|Ipswich Town 2 v 2 Blackburn Rovers|
Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
McCarthy: Who Would Have Thought It, a Top-Six Clash
Thursday, 21st Sep 2017 23:29
Boss Mick McCarthy says few would have expected Town’s visit to Leeds United on Saturday being a top versus fifth clash at the start of the season. The Whites currently lead the division with the Blues only two points behind with a game in hand.
“Who’d have thought it, Leeds top and us fifth going there playing them, a top-six clash,” McCarthy reflected at his pre-match press conference.
“I would imagine there would have been a bit of doom and gloom there, losing [manager] Garry Monk and then [striker] Chris Wood.
“Just shows you, change is not always bad for clubs. The new head coach, Thomas Christiansen, I don’t know much about him but he’s certainly made them a very, very organised unit.
“They were flying and, typical of this league, they went to Millwall and Millwall beat them last week.
“And I’ve yet to sit down and watch the video of how Burton beat Fulham, I don’t know how that happened, bearing in mind Fulham murdered us.
“But Leeds, I want to get there and beat them on Saturday, but for all other intents and purposes, I’d love to see them doing well.
“Everybody knows I supported them as a kid and, as a Yorkshire club, I just think it’s a fantastic club and I’d like them to do well. But not at my expense and I’m sure everybody understands that.”
He added: “They’ll be wanting to slap us as well, we’re in the top six. They’ll be thinking, ‘Keep them well away from us’.
“It’s their home patch, they’ve lost against Millwall, there’s bound to be a response, so it’s not going to be an easy game for either of us. I want to go there and win.”
Despite last week’s loss, he expects Elland Road to be buoyant given the early season success, while not taking anything for granted: “I would imagine that they’re all enjoying it and they’re all probably looking at it through one eye thinking, ‘I hope this is going to continue’ because of past promises, I guess, and they’ve not done it.
“But they do look a good side this year, despite the defeat at Millwall last week. They look a really strong team.”
Although he says he doesn’t know new Whites boss Christiansen, he has been impressed with what he has heard about him and hopes the pair will meet for a beer after the match.
“I was told they spent a lot of time working on their shape and doing what they do and I think as usual with players there were one or two who weren’t totally happy with it. But he said, ‘Listen, this is how we’re doing it’,” the Blues boss said.
“I’m happy with that, I like that - ‘This is the way I do it, this is how we’re going to do it, if you don’t like doing it, see you’. He’s got my respect already, if that’s what he did.
“I don’t know the chap, he doesn’t know me, but I’ll be looking for a bottle of beer after the game, of course. Whether he’s there to give me one or not, I don’t know. Somebody will be, I’m sure.”
McCarthy says the Whites’ 1-0 loss to the Lions at the Den last week shouldn’t be seen as too much of a shock result.
“You saw the game that we played at Millwall, that was really close, nip and tuck and when they got back to three-all they looked the more likely winner, except for us getting a goal from a freekick.
”They put 50 or 60 balls into our box in open play and I don’t know how many final third or 18-yard box entries they had, but it was a lot.
“They’re a decent team, Millwall, and I don’t think there’s that much between any of us on any given day.”
McCarthy, whose team could end Saturday top of the Championship if they win and results elsewhere go their way, believes the division is more open than it was last season: “There’s nobody standing out that’s spent the money that Newcastle did last year when they signed Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle and the rest.
“They spent a lot of money and I thought they bought the best Championship players. I haven’t seen anybody do that.
“Villa spent a lot of money last year, not so much this window. Norwich, what they spent I’m not sure, Middlesbrough, I think they going to be a top team, they’ve spent a few quid, they’ve got a good squad.
“Fulham I still think they’ll challenge despite the defeat to Burton, there’s always somebody that’s going to beat you.
“But I don’t think there’s one team that sticks out like Newcastle did last year, not yet. We’ve only played seven games.”
Town’s five wins so far have come against the sides currently in 16th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd and 24th places, does McCarthy believe there are tougher tests to come, starting at Elland Road?
“I hope not,” he grinned. “But every one is a test. As I keep saying and has been proven, there’s no easy game.
“I think we have to approach them as if they’re all damned hard because they are. Some might be harder than others.
“I do tend to look at the opposition and think they’ll never be thinking, ‘Happy days, Mick’s Ipswich are coming here’ or ‘We’re going to play at Ipswich’. They’ll be concerned, they’ll be looking at us and I think we’ve got a fair bit of firepower at the minute.”
Would they be thinking that more this year than they would last season? “You’d have to ask the opposition managers. I’ve never heard anybody speak disparagingly about me or my teams, I have to be honest, how we play or what we do.
“I’ve never heard anybody say we’re a soft touch, even last year when despite all our troubles we beat Newcastle here 3-1 at the end of the season. I think they’re all aware of the competitive edge that my teams have.”
McCarthy says he’s not really considered what his best starting XI might be: “Not really, I don’t sit and think about that. There’s no point in me sitting here and thinking about that because I’ve never had everybody fit.
