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Town Looking to Close Gap With First Ever Stadium of Light Win
Friday, 2nd Feb 2018 10:59

Town visit manager Mick McCarthy's old club Sunderland on Saturday looking for a first ever win at the Stadium of Light and seeking to close the eight-point gap to the play-off places.

The Blues, who are 12th, have lost on their last seven visits to Wearside in all competitions and picked up their only point at the Stadium of Light on their first visit in February 1998 when the game ended 2-2.

Town’s last win on Wearside - where they haven't played for 11 years - was back in August 1989 when John Duncan’s Blues ran out 4-2 victors at Roker Park.

Current boss McCarthy is well aware that his team, who have won just once in their last eight in all competitions, needs to start winning on a regular basis if a once-promising campaign isn’t going to fade into yet another mid-table finish.

“For sure, but it isn’t going to be easy going to Sunderland,” he said. “I saw them on Tuesday [when they lost 3-1 at Birmingham] and they’ll be desperate for the points on Saturday.

“I would imagine there’ll be a good atmosphere, certainly at the start. We’ll have to go and silence that and they’ll be up for it.

“Then we’ve got Burton [at home]. Don’t anybody start looking round thinking these games are easy because, as I always remind everybody, when we were in the bottom three and just out of it, we were a right pain in the backside to everybody, they didn’t like playing us. And that’s just what these will be.”

Regarding closing the gap to the top six, he added: “We’ve got to do that. Me sitting here saying that we’ve got to do it, that doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got to earn it, we’ve got to play well on the pitch.

“Who knows, if we can beat Sunderland, suddenly there’ll be more pressure on the Burton game, it’ll be ‘Can we string two wins on the bounce?’ and if we do we’ll be on the back of the play-offs.

“So, let’s concentrate on Sunderland and go up there and try and win and if we do, who knows that will take us.”

McCarthy was manager at Sunderland between 2003 and 2006 and says he thoroughly enjoyed his time in the North-East, even if it didn’t get off to the easiest of starts, something he shares with current boss Chris Coleman.

“I had a lovely time,” he reflected. “I had a fabulous time at Sunderland. From a tough start. I was just talking about Chris going in and it’s like trying to stop an oil tanker with a canoe paddle. I’m telling you, it’s hard work.

“I lost my first 11 games there, nine in the Premier League. We tried to win them all because we were going to have to win, I think we needed to win six or seven out of nine to stay up, so you might as well try and win them. But we got beaten in them, which doesn’t look great.

“And then we lost the first two the next season to make it 11. But we ended up in the play-offs. We lost them but won the Championship the following year.

“So, it was a tough start but I loved my time there, it’s a great club, great people. It’s a fabulous stadium.

“I think I’ve said before, I used to take players, anybody I was trying to sign, I’d show them everything then take them up to the directors’ box and walk them out into the stadium.

“And it’s brilliant, it’s mind-blowing when you walk out, even more so when it’s full, of course.

“But equally, everywhere I’ve been I’ve enjoyed my job. Sunderland was fab, really, really loved it.”

Is he surprised at their current predicament, with the Black Cats going into the game second-bottom following their relegation from the Premier League last season.

“I don’t know what to say,” he added. “I don’t know what to think of it, actually. I’m sometimes at a loss.

“They’ve been on the brink of going down for the last however-many seasons and somebody’s come in and waved their magic wand and kept them up.

“Then the following season they’ve been in a similar position. And I feel for Chris because he’s a really good guy, firstly, and he proved what he’s worth at Wales with the job he did there.

“I don’t feel for him that much that I want to give him any sympathy on Saturday but I understand how tough that job is. And if it’s not going right, wow! The bigger the club, the more opinions, the more fans, the more noise, the more media. It’s a really tough place to manage.”

Like McCarthy when he took over at the Stadium of Light, Coleman returned to club management after being an international boss when he was appointed at Sunderland in November after Simon Grayson's sacking. Is it an easy transition to make?

“Piece of cake, I won the Championship!” McCarthy laughed. “No, it’s far from it. I think it’s changed, by the way, since I did it as well.

