DM: The Tractor Boys (has that nickname ran its course yet or is it still a thing?) are still within a yell of the play offs. Can you make them and even if you do, is it worth it after what happened last season?
GS: Ah, those play-offs. I went to the first leg (a 1-1 draw, with ex-Forest man Paul Anderson getting our equaliser) and left about as happy as I can remember being as a Town fan. After some dispiriting, soul-searching years under Roy Keane and Paul Jewell, I suddenly remembered what it was like to support a good team again. A team others fear facing; one you can be proud of. Yes, Norwich ripped us a new one in the second leg, but nobody really seemed to mind. Indeed, it says a lot about how pleased our fans were with last season that most just shrugged off a play-off defeat to our local rivals. And, let's not forget, Norwich were probably the best side in the league last year. I think Alex Tettey could have beaten most teams single handedly. If Neil Adams had received Delia's bullet earlier [they only appointed Alex Neil in January] then I reckon they'd have gone up automatically at a canter.
Anyway, I digress. No, I don't think we will make the play-offs. McCarthy said as much himself last week after our win at Huddersfield: "If we end up in the play-offs, brilliant. If we don't, there won't be a damned thing I can do about it and we'll have tried our best. Brilliant, we've got three points and we'll just keep trying to do that." We've been far too inconsistent and we've been dealt a bad hand on the injury front. David McGoldrick and Teddy Bishop - comfortably our two most creative players - have been out for all but the whole season and we're also missing midfield lynchpin Cole Skuse and Bournemouth loanee Ryan Fraser at the moment, both of whom would ordinarily play on Saturday.
5 defeats in your last 7 games...you're stumbling around a little these days, aren't you? Is Mick's Magic wearing off or is everybody still quite pleased with how it's all going down, including the style of football?
We're a fickle bunch aren't we? No, people aren't too happy just now. We were obviously in a very strong position in the summer, but a lot of supporters seem to think we missed a trick by not investing - even a little bit. We (slightly reluctantly) drove Tyrone Mings to Bournemouth for £8million and brought Brett Pitman (free) and Ryan Fraser (season-long loan) back with us. Pitman's our top scorer on nine goals (that in itself tells you something - Daryl Murphy had 18 at this stage last season) and Fraser has been our best player - when fit. So those two have done well, but Mings' replacement at left back Jonas Knudsen (£350k) - to put it bluntly - hasn't. McCarthy has stuck by him through thick and thin and he is beginning to settle, but he's not especially dynamic and his delivery - other than the odd bullet of a throw-in - hasn't frightened too many defences.
Brentford's Jonathan Douglas was a late addition in the summer and has pulled up about as many trees as a solid, 33-year-old Championship midfielder can manage, while 17-year-old Arsenal loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles has sparkled at times and struggled at others. Broadly, that's it. It's hardly Jordan Rhodes and Stewart Downing is it? We added Fulham's Ben Pringle a couple of weeks ago and he scored the winner at Huddersfield last week, but many saw the signing as too little too late.
Alan March of the excellent Forever Forest Podcast has laughed at us in this week's pod for not selling 32-year-old Daryl Murphy in the summer when we were offered £5million but I agreed with the decision to reject it at the time and still do. Psychologically it would have been a hammer blow to sell our "best player" on the eve of the season but I also think a lot of fans saw it as a blow not to go out and add real quality in January. We've got the cash; we've got the FFP leeway; seemingly, McCarthy just hasn't got the cojones. The longer he waits to spend serious cash on a player (Knudsen at £350k is the most he's spent while at the helm) the more pressure there is on that eventual signing to succeed.
So, to McCarthy. He took over when we were in deep potential relegation trouble back in October 2012 and settled the ship. We finished mid-table, then the following year we finished ninth, and then last year we finished sixth. I think fans were expecting that upward trajectory to continue this season, but obviously it hasn't, and it's the age-old problem: if your football isn't too easy on the eye and you start losing, people turn on you pretty quickly. Nobody is going to watch Town and, on a purely aesthetic level, come away purring at the quality of football. We do not play the ‘Ipswich way’ at the moment. It’s not the ball McCarthy wants us to win but territory; the battle. Everything else comes after that.
