|Ipswich Town 0 v 0 Sheffield United|
Saturday, 10th March 2018 Kick-off 15:00
McCarthy: Home Crowd Can Give Us an Extra Lift
Friday, 9th Mar 2018 19:30
Town boss Mick McCarthy has urged the Portman Road crowd to get behind his side in what could prove to be crucial back-to-back home games against Sheffield United on Saturday and Hull City on Tuesday as the Blues, 12th, seven points off the top six, look to re-enter the play-off race.
“The home crowd can always give you an extra lift, of course,” McCarthy said. “I’ve always said at every club I’ve been at ‘Come and support the team’ because that’s what you’re doing essentially, you’re coming to support the team.
“And it helps if you get good support. And if it’s rubbish at the end, then boo by all means, I’m cool with that, never worried about that at all.
“At Sheffield Wednesday, what was there 22,000 there? And to be fair they were still trying to get their team going, trying to get them at it and we played well.
“So, yes, the home crowd is a big advantage if it’s partisan, noisy and they support the players.”
McCarthy, the subject of abusive chanting during games over the last couple of seasons, who many fans would like to see move on in the summer, has previously acknowledged that there is a symbiotic relationship between supporters and the team on the pitch, each lifting the other.
He added: “It’s our job to play well and to try and entertain [the fans] and win games but surely if I go anywhere, if I go to the pictures or to the theatre or to a game of football I go with the intention of enjoying it and supporting it.
“I keep saying, whatever happens here, they support this club, by doing it with their money first and foremost and then their support at the grounds. It makes a helluva a difference. You all know it does.
“Are you asking me the question because of certain reasons? I fully understand that but come and support the lads, come and get behind them, start it off, make it an atmosphere.
“Blooming heck, we went to Sheffield United and it was throbbing that place. And when we’ve had it here over the years, we’ve had it at some of the Tuesday night games I can remember looking back, Palace here when we beat them 3-0 and we were struggling then and we needed to get out of the relegation zone.
“Middlesbrough when we slapped them them down here and the place was rocking. So, I’d like to get it like that again because we all enjoy it more and, of course, the fans do as well.”
McCarthy says sometimes a particular incident in a game can spark an atmosphere.
“I went to Millwall against Cardiff and, to be fair, they were at it and partisan to start with.
“And then Shaun Hutchinson had a tackle on the big centre-half and it lifted the crowd after 20 minutes, it sparked them into life. And it sparked the team in to life. But it does help if you’ve got that support of the fans.
“What I would say is don’t come and not want to support the team. That’s a big difference.”
Referring back to that Crystal Palace match in his first season at Portman Road, he recalled an incident involving Richard Stearman, who will be in the Blades side tomorrow, which had a similar effect.
“A terrific servant to me at Wolves and here,” he said of the defender. “I’m going back to that Crystal Palace game, we were getting a bit of a doing here and Stears went flying into Jonny Parr and it was an unbelievable tackle. He won the ball but Jonny Parr was carted off [injured] sadly for him.
“That started that game, we beat them 3-0 then, I think Frank Nouble had an epiphany that night, he ran riot.
“But that one thing can set it off and it did. Stears was great, he’s a really good guy and he’s been a good servant for me but at every club he’s been at he’s done well.”
Town - four points behind the Blades, who are ninth - are currently seventh in a Championship away form table based on the last six matches but 17th in the home equivalent having picked up only five points while scoring just two goals.
McCarthy says he can’t explain the disparity: “No, I can’t. I haven’t got an answer for you. We try and do the same. We approach the game away from home at Sheffield Wednesday the same way we approach it here at Portman Road, I don’t change.
“We play the same way, so I haven’t got an answer for you unfortunately. I haven’t got answers for everything, although I try.”
Have the lower crowds at recent games - the attendance for the last home match against Cardiff was only 13,205, the lowest at a league game for almost 20 years - and flat atmosphere at some matches had an impact on performances?
“If that’s what you think then you write it,” McCarthy responded. “I’ve not got an answer for you and I’m not going to blame that either, not a chance.
“We don’t sit in that dressing room worrying about whatever’s going to go on and we don’t talk about it, we go out and try and win the game and it only happens as it happens.
