Mick McCarthy has a big task ahead to reverse Ipswich's cycle of decline, as a stuttering draw with Peterborough demonstrated
Perspectives are changing at Portman Road. Mick McCarthy, in his fifth game in charge of Ipswich Town, saw a draw at home to Peterborough United, bottom club inthe Championship, as "a point won". After their first-half performance, described by one diehard as "the worst 45 minutes I've seen anywhere", the manager was right. This was Tosh v Posh and only an equalising penalty before the hour kept them off the bottom themselves. Twelve seasons ago they finished fifth in the Premier League.
In their 11th season in the second tier they are its oldest inhabitants. For the first three, despite falling into administration, they threatened a return to the first. For five of the past seven they have ended in the lower half. Their malaise appears chronic. Off the field they present as fine a front as ever. On it they presented nothing on Saturday, most notably confidence.
Ipswich had no entitlement to it. They had lost their last game 6-0 at Leicester City and McCarthy admitted his hurt. "I pride myself on my teams being hard to beat, resolute and organised," he said after that. In eight minutes here they looked a pushover, irresolute and chaotic and it got no better until the second half.
Lee Tomlin gathered Joe Newell's pass forward from the left, feinted to slip on to Saido Berahino, covered by Aaron Cresswell, and found that Danny Higginbotham had bought the dummy and left him clear. The rest was as easy as the penalty conceded in the same minute at Leicester. McCarthy called it "another soft, milky one" and promised to "pick the bones out of how we conceded it". It will not take long. Bones were absent, as was understanding. Higginbotham, from Stoke, was one of five loanees in the starting XI and is better than that. "Our passing was nervy," McCarthy said. "At half-time I asked if they could pass to the right team-mate."
In the second half they occasionally did but how their fans must yearn for Arnold Mühren and Frans Thijssen looking forward where Nigel Reo-Coker, another on loan, looks square or back. In the season's first game a midfield of average age 20 and mostly homegrown ran a seasoned Blackburn Rovers off their feet in a 1-1 draw. Saturday's four averaged 29 and no cheer was more heartfelt than that greeting Luke Hyam, 21, in the 80th minute. DJ Campbell, also a loanee, converted the penalty but Darren Ferguson, Posh's manager, was justified in seeing "a missed opportunity to get three points". His three-man defence was untroubled. "There's a great trust between myself and the players," he said. McCarthy has yet to establish it.
Arguably he has stopped a rot that was spreading under Paul Jewell. In five games he has landed as many points, seven, as Ipswich got in 13 before, though their other defeat was by 5-0 and their goal difference is minus 25. In a season and a half Jewell took them from 19th to 24th. In the same time before that Roy Keane led them from ninth to 19th.
All three appointments suggested a cultural switch from the club's aesthetic tradition to something harder-nosed in supposed keeping with the needs of the age. Jim Magilton was last of the old guard. Matt Holland, another stalwart, remains in touch as patron of the club's charitable trust. But the continuity that marked Ipswich with a special distinction seems to have been lost under the ownership of Marcus Evans since 2007, blessed though his arrival was with sponsorship guarantees to 2013 and David Sullivan sniffing.
Bringing in Simon Clegg, formerly CEO of the British Olympic Association, as chief executive bespoke business. Clegg introduced Keane and this season Steve Williams, Olympic rowing gold medallist, as a high-performance consultant to give the club an edge. Evans's credo is "cutting-edge issues addressed by cutting-edge speak". Ipswich have scored 14 goals in 18 games. Crowds have fallen by another 1,400 from last season's 7% drop. McCarthy said on arrival: "The club has a terrific fan base." At least the end boo was less than the interval one.