|Ipswich Town 2 v 2 Blackburn Rovers|
Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
McCarthy: Similar Starts and Aspirations
Friday, 3rd Nov 2017 16:44
Town boss Mick McCarthy says the Blues and Saturday’s opponents Preston have made similar starts to the season and also have much the same aspirations for the campaign.
The Lilywhites go into the game 10th, one place ahead of the Blues on goal difference, but with Town having a game in hand.
Preston's nine-game unbeaten run has merged into a five-match winless streak, two draws having been followed by three defeats.
“They’re just like us, I don’t think they were fancied to have such a good start, neither were we,” McCarthy reflected.
“We both had a really good start, we both seem to have dropped off and been a little bit more inconsistent, probably down to injuries. I saw he [Preston manager Alex Neil] has had injury problems with his team.
“I watched them on Tuesday night [when they lost 2-0 at home to Aston Villa]. I thought Villa were excellent and he’s still having to patch his team up.
“We’re pretty much the same and we’re still on the same points. It’s an interesting game, two teams that have made good starts and then just dropped away.”
He added: “I think if you were to ask both of us and both sets of players if they thought we could get in the top six, we’d both be delighted with that.
“I’m not one to speak for anybody else but I look at them and us and then at some of the other teams that might not have got their act together yet but are starting to, then we’ll both do very well to get in the top six.”
McCarthy says the six changes of personel he made at Cardiff on Tuesday weren’t specifically as he was casting an eye towards Saturday’s match.
“I told the players prior to the game before that I was going to change it, the Burton game,” he said.
“I think we’ve used fewer players than anybody else, 19, I believe. And I saw the Bristol City game [last month] and that was the third game [in eight days] and it was just a game too much for some of them to go at full tilt.
“I said to them that I’m going to change it, I did and hopefully I’ve got fresh legs for Saturday.”
The Town manager admits to concerns regarding the number of goals the Blues are conceding, having said his team took giving away soft goals to a “whole new level” during Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat at Cardiff.
He says it’s not easy to address the issue on the training field with matches coming thick and fast.
“It is a worry, it’s hard to do extra work when you’ve got games Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday certainly, it’s a matter of resting up,” he said.
“But we get them in, TC’s had the lads in showing them the goals we’ve conceded and what we can do better.
“We pick the bits out for them and show them. It’s had to be done a bit by education from the games, watching how they’ve gone in and then showing them how to change it.”
Does he believe the team is missing Christophe Berra, who returned to his hometown club Hearts in the summer? “When he left I thought we would miss him as a defender, there’s no doubt about that. The number of times he stuck his head on something or got a boot or his knee or something in the way and blocked things.
“What’s been difficult though and hard to gauge is the fact that Tommy Smith’s had a back operation and not been fully right yet. He’s fit to play but he’s not had that run where he’s had 10 or 20 games and we can see him back in his pomp.
“And Adam Webster has had an ankle injury which has kept him out for a long time. Chambo’s been the one constant and he’s been ably assisted by Jonas Knudsen or Jordan Spence or Dominic Iorfa.
"So, yes, we’ve missed him but had they all been fit, it might be different.”
Has returning skipper Chambers to right-back come into his thoughts? “Not tomorrow. I think he’s been good, Chambo, that’s been the one constant there. And maybe if he’d had a regular partner that he could form a good relationship with we might be better.
“But it would be remiss of me to blame only centre-backs for goals that are going in. There have been plenty of mistakes which have led to our goals going in.”
Given Preston’s injury problems, particularly in defence, is Saturday a game to unleash his four strikers?
“They’ve had their problems with injuries at the back, but it doesn’t always work that they won’t be able to defend properly because whoever comes in will be wanting to keep his slot and do a job,” he reflected.
“We’ll try and be creative with whatever players are on the pitch and try and win the game.”
At the other end, Preston’s main threat will come from Jordan Hugill, a player McCarthy tried to sign in January and who, perhaps inevitably, scored his side’s equalising goal when the teams met at Deepdale that month.
“He should have been here really, but there we go,” McCarthy reflected ruefully regarding that game.
The Blues are understood to have had bids of up to £2 million for the 25-year-old rebuffed with Preston subsequently indicating that the wanted significantly more cash for him when there was interest from elsewhere in the close season.
“[We offered] not quite the money [they wanted] after we’d bid and then he scored all the goals. They wanted big money for him in the summer,” he added. “We tried to buy him and we couldn’t do it, that’s the upshot of that.”
The Lilywhites also added winger Daryl Horgan, a player McCarthy had watched, to their squad in January and later his Dundalk team-mate Andy Boyle, a defender, and Cork City striker Sean Maguire.
The Town boss says the trio, now all members of Martin O'Neill's Ireland squad, were players everyone in the Championship was keeping tabs on.
“I think almost everybody looked at Maguire and Horgan and Boyle,” he continued. “Plenty looked at them. Fair play to Preston, they went and put the money down for them.”
After a testing October in which the Blues have won just once, last week’s 2-1 win at Burton - only McCarthy’s second win during any October since he joined Town five years ago, both against the Brewers - the Town boss says it’s important to go into the international break on a victorious note.
