Chief Football Writer for the East Anglian Daily Times Stuart Watson previews tomorrow's game
How would you describe Ipswich’s season so far?
Frustratingly inconsistent. It’s often been one step forwards, followed by two steps back. Almost every mooted turning point has proved to be a false dawn. Ipswich, undoubtedly, punched above their weight to finish ninth, sixth and seventh in recent years. Even with some key injuries and a lack of transfer budget, they have underperformed this season. There’s a sense the club is treading water. This is their 15th successive season in the Championship – they don’t look like going up or down any time soon. There’s a big summer on the horizon.
When we spoke at the start of the season it was mentioned about a possible change in style this season, has that happened?
Yes, but only really in the last few weeks. A big part of the problem this year is that, following Daryl Murphy’s departure to Newcastle last August, the team lost its identity. There was no physical front man to play up to, but too many of the players weren’t technically good enough to adapt to a different style. Opposition managers always talk about knowing what you were going to get from a Mick McCarthy team – direct, physical, hard-working – but they’ve lost a bit of that. They have played some much easier on the eye football recently though. A wing-back formation suits plenty of the players, while January loan signings Emyr Huws and Toumani Diagouraga have added some positivity to the midfield.
Which players should Brentford fans be looking out for on Saturday?
Tom Lawrence has been absolutely sensational during his loan spell from Leicester City. The Welsh international has scored 10 goals – most of them spectacular – and has a touch of the Gareth Bale about his technique and direct running. He’s just served a two-game suspension for 10 bookings and will be raring to go again. David McGoldrick endured two years of injury frustration, but has rediscovered his talismanic form since returning to the team at the start of February. The classy forward is a joy to watch when the ball is stuck to his foot and, on his day, is as good as there is in the division. If those two click as a strike pairing then Brentford are in trouble.
More pre-match build-up
How secure is Mick McCarthy’s position at Portman Road?
He’s the longest-serving Championship boss at four years and 115 days – a remarkable feat in today’s game – and he will celebrate 25 years in management later this month. Ipswich fans sung his name with gusto when he masterminded the club’s first play-off finish in a decade, but his stock plummeted during the 18 months of stagnation since then and many were calling for his head just a few weeks ago. The main criticism is that, even with a lack of resources, his tactics are too negative. There have been so many non-event matches that blur into one. The only person’s opinion that really matters is owner Marcus Evans – and he delivered the dreaded vote of confidence at the end of 2016 via some programme notes. McCarthy has another year left on his deal, but has repeatedly said he will consider his future in the summer. His relationship with the fans needs mending. If season ticket renewals are poor then McCarthy and Evans may decide a mutual parting of ways is best for all involved. Keep playing as they have done over the last five games though and that scenario could be avoided.
What sort of match are you expecting this weekend?
It’s not often I say this, but an open and entertaining one. Brentford obviously have their dynamic way of playing and, for once, Ipswich will probably go toe-to-toe rather than worrying too much about stopping the opposition. For the first time in a long time, Town fans are actually looking forward to going to Portman Road following positive performances against Reading, Aston Villa, Brighton, Leeds and Norwich.