“I think the league’s got better, there’s better teams, there are better players, maybe there are better managers, different ideas, different ways of playing.

“This league has certainly got better, the Championship, since I took the Sunderland job in 2003, and equally the Wolves job in 2006.”

He added: “But it’s not hard for Chris coming back and doing it because you want to get back into it, you’ve had that time as an international manager, you’ve gone and watched games.

“I used to sit in the stand and I’d be looking down thinking, ‘I’d love to be down there’. As much as I enjoyed that job, you wanted to be down there more often.

“I had five years and did 68 games - I do that in the first three months in the Championship every year. So, you want to get back into it.

“But when it’s tough, sometimes you look back and think, ‘Wasn’t so bad my international manager’s job after all!’.”

McCarthy is likely to make a handful of changes to the team which lost 1-0 at home to Wolves last Saturday.

Bartosz Bialkowski will be in goal with Jordan Spence probably continuing at right-back and Jonas Knudsen on the left.

The Blues boss may bring Adam Webster back into the centre of his defence - alongside skipper Luke Chambers - for Cameron Carter-Vickers with the former Pompey man having put in an outstanding display for the U23s on Monday after recovering from his recent achilles injury.

Cole Skuse is over his ankle problem and will replace Stephen Gleeson in the deeper midfield pairing alongside Callum Connolly.

Joe Garner is again set to be the lone out-and-out striker with Bersant Celina, Martyn Waghorn and probably new signing Mustapha Carayol the trio behind him with David McGoldrick a doubt having missed training this week after suffering a knock against Wolves.

Sunderland signed goalkeeper Lee Camp, striker Ashley Fletcher and midfielder Ovie Ejaria on deadline day and they are all expected to be involved against the Blues.

Camp, who joined on loan from Cardiff, and Fletcher, on loan from Middlesbrough, are likely to start, while Ejaria, on loan from Liverpool, is set to be among the subs.

Kazenga LuaLua, a free transfer from Brighton, and Chelsea loanee Jake Clarke-Salter were recruited earlier in the window.

“They’re here to play, they’re here to get on the pitch,” manager Chris Coleman told the Northern Echo.

“Kazenga has plenty of experience, but he’s just lacking fitness. Fletch has the experience, he’s played in play-off finals.

“Lee has been there, seen it and done it, so that won’t be a problem, and Ovie has played international football for England and come through with flying colours. They’ll be fine.

“They’ll come in, add to us and help is. It’s just a matter of them getting onto the pitch now and hitting the ground running.”

Reflecting further on his additions, Coleman added: “At the very least we are going to improve the environment. The personnel we have brought in will add value to the squad.

“At the stage we are at in the season there are enough games and enough points to play for to make sure we are going to be OK. We have got to make sure we are OK.”

Central defender Lamine Kone is a big doubt having suffered a knock to his knee in the 3-1 defeat at Birmingham on Tuesday, while former Blues loanee Jonny Williams is out with a shoulder problem.

Veteran defender John O'Shea could return having missed the Birmingham match through illness, while wantaway midfielder Jack Rodwell remains at the club having been unable to find a new club prior to Wednesday's deadline.

Historically, the sides are closely matched with Town having won 22 of the games between the teams (22 in the league) and Sunderland 20 (18) with seven (seven) having ended in draws.

In September, Town hit five at Portman Road under Mick McCarthy for the first time as the Blues thrashed the already-deep-in-trouble Black Cats 5-2.

Waghorn opened the scoring against his old club in the sixth minute, Billy Jones equalised four minutes later but Spence restored the impressive Blues’ lead when he headed home Waghorn’s corner on 27 to make it 2-1 at the break.

In the second half, Waghorn created the best of the night for Celina and then Town’s fourth for McGoldrick, his Ireland team-mate Aiden McGeady pulled one back for the Wearsiders, then sub Grant Ward added the fifth a minute from time.

Town last faced the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light back in January 2007 when David Connolly's 13th-minute goal was enough to give the home side, then under the management of Roy Keane, a 1-0 victory over Jim Magilton’s Blues.

