|Ipswich Town 0 v 2 Fulham|
Saturday, 26th August 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Town Chasing Record-Breaking Five Out of Five Start Against Fulham
Thursday, 24th Aug 2017 21:13
Town go into Saturday’s home game against Fulham looking to win their opening five league matches at the start of a season for the first time in the club’s history.
The Blues, currently second in the Championship on goal difference behind Cardiff City, the only other side in the division with a 100 per cent league record up to now, go into the game having beaten Birmingham 1-0 and Brentford 2-0 at Portman Road and Barnsley 2-1 and Millwall 4-3 on their travels. Town last won their opening four league games back in 1974/75.
Asked about stretching that run to a club record five, manager Mick McCarthy said: “It would be nice, but I’ll talk about it next time if it happens as opposed to hypothetically.
“If it happens, ask me in three weeks’ time and I’ll tell you how wonderful it was. If it hasn’t happened, I’ll say I should never have been asked!”
The Blues boss wasn’t sure about his best start to a season as a boss although recalled that Wolves began their 2008/09 Championship title campaign by winning seven on the trot following an opening day draw at Plymouth.
“We won seven on the bounce and then [soon after] we won seven on the bounce again, so seven wins, which was pretty good," he added. "I can’t remember but I don’t think I’ve ever had a start as good as this."
McCarthy will be returning to the team which beat Brentford last weekend having fielded an entirely different XI for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie at Premier League Crystal Palace which ended in a 2-1 defeat.
Despite the loss, the mood among fans has been overwhelmingly positive with the youngest ever Blues side - the average age of the outfielders was 19 - performing impressively against an experienced Eagles team.
“I’m hardly likely to hear it, read it or find it out on any social media outlet, so thanks for telling me,” McCarthy said when the supporters’ reaction was put to him.
“The start we’ve had with the first team was backed up with a performance like that from the youngsters. How many first team appearances had we got on the pitch on Tuesday night?
“And it wasn’t that we scraped through or were hanging on, there was a little spell where we were hanging on when we conceded and I said to the lads, ‘Just keep three at the back, put two up front, Monty [Patterson] go and play out wide right and get wide left and let’s just try and get a goal back’.
“But they were all knackered, so we conceded the other goal and they were hanging on then, and what I didn’t want to do was get beaten by five or six in the last five or 10 minutes.
“You’re telling me the supporters who came along appreciated it. They couldn’t be saying to me, ‘I’m not happy, I turned up and I watched the youth team’ as I told everybody here on Monday morning I was going to do it and I pre-empted anybody and if they didn’t want to go and watch it then they knew not to.
“But I would think everybody who did will be thinking that the academy’s in good shape and we’ve got some good players coming through.”
That performance added to what was already an impressive month with the more senior players having recorded their four Championship victories plus the 2-0 vanquishing of Luton in the first round of the Carabao Cup.
McCarthy says beating Fulham will be the icing on the cake: “It’ll be a terrific month if we win on Saturday, it’ll have been a relatively good one if we don’t.
“And I think we’re going to open all the windows and disinfect or send a frost through.
"Whatever they do in the cryotherapy, if we can get into the building and kill all the bugs that are in there, because we’d like to come back with a clean bill of health. They’ll not all be fit, the injuries, but we could do with a few more helping out.”
The injury and illness situation have made the first-month performance all the more impressive, although McCarthy says there can be an upside when numbers are limited.
“Sometimes it can make you very close knit and it’s the same team that’s playing,” he added. “And it’s all right if it’s the same team that’s playing and it’s winning, or the same group of players, same squad of players.
“If you’re getting beaten then it can suddenly go really pear-shaped when you’ve only got 10 players. But when you’ve got 10 players and they’re winning and confidence is high, and they’re all tight-knit and they’re all in for each other, it’s great.”
Whatever the result on Saturday, he says his players will be given some time off during the international break.
“We’ll all get a few days off and I think we’ve all earned it, to be quite honest,” the Blues boss continued.
McCarthy admits that Fulham very much had the better of his team last season as they recorded a double over the Blues, a 2-0 win at Portman Road - their first defeat of Town since their famous 1963 10-1 thrashing of Jackie Milburn’s side - and a 3-1 victory at Craven Cottage.
“They bashed us, they came here on Boxing Day. That was one I tried to forget,” McCarthy admitted.
“They murdered us, they absolutely bashed us. That was one of our most inept performances and for us at home that was like us over the last few years.
“Away from home, I thought they were very good there as well. In the second half we had a bit of a rally. We actually played a lot better there but they still beat us 3-1. They were one of the best teams in the league for me, they were a really top team.”
The Cottagers are currently 19th having drawn three and lost one - a 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday last weekend - of their opening four Championship fixtures and bowed out of the Carabao Cup when they were beaten 1-0 by Bristol Rovers at Craven Cottage on Tuesday.
Having finished sixth before being beaten by Reading in the play-off semi-finals last season, does McCarthy believe the West Londoners might be suffering from a play-off hangover?
“I sincerely hope so and I hope it continues on Saturday,” he said. “It does have an effect when you get to the play-offs and you don’t win them, there’s no doubt.
“It’s a real body blow to everybody. I have the ultimate respect for Brian McDermott because he did it with Reading and I spoke to him the day they’d been knocked out or lost at Wembley and they came back and won it, which takes some doing.
“I don’t know if it has [had] an effect [on Fulham]. I saw [manager] Slavisa Jokanovic talking about their recruitment and how it is with him and what it is, and they’ve lost a few players.
“Scott Malone will be loss to them, I’ve no doubt. I know they’ve got young Ryan Sessegnon but he’s been playing wide left and not left-back.
