|Rotherham United 1 v 0 Ipswich Town|
Saturday, 22nd April 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Town Visit Rotherham With a Spring in Their Step
Thursday, 20th Apr 2017 19:12
Blues boss Mick McCarthy says his players have a spring in their step as they visit bottom club Rotherham having beaten promotion-pushing Newcastle United on Monday as they recorded back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
“That performance came on the back of a really good performance at Burton,” McCarthy reflected.
“There’s certainly a spring in their step, certainly better than the feeling that we had prior to going to Burton.
“That was a stressful time for everybody at the club because we were still in that relegation scrap.
“We were nine points [off the bottom three], then Blackburn won and it was six points and Wigan won.
“I thought the lads handled themselves really well and held it together. And the result and performance against Newcastle were really excellent.”
While McCarthy is keen for his now-15th-placed side to record a third win on the trot - for the first time since August 2015 - he has said he will field some of his fringe players in what is a dead rubber.
“If I make changes then it’s a bit like diluting the fact that we’ve had two good performances with the same team, getting two really good wins, two much-needed wins.
“But I hope people [won’t see it like] that. It might be an opportunity to see people that have not had a chance.”
He says he has to strike a balance with his selection and won’t be fielding a team of very young players.
“I certainly won’t be putting the kids in,” he said. “Tristan Nydam and Flynn Downes and Dozzer and all them. Rotherham will want to [win the game].
“The conundrum is whether I change all of them or most of them and then is that fair if I’m trying to look at somebody in terms of their form - would they come in and play better if there are only one or two changes? I’m sure they would. So that is a bit of a conundrum.”
McCarthy says Rotherham will be wanting to end their season positively despite a disappointing campaign which has seen them relegated by some distance. They are currently on 18 points, 22 fewer than 23rd-placed Wigan and 27 away from safety.
“They certainly will,” McCarthy said. “They gave us a good game when we played them down here [the match ended 2-2] and we know that on any given day the Championship can be turned on its head, I guess as was proved on Monday against Newcastle.
“It seems unfathomable that we could beat them after the way we played up there, but it was very much a different team, of course.
"And how we played against them and stopped them playing, it was a really good performance.
“Despite the fact that Rotherham are down, they’ll still be fighting tooth and nail, some to get jobs elsewhere, some to retain their status with Rotherham.
“And sometimes when a team’s been relegated, sometimes they start finding a bit of form that’s not been there all season.”
Among the players Town fans will be keeping their eye on at the New York Stadium will be 12-goal Rotherham striker Danny Ward, who Town were keen to sign in January.
McCarthy wouldn’t be drawn on his interest in the 26-year-old but admitted he has been impressed by him.
“He has done well,” he said. “I’m not going to get in that, talking about players I’ve been in for or spoken about.”
The Blues boss has previously signed the better players from relegated clubs - Cole Skuse was one of three signed from Bristol City in the summer of 2013 - and doesn’t rule out doing the same again in the future.
“We also took Paul Anderson and Dean Gerken, who all performed really well, two of them still are and Ando was terrific while he was here. I’ve no problem with taking players out of teams who have been relegated, no.”
Second guessing McCarthy’s side at Rotherham is tougher than usual given his intention to make changes, however, Bartosz Bialkowski is likely to continue in goal and the back four will probably again be - from the right - Jordan Spence, skipper Luke Chambers, Christophe Berra and Myles Kenlock.
In midfield, Skuse will probably be in his usual holding role but McCarthy could look to bring Teddy Bishop into the side, for either Grant Ward or Emyr Huws, with Andre Dozzell and Jonny Williams also in the running for a place but perhaps more likely to be subs.
Danny Rowe could start in place of Tom Lawrence, who is a doubt with an ankle injury, in what would then probably be a 4-4-2 system - which is also how the Millers have lined-up recently - with David McGoldrick and perhaps Dominic Samuel, who McCarthy has said he would like to see in match action.
Rotherham winger Anthony Forde will be fit to face the Blues following a leg injury, while right-back Darnell Fisher and left midfielder Joe Newell are OK after minor knocks.
Former Town keeper Lewis Price will be back in the Millers’ squad but will need surgery at some stage to address recurring tonsillitis.
Former Ireland international full-back Stephen Kelly is out for the season following achilles surgery, joining Lee Camp, Joel Ekstrand, Lee Frecklington (all knee) and Kirk Broadfoot (back) on the sidelines.