“It would be nice because we haven’t done it for the last two,” he added. “That would be the preferred option.
“It’s horrible if you’ve lost. If you win you go away and you probably don’t think about it for the first few days. If you get beat all you do is think about it.”
Bartosz Bialkowski will continue in goal, while McCarthy has decisions to make at the back. Knudsen seems certain to be at left-back but Spence could come in for Iorfa at right-back.
Captain Chambers will be at the centre of the defence alongside either Smith or Webster, both of whom have shown some rustiness since returning from injury.
McCarthy could switch back to his 4-2-3-1 system, which may see Cole Skuse joined in central midfield by Kevin Bru.
If McCarthy opts to use that system David McGoldrick and Martyn Waghorn, who were rested at Cardiff, would be joined ahead of them by either Bersant Celina or Freddie Sears with ex-Lilywhite Joe Garner the lone out-and-out striker.
Preston are in the midst of a significant injury crisis at present with Calum Woods and Josh Earl - two of six defenders currently out - joining those on the sidelines with knee injuries suffered in Wednesday’s defeat to Villa.
Tom Clarke (achilles), Greg Cunningham (knee), Tommy Spurr (knee) and Ben Davies (appendectomy) are also still out, while Marnick Vermijl and John Welsh returned to training this week having been out.
Better news for the visitors is that central defender Paul Huntington is back from suspension.
Preston boss Alex Neil, who was previously in charge of Norwich, can’t recall a worse injury situation in his time in football.
"It’s really unusual and certainly with the nature of the injuries as well," he told the Lilywhites' official site.
"If it was going to be soft tissue injuries, I’d be concerned about how we’d been training, what we’d been doing with them, what our travel arrangements had been; are they sitting on their hamstrings for too long and things like that.
"But the nature of their injuries, most of them are contact or planting their feet and twisting their knees so there’s not much we can do about it. We just need to suck it up and get on with it.”
Neil watched Town’s defeat at Cardiff but didn’t feel he learnt as much about the Blues as he might have done: "They made six changes, which was frustrating. It looks like they were saving them.”
Midfielder Ben Pringle joined Preston from Fulham in the summer of 2016 having been on loan with the Blues towards the end of the previous season, scoring two goals in nine starts and one sub appearance. He is yet to feature for the Lilywhites this season and has been told he can move on in January.
Blues striker Garner scored 57 goals in 128 starts and 23 sub appearances for Preston between January 2013 and August 2016.
He was a member of the Lilywhites side which won promotion to the Championship via the League One play-offs in 2014/15, a season in which he scored 27 goals.
Preston have had the better of the Blues historically, winning 13 games (11 in the league) between the sides while Town have been victorious on 11 (10) occasions and 10 (nine) matches have ended in draws.
After 14 league games this season Town are still to draw, equalling a club record set at the start of the 1954/55 campaign, a run from the beginning of a campaign which will be surpassed if either side wins on Saturday.
Overall, the Blues have gone 21 league games without a draw with the club record of 26 drawless matches having been set in 1947/48 and matched in 1950/51.
The teams last met at Deepdale in January when Hugill, who was a Town target at the time, netted an 89th minute equaliser as the game ended 1-1, Tom Lawrence having given the visitors a first-half lead with another brilliant strike.
In August last year, with striker Daryl Murphy in the process of travelling to Newcastle to complete his £3 million move to the Magpies, Grant Ward’s fourth goal of the season saw Town to a comfortable 1-0 victory over Preston North End at Portman Road. The former Spurs man smashed home from the edge of the box in the 15th minute.
Saturday’s referee is Andy Madley from West Yorkshire, who has shown 39 yellow cards and no red in 15 games so far this season.
Madley’s last Town match was the 2-0 home victory over Bolton in September in which he booked Garner and three visiting players.
He also took charge of the 1-1 home draw with Birmingham in April in which he booked only one of the Midlanders.
Before that he refereed the 3-0 home defeat to Derby in January in which he kept his cards in his pocket throughout.
Madley also officiated in the 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday in November last year when he booked Skuse and Ward and one home player.
Before that he was the man in the middle for the 1-0 defeat at Cardiff in March last year in which he again issued no cards.
He also refereed the 2-1 home victory over Wolves in November 2014 in which he booked Chambers, Luke Hyam and Bru as well as two visiting players.
In 2013/14 he took control of the 1-1 home draw with Nottingham Forest and the 2-0 victory over Reading at Portman Road.
The season prior to that he refereed his first Blues game, the 2-1 home defeat to Derby County, which turned out to be Paul Jewell’s last match as manager of Town.
Madley refereed Preston’s 4-0 League One play-off final victory over Swindon at Wembley in May 2015.
Probable squad: Bialkowski, Gerken, Spence, Iorfa, Connolly, Knudsen, Kenlock, Chambers, Webster, T Smith, Skuse, Bru, Nydam, Downes, Ward, Celina, Rowe, Garner, Sears, McGoldrick, Waghorn.
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