|Ipswich Town v Blackburn Rovers|
Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Town Out to Continue Positive Start at Barnsley
Thursday, 10th Aug 2017 19:51
Town will be looking to continue their positive start to the season when they visit manager Mick McCarthy’s hometown club Barnsley on Saturday for their first Championship away game of the campaign.
McCarthy says there’s a nice buzz around the club’s Playford Road training ground with the 1-0 home victory over Birmingham in the Championship opener last Saturday having been followed by Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Luton in the Carabao Cup.
But despite the bright start, McCarthy is typically keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“It’s a much nicer feeling winning games and actually playing well in them, we deserved to win against Birmingham and overall against Luton, and certainly the two goals that we scored were good goals,” he said at his pre-match press conference, which was shown live on TWTV.
“To get two on the bounce [is pleasing] because in the past even if we won our first league game, we’ve had a horrible time in the League Cup, so it was lovely to win and there is a nice feel about the place. But we’re two games in, only 45 league games to go!”
He says he’s been delighted not just with the results but with the performances, having admitted that last season was less than enthralling for fans.
“I’ve been more honest that any manager that’s ever sat here before I would imagine, about how we played last year. It wasn’t pretty but it was a means to an end,” he added.
“Fans do come to the games to be entertained. They don’t want to come to the game to be entertained and get relegated, I might add, but they do come to watch good players play good football. And we didn’t do that last year.
“And it was important that we got them back on side. I wanted them to enjoy coming back and watching us play. And I think over the last two games they have, certainly they enjoyed it at Portman Road and our 796 travelling fans will have enjoyed the game on Tuesday night.”
As the Blues face back-to-back away games against two of his old clubs, the Tykes, where he started his playing career, and Millwall, where he cut his teeth as a manager, on Tuesday, the Town boss admits he’d be happy with a point from each match, although will be targeting more than that.
“I’d take them now,” he said. “Don’t get beaten away from home. You know full well I won’t be going there to sit back to try and take a draw but that’s what we end up with and remain unbeaten away from home that would suit me fine.
“I’d sooner go and beat one and lose one. I’m not bothered which, I’d take three points out of two games rather than two. Isn’t that bonkers as you’re unbeaten [with two draws], but I’ll have one win and one defeat away from home.
“If somebody gives me the choice that might be difficult though against two of my former clubs. Wow!”
Barnsley have been tipped for relegation but McCarthy, whose own side are similarly unfancied by the bookmakers, believes that’s greatly underestimating Paul Heckingbottom and his team.
“I believe we’re odds-on with the bookies for relegation. I think that’s bollocks, to be honest,” he insisted.
“Somebody told me that we’re [among] the favourites for relegation. I don’t do the odds for relegation and promotion.
“Barnsley were brilliant last year and he’s lost loads of players but I think he's a very capable coach and manager, as he’s proved already.
“And last year, although we equalised in the last minute, it was one of the hardest games that we had all season.
“I don’t expect anything else on Saturday. They never give me any gifts up there, let me tell you. I’m not tipping them [for relegation] at all. I think, as usual, they’ll be a really tough nut to crack.”
Former Town youngster Conor Hourihane is among the large number of players to have departed Oakwell over the last year.
“He lost a very good player [in Hourihane],” the Blues boss continued. “And he’s lost Marley Watkins and Andy Yiadom [is close to joining Huddersfield].
“He’s lost two centre-halves [Marc Roberts and Alfie Mawson], the centre forward [Sam Winnall], another central midfield player [Josh Scowen]. Wow, his team’s been decimated.
“And everybody thought at the end of last season they’d struggle towards the end, but they didn’t.
“I just take the view that he’ll get in players of a similar ilk. Conor Hourihane wasn’t bought for Barnsley for £3 million and sold on, he came in cheaply [£250,000] from Plymouth.
“And that’s what they’ll continue to do. They’ve had a fair bit of success doing it. But that doesn’t worry me. But I hope they don’t on Saturday, that’s for sure.”
McCarthy remained typically taciturn when asked whether he would continue with his three-man backline: “I’ll just announce that to the world so everybody knows what I’m going to do! Find out on Saturday, the usual answer to that one.”
But given the success the system has brought in the first couple of matches he says Heckingbottom will be anticipating him sticking with that shape.
“Other managers will be looking at what’s been going on," he reflected. "We went up to Luton the other night and there were different players in their team but I said that if they don’t play the same way as they played on Saturday when they won 8-2 I’d be so surprised.
“So, I would guess everybody will be thinking that with us having played 3-5-2. Well, actually 3-5-2 is probably wrong with Wardy [Grant Ward] playing in behind the front two as he did and as Tristan Nydam did at Luton.
“It’s worked well for us but if it ceases to work you know full well I’ll change it. Or if I haven’t got the players to play it I’ll change it and do something else. Two o’clock on Saturday you’ll find out.”
McCarthy admits he’s got decisions to make with players who weren’t involved against Birmingham impressing against Luton, most notably two-goal frontman David McGoldrick and debutant loanee Bersant Celina.
“That’s been a really pleasing thing that came out of the game on Tuesday night,” he added. “I thought we played well enough, it was a close game.