Rotherham’s Norwich-born boss Paul Warne says the Millers are determined to keep hold of star striker Ward, despite their relegation having turned down £2 million for him from an unnamed club in January.
“Only if an offer comes in near our valuation will we consider selling him,” he told the Sheffield Star.
“The chairman [Tony Stewart] said that to me, so if someone comes in with a cheeky offer we will just keep him for [next] season and get as many goals out of him as we can.”
Ward’s contract is up this summer but the Millers are taking up an option to keep him for a further year.
“I think when the season finishes the phone will start ringing again,” Warne added. “He had had a good year, playing in a poor team and scoring as many goals as he has.
“I think his overall performances have been really good and I think he will be an excellent addition to any team. But if he stays here, I would be cock-a-hoop.”
The Blues have won 14 of the previous games between the sides, all of which have been in the league, eight have ended in draws, with the Millers having won seven.
Rotherham are without a win in 17 matches since defeating Norwich City 2-1 at home in January, drawing only two of those games.
In October at Portman Road, McGoldrick netted a brilliant low drive deep in injury time to grab Town a last-gasp 2-2 draw against the Millers, whose point at Town remains the only one they have claimed on the road all season.
Freddie Sears had put the Blues in front in the third minute but man of the match Danny Ward equalised four minutes later, then put the visitors in front three minutes after the break. Town rarely looked like getting back on terms in a lacklustre second half until McGoldrick’s late strike.
Last time at the New York Stadium in November 2015, Daryl Murphy ended his early season goal drought by netting his first hat-trick in 11 years as the Blues thrashed Rotherham 5-2.
Brett Pitman and Jonathan Douglas had already scored before Murphy grabbed his first of the campaign to make it 3-0 at the break.
His second followed three minutes after the restart before the Millers hit back via Brandon Barker and Matt Derbyshire, but Murphy’s third in the 72nd minute ended any hopes of a dramatic comeback.
The Rotherham squad includes ex-Town keeper Lewis Price, who signed on a free transfer from Sheffield Wednesday last summer.
The 32-year-old joined Town as an academy scholar from Southampton and went on to make 74 starts and one sub appearance for the Blues between 2004 and 2007.
Millers central defender Semi Ajayi was on trial with Town in January 2015 when he played a game for the U21s.
Rotherham’s goalkeeper-coach is Mike Pollitt, who enjoyed a one-game loan spell with the Blues in November 2006, helping Town to a 3-1 derby defeat of Norwich City at Portman Road before his stint was cut short by injuries at his parent club Wigan.
Grant Ward spent last season on loan at the New York Stadium from Tottenham, making 35 starts and eight sub appearances, scoring twice.
Blues midfielder Luke Hyam, who is still out with an ankle injury, was on loan at the New York Stadium between November and December 2015, making two starts and three sub appearances.
Tom Lawrence spent a month on loan with Rotherham from his current parent club Leicester between November and December 2014, making six starts and scoring one goal.
Leon Best, still officially a Town player despite being told he won’t play for the club again, joined the Millers in November 2015 and went on to make 10 starts and six sub appearances, scoring four goals as he helped them to avoid what at one time seemed certain relegation.
Academy coach Alan Lee had a successful spell at Millmoor between 2000 and 2003 and fitness coach Andy Liddell was briefly a player and caretaker-manager there late in his career.
Rotherham have designated Saturday's match their Community Day of the Season.
Saturday’s referee is Jeremy Simpson from Lancashire, who has shown 158 yellow cards and five red in 37 games so far this season.
Simpson’s only Town game was the 2-1 defeat at Reading in September in which he notoriously awarded three penalties which led to the goals.
Danny Williams won the match with the third and spot-kick deep in second-half injury time, Jonas Knudsen, who is currently sidelined with a shoulder problem, having been adjudged to have hauled down Joey van den Berg at a corner.
In first-half injury time Grant Ward had been harshly penalised for handball for the game’s first penalty and Garath McCleary put the Royals in front.
Pitman fired home Town’s - also contentious - spot-kick five minutes after the break for a foul by Tyler Blackett.
Simpson also booked nine players in that game, five Royals and Knudsen, Chambers, Berra and Skuse.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Crowe, Chambers (c), Kenlock, Emmanuel, Spence, Berra, T Smith, Digby, Skuse, Huws, Diagouraga, Dozzell, Bishop, Douglas, Bru, Williams, Ward, Rowe, McGoldrick, Lawrence, Sears, Pitman, Samuel, Moore.
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