In other ways though, he has done some fantastic things for the club. On the pitch our football may not be the most pleasing, but we're certainly not the sorts to roll around and get someone sent off (Clayton Donaldson) and you don't see us give the referee too much hassle. And then there are the little things, but things that matter. All the players arrive at games in suits and seem to take their off-pitch duties seriously. Last Christmas for instance, four teams of six players visited hospitals all over Suffolk - it doesn't sound like a lot, but that's a lot better than most clubs manage. McCarthy himself, alongside assistant Terry Connor, has fronted up at the club's AGM ever since he arrived and there's just generally a good feeling about the club on a community level. Praise for that needs to be directed to McCarthy. Basically, I think he deserves another season, but if we're slightly out of touch of the play-offs come December, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him given a golden handshake.
You've got Kevin Bru (Irn Bru), Jay Tabb (Tab Clear) and Giles Coke. That's some impressive soft drinks punnery going on there. That aside, who's fizzing it up on the pitch these days? (Sorry)
Freddie Sears is our biggest threat at the moment. McCarthy seems to have converted him into a winger, but the former West Ham youngster (who cost us a mere £100k from Colchester in January last season) doesn't seem to mind, and his performances haven't greatly dipped, even if his goal tally has. In fact, he's been a model of consistency ever since he joined 13 months ago, and some fans were surprised we kept him in January. For my money, Derby would have been well advised to avoid Nick Blackman and go after Sears. Christophe Berra will relish a battle with Nelson Oliveira, former Notts stopper Bartosz Bialkowski is in fine form, and Pringle is enjoying a new-club bounce at the minute.
You worked at Forest for a while editing the match day programme. In terms of the players, we're sure that everyone was really lovely to deal with but out of all of them, who was the nicest? The one who would hold doors open, make tea and be aware of their Ps and Qs?
Chris O’Grady seemed like a lovely bloke and genuinely delighted to be at the club. He’s also surprisingly softly spoken. And this won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but Tyler Walker is a lovely guy. My grandma would describe him as a 'thoroughly nice young man'.
Ipswich are a bit like Forest really, aren't they? Reputation for great football in the 70s and 80s but despite a few seasons in the sun in the 90s, more like Championship mainstays these days. Is this our lot or can either of us reclaim our rightful stake in the Premier League and bloody well stay there?
I think if you sat down with a cuppa, a notepad and a pencil to draw up your ultimate top flight, Forest would make the cut. Ipswich? It would be close - perhaps we’d fall just outside the top 20. Either way one of us should have bloody well been up there for at least a season or two since we slipped out in 2002, but clearly nobody has a god given right these days. I actually think that the recent history of both clubs isn't too dissimilar: bought by rich owners who invested hard and seemingly without much of a plan, the spending's now stopped and stability is yielding improved results. Yes, there are huge differences between the clubs in terms of how they learnt those lessons and whether or not they made the decision to stop spending/were forced to stop spending, but there's one lesson at the heart of it: give a manager time, stick to a plan, and you don't necessarily have to splash the cash, even if you've got it. By 2020, surely one of us will have made it back?
In the year 2525, maybe...who is your most favourite ever Ipswich player? (It’s Luke Chambers, isn't it?)
I know some Forest fans give Chambers a bit of stick, but he’s been brilliant for us since day one. Farmed out to right back by McCarthy early in his tenure he’s been there ever since and hasn’t grumbled once. Indeed, he’s been there for so long now that he’s actually starting to look like a right back, and he’s popped up at the back stick a few times this season to nod home some crucial goals. Then of course there’s the fist pump. Every time we win, home or away, he brings it out:
Other notable favourites down the years include childhood heroes Matt Holland, Marcus Stewart and Martjin Reuser, while I was a big fan of Owen Garvan, Darren Currie and Darren Ambrose in my teenage years.
Portman Road has been generally rubbish for us down the years. Cheer us up - give us a reason we will win on Saturday:
As you rightly pointed out up top we’ve lost five of the last seven and we’re not a team fizzing with invention or craft. If Dougie sticks with the current 4-5-1 and Mills and co stand firm, I can’t see there being many goals, and our defence (in fact our whole team) is lacking in pace. If Burke, Mendes or Ward are back, they could make hay on the break.
Draw the dagger, stick it in and twist it - give us a reason we will lose:
As you rightly pointed out up top we’ve lost five of the last seven but under McCarthy runs like that don’t last long. Once we get back on the winning trail, we tend to go on a little run, and after losing against Hull last time out at home, I can't see Big Mick letting the lads get away with back-to-back defeats at Portman Road. If I were a betting man I’d go for 2-1 Town, with Chambers netting the winner.
Until very recently, George was Programme Editor at Nottingham Forest - you know, the one who was responsible for the great covers this season. Now he's Editorial Assistant at Team Sky. It's not all great though. He has to live in Manchester. He's a top top fella and you should follow him, or like him, or poke him or something like that. He knows his onions.