I am back with another article from my flashback series. Today, I have gone for a season that is still in all our minds, and one that still hurts as a Town fan. It is the campaign from 2018/19 – the rebuild that unfortunately was in fact a demolishing, causing the need for an even bigger rebuild.
Mick McCarthy left his role in April by slapping his hand on a table and stating he was off, a much-needed change for the club after his reign had become quite stale and boring. ‘A New Era’ emerged but failed miserably, ending in October, and igniting ‘A New New Era’, but it was arguably too late.
Do not get me started.
Okay, I already did. My bad!
I hated it when it was first released. It grew on me a little, but not by much. It is the worst shirt we have under Adidas’s current reign. It did not work well with the sponsor – admittedly, if the logo was white like it was for our ‘League One Tour’ shirt, it may have made it look better to the eye.
Alas, it was not.
Additionally, did we not basically have the same shirt for Mick’s first full season? I think we did, and I preferred that one – strange because I prefer the Adidas kits over Mitre’s overall. Thankfully, Planet Blue announced their partnership with COPA a couple of weeks after the reveal and released the Wembley 2000 shirt in their retro range.
A much better shirt, so I donned that (as well as the red laced Fisons retro version) for the home games. I love an orange away shirt, though. Thankfully, my fiancée bought me that for my birthday that summer, so I wore that when away from home. The sponsor ruins it slightly, but it is still a lovely shirt and one that I will wear for many years to come (providing I stay this size!).
So, what went wrong?
Lots of things - if you wanted the short and simple answer, you should stop reading now.
I was excited when Mick announced that he was leaving when his contract run out. It is not that I did not like Mick – I did. He did a lot of good things for our club. He kept us up after the disappointingly horrible reigns of Keane and Jewell and rebuilt us to fit the mould that he wanted us to play.
That worked. He brought in guys he could trust. The Hunt brothers and Berra, for example, as well as recruiting hard-working and motivated guys who were not the best but gave it their all. Tabby, for example. By the time we got to the start of the 2017/18 season, Mick was getting stale. He was hitting out at fans, telling us to F-off. I do believe that had he left after the – hmm, let me say – the 2015/16 season, Mick’s legacy at Town would not have been tarnished. He took us as far as he could, reaching the playoffs as underdogs (although, more investment in January 2015 and that second half to the season may have been different?).
The relationship dwindled and even though he brought in Waghorn and Garner, he still played to his stubborn ways – Celina could have given us something different had he not been singled out. Nevertheless, Mick had good man-management. Listen to interviews with former players. Not one of them has a bad word to say about him. Even Scott Loach, who Mick did not see as the goalkeeper to take us forward, still had total respect for the guy.
However, it was time to go.
In my opinion, the idea to bring Paul Hurst in was an excellent idea. On paper, he seemed a young and hungry manager with a bright career ahead of him. He, perhaps, over-achieved at Shrewsbury. It looked good; it was exciting. However, the right idea with the wrong guy! For a start, he ripped the whole team apart.
It is okay to bring in a player from a league below, but to bring a whole team in from a league or two below is worrying. Waghorn or Garner with Jackson or Harrison is fine, but Jackson was not ready to be Waghorn’s replacement. It was too much of a step up.
To be fair to Hurst, he realised this and reunited us with Jonathan Walters with a six-month loan. It was a step in the right direction. A bit of experience to help us out with the youth.
Nevertheless, he still decided to play him when he was not one-hundred percent fit, even though Jon said he was good to go. Any doubts do not play him. Simply put. We lost Jon for the rest of his loan.
Jon lost his career because of that!
Woolfenden and Nydam were wrongly sent out on loan, even though they shone in pre-season against West Ham, along with Downes and Dozzell.
Donacien, Roberts, Tayo, Jackson, Harrison, Edwards, Nolan, Nsiala. The only players out of them who looked promising, to begin with, was Edwards, but then he slipped away.