“We set off with that positive intention and we try our best to win the game and we’ll be doing the same with these next two matches.”
Town have lost 1-0 twice to the Blades already this season, in the Championship at Bramall Lane in October and at Portman Road in the FA Cup in January.
Asked whether the Blues owe the South Yorkshireman one, McCarthy joked: “No, we owe them two!”
The Blues boss felt there wasn’t much in either game: “No, there wasn’t. I thought they started well up at Bramall Lane. I had to change it and we got back into the game and I thought we did all right then and we could have got something out of it. Here in the FA Cup game, there was nothing in it at all.”
Having started the season like a house on fire following their promotion from League One as champions, the Blades have been more inconsistent of late and were comfortably beaten 3-0 at Craven Cottage in midweek.
“Fulham gave them a doing the other night but I don’t think it’s any embarrassment when Fulham do it to you, to be honest,” McCarthy reflected.
“But I know Chrissy Wilder and Alan Knill, they’ll want a response because they need the response to get back in that top six if they’re going to get there.
“They’ve been there pretty much all season, so they’ll be feeling pretty sore about that. It’ll be a tough game. They’re a good side. I saw them at Reading recently and they’ve pretty much got a bit of everything.”
McCarthy has a lot of time for Wilder, who followed a 99-point League Two title with Northampton with last season’s League One championship with the Blades when they made it to the full 100.
“He has certainly got something about him,” he said. “He quite clearly knows the game, he’s a good coach and he’s done it in different leagues as well.
“He must manage his players well. I think he runs a tight but happy ship, it’s content, people are happy with him and they like playing for him. And that’s a big part of the game.”
Having previously said the Blues are out of the play-off running, does he now believe his team would be firmly back in the hunt if they beat the Blades and Tigers?
“It’s a big if that, isn’t it?” the Town boss pointed out. “Of course it’s an opportunity, but I can sit here and say, ‘Oh yes, if we win those next two games we’ll be right back in it…’.
“Of course, I fully understand that but I am that pragmatic manager with my feet on the ground, knowing that we’re not just going to go out and beat them because we’ve had two away wins.
“But we’ll be trying damned hard and, yes, if we can it would be brilliant and that game in hand on Tuesday would put us right back in the mix.
“And I hope the players ram my words down my throat. I didn’t say it with that intention, I said I thought it was unlikely we’ll get in the play-offs because I believed it, and I still think it is. Not because of us, but because of the teams that are above and they’re good teams.”
If Town do miss out on a play-off place but finish in the top 10 McCarthy says that would constitute a decent season for the Blues given the big money spent at many other clubs, a number of whom are well below them in the table.
“If we finish in the top 10 I think that is a good finish for us,” he insisted. “And if anybody hears me saying that and are screaming that we ought to be in the top six, well so be it, I can’t help that.
“I think that would be an achievement considering the level of investment at other clubs and a lot of those clubs are beneath us, some of them are in the relegation zone.”
McCarthy has said he’s likely to shuffle his pack during Town’s four games in 12 days of which tomorrow’s match is the second.
However, Bartosz Bialkowski will be in goal fresh from receiving his first international call-up by Poland, while the Blues boss is likely to continue with the back three of former Blades loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers, skipper Luke Chambers and Adam Webster.
He may well switch Jordan Spence for Dominic Iorfa at right wing-back, while Myles Kenlock will replace Jonas Knudsen on the left if the Danish international doesn’t make it having reported a tight hamstring.
In midfield, McCarthy could opt to stick with the combative trio of Cole Skuse, Callum Connolly and Luke Hyam which started at Hillsborough or may recall Grant Ward or Stephen Gleeson for Hyam.
Up front, McCarthy will be forced into one change with Mustapha Carayol out with the groin injury he suffered at Sheffield Wednesday.
McCarthy has a number of options to play alongside Martyn Waghorn, among them Joe Garner, Freddie Sears, who he said changed the game at Hillsborough, and Bersant Celina.
“Joe’s not trained as much as he ought to have done but, of course, he’s still in the squad and he’s always a threat,” McCarthy considered.
“Freddie came on and not having played so much I thought he was excellent and changed it.