“I saw Luton manager Nathan Jones’s comments when he said that two bits of quality were the difference between the teams, and they were because they had chances.
“And that was down to Bersant and Didzy with the first. They were two great finishes from Didzy.
“So, yes, it makes it harder but it’s much better having that problem rather than thinking ‘He’s got no chance of playing’ because in the past that’s what it been like from the Carabao Cup games, I’ve had nothing out of those over the last four or five years.”
Bartosz Bialkowski will return in goal with Jordan Spence and Tommy Smith expected to be fit to start either side of skipper Luke Chambers in the three-man backline. Dominic Iorfa looks set to be the right wing-back with Jonas Knudsen on the left.
In central midfield, Cole Skuse is likely to be joined by Flynn Downes, who will be making his first league start, with Grant Ward ahead of them if he is over the calf injury he suffered against Birmingham. If not, Celina could come in for his Blues league debut, while new signing Martyn Waghorn and Nydam are also options.
Up front, Joe Garner, scorer of the winning goal against Birmingham, again seems likely to be partnered by Freddie Sears with McGoldrick and Waghorn probably featuring from the bench.
Andre Dozzell and Adam Webster are the latest additions to the Blues' lengthy injury and illness list.
Barnsley manager Paul Heckingbottom is expecting a tough game, his side’s second home match this week after Tuesday’s 4-3 Carabao Cup victory over Morecambe.
"It's great to be at Oakwell again this weekend, for the fans too who get another chance to see the new lads in the squad,” he told the Tykes official site. “I don't care where we get our wins from, home or away so long as we get them.
"Ipswich will provide a stern test as you'd expect from a Mick McCarthy side. We know where their threats are but then we know where we can hurt them too.”
Barnsley have no new injury problems but winger Lloyd Isgrove, who was understood to be a Blues target in the summer, remains sidelined with a foot injury.
Ex-Town loanee Zeki Fryers is also out with a hamstring problem, while another defender, Liam Lindsay, has a groin injury.
Matty Pearson, a recent signing from Accrington, could make his first league start, while the Tykes have added 19-year-old Leicester City midfielder Harvey Barnes, who was understood to be interesting the Blues, on a season-long loan and Senegalese striker Mamadou Thiam, who has signed from French side Dijon for a fee of around £900,000.
The teams last met at Oakwell in March when Tom Lawrence netted a dramatic injury-time equaliser as Town grabbed a 1-1 draw, a point which McCarthy said afterwards was “the first thing I’ve stolen from here”.
Watkins’s 58th minute goal looked to have won it for the Tykes until Lawrence met substitute Brett Pitman’s cross deep in time added on to claim a point for the Blues, who were drawing their sixth game on the trot.
On the opening day of last season at Portman Road, half-time sub Ward became the first Town player to score a hat-trick on his debut since Colin Viljoen in March 1967 as the Blues beat the Tykes 4-2.
The recent signing from Spurs netted with his first touch seconds after coming on at the break, made it 2-1 after ex-Blue Hourihane had equalised for the visitors, then added the fourth to seal it after McGoldrick had converted a penalty and Watkins had added a second for the South Yorkshiremen.
Blues boss McCarthy came through the ranks at Oakwell, making his senior debut in 1977 and went on to make 314 appearances, scoring 10 goals, before leaving for Manchester City in 1983, having been part of a side which had climbed from the Fourth to the Second Division.
Keeper Bialkowski spent on month on loan at Barnsley from Southampton in September and October 2009, making two appearances.
Blues fitness coach Andy Liddell was a Barnsley player between 1991 and 1998, also having come through the Tykes’ youth system. Town scout Ian 'Taff' Evans played alongside McCarthy at Oakwell from 1979 until 1983.
Barnsley signed former Blues loanee Fryers in the summer, the former Crystal Palace full-back having made two starts and one sub appearance for Town during a loan spell late in the 2014/15 season.
Ex-Blues right-back or midfielder Jamie Clapham, a member of the Town side which beat Barnsley 4-2 at Wembley in the 2000 play-off final, is now the first-team coach at Oakwell, having joined them after leaving Coventry in September 2016.
There's a fans' guide to Barnsley on the club site written by Alan Bloore, one of the Tykes' four Supporter Liaison Officers .
Saturday’s referee is Geoff Eltringham from County Durham, who has shown seven yellow cards and no red in his two games so far this season having waved 112 yellow and five red in 40 matches during 2016/17.
Eltringham’s last Town match was the 3-1 loss at Fulham in April in which he booked three home players and Blues captain Chambers.
He also took control of the 2-2 draw with Reading at Portman Road in February in which he cautioned Jonas Knudsen and two of the visitors and the 0-0 draw at Blackburn in October last year in which he booked only one home player.
Prior to that he refereed the 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday in April 2013 when he kept his cards in his pockets throughout.
His only other Blues match was the 3-1 defeat at Leeds in January 2012 in which he red-carded on-loan Town keeper Alex McCarthy for handling outside the area thereby denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity, booked Luke Hyam and one Whites player.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Spence, Iorfa, Knudsen, Kenlock, Chambers, Smith, Woolfenden, Skuse, Downes, Nydam, McDonnell, Ward, Celina, Rowe, Garner, Sears, McGoldrick, Waghorn.
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