“They’ve a really good team. Their midfield, Tom Cairney, Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen, absolutely murdered us last year. And, of course, they had Chris Martin in the second game. But they were two games where we really didn’t get anywhere.”
McCarthy has a lot of time for Jokanovic, who quickly took to Championship management, leading Watford to promotion to the Premier League in his first season in charge, 2014/15.
“He took to it quickly,” McCarthy said. “I like him as well. I think he’s a good guy. When you chat to him, he’s just quite open. I saw him at the League Managers Association meeting and had a good chat to him there with Stuart Gray and after every game he comes in and has a beer and has a chat.
“He’s pretty pragmatic about it all, I really like him, I've got a lot of time for him. I want to beat him on Saturday, of course, because he gave us a couple of doings last year.
“But he did take to it and he was unlucky last year. I thought they were one of the best teams in the league.”
McCarthy celebrated the 40th anniversary of his playing debut with hometown club Barnsley earlier this week.
“My debut was 20th August 1977,” he recalled. We played Rochdale and we won 4-0. I think Steve Death was playing in the nets because I always remember the headline, ‘He missed Death by inches’. Not me, by the way, I think it was John Peachey playing, he scored and it said, ‘He missed Death by inches’!”
The Town boss is unlikely to stray far from the team which beat Brentford 2-0 at home last weekend, which will see Bartosz Bialkowski return in goal.
At the back, the Blues boss has confirmed he will again start with Jordan Spence and Jonas Knudsen as makeshift centre-halves having been pleased with the way the pair, both primarily full-backs, played against the Bees. Myles Kenlock and Dominic Iorfa will be at left-back and right-back respectively.
In midfield, McCarthy has confirmed that Cole Skuse will again wear the captain’s armband in the absence of regular skipper Luke Chambers - “he’s a natural choice” - if, as expected, he’s over the sickness bug he was suffering with earlier in the week.
Grant Ward will take up the the other central role with Flynn Downes coming into the picture if Skuse fails to make it.
Freddie Sears and Martyn Waghorn will be on the left and right with Joe Garner and David McGoldrick up front unless the Irish international is unavailable with his wife close to giving birth to their fourth child.
If that’s the case, Waghorn will probably join his former Rangers colleague Garner up front with Bersant Celina, who scored his first Town goal at Crystal Palace, coming into the starting line-up, probably on the left with Sears switching to the right.
Downes and Tristan Nydam will be among the subs having been called into the England U19s squad.
For Fulham, striker Sone Aluko is a doubt due to a hip problem, while winger Floyd Ayite has been ruled out of his fourth successive match.
Midfielder Cairney, who Jokanovic said was his side’s “most important player” earlier in the week is expected to be back having been involved in only two of their games this season because of a recurring knee problem.
Regarding Town, Jokanovic told Get West London: "Ipswich built up their style many years ago and they are not a defensive team, they are very aggressive and really organised.
"In this moment, all the plans from Mick McCarthy are working perfectly and it isn't a question about playing defensive football, it's completely different and he is experienced and knows what he wants.
"He knows what kind of game he wants, at the moment his plan is working fantastic.
"Last season, especially in the game at home, they tried to press us with many players and the last game against Brentford they waited in the third part of the pitch and with their shape they started being more aggressive.
"We are ready for both situations but it is simple, it's not a team who wants to have possession of the ball - they want to attack with many players arriving in the box and try and find a solution this way.
"They didn't make so many changes and the intensity of this team is the same as many times ago."
In April at Craven Cottage, goals from Ayité, Malone and Johansen saw Fulham to a 3-1 victory over the Blues, Christophe Berra heading a late consolation for Town.
Ayité netted in the 17th minute and Malone doubled the margin on the half hour before Town missed a number of good chances to pull a goal back prior to Johansen sealing it with the home side’s third on 61.
On Boxing Day, goals from Martin and Ragnar Sigurdsson saw Fulham to a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Blues at Portman Road, their first win against Town for precisely 53 years.
Martin opened the scoring with a freekick on 36, then sub Sigurdsson headed home a corner in the 78th minute but the margin of victory should have been wider.
Historically, the Blues have been victorious on nine occasions (six in the league), Fulham on 10 (nine) and with eight (six) games ending in draws.
Former midfielder Brian Talbot is the assistant director of football at Craven Cottage, where he briefly played late on in his career. Town keeper-coach Malcolm Webster was a Fulham player between 1970 and 1974.
Town have designated Saturday 999 Day to pay tribute to the emergency services, having allocated a number of free tickets to members of the police, fire and ambulance services. Each service will also be represented in the boardroom and as the afternoon's community champions.
Saturday’s referee is Paul Tierney from Lancashire, who showed two yellow cards and no red in his only fixture so far this season, the League Two game between Coventry and Newport, which the Welsh side won 1-0 on Saturday.
Coincidentally, Tierney’s most recent Town match was the 1-1 home draw with Fulham in April 2016 when he booked Tommy Smith and Cottagers’ midfielder Scott Parker.
In October of the previous year he refereed the 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest when he booked Berra, Smith, Skuse and Jonny Parr and no home players.
Prior to that, he was in charge of the 2-0 derby defeat to Norwich in March 2015 in which he booked Skuse, Tyrone Mings and two Canaries.
He also took charge of the 3-1 home defeat to Barnsley in November 2010 and the after-extra-time 1-0 Carling Cup win at Crewe three months earlier.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Spence, Iorfa, Knudsen, Kenlock, Woolfenden, Fowler, Skuse, Downes, Nydam, Ward, McDonnell, Celina, Rowe, Garner, Sears, McGoldrick, Waghorn, Morris, Folami.
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