Sunday 19 January 2020

Grim Saturday for Irish duo's Premier League ambitions

Ipswich Town Manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Ipswich Town Manager Mick McCarthy. Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There is no positive spin that can be put on the misfortune suffered by Alan Judge on Saturday.

Football people always endeavour to look on the bright side when dealing with disappointment. They talk of rebuilding and regrouping and coming back stronger.

Eventually, Judge will have to find the strength to subscribe to those mantras as he starts the long road to recovery from the double leg break he suffered in the early minutes of Brentford's game at Ipswich.

The 27-year-old has already bounced back from setbacks in his career and that spirit should serve him well, yet it's the journey he has travelled which makes this injury so cruel.

It's not just about the Euros. In truth, he was very much on the cut line with the odds stacked against him after being played out of position in his Irish audition against Switzerland.

The timing is awful because of the impact it could have on a club career that is really on the verge of taking off.

In that regard, there is an unfortunate similarity with Newcastle netminder Rob Elliot. Both are late developers who have been forced to take a step back just when they were about to make two giant ones forward.

Judge has been the subject of serious top flight interest after proving himself to be one of the top creative forces in the Championship.

The plan was that he would move to a new abode this summer after declining to sign a new contract with Brentford.


For the Wicklow man, who has grafted away in the lower leagues, the next move has game-changing potential. The danger is that suitors will now wait until he is fully rehabilitated before splashing the cash.

Brentford have declined to put a time-frame on his absence, but it seems likely that the next window will come too soon for his dream move to materialise.

It really is a devastating blow.

Brentford went on to win the game and, in doing so, they succeeded in also turning it into a miserable afternoon for Mick McCarthy (right) although his frustration pales in comparison. His hopes of participating in next term's Premier League have gone south too.

The humbling 3-0 reverse leaves Ipswich eight points off a playoff spot with five games remaining. Given that they finished in the top six last year, falling short will be considered a failure but they have outperformed squads that are working off a much bigger budget. London duo QPR and Fulham have an expensive collection of players that are firmly on course for mid-table finishes.

Ipswich are shy about releasing the purse strings and it goes beyond the first team. In Dublin schoolboy football circles, they have a reputation for offering very small money as compensation for teenagers they wish to recruit.

McCarthy was linked with the Fulham job at one stage and, last week, he was mentioned as a possible solution for Aston Villa's problems.

Villa could do a lot worse in an attempt to create a healthy atmosphere in a dressing room that appears to be completely bereft of any redeeming qualities, and yet there is a sense that McCarthy would have to convince some fans that he is worthy of the role. He doesn't have the fashionable reputation that exercises the dreamers.

Interestingly, the 57-year-old shunned an opportunity to kill the speculation. "It is flattering," he said, "If the remit is for somebody who gets teams promoted then I've got a good CV for that haven't I? But my focus is here. I'm enjoying being Ipswich Town manager but I don't want anyone thinking I'm sitting here resting on my laurels, thinking this is a nice cosy place to be."

After coming in with an initial brief to keep Ipswich in the division, he has steered the Tractor Boys to ninth and sixth placed finishes and it's difficult to see how they can get any closer without serious investment.

They didn't spend in January, with free transfers and loans the staple for McCarthy during his tenure. Their main transaction in the past year was to sell Tyrone Mings to Bournemouth for £8m with some players sent their direction in return.

Mings was a £10,000 buy from non-league Chippenham under McCarthy's watch.

If it's not going to get any better, then the pragmatic call might be to find an escape route before it turns sour. Already, the profile of the individuals that he must bring in has caused him ridiculous strife.

Arsenal loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles is out of favour after a curious tale which appears to boil down to his mother leaving an abusive voicemail on the Ipswich manager's phone.

The crime for McCarthy was to request that the player stayed around to prepare for a midweek match instead of attending an England kit launch. His mother was unimpressed and, according to The Sun, the experienced manager was taken aback by the tirade.

Granted, he's probably been on the end of worse - dare one mention the obvious - but there was something about the whole tale which indicated that he will struggle to achieve his ambitions when that's what he is dealing with.

Ironically enough, he had spoken before Saturday's ill-fated fixture about his mistaken belief that he had captured Judge last summer.

"Judge - who we had in the door here, and spoke to, and thought we were signing - he's the one that seems to be ripping it up for them," he sighed.

For whatever reason, Ipswich were unable to get the deal across the line. McCarthy did succeed in picking up former Ireland international Jonathan Douglas from Brentford on a free. He turned 33 in November. That's the kind of deal they tend to do.

With the inventive Judge in their ranks, then perhaps Ipswich might have found the strength to really push the pace-setters. In a 13th placed side that is built around him, he has scored 14 goals from midfield and assisted in 11. Daryl Murphy is McCarthy's leading marksman in the Championship with 10.

Opposition teams believe that stopping Judge is the key to silencing Brentford, but Ipswich's Luke Hyam went too far with a reducer that infuriated Judge's colleagues. Hyam only received a yellow for his exploits but was later dismissed after losing his temper at Brentford's attempts to make his afternoon uncomfortable.

Hyam said afterwards he was 'distraught' at Judge's plight and McCarthy, typically, backed up his own man, arguing that he won the ball. He thrives in that sphere because he inspires loyalty in a demanding division. But, as Judge has learned the hard way, it's an environment where you don't always get what you deserve.

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