|Ipswich Town 1 v 1 Leeds United|
Saturday, 18th February 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Town Look to Continue Impressive February Form Against Leeds
Friday, 17th Feb 2017 06:00
Town face Leeds United at home on Saturday looking to continue their positive February form against the Championship’s fifth-placed side.
The Blues have picked up five points in three games in what had been billed a very tough month, having drawn 2-2 with Reading, who are third, in their last game at Portman Road then won 1-0 at Aston Villa to end the division’s only remaining unbeaten home run, before drawing 1-1 at Brighton on Tuesday.
But manager Mick McCarthy says continuing that run won't be easy against the side managed by Garry Monk, who he believes is doing a great job at Elland Road.
“Brilliant, and considering the start he had as well,” said McCarthy, a boyhood Leeds fan. “Didn’t they lose six on the bounce or something and, of course, everybody was predicting he was going to be the next one out.
“But he’s arguably a contender for manager of the season in our league. There are a few of them, mind. Paul Heckingbottom’s another, David Wagner, certainly they’re the standout ones for me.
“And Garry Monk is as well considering it’s a huge, big club, a fantastic club. They’ve struggled along and I don’t know how many managers they’ve had.
“But there are no stories coming out any more, it’s all just settled down, it’s calm, it appears to be, and that’s down to Garry. He gets the best out of players and his team are playing very, very well.”
Former Town loanee Chris Wood - who is also Blues defender Tommy Smith’s room-mate when away on New Zealand duty - is the Whites’ biggest threat having already scored 22 goals this season, only Dwight Gayle has netted more than his 19 in the league, including the only goal when the teams met at Elland Road earlier in the season.
“Woody was all right for us but he’d been injured and we took him and there’s no doubt he wasn’t as fit as he should have been,” McCarthy reflected on the 25-year-old’s short spell with the Blues towards the end of the 2014/15 campaign.
“I look at him now and he’s a right lean, mean, tough centre forward that gets about. I thought he was excellent against us up there, I thought he was the difference in the game.
“He scored the winner but he was the difference with his performance and I’m seeing him doing what he did three or four years ago when I liked him and eventually took him on loan.
“His last game [for Town] was against Wolves, he came on as a sub and he was just getting to the fitness levels we would have liked and, of course, Leicester took him back.
“We didn’t see the best of him, but he is a very, very good player and certainly at this level he’s a top player.”
The Blues will be without midfielder Toumani Diagouraga, who is ineligible against his parent club. McCarthy hopes the Frenchman, who is with Town for the remainder of the season, won’t be a big miss.
“I hope not," he said. "Skusey’s fit. You’d have thought it would be a big loss Skusey being out but it’s turned out he’s not been, the lads who have come in [have done well], Wardy’s been different class, so have Toums and Emyr.
“I’m hoping he won’t be. But to answer the question, I don’t want to lose a player who has been playing as well as he has. But to have Skusey coming back it takes the blow away slightly.”
Bartosz Bialkowski will continue in goal, while McCarthy seems set to stick with the 3-5-2 system which has worked well in recent games.
Skipper Luke Chambers will be in the centre of the trio if he is OK to play, having cracked a rib when scoring against the Seagulls on Tuesday.
If the 31-year-old fails to make it then Christophe Berra, who is available again having missed the trip to the Amex having suffered a concussion at Villa, will take up that position.
Otherwise Berra will probably get the nod to return on the left of the trio with Jonas Knudsen then in contention with Myles Kenlock for the left wing-back role.
Jordan Spence is likely to continue on the right of the three with Josh Emmanuel at right wing-back.
In midfield Skuse will return for Diagouraga , almost certainly alongside Emyr Huws and Grant Ward, while Kieffer Moore could be handed his full debut partnering David McGoldrick up front with 10-goal top scorer Tom Lawrence suspended after picking up his 10th yellow card of the season at Brighton. The on-loan Leicester man will also miss next Sunday's East Anglian derby at Carrow Road.
Brett Pitman and Freddie Sears are alternative options to the ex-Forest Green Rovers frontman.
