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Cardiff City 2 v 1 Ipswich Town
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 9th March 2024 Kick-off 12:30
Town Aiming For Seventh Heaven at Cardiff
Friday, 8th Mar 2024 12:33

Town travel to face Cardiff City live on Sky Sports at the Cardiff City Stadium early on Saturday afternoon, aiming to win seven matches in a row in the second tier for the first time since the late 1980s (KO 12.30pm).

Back then, John Duncan’s Blues ended the 1988/89 campaign by winning their last five matches in what was then known as the Second Division, then were victors in their first two games at the start of the following season, 1989/90.

Town’s longest overall league winning runs are the eight-game streaks achieved in Third Division South in 1953/54 and last season in League One.

The longest run in all competitions is the nine in a row under Sir Bobby Robson in the 1981/82 season.

Cardiff are the side standing in Town’s way this weekend with the Bluebirds currently 10th in the Championship table having won their last three, their joint-best run of the season, Wednesday’s 1-0 home success against Huddersfield, Saturday’s victory away against Bristol City by the same scoreline and a 2-1 win against Stoke at the Cardiff City Stadium prior to that.

Their home record reads won eight, drawn three and lost seven, having gone six games without a win on their own turf - four defeats and two draws - prior to winning their last two.

Only five Championship sides have scored fewer goals than the Bluebirds, while nine have conceded as fewer.

At home, six teams have found the net less often and only seven teams have shipped fewer when hosting.

In September at Portman Road, the Blues ran out 3-2 winners over the Welshmen having been two goals behind.

Since then, Town turnarounds in that manner have become familiar, Tuesday saw an arguably even more impressive comeback to win against Bristol City by the same scoreline and McKenna says that on reflection that was a significant game.

“It's not something that we've referred back to too often, to be honest,” he said. “But when you go through experiences like that Cardiff game, it gives you more belief that it can happen the next time and it gives you the belief that it can happen the next time [after that].

“I guess, looking back at it, that was an important game. The way that we won the game was hopefully a good sign for the spirit and the resilience and the quality that we would show throughout the course of the season.

“We've watched back that game this week, of course. There's lots of lessons to take from it. I think it was one of the early games in the season where you could really feel the individual step up in quality.

“The goals that Cardiff scored and a couple of other chances that they had in the game really showed the qualities that they had.

“But, on the other hand, it was a day where we showed our qualities as a team, how we could score goals, create chances, keep pushing to the end of games and show great technical, physical and mental qualities.

“It seems a long time ago now, there have been so many big games, so many challenging games since then, but it would be good to come up again against that side again this weekend.”

Asked if he sees the Bluebirds as a tougher prospect this time around, he added: “I think it's always more difficult playing away from home, straight away. So that makes it more of a challenge.

“They've brought in some good players in January. [On-loan Manchester City defender Josh] Wilson-Esbrand's a player that we know well; Nat Phillips [who is on loan from Liverpool] is a player everyone at the level knows well.

“They’ve brought in a new striker [Famara Diedhiou, on loan from La Liga Granada]. [Josh] Bowler’s now back fit, [Callum] O’Dowda’s now back fit, so I think squad-wise, I would imagine, they're in a pretty strong place.

“And they're on a good run. They've won three games in a row. They've conceded one goal in their last four games, so they're showing defensive solidity. And they've got lots of good individual players as well. So we know it's another challenge.

“But honestly, every game in the league, you can't look at it any way different than that. All the teams have their own qualities.

“So many of the teams have really high individual talent. And we know we're going to have to be very good defensively and offensively.”

Why does he believe the Bluebirds have suddenly hit winning form? “Honestly, the margins are so thin,” he continued. “We played Bristol City and they were on a run of three losses. We're playing Cardiff now and they're on a run of three wins.

“If you watched the Cardiff and Bristol game last weekend, there was a hair's breadth between both sides. The game was won on a set play. Bristol could have won on a set play 1-0 or it could have gone the other way.

“They're in good form. They'll see themselves as good form. I think the manager [Erol Bulut] would know himself that the margins are very thin.

“I don't think they're doing too many things drastically different than what they have done all season.

“Of course, some good additions in January. Probably a little bit of time to integrate those additions into the team now. Showing good defensive solidity and scoring off set plays gives you a great chance to win games.

“I think they've been a pretty consistent team all season. They're just in a spell at the moment where they're doing well to churn out the things that win your games.”

Town have had to battle for their recent away wins at Swansea and Plymouth in atrocious conditions and McKenna wouldn’t be surprised if Saturday’s game was similarly hard-fought.

“There's every chance the game could pan out that way,” he reflected. “You're not going to get anything away from home in the Championship without fighting for the right and without showing toughness and physicality in your game.

“Those are the qualities that we have to bring to every away game, first and foremost. When we do that and we give ourselves a chance to have a foothold in the game, then we believe that our football and our qualities can start to show through in the game.

“But, for sure, against a really strong Cardiff side away from home, we're going to have to stand up to the physical battle. We're going to have to be tough. We're going to have to work very, very hard again. Only when we do that will we have a chance to show the full range of our game.”

The Blues boss believes set pieces can play a key part over the course of a season and could prove vital on Saturday with Cardiff having scored 18 goals via that route this season, this highest in the division, and Town 14, the second most.

“They’re going to be very important,” he said. “A very strong team on set plays, delivery, size in the box, good principles and there's every chance that it will be decisive in the game.

“It's been pretty decisive for us over the last few weeks. We've been doing okay. They've been doing very well on set plays.

“The win that we got against them last time, I think Freddie [Ladapo]’s second goal was off of a corner for us and they're going to be absolutely decisive in the game again.