Despite enjoying a lot of possession, particularly in the second half, Town were unable to get back on terms, with the best chance falling to sub Danny Haynes.

Current Town boss McCarthy was manager at the Stadium of Light between March 2003 and March 2006, taking them to Championship title in 2004/05.

During his time with the Black Cats McCarthy’s record reads, played 147, won 63, drew 26 and lost 58, a win percentage of 42.9.

Blues striker Waghorn was born in South Shields and came through the ranks at Sunderland, making three starts and five sub appearances before moving on to Leicester for £3 million in August 2011 following a successful loan spell.

Titus Bramble, now coaching the U14s in Town’s academy, was a Sunderland player between 2010 and 2013, making 46 starts and five sub appearances, scoring once.

On-loan Crystal Palace man Williams is the only player with Sunderland to have represented the Blues.

The Welshman made 16 starts and 12 sub appearances in four loan spells at Portman Road, scoring two goals.

Saturday’s referee is Darren England from South Yorkshire, who has shown 94 yellow cards and two red in 45 games so far this season.

England, who is in his second season as a Championship official having taken control of 20 matches at that level, has never refereed the Blues before.

However, he has officiated in three Sunderland matches already this season, the 1-1 draw at Hull City in September, in which he booked seven players, including four Black Cats, the 3-3 draw at Brentford a month later, when he again yellow-carded four Wearsiders, to whom he also awarded a penalty, as well as two Bees, and their 2-0 win at Burton in November when he cautioned three of the North-East club’s players.

Squad from: Bialkowski, M Crowe, Spence, Iorfa, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Knudsen, Carter-Vickers, Webster, Skuse, Connolly, Hyam, Bru, Gleeson, Ward, Celina, Carayol, McGoldrick, Waghorn, Garner, Sears, Drinan.

Photo: TWTD

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brendenward35 added 11:13 - Feb 2
Well Mick it's simple go for goal and not do the normal sit back and hope for a point. Sunderland still for the taking but you need an attacking line up to score those important goals. Lets hope they are as rubbish as they were at Portman Road otherwise I could actually see them taking at least a point. Coleman is no fool and will be mindful how easy we concede goals so need to playing attacking players not defensive midfielders.

Kesgraveblue57 added 11:15 - Feb 2
McCarthy obviously love Sunderland, interesting thing would be did the Sunderland fans love him as much as we do

TimmyH added 11:22 - Feb 2
Really? still going on about closing the gap to get to the play-offs...give up on that, we're slowly getting further away from that hope. 8 points away from it after how we started the season - unforgivable!

Expecting McCarthy to help his 'old' team out tomorrow with at least a point.

martin587 added 11:33 - Feb 2
If we are to stand any chance of a top six place the next two games are must be wins.Our line-up on Saturday could include four loanees two of which could be Carter-Vickers and Celina. Our current squad will then have a further six players whose contracts run out at the end of the season.I would assume both Carter and Celina are both well out of our price range.At the end of the season our squad is going to look completely depleted and it appears any vision for next season is very daunting indeed.
The uncertainty of MM and any sight of the owner coming forward with a future plan is slowly destroying the club.
With the play-offs almost out of sight I suppose we can be grateful of a mid table position so if that's the case MM's position could and should be resolved,then just maybe we can start planning for the future.🤔

Rensham added 11:34 - Feb 2
Micks got a habit of gifting games to his old mates. Warnock, Brucie, Ollie all benefited from weakened teams and bizarre tactics.
Plus the ITFC habit of giving teams down on their luck an easy win.
Plus never having won a game there.
Plus fielding a team with ITFC players in the minority.
And an unfit Skuse and a team thats never played together
Plus its a 600 mile round trip...
Easy Sunderland win.

muccletonjoe added 11:59 - Feb 2
Anyone with any lingering doubts about mm leaving can forget all about them. He has made it as hard as he possibly can for his sucessor. At least half of the team he fields tomorrow wont even be here next season. Forget about youth getting any first team experience between now and may. It will be as many loans as allowed and the short term contracts to fill in the gaps.