“If I had everybody fit I’d put that team together, wouldn’t that be great? But it just doesn’t happen.
“I have more on my plate making sure I’ve got a team in my head of players who are fit, who are available and I don’t worry about the ones who are injured because they’re no good to me or anybody else at the moment.
“I concentrate on the things that I can use rather than the things that might be good to me.”
He admits it will be good to be in a position to have to make those decisions once the lengthy injury list is reduced.
“Of course, for me, for the club,” he continued. “The more players I’ve got available, I think it puts pressure on everybody else who is playing, knowing there’s somebody who can step in if they have a bad game, if they get booked or sent off or they’re missing through illness.
“Nothing they can do anything about but they all know that they’ve all got to keep playing well because there are good players behind them.”
Having started in a 4-4-2 system in recent matches McCarthy switched back to the 3-5-2 formation in which the Blues began the season for last week’s 2-0 home victory over Bolton.
“Whatever wins games, that’s my view,” he said when asked about the changes of system. “And I think the league throws up so many different variations of where people play and they play, so it’s important that we can do it.
“It didn’t particularly work in the first half, I thought they were better than us playing their 3-5-2, but we were much better in the second half.
“There are times when you have to play, I think, to make sure it stays as it is. If you can vary it during the game and win the game because of it, that’s a nice asset to have.”
If McCarthy again starts with a three-man backline at Elland Road, Jonas Knudsen is likely to return on the left of the back three alongside skipper Luke Chambers and Jordan Spence.
That would probably see Dominic Iorfa move to right wing-back with Callum Connolly dropping to the bench, Myles Kenlock on the left and Bartosz Bialkowski in goal.
In midfield, Cole Skuse and Tom Adeyemi are likely to be in the deeper roles with Grant Ward ahead of them and David McGoldrick again starting up front with Joe Garner. Bersant Celina, Martyn Waghorn and Freddie Sears would again be among the subs.
Should McCarthy start with a four at the back, Knudsen will probably come in at left-back for Kenlock, who would be unlucky to drop out after impressing against Bolton.
The Blues boss could look to match the 4-2-3-1 system usually utilised by Leeds with Skuse and Adeyemi the deep-lying midfielders with Ward probably more advanced on the right and Sears perhaps on the left either side of McGoldrick with Garner ahead of the Republic of Ireland international.
Alternatively, the same personnel - perhaps with Celina starting instead of Sears - could be used in a 4-4-2 system.
Midfielder James Blanchfield, 19, may come into the reckoning for a place in the squad for the first time having impressed McCarthy in the U23s with Flynn Downes missing out with a thigh injury.
Leeds, who hadn’t conceded a goal for 636 minutes before Millwall’s 73rd minute goal in last week’s defeat, their first Championship loss of the campaign, are expected to have previously injured skipper Liam Cooper (back) and fellow defenders Pontus Jansson (hamstring) and Matthew Pennington (ankle) available for Town’s visit. Striker Caleb Ekuban remains sidelined having undergone foot surgery.
Another striker, Pierre-Michel Lasogga, is expected to be available despite his partner being close to giving birth.
Lasogga, 25, and his partner have been expecting the birth of their child over the past couple of weeks, sparking doubt over whether the German striker will miss any matches.
Boss Christiansen switched his team around for the midweek Carabao Cup victory at Burnley - the Whites won 5-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw - and will return to his regular Championship line-up on Saturday.
The Whites, who have sold all their seats for Saturday's game, have won two - a 5-0 victory over Burton and a 2-0 defeat of Birmingham - and drawn two - goalless games with Preston and Fulham - of their four Championship games at Elland Road without conceding so far this 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 21 (18) games have ended in draws.
In February at Portman Road, Sears netted his first goal for four months as the Blues and Leeds drew 1-1.
The striker turned home Ward’s right-wing cross in the ninth minute but Stuart Dallas equalised against the run of play on 42 with Town having much the better of the chances in the second half, McGoldrick going closest to winning it when he hit the bar.
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.
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.
Information for Town supporters travelling to Leeds for a game which has been declared all-ticket can be found on the club site here.
Saturday’s referee is Geoff Eltringham from County Durham, who has shown 27 yellow cards and no red in eight games so far this season.
Eltringham’s last Town match was the 2-1 win at Barnsley last month in which he booked Iorfa, Jonas Knudsen and one Tyke.
Prior to that he was the referee for 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.
Eltringham also refereed the 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday in April 2013 when he kept his cards in his pockets throughout.
Coincidentally, his first Blues match was against Leeds at Elland Road in January 2012, which ended 3-1, in which he red-carded on-loan Town keeper Alex McCarthy for handling outside the area thereby denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity and booked Luke Hyam and one Whites player.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Spence, Iorfa, Knudsen, Kenlock, Connolly, Chambers, Woolfenden, Skuse, Adeyemi, Blanchfield, Nydam, Ward, Celina, Garner, Sears, McGoldrick, Waghorn, Morris, Folami.
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