“As I said, so many Championship games are decided on very thin margins and set plays are often those margins.”

He added: “I think you can see it in Cardiff, for example. They're still, I guess, in with a shot at the play-offs and I think above 40 per cent, getting towards 50 per cent of their goals come from set plays. It shows how important it can be and what an impact it can make in the division.

“It's something that we work on a lot. Of course, everyone sees the clean ones, I guess, like the second goal the other night against Bristol City, a really good delivery, well-worked movement by Conor [Chaplin]. But it's also about the second phase. 

“The goal against Plymouth, the second goal, we took great satisfaction in because people will probably see it as a great strike by Kieffer [Moore] or a bit scrappy.

“But it's a really well-worked goal in terms of how we lock down the edge of the box, recycle the ball wide, deliver the ball into a dangerous area and keep the bodies in the right area where we know that we want to get the ball and recycle it really well for a shot.

“Those goals for the coaching staff and for the players are just as satisfying because they know there are phases that we work on as well.

“I think to be successful in this division, certainly for us, we need so many different ways to score goals. That's something that we've tried to emphasise and first and second phase on all types of set plays or some of those areas.”

While third-placed Leeds are at Sheffield Wednesday on Friday evening, Town are once again on Sky in an early Saturday kick-off, giving them a chance to draw level on points with leaders Leicester, prior to the Foxes’ tough-looking game away at sixth-placed Hull City later in the afternoon. However, McKenna that won’t provide any added incentive.

“Honestly, I don't think we'll even mention it,” he said. “I've not thought about it one second, the fact that we're playing early kick-off, what that would mean, points total or anything like that, it doesn't even come into the thinking. That's the truth.

“The full focus is just Cardiff, all the challenges and threats that the game is going to present, all the opportunities that we're going to have to manufacture for ourselves and doing everything we can to try and get another three points.

“We know we're on a good run. We want to keep that going. We know it's going to be tough this weekend.

“Honestly, the full focus is just going into the performance and what it's going to take to go away from home and produce another good result.

“Anything after that, I guess we've got a week to the next game. Maybe we can have a quick breather tomorrow evening and hopefully a satisfactory one.”

McKenna will continue with Vaclav Hladky in goal with Leif Davis at left-back and a decision to made between Axel Tuanzebe and Harry Clarke on the right. The former Arsenal youngster may get the nod with the former Manchester United man having looked tired before he was subbed in Tuesday’s match.

Luke Woolfenden and Cameron Burgess should again be the centre-halves with skipper Sam Morsy and Massimo Luongo likely to be the pair in midfield.

Ahead of them, Chaplin will be in the middle with Wes Burns perhaps returning on the right following his terrific performance off the bench against his former club Bristol City on Tuesday.

McKenna has options on the left with Nathan Broadhead appearing likely to return to the squad after his thigh problem. However, the 25-year-old, one of three Wales internationals in the Town squad along with Burns and Moore, seems more likely to be on the bench.

Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month for February Omari Hutchinson could switch flanks, but Jeremy Sarmiento seems more likely to return to the XI with Marcus Harness another alternative. Moore will be up front against one of his old clubs.

Bluebirds boss Bulut is well aware of the threat his club’s former fans’ favourite Moore possesses having targeted him last summer and then in January when his club tried to gazump Town ahead of the striker’s return to Portman Road on loan from AFC Bournemouth with a renewed late approach on deadline day.

“We have to stop him,” Bulut said. “We were planning with him at the start of the season and also in January. He made his decision to move to Ipswich - we have to respect this. Now we are his opponents. After the game, when we win the game, we can be friends again.

“Kieffer has good quality as a striker, what every team wants. That's why we wanted him here.”

The Turkish boss admits he sees the attraction of a move to Town: ”It's not easy. Ipswich are in a different position, maybe getting promoted, so a player maybe decides to join these kinds of teams, not a team who is in the eighth, ninth, 10th position

“It is more possible for him to get promoted and to continue with the same team, that's why I think he made the decision.”

Regarding Town, he told his club's official site: “They have a good team. I think they have played together for two years with the coach.

“They made really good work this season. Every player that they took settled in and helped them a lot. This is also important.”

Recalling the game at Portman Road earlier in the season, he added: “That was one of the games where we could have taken at least one point.

“Ipswich are a team who have got a lot of wins in the last 15 minutes, scoring also against Bristol City. They started a little bit quiet. After 2-1, they start to wake up. The last 15-20 minutes, they changed the game again. We have to be careful with this.

“We know what is expected of us. With one day less of recovery, we will be against them on Saturday. We have to recover quickly and prepare for the game on Saturday. It will be a tough game, of course. I hope we can get what we are expecting.”

Reflecting on his aims for the remainder of the season, he said: “Right now, we’re focusing on positive results and good positioning in the league with Cardiff City.

“There are ten more games to play and we will try and get maximum points that we can get. We are thinking only about winning games with my team.”

Keeper Jak Alnwick is expected to return to the Cardiff squad but Callum Robinson, who played 45 minutes for the Bluebirds’ U21s in Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat to Town, fellow forward Kion Etete, ex-Town loanee Mark McGuinness and veteran midfielder Aaron Ramsey are all sidelined until after the international break.

Town have the upper hand historically, winning 22 (20 in the league), drawing 14 (14) and losing 16 (15).

At Portman Road in September, Ladapo scored twice and Broadhead once as Town came from two goals behind to beat Cardiff 3-2.

Ramsey gave the Welshmen the lead on the half hour, skipper Joe Ralls made it 2-0 on 52 with the game appearing all but over at that point.

But Broadhead smashed in a brilliant strike in the 59th minute, then Ladapo netted on 68 and 78 