I must admit, I thought that with a bit time and a bit of gelling, we would be fine. We would start picking up some wins, especially after that Norwich game at home. Little did we know what was going on behind the scenes.
Apparently, it was Doig the problem, upsetting the ‘old guard’. You see, this is where my opinion splits slightly. I love Bart as much as any other Town fan. He was brilliant for us under Mick, producing player of the year performances throughout his time at the club. Yet, I do think he sulked. Not completely on purpose. He was shocking the first couple of games under Hurst. He truly was.
I remember reading the team against Norwich – “Gerken, fair enough… Spence?! Not Donacien? What the hell?!” He deserved to be dropped – if Hurst did it in such a poor manner, then that just shows how bad his man-management skills were.
It did make me feel that Bart had signed his contract, got a pay-rise, then did not give a toss – it hurts to think that, but part of me still wonders. Part of me, however, realises that Hurst and Doig were just not ready for the big leagues, and upset a lot of people who they perhaps should not have done. If it were not for that win at Swansea, he would have been gone straight after and Paul Lambert would have had the international break as well as another month to cement his stamp on the place. The New Era was over before it had even begun.
Paul Lambert was the last person I expected to take over. I did not really know how to react, to be honest.
I remember having a conversation with Brenner just before his name was mentioned, stating how we should just chuck some money at Nigel Clough – I would still have him here now!
A former Norwich manager? Why?
However, PR Paul soon swayed me. Somehow, he brought a feel-good factor back to the club, even though we were bottom. He showed passion, completely different from standing arms crossed on the touchline. Performances started getting better, despite our squad. How Preston had their ‘keeper sent off, and then one of their players making a heroic save whilst playing in goal to keep out Danny Rowe’s rocket of a shot, I will never know! How we only came away with a point from the Madjeski, I will never know! It felt unlucky at times, but sometimes we just darn right deserved it.
New Year’s Day, Millwall, Spence lazily letting the ball out for a corner. A corner which Millwall scored from (we looked great that first half, Steve Morison comes on at half time and then, suddenly, we are like ‘nope’). Spence was never seen again. Rightfully so, I never rated him. Lambert brought in Alan Judge, but he was ineffective, but looked promising for our ‘League One Tour’.
James Bree, Colin Quaner, and Will Keane also joined, but it was not enough. Not really. We beat Rotherham, but that is nothing spectacular. The damage left from Hurst and Doig was just too much to overcome. For Lambert, anyway. A better manager? Maybe not.
Unfortunately, we will never know. Most of us accepted it was Hurst’s fault, though. In hindsight, I do think Lambert’s PR was just propaganda, a cover-up for the ineffectiveness he brought to the club. Look at how he reacted at Carrow Road. PR masterclass, although I do believe he was genuinely frustrated.
April 13th was the day our club was relegated down to League One and the first time that we had dropped down to the third tier after sixty-two years after a draw to Birmingham at home.
The reception after the game was unbelievable, emotional. Our support was shown after the game, but we had all accepted it months before that moment happened. The football had been better, more attractive than it was under Mick, but we just could not score goals.
Freddie Sears was our best-attacking player, but we had lost the players that provided our strength the season before in McGoldrick, Waghorn and Garner.
In hindsight, we were troubled ever since they left, and we just did not replace them efficiently.
Luke Chambers did not deserve the player of the season award – nobody did.
Yes, he has been a great servant, but quite frankly, he had been rubbish. The only positive that I could muster was that the likes of Judge, Nolan, Nsiala, Edwards, etc., all looked promising under a man who had already taken Norwich out of this league with the first time of asking, and if that was the case we would be able to gain promotion back to the Championship straight away.
Especially after that last game against Leeds. I still do not understand where that came from! Instead, that failed miserably, as we all know!
Thanks for reading. I know the topic of relegation is not enjoyable, but I enjoyed writing my flashback article nonetheless!