|Sheffield United 1 v 0 Ipswich Town|
Saturday, 14th October 2017 Kick-off 15:00
McCarthy Not Surprised By Blades' Strong Return
Thursday, 12th Oct 2017 19:11
Town boss Mick McCarthy says it’s no surprise to him that the Blues will face Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday with the Blades, promoted from League One as champions last season, third in the Championship.
Sheffield United are far from the only side to take the momentum built up during a League One promotion campaign into the division above the following season.
“Wolves did, didn’t they?” McCarthy recalled. “Another big club, they missed out by one goal to us when we finished in the play-offs.
“And I think Sheffield United might be of a similar ilk. Chris has obviously got something, the two promotions he’s just had back-to-back [with Northampton and then the Blades], that’s not luck. He’s good, obviously. And he’s got a good squad.
“I watched them at Bolton [where they won 1-0 last month], I think he’s got good players and they’re really working hard for him at the minute, they’ll be up there at the end of the season.”
He added: “Momentum is really important. You know where it comes from, you know it comes from winning games and playing well. But when you lose it it’s damned hard to get it back as well, so we’ll have to try and nick it away from them on Saturday.”
McCarthy says he doesn’t know his Sheffield United counterpart and fellow South Yorkshireman Wilder well but has been very impressed by him, the 50-year-old former defender having taken the Cobblers to the League Two title with 99 points in 2015/16 before the Blades made the century as they topped League One last year.
“Two really good promotions,” McCarthy reflected. “I don’t really know Chris personally but I know his assistant Alan Knill, who I did my badges with, my Pro Licence, who is a great lad. He was a coach at Scunny and other places, I think he’s a really good assistant for him.
“They’ve done brilliantly. I tipped them before the season. I thought Sheffield United, having seen them last season, the momentum that they had, the signings that they’ve made, the ground, it’s a big ground, it’s not like a little club coming up thinking they’ll just survive, they’d be coming up to thrive. And I did fancy them and it’s proving to be right.”
In terms of his own team, McCarthy’s eighth-placed Blues have won six and lost four of their 10 games so far and admits he wants his side to show greater consistency.
“I’d still take winning one, losing one if that’s the case, as opposed to what we had last year when we had 16 draws,” he said.
“I would prefer that, but I’d prefer to be winning two or three on the bounce, obviously. But of course we want more consistency.
“But while we’ve got that ability to win games, I’ll take that as well, because we have, we’re going to score goals against teams.”
While the Blues have scored 20 goals already this season, they have conceded 16 and McCarthy wants to see an improvement on that front: “I’d like to think we’d tighten up and not give the goals away that we’ve given away.
“I thought Bristol City were good two weeks ago but two goals were deflected when all’s said and done.
“They probably deserved to win but in the second half we were still in that game, we could have got something out of it, but the second deflected goal just pulled the plug on us completely.
“In other games, even the Sunderland game, we scored five and conceded two and I’m still not happy with that.
“We’ve certainly got to tighten up but if we’ve got the number of attacking players on the pitch that we have, then it does make it harder to shut up shop.
“I would hope that teams are looking at us and thinking that we can score goals. That’s proven to be the case, but they’ll be looking at us and thinking that we concede them as well.
“When we concede them and it’s anybody’s responsibility we’ll pick it out on a Monday morning and TC will show the lads and discuss it and talk it through as to how it came about and how it can be rectified and hopefully not done again. They’ve all seen them.”
McCarthy has only won one October game since becoming Town boss - last year’s 2-0 home victory over Burton Albion - and this year’s 10th month looks challenging with the visit to the Blades followed by the Portman Road derby with Norwich City a week on Sunday, then away trips to face the Brewers and then leaders Cardiff City.
“It’s a month to work hard in and get some results out of, it’s going to be a tough one,” McCarthy continued. “But they’re good games for us.
“I don’t think Chris Wilder or Warny [Cardiff boss Neil Warnock] will be looking and thinking, ‘Happy days, we’ve Mick’s mob coming up here, it’s going to be nice and easy’. That’s how I always view it when we’re going away from home.
“And we’ve been playing all right, we’ve been playing well. I thought Bristol City deserved it overall, I don’t think we were bad, I think we’ve been playing well enough to go anywhere and be confident.”
While many will expect the Blades and Bluebirds to fall away as the season progresses, McCarthy believes otherwise.
“Don’t underestimate those two, Cardiff have got good players,” he said. “I look at their really solid backline and it’s interesting because they’re not playing wide open expansive football with a million passes, but they’re getting results and they’ve got the three up front who are playing, who are a real handful.
“Sheffield United, I think they’re a bit more [open and expansive] in terms of how they’re playing. But they’re effective, that’s what they are. I think they’ve both got good players, they’ve both got good squads.
