I’ve always been quite impressed by Mick McCarthy – right back to the time when he stood, tall and imperious, as the dominant figure in Barnsley‘s defence back in the day. I followed his fortunes with interest as he moved onwards and upwards, to Manchester City and Celtic, before plummeting down the food chain towards the end of his career, ending up as low down the evolutionary scale as Millwall. But everywhere he went, he took with him that indestructible air of unflappable Yorkshireness, dealing with opponents and situations calmly but as firmly as he had to. And that gritty look – the kind of ruggedness to which all we Tykes secretly aspire, the forehead hammered flat through contact with thousands of muddy football as he headed clearance after McCarthyite clearance up towards the halfway line. It was the kind of profile you might expect to see carved into the prow of a raiding war-boat, noble but menacing. I was once in a panto with his granddaughter too, so there’s clearly a bond.
All of this slight infidelity where my own heroes were concerned was long before I even knew that Mick was a Leeds United fan. And it was before I witnessed him from afar, playing the calm sheet-anchor to Roy Keane’s hysterically girlish prima donna at the Japan World Cup, as Mick strove to hold the Irish squad together after fake hard man Roy flounced petulantly off home. These two factors merely cemented the respect I’ve always borne the guy; I’d have loved to have seen him wear the white shirt at some point. As it was, he was really more my mates’ hero in the late seventies, the lads who followed Barnsley and who never really offered much in the way of banter, because they were 4th Div and we were First – and never likely to meet on the field of play. It’s a good job we can’t see what the future holds.
Lately, the remaining hair has turned snowy white as the forehead has encroached further and further back, heading inexorably for the nape of his neck. But he still cuts an impressive figure, and his post match interviews, whilst not perhaps in the Gordon Strachan ballpark, are still required listening for those who like their responses laconic and deadpan; tersely funny. He talks a good game, and it seems he’s above the usual run of manager too; certainly superior, at the risk of damning by faint praise, to one R. Keane. I thought at the time that Wolves were daft to get rid; so it proved. It’s good to see him back in harness with another United old boy, Terry Connor, and doing well at Portman Road.
Mick did well at Portman Road the last time Leeds met Ipswich Town, too. After a whirlwind start from United, fresh from having mauled Huddersfield 3-0, Town battled back after Mirco Antenucci‘s early strike to put us away quite comfortably, 4-1. Ipswich have been there or thereabouts all season – can United now return to recent home form and dispatch yet another high-flying Championship challenger?
As ever in this division, the only thing that’s predictable about any game is its essential unpredictability. From that point of view, as a reader of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything sagely pointed out only this afternoon, the Championship has something going for it that the Premier League lacks. But it doesn’t make life easy for us amateur pundits. Nevertheless, here goes.
The first thing to say is that it would be no great surprise if Leeds did pull a result out of the hat tonight. We have form for sending the league’s high achievers scuttling home with tails sadly between the legs, licking unexpected wounds. Bournemouth, Derby, Middlesbrough have all come and gone with no reward – who is to say that Ipswich won’t go the same way?
Well, Mr McCarthy, his Leeds United affiliation shelved for the evening, probably will have quite a lot of say in the matter. There’s a strong ex-Leeds contingent in his squad too; Noel Hunt will have dreamed of showing us exactly what he’ll feel he never got the chance to show in a Leeds shirt. But, sadly for Leeds perhaps, Noel is injured and, in the absence too of David McGoldrick, the spotlight might just fall on another ex-White in Luke Varney. Poor old “Reg”, who cannot expect a warm Elland Road welcome due to his half-pike with triple twist in a Blackburn shirt not that long back, has not had it that easy since he left Leeds under a cloud. We must hope that capricious fate doesn’t have another shock in store for us.
Leeds themselves will be looking to replicate the first twenty minutes against Watford and then extend that level by another hour and ten or so. Ipswich will take advantage if we let them, so the kind of performance that has stopped certain teams playing against us since the turn of the year has to be the aim tonight. The likely line-up tonight could depend on whether or not a change of shape is contemplated, with Guiseppe Bellusci available again, and Billy Sharp, Antenucci and Steve Morison competing for what has been a lone striking role. Is 3-5-2 a possibility tonight? You have to cut your suit according to your cloth, and doubtless Redders will have been giving the matter some thought when he’s not been bemoaning Watford‘s zillion pound squad.
I’ll be bold and predict a 2-1 United win with – despite having lost a little faith in Nostradamus since the other week’s unfortunate dropped supernatural clanger – Morison to finally end that drought. And if Leeds do win, will Whites fans McCarthy and Connor be just a teensy bit pleased? Not a bit of it; they’re both pros down to their toenails, and on that account alone, this blog would still like to see them back at Elland Road one day.