Hipsterectomy added 12:30 - Feb 2
Get to 55 points then forfeit the rest of the season so that we can kick him out asap

dirtydingusmagee added 14:01 - Feb 2
MIND THE GAP, MM getting ready for job on underground

geminimustang added 14:10 - Feb 2
There are ITFC Supporters on this forum who need to leave before MM ever does.Support the team,back the Manager and realise the budget the Club can afford.How many would pay £10 a week into a fund to help finance the running of the Club? Not many but they expect ME to put £M's in year-in,year out.ME,MM & TC are doing a great job just keeping ITFC mid-table,anything higher is a bonus.Down-arrow is to the right and please use it,i don't want to part of the empty-glass,black cloud around the head,brigade.COYB.

bigolconnor added 14:24 - Feb 2
I think I went to that 1998 match. If it’s the one I’m thinking of (and this is going to sound made up) Matt Holland did a double footed thigh high challenge on someone like Niall Quinn and only got a yellow for it.

BrentwoodBlue78 added 14:27 - Feb 2
Ahem, Martin587 - I think the next THREE games are must win games. If you catch my drift 😉

warwickblue added 14:29 - Feb 2
Gemini - I used to pay £10 a week to help finance the running of the club. It was called a season ticket. When MM is gone, I will reconsider.

runningout added 15:52 - Feb 2
Time to pull our fingers out, and as long as we don’t think Sunderland will be a rollover we will be in for a win

blueboy1981 added 16:04 - Feb 2
Well Mr M - if that's the case, first and foremost we will need to do two things - ATTACK and have some SHOTS on GOAL.

Dare you, for once, go there and NOT sit deep,bore the brains out of the everyone, and hope to come back with the point we start with ....... ??

By 5.00 p.m. tomorrow we will know the answer.

blueboy1981 added 16:05 - Feb 2
....... sit back - and Sunderland will nick all 3 points.

blueboy1981 added 16:09 - Feb 2
geminimustang ......... another 'happy clappy' who's day will be made by being popular with Mick.

How sad can people be ? - get a life, and expect something out of it ....... !!!

heathen66 added 16:33 - Feb 2
Don't be surprised to see Skuse Connelly and Gleeson in the side

jas0999 added 16:40 - Feb 2
No excuse to sit back tomorrow. Sunderland are dreadful. Attack from the off in this very winnable game. Anything less than three points would be a disappointment.

heathen66 added 16:49 - Feb 2
Play 2 up front (that will catch out Chris Coleman) and only one holding midfielder.
Full backs and CBs concentrate on defending, Carayol and Celina concentrate on attaching and not covering for the wandering FBs.
Try not to pull everyone back at corners as it just comes straight back as there is no outlet.
You never know, we may just surprise them...but what do I know !!!

Currie10 added 17:26 - Feb 2
' Don't be surprised to see Skuse Connelly and Gleeson in the side '

What would be the issue if they were? Apparently Gleeson is a decent passer of the ball, has made impact in both games.

Apparently McGoldrick out of sorts.

So perhaps we could do 4-3-3 with McGoldrick on the bench, free up Celina more so with Garner + Waghorn also given more license.

The current system isn't really getting many results, 4 defeats in 6. Why not change it up.

carlo88 added 17:33 - Feb 2
I'd love Ipswich to be the first club to employ a female manager.

SpiritOfJohn added 18:33 - Feb 2
Today is Groundhog Day in the USA and here is Super Mick giving his regular Bill Murray impression. Please go for the win tomorrow.

dukey44 added 18:39 - Feb 2
I live outside of Scumberland and the fans up here reckon they in for a win!!! Jesus they must think we are bad with Mick ( who they can’t stand!!) so they are right in at least one of the comments!!!

blue75 added 19:02 - Feb 2
I’m amazed people still support McCarthy 1 win in 8 managers have been sacked with that sort of form it’s mot like it hasn’t happened before!!!
Martin587 totally agree I said before December that his future should be sorted one way or another all this uncertainty will lead to next season being a nightmare for whoever is manager!

Woodbridgian added 19:08 - Feb 2
I can just hear McCarthys post match comments already..... We were beaten by a good team with top players in a false position in the league!

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