“Santie’s desperate to play, so it’s nice to have some options. At least I’m not saying, ‘He’s got to play’ because I’ve got nobody else. I prefer the options.”
Waghorn netted both Blues goals against the Owls, ending a run of 15 games without a goal.
How was Town’s 12-goal top scorer in the days after netting twice at Hillsborough, the second a stunning a freekick?
“Knackered, that’s how he’s looked!” McCarthy joked. “No, he’s only trained today and he looked fine.
“You’ll see him tomorrow morning on Soccer AM there’s a nice little bit on there with him and Santie [and Jimmy Bullard] so have a look.”
He added: “Waggy’s a really lovely character, he’s a really nice man, he’s been great around the place.
“I saw him and his cricket celebration, he’s just good with other people. We’ve got a lot of good lads, but he’s been excellent since he came in.
“Freddie, all last season and this season, they come in, they train, they play, they’re selfless, they give everything they’ve got but they want to score goals. I have to say Waggy looked like he was getting frustrated.”
Blades 15-goal top scorer Leon Clarke will be assessed ahead of the match having missed the 3-0 defeat at Fulham with an ankle injury sustained in their previous match, a 3-1 win at Reading.
Another striker, James Wilson, is also close to a return from an ankle injury after three weeks out.
“He’s worked extremely hard, Leon, since coming off against Reading,” manager Wilder told the Sheffield Star.
“All my players have been working hard, they all want to be involved. There’s no picking and choosing games.
“We’ll give him as much time as needed to get himself ready. The same as James.
“But I’m not going to stick him on the bench if he’s got a big opportunity of missing a chunk of games. Hopefully the two or three days which have passed since our last game will give him that chance.”
Defender Kieron Freeman could return having dislocated his knee when colliding with then team-mate Carter-Vickers when the sides met at Bramall Lane in October.
“Kieron is back involved with the first team now,” Wilder added. “So that’s good to see. George Baldock’s performances have been good throughout the season. But Kieron is also really pushing.
“He’s a good player too and he can play in different positions. It’s good to have him where he is now. It gives us options and decisions to make.”
Reflecting on the game he said: “People will look at the table and look at the fact we’ve also beaten them in the FA Cup as well this year.
“They’ll do that and think we should be nailed-on again. But they are an established, experienced Championship club. Look at the players they’ve got and also look at their manager.
“Make no mistake, this will be another tough game for us. We know it’s an important stage of the season and they are a good side in good form at the moment. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”
Town have had the better of the Blades over the years, winning 23 times (22 in the league), drawing 24 (21) and losing 21 (18) of the meetings between the sides.
The teams last met in the FA Cup third round at Portman Road in January when the Blades won 1-0, Nathan Thomas smashing the winner in the 25th minute.
The Blues, who last won a match in the competition in January 2010, never looked like getting back into the game, failing to register a shot on target in the entire 90 minutes, and the visitors, who fielded a very young side, might have added to their lead in the second half.
At Bramall Lane in the Championship in October, Chris Basham’s goal four minutes after half-time saw the South Yorkshiremen to another 1-0 victory over the Blues.
Waghorn went closest to scoring for Town with a shot against the bar shortly after the Blades’ goal, but the home side deserved their victory.
The teams last met at Portman Road in the league in February 2011 with Sheffield United on their 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.
The Blades squad includes former Town loanee Stearman, who moved to Bramall Lane from Fulham last 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 who is currently on loan at Rotherham, joined the Blades from Sheffield Wednesday in the summer of 2016.
Lavery, 25, 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.
Blues on-loan Tottenham defender Carter-Vickers spent the first half of the season on loan with the Blades making 18 starts and scoring one goal, on his debut at Bolton in August.
Saturday’s referee is John Brooks from Leicestershire, who has shown 120 yellow cards and six red in 39 matches so far this season.
Brooks will be taking charge of only his third Championship match and has refereed neither the Blues nor the Blades previously.
Squad from: Bialkowski, M Crowe, Spence, Iorfa, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Knudsen, Carter-Vickers, Webster, Skuse, Connolly, Hyam, Bru, Gleeson, Nydam, Ward, Celina, Waghorn, Garner, Sears.
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