Whites manager Garry Monk has a lot of time for Blues boss McCarthy, who he says he has a lot of time for.
“Mick is fantastic, he is a really good football man and a very experienced manager,” Monk told the official Leeds United site.
“I have come up against him and his teams and having spoken to him outside of football, he is someone I have huge respect for.
“In the Championship every game is so competitive, fine margins decide games and we have to go down to Ipswich and put our game on the pitch and focus on ourselves.
“We know what we are going to face and we know what we have to do well in order to try and win the game.
“Hopefully we can go down there, put on a performance to be proud of and be in with a chance of winning the three points.”
Regarding absentees, he added: “We are as we were in terms of injuries ahead of the Bristol City game, Liam Bridcutt will come back into the group following suspension.
“Charlie Taylor looks very likely to train at the start of next week [after an achilles injury] which is good for him and great for the group, with an important run of games coming up, between now and the end of the season."
Historically, Leeds have the superior record in the fixture, winning 31 (30 in the league) clashes between the teams. Town have been victorious on 27 (22) occasions and 20 (17) games have ended in draws.
Town still haven’t recorded the same result in successive league games since drawing with Wolves and then Norwich back in August, 28 games ago, a new club record.
In September at Elland Road, former Blues loanee Wood’s 35th minute header saw Leeds United to a 1-0 victory.
The Whites might have won by a more comfortably margin having come close on a number of further occasions, while the Blues never looked like getting anything from the game once they had gone behind.
The teams last met at Portman Road in January last year when Pitman headed a dramatic injury time winner as the Blues came from behind to win 2-1.
Souleymane Doukara put the visitors ahead in only the 12th second but Town gradually took control and dominated a second half in which Chambers headed a 50th minute equaliser and then Pitman sealed the win, both goals coming from Ryan Fraser crosses.
In addition to Diagouraga, currently on loan with the Blues from Leeds, Town midfielder Jonathan Douglas was with the Whites between 2005 and 2009, initially on loan from Blackburn, and made 151 starts and 15 sub appearances, scoring 11 goals.
Blues assistant manager Terry Connor was with his hometown club between 1979 and 1983, scoring 22 goals in 108 games.
Town fitness coach Andy Liddell is also from Leeds and is another boyhood supporter of the club, his father Gary having played for the Elland Road outfit.
Leeds striker Wood spent two months on loan with the Blues during 2014/15, failing to find the net in three starts and five sub appearances. He joined the Whites from Leicester in the following summer.
Saturday’s referee is Keith Stroud from Hampshire, who has shown 154 yellow cards and 11 red in 32 games so far this season.
Stroud’s most recent Town game was the 3-2 win at Wigan in December in which he awarded the Blues a contentious penalty, which was converted by Pitman, and booked the striker, Andre Dozzell, Lawrence and three home players.
Before that the veteran official was in charge of the 4-2 victory over Barnsley at Portman Road on the opening day when he also awarded the Blues a penalty which was converted by McGoldrick. He booked Kevin Bru, Teddy Bishop and three Tykes.
He also took control of the 3-2 home victory over the MK Dons in the final home match of last season, in which he booked Tommy Smith and one opposition player and awarded the visitors a spotkick.
Prior to that Stroud officiated in the 1-1 home draw with Birmingham in September 2015 in which he gave the Blues another penalty, netted by Pitman, which was bitterly disputed by the visitors when Ainsley Maitland-Niles was felled by Jonathan Spector. He booked Berra, Douglas and two visiting players.
A former Premier League referee and one-time FIFA assistant, Stroud also refereed the 3-2 defeat at Brighton in January 2015 in which he booked Bru and Noel Hunt and one Seagull.
He also took charge of the 1-0 home derby defeat to Norwich at Portman Road in August 2014 and Town’s 1-0 home victory over Birmingham in March of the same year.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Chambers (c), Knudsen, Kenlock, Emmanuel, Spence, Berra, T Smith, Digby, Skuse, Huws, Douglas, Bru, Bishop, Ward, Rowe, McGoldrick, Sears, Pitman, Moore.
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