Former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy endured a disappointing 25th anniversary in management, as his Ipswich side were comfortably beaten 3-1 at Cardiff City on Saturday and he admitted afterwards that the Blues are in a Championship relegation scrap.
Despite skipper Luke Chambers having put Town in front, Kenneth Zohore scored twice and Joe Bennett once to give the Bluebirds, managed by McCarthy’s former Barnsley team-mate Neil Warnock, a deserved win, leaving the Suffolk side 17th, five points off the relegation zone.
“We were well beaten,” conceded McCarthy, whose team face crucial back-to-back home games against fellow strugglers Birmingham and Wigan after the international break, having won just one of their last 13 in all competitions.
“I thought they were very good, but I didn’t think we were anywhere near what our standards have been. We’re in a relegation scrap, I’ve never denied that. I’ve been asked that in press conferences all the time and I’ve always said I’m looking over my shoulder or in the wing mirrors at teams behind me not up in front of me.
“We can’t afford to play like that, because there’s always somebody that slithers into that bottom three and always somebody that scraps their way out.
“And it’s funny, when you’re trying to scrap your way out, it’s amazing how much fight you have in you and when you’re going the other way it can be quite the opposite.”
It was 25 years to the day since McCarthy, then 33, was surprised to be appointed player-manager at Millwall in succession to Bruce Rioch.
His first game came three days later at the Den — “Port Vale and we beat them 1-0” — and, in nine further matches that season, he went on to secure the Lions’ old Second Division status, as they finished 15th.
He cites picking the right assistant and staff as the key advice he would give his 33-year-old self, though he says he fell on his feet with the backroom team he inherited at the Den, which included Ian ‘Taff’ Evans, his right-hand man with Millwall, Ireland, Sunderland, and Wolves.
“They helped me along in those first 10 games, because if it had gone wrong I could have been out and I’d have been out of the club and never recovered, so, choose your assistant wisely,” he reflected.
McCarthy, whose current number two is Terry Connor, with Evans now scouting for Ipswich, admits this campaign has been one of his toughest.
With Ipswich spending an inconsistent season in lower mid-table after finishing sixth and seventh in the previous two campaigns, he has been under-fire from fans, even more so after an embarrassing live-on-TV FA Cup exit to non-league giantkillers Lincoln, and he has said he will consider his future in the summer, despite having another season left on his contract.
“As a manager and as a coach, when you’re at a club, you actually like to get the support of people and, pretty much, I’ve had that nailed-on for four years. The last six months, that’s not been the case so much from a section of the fans, but I get it as well and I’m not complaining about it. They want to come and watch better football and see better results.
“But I’ve had unwavering, 100% support, from [owner] Marcus [Evans] to everybody in the club who have been fabulous. That means a lot, let me tell you.”
There are obvious highlights from his 25 years: “Winning the league at Sunderland and Wolves. The Ireland games were great, but certainly the World Cup in 2002 was fabulous.”
Despite the tough season and with the defeat at Cardiff in his 912th match in management, McCarthy has no intention of ending his career quite yet.
“No, I’ve no thoughts about retiring, I hope that doesn’t disappoint you!” he joked. “I’ll have better seasons than this whether it’s here or somewhere else.
“And you always want better seasons. I don’t want to be firefighting, putting fires out with fans and everything else, I want to be successful.
“I’ve had probably more of that than I have the other stuff, so I don’t want to be getting to 58 and be, like I said, putting fires out everywhere. I’d like to have another few more successful seasons.”
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