“Just because Sheffield United have come up and Cardiff had a bit of a slog last year, I don’t look at that and think [that’s a surprise], that won’t change for me, I think Sheffield United will be up there and I think Cardiff are a cert to be up there with the squad they’ve got and with Neil managing them.
“I think Cardiff have had good players around that squad and he’s made some good signings this summer as well.”
McCarthy will continue with Bartosz Bialkowski in goal but has decisions to make in his defence.
The Town boss may well opt to stick with the 4-2-3-1 system which he has used in the last two games, although could opt to bring Adam Webster into the centre of the defence for his first league start since January alongside skipper Luke Chambers with Jordan Spence perhaps taking over from Dominic Iorfa at right-back. Jonas Knudsen will be on the left.
In midfield, Flynn Downes and Tristan Nydam will vie for the role alongside Cole Skuse in Tom Adeyemi’s absence with a hamstring injury.
Bersant Celina, David McGoldrick and Martyn Waghorn will play ahead of them with Joe Garner the lone out-and-out striker. Tommy Smith will be back on the bench having recovered from his hamstring injury.
Sheffield United have wing-back Kieron Freeman back after missing the last three games with a rib injury and he looks set to be a like-for-like replacement for George Baldock, who has a calf problem.
Striker Ched Evans is sidelined having undergone ankle surgery, while midfielder Paul Coutts is suspended having picked up his fifth booking during the Blades’ 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest in their final match before the international break.
Manager Wilder is likely to stick with his usual 3-5-2 system and other than enforced switches the team will essentially remain much the same
“I think everyone recognises that there’s not going to be many changes in our team,” he told the Sheffield Star.
“They have done very well. We have come through a difficult period, and the players we have missed have weakened us a little bit.
“But the performances and results have been outstanding. I will be delighted when I have a full squad to pick from, and we are getting close to it. That’s good news for everybody.”
Wilder isn’t surprised that the Blues have made a strong start to their season, despite last year’s struggles: “I have bumped into Mick a few times and he has had a fantastic career as a manager.
“They were written off at the start of the season, it was a difficult period for them last year. But they have come bouncing back, and am I surprised? No. It’ll be a proper football match.”
Town have had the better of the Blades over the years, winning 23 times (22 in the league), drawing 24 (21) and losing 19 (17) of the meetings between the sides. Sheffield United have won four of their five home league fixtures this season, losing the other one to Norwich City.
The teams last met at Portman Road in February 2011 with the Blades on the way down to League One.
Goals from Damien Delaney, David Norris and a stunning third from Connor Wickham saw the Blues to a 3-0 victory over the visitors, who were reduced to nine men.
Delaney put Town in front with a header in a very poor first half with Norris adding the second after the break.
Grant Leadbitter missed a penalty before Wickham brilliantly ran from his own half to seal the win, prior to Robert Kozluk and Lee Williamson receiving red cards within a minute during the closing stages.
In the preceding November, goals from Tamás Priskin and Gareth McAuley saw the Blues to a 2-1 victory at Bramall Lane.
Priskin put Town in front early on before ex-Blues midfielder Alan Quinn’s younger brother Stephen equalised for the home side, McAuley grabbing the winner just before half-time.
The Sheffield United squad includes former Town loanee Richard Stearman, who moved to Bramall Lane from Fulham in the summer.
Stearman spent the second half of 2012/13 on loan with the Blues from Wolves, making 15 appearances.
Canadian-born striker Caolan Lavery, a former Northern Ireland U21 international, joined the Blades from Sheffield Wednesday in the summer of 2016.
Lavery, 24, signed for the Owls in the summer of 2012 having turned down a professional contract with the Blues during the previous season after coming through the Town academy.
A guide for fans travelling to Bramall Lane can be found on the club site here.
Saturday’s referee is Tony Harrington, who has shown 44 yellow cards and two red in 11 games so far this season.
Harrington’s most recent Town match was the 2-1 defeat at QPR at the start of January in which he kept his cards in his pocket throughout.
The Cleveland-based official was also in charge of the the 0-0 home draw with Aston Villa in September last year in which he booked Tom Lawrence and one Villan.
Harrington had only taken control of three previous Town games before that, most recently the 2-1 defeat at Bristol City in February 2016, in which he booked Kevin Foley and one home player.
Prior to that he refereed the 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield in April 2015, in which he booked Tommy Smith, Christophe Berra and one Terrier, and the 3-0 Boxing Day 2013 victory at Doncaster in which he yellow-carded just one Rovers player.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Iorfa, Knudsen, Kenlock, Connolly, Spence, Chambers, Webster, T Smith, Skuse, Adeyemi, Nydam, Downes, Ward, Celina, Garner, Sears, McGoldrick, Waghorn.
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