|Middlesbrough 2 v 0 Ipswich Town|
Saturday, 9th December 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Big Decision Up Front for McCarthy as Blues Travel to Face Boro
Friday, 8th Dec 2017 15:29
Town boss Mick McCarthy admits he has a big decision to make up front ahead of Saturday’s game at Middlesbrough with Joe Garner available after injury and Martyn Waghorn having hugely impressed in the lone striker’s role in the absence of his fellow summer signing from Rangers.
“He’s been great, hasn’t he?” McCarthy said when asked about 10-goal top scorer Waghorn’s displays in the victories over Derby and Nottingham Forest, which Garner, who has scored five times this season, missed with a sore foot.
“In all honesty, when Joe was injured, bearing in mind the presence that he had up front [we could have missed him]. And we hadn’t seen it from Waggy as he hadn’t had to play up there. He’d played on the right, he’d played in behind, he’d played up in a two and he’d played on the left.
“But he’s done everything Joe’s done really in terms of being a physical presence. So, if we are playing that one up front at least we’ve got two of them now that can do it pretty comfortably, which is great. Play them together or play on their own.”
Town’s season started with an illness and injury crisis and key players have continued to miss out as the campaign has progressed but with other players taking their places and impressing, often in unfamiliar roles.
Does McCarthy believe that illustrates that he has a stronger overall squad this season, even if it is far from the biggest?
“Of course I have, certainly up front,” he reflected. “I’ve got better options. Last year, we just didn’t score the goals. If we’d have scored as many goals as we have this year we might have had a similar season and it wouldn’t have been as tough on all of us.
“But the fact that we are creating chances and scoring, I think highlights the recruitment in the summer, certainly with Bersant Celina, Waggy and Joe. That’s not being detrimental to the others, but they have scored the goals. They’ve been great.”
Having won back-to-back matches for the first time since August, the Blues had no Tuesday match this week, which McCarthy says was probably a good thing.
“It was nice but it was going well, maybe we could have kept it going!” he joked. “I don’t think so, I think a Tuesday night game might just have pushed us over the edge, so it was nice to have a break and we’ll see how we get on up at Middlesbrough.”
Boro, relegated from the Premier League in May, are two places and three points behind the Blues and have lost three of their last four.
“I never get surprised with results in this league,” McCarthy continued. “I think the problem is that everyone expects more from Middlesbrough because of the squad they’ve got and the signings that they’ve made.
“But look at the league. It doesn’t always work like that. They’re having it tough but if they get it right on any given day, they’ve got Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Patrick Bamford, who doesn’t seem to get a game and who scored all the goals and got the Player of the Year in 2014/15 when he shouldn’t have done actually, Murph should have got it, not that I’m bitter and twisted or remember that.
“You go through their squad, they’ve got a lot of fire power and if they get it right on the day you’ve got a tough task up there.”
The Boro squad cost very significantly more than Town’s, incoming manager Garry Monk spent more than £40 million in the summer, but McCarthy says that isn’t the be all and end all.
“It highlights the haves and have-nots but it doesn’t highlight who’s going to be the best team or who are the best teams,” he added.
“It’s what everybody perceives to be the best teams. I wonder sometimes when you make so many changes that it can be difficult to find out what’s the best blend, what is your best team.
“And I think we’ve seen that with others over the course of the seasons. I think Derby had lots of players and everybody thought they should just be going through the league and it didn’t happen. All I know is that on any given day, if those players perform it will be a really tough ask.”
Can having a lot of money give a boss too many options sometimes? “Maybe, but I think if you went around the leagues and asked every manager which he’d prefer, doing it on a tighter budget or to be given everything and be able to go out and buy and get the players, I guess we’d all take the latter on that.
“But then it’s still the same conundrum of piecing it together and making it work. And it’s not always easy with the best players. It’s even worse if you’ve got a really good player sat in the stand, that can be really difficult.
“That does prove to be difficult if they’re sat in the stand. If you’re on the bench you feel more involved, bizarrely enough. How often does every sub go on? There are seven of them. You’ve got an almost 50 percent chance of going on.
“But you feel involved just by being in the dressing room, just by being on the bench. You might not get on, but you still feel involved.
“If you’re sat in the stand, there’s nothing worse. You seem so far, so detached from it and if you’ve got good players earning good money doing that [it can have a negative influence].
“If you’ve got good characters, it’s unlikely they are good characters if they’re sat up in the stand doing that.
“And if you’ve got not the best characters, they can have a real negative influence on the rest of the squad. But that’s something that doesn’t happen with us.”
Despite only having taken charge at the Riverside in June Teessiders’ boss Monk is already under pressure.
“I was asked earlier about the pressure that spending a lot of money brings. He’s bound to be, but lots are,” McCarthy said. “Blooming heck, how many have been sacked already?
“I think if he gets it right with that squad then they’re going to be a threat. We keep saying it every week, ‘Another team that should be in the top six at least’. Let’s hope we stop them getting in the top six.”
McCarthy believes it takes some time to turn clubs relegated from the Premier League around, recalling his own experience in the North-East.
“When I took Sunderland, who ended up in third, I said it took a long time to turn it around. I wasn’t spending a lot of money on players, it was still nicking players and what have you, but it’s not easy. None of them are easy. It doesn’t matter what job you get, they’re not easy.
“And I guess the clinical moment for somebody who is thinking he’s under pressure and are thinking whether they should get shot of him is that it could just be turning. Who knows? It could just turn.
“That decision [can be] made too quickly and then you’ve got somebody else doing it. He’s very capable, Garry, I think, and I hope we beat him tomorrow.”
After tomorrow’s match Town, who have covered a lot of miles in recent weeks, have three of the next four at home.
However, McCarthy says he’s not looking that far ahead: “Honestly, I had never even considered it, never given it a thought. I suppose the answer to that is, “Let’s deal with this first and we’ll deal with the home games when they come along’,”
The Blues boss is likely to stick with essentially the same team that beat Nottingham Forest 4-2 last week.
Bartosz Bialkowski will be in goal with Jordan Spence probably moving back out to right-back as skipper Luke Chambers returns at centre-half following his suspension, while Dominic Iorfa will drop to the bench.
Adam Webster will take up the other central defensive position with Jonas Knudsen at left-back.
Cole Skuse and Callum Connolly will be in the deeper two midfield positions with Bersant Celina, Emyr Huws and Grant Ward ahead of them.
McCarthy will probably opt to stick with Waghorn as the lone striker with Garner on the bench but likely to play a part at some stage.
Boro manager Monk, who has defender Daniel Ayala back from a ban, admits his side’s recent form has been under par.
“There’s no getting around it – it’s been a disappointing last couple of weeks,” said Monk. “There are no excuses, but as a manager and as players you know there’s only way to respond and that’s by winning games.
“That’s the only way you can get back on track and get some momentum going. It’s been difficult, but we’ve had good discussions and some good work. I’m confident we have what we need in this group to respond.
“When you’re not winning games or performing how you want to perform, frustration comes. Quite rightly so. You feel that hurt yourself, as do the players.
“But the only response is to win games. We need to give our fans what they deserve. They deserve better. The reaction needs to happen as soon as possible, but I’m confident in this group.”
Former Blues skipper Grant Leadbitter joined the Teessiders on a Bosman transfer in the summer of 2012 after turning down a contract at Town after three years at Portman Road.
The Blues have had the better of Middlesbrough over the years, winning 30 games (28 in the league), drawing 15 (15) and losing 20 (19).
The teams last met at the Riverside in April 2016 when Town dealt Middlesbrough’s automatic promotion hopes a temporary blow having claimed a 0-0 draw. Former Blues striker Jordan Rhodes came closest to scoring when he hit the post in the second half.
In the preceding December, Cristhian Stuani and - inevitably - David Nugent were on target in the second half as Middlesbrough climbed to the top of the Championship via a 2-0 victory over Town at Portman Road.
After the Blues had had the better of the first half, Stuani headed the opener on 54, then 20 minutes later Nugent scored his 15th goal in 14 games against Town and his 10th in eight at Portman Road.
Saturday’s referee is Robert Jones from Merseyside, who has shown 54 yellow cards and five red in 22 games so far this season.
Jones will be in charge of only his sixth Championship match and has never previously refereed a match involving either Town or Boro.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Spence, Iorfa, Knudsen, Kenlock, Webster, Chambers, Skuse, Connolly, Bru, Huws, Downes, Bishop, Ward, Celina, Sears, Garner, Waghorn, Morris, Folami.
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