TOWN’S FA Cup exit at the hands of Sheffield United was all too predictable, the Blues now having fallen at the first hurdle for eight successive years.

But that didn’t make it any less frustrating. Indeed, in some ways it was more infuriating than usual given that the latest third-round defeat came in the season in which the 40th anniversary of the Blues’ 1978 Wembley victory is being celebrated.

Town’s lack of success in cup competitions has long been among fans’ numerous frustrations with manager Mick McCarthy.

The Blues are far from the only club to field weakened sides in the FA Cup - and McCarthy is not the only Town manager to do so - but the annual third-round loss often to lower league - and in the case of Lincoln last year non-league - opposition has given the impression that what was once the greatest cup competition in the world is viewed as nothing more than an unwanted distraction.

However, while Town made six changes and weren’t full strength, the team they fielded on Saturday wasn’t one of kids. Everyone in the XI was a regular in the 18 and should have been capable of beating a much more youthful Blades side.

But, having gone behind to Nathan Thomas’ 25th-minute stunner, they never looked like getting on terms, failed to register a single shot on target and showed little urgency in the closing stages.

Another early and uninspiring FA Cup exit stretched the recent winless run to five games and saw a return of abusive terrace chanting aimed towards McCarthy, while loud boos greeted the final whistle.

By my reckoning it was the first time since the Burton away game in October that songs regarding McCarthy’s approach to football had been sung, certainly so widely.

But as the manager himself admitted afterwards, the enmity has never gone away, there had merely been a lull in hostilities with the Blues very much in the play-off reckoning until their unhappy Christmas saw a drop back into mid-table.

With McCarthy’s contract up in the summer, it does seem as if we’re moving into the final months of his time at Portman Road. Extending his spell doesn’t appear to suit any of those concerned.

Barring what currently looks an unlikely promotion, the significant majority of fans who want a new boss aren’t going to change their opinion of the present incumbent or his football.

And after five and a half years under McCarthy - and 16 seasons in the Championship - the club feels stale, predictable and in need of a reboot and a fresh approach.

The rancour between fans and manager which has now been ongoing for well over a year isn’t healthy and if it’s allowed to continue will inevitably lead to a further drop in season ticket sales for 2018/19 and owner Marcus Evans forced to find even more money from his own pocket even to maintain the Blues’ current budget, let alone to increase it to a level where Town might stand a more realistic chance of going up.

Further afield, McCarthy has been praised for the job he has done at Portman Road given the comparatively scant resources at his disposal in what’s a much-changed, richer and ever-tougher Championship and he has overachieved in league position to budget terms most seasons.

Turning 59 next month, McCarthy has perhaps one more tilt at Premier League football and it wouldn’t take long for another Championship club - probably one with more cash than Town - to offer him that chance.

However, nothing’s likely to happen until the summer, or at the earliest once there’s nothing left in a season which, despite a very lengthy injury list, had until very recently held more promise than most.

But we’re not there yet, seven points to the play-offs is a surmountable gap and we’ll probably know after the next six games whether Town are capable of bridging it.

Following Saturday’s home match with Leeds, the Blues travel to 20th but improving Bolton, host leaders Wolves, visit table-propping Sunderland, play third-bottom Burton at home and then East Anglian rivals Norwich at Carrow Road.

There are enough potentially winnable games in that run for Town to get back into contention. If not, the season and the McCarthy era will drift to yet another of those all-too-familiar and rather predictable mid-table finishes.

The word legend is thrown around rather too easily these days but no one could argue that Town striker Ted Phillips deserved that tribute and the many other plaudits which came his way following his death aged 84 on Tuesday.

Scorer of 181 goals in 295 games, a still-record 46 in one season and proud owner of title winner’s medals in Divisions One, Two and Three (South), the club has lost one of its true greats.