So, it struck me there is quite a big dilemma at Portman Road at the moment, at least as an outsider looking in. On the one hand you have Mick McCarthy who is doing a fantastic job, while being hamstrung at every turn by a nightmare, asset-stripping owner, but this is at the cost of playing some really dour football, which is further alienating a fanbase that Evans has alienated too.
So, what do you do, replace MM and risk relegation to League 1, or stick to what you're doing and 'achieve' continued Championship mid-tableism?
Gavin Barber - It’s a very good question and whatever the answer turns out to be, will be a good indicator of the owner’s priorities. The “safe” option of sticking with a manager who will reliably keep us in the division will be unpopular with many supporters, and inevitably trigger a further downward drift in season ticket renewals. Does the owner really care about the relationship between the club and its fans? Is he prepared to take a risk with a manager who might play a different style of football? Or is he only really interested in keeping things ticking over?
Another factor is that supporters’ focus on the manager arguably distracts attention from the owner. If the manager was less of a lightning rod for fans’ attention, via his abrasive, sometimes belligerent responses, then there might be more questions about the owner. If the manager was a nice, humble guy who had been landed with a not-very-good team, then people might ask more questions about how the owner had got the club into this situation. As it is, McCarthy and the supporters wind each other up in equal measure. It’s a handy smokescreen for the owner to hide behind.
Is Evans showing any signs of pulling the trigger?
If you were in his shoes, but only allowed to make that one decision, i.e. you can't reverse any of the damage he has done to the academy, or suddenly make all the hidden stuff public; what would you do; stick or twist with Mick? If you'd sack him, who would you want to replace him with?
The power dynamic between owner and manager is weird.
Again, that’s slightly down to McCarthy’s bullish approach - that it’s as much about whether Mick wants to stay on as it is about whether the owner wants him to. Or at least that’s what he’d like people to believe.
Assuming we continue to fart around in mid-table, and by season ticket renewal time it’s clear that we’re not going up or down, then if I was Evans I would - at that point - replace Mick with a more progressive manager. Michael Appleton would be my first choice, though other Town fans might disagree with that. His Oxford team played nice football, *and* were successful without huge transfer investment.
I would agree purely down to holding tight to the idea that football is about fun and enjoyable games. Therefore, the division matters less than the excitement levels week in week out.
Which brings us to another paradox, a game we look forward to all season and then hate every minute of (other than the rare occasions you lead handsomely). What are your thoughts on Sunday?
Trepidation to be honest.
Last week’s game against Burton was one of the worst events in human history; so bad that it was like the end of civilisation unfolding before our eyes. Norwich have better attacking players than us, so Mick will set up to contain. There won’t be much in the way of free-flowing football, but that won’t surprise anyone! A low scoring draw would be a good result for us: avoiding defeat is crucial to retaining the small, residual amount of goodwill that just about exists between fans and club right now.
What about you guys? Are you optimistic?
I wouldn't say optimistic. Our fanbase seems quite split still, although it is starting to come back together.
On one side you have the people who are frustrated with our new, very patient, approach which has been exaggerated by a failure to break teams down when they have come to Carrow Road and as you allude to, set-up to contain us. On the other side, you have the people who are happy for us to keep the ball, even if it appears on the surface we're not doing anything with it, pointing to a string of notable away successes. If we can get our noses in front the place will be bouncing, but if you score first or contain us to the point of boredom setting in, there'll be something in it for you.
Talking of attacking players, where does yours lie? Other than that pesky Jonas Knudsen, who always seems to save his attacking forays for us...
There are always some impatient people in football crowds. On the rare occasions when Ipswich have a spell of controlled possession, there’s always someone behind me yelling “get it in the box!”, who will then start cursing when it is eventually pumped aimlessly towards the opposing keeper.
Martyn Waghorn was our biggest attacking threat in the first half of the season but has gone off the boil recently. He’s been playing just behind Joe Garner but would probably be more effective alongside him. Garner himself is an enjoyable nuisance to defenders in the way that Grant Holt used to be for you, but hasn’t yet picked up Holt’s prolific derby habit. Or indeed Jonas Knudsen’s...
Ah yes, the old "get it forward" or "cross the ball" followed by exasperated moans when the lumped clearance, or cross aiming to hit one 5'10 striker among a sea of 6'4 centre-halves is plucked from the sky and the opposition break on you...
We struggled at Portman Road I felt when you played early into the channels and you had pace to pick up the pieces. I think we played a back 4 that day however and have now switched to a 3, that deals with those types of ball much better. At least that's my pre-game hope.
On the other side of that coin, where can we get at you?
Probably in wide positions. Cole Skuse and Callum Connolly will sit in front of the defence with the express purpose of not allowing Wes Hoolahan to try any of his tricksy nonsense. Our full backs are pretty capable overall, but can sometimes be dragged out of position, which will create space for your attacking players.
Are you prepared to offer a prediction?
Ah Wes. Sadly, his time as a regular appears done, but in his steed Mr James Maddison is doing a lovely tribute.
We're not a side that looks to get it wide and then whip it in the mixer, preferring instead to make little triangles on the edge of your 18-yard line, so I would suggest it will be a crowded and bitty type of game.
I often think a draw in derby games and see no reason to change that for this one. I anticipate it being a pretty cagey affair and could well be 0-0. That said, if we get ahead, we are masters of killing games dead, in which case 1-0 will be enough. How about you?
I would take a 0-0. I’m not sure where I would take it, or what I’d do with it when I got there, but on face value it’s something I’d be prepared to accept.
A quick look at the current odds suggests that a 1-0 home win is considered twice as likely as a goalless draw. Bookmakers don’t tend to get things wrong too often.
Shall we just shake hands on a 0-0 now and skip the game? You can have it for weeknights and then I'll take it at weekends? 1-0 either way wouldn't surprise me and "you never see a bookie on a bike" as my old man is fond of saying.
Last question, say something dramatic happens and you win or lose heavily, how does that impact the rest of your season and does it hasten the departure (or secure the future) of Mick? Or is any potential change coming in the summer, and not 1 second sooner, regardless?
I would happily shake hands on a 0-0 at this point. Then just sit back and watch Sky try to pretend it’s all been very exciting.
I think a heavy defeat could trigger a decision on the future of the manager. It wouldn’t necessarily be delivered instantly, but there might be a kind of “keep us in the division then leave of your own accord at the end of the season”-type arrangement. That wouldn’t help season ticket renewals, of course, but like I said earlier - how bothered is the owner about that? It’s really not clear.
While you're here, Barclay End Norwich have organised another fan march to the stadium for this Sunday's game.
Meeting at the Queen of the Iceni Wetherspoons from 10am Sunday morning, the march will head to Carrow Road at 11:15am, in time to ensure everybody (plus all the flags) get into the ground well before kick-off, to continue to pre-game atmosphere.
Bring your colours, bring the noise. OTBC.
We also have a derby preview podcast, with EDP and Pink'Un hearthrob Michael Bailey joining us to look ahead to Sunday and discuss the best (and worst) beards that have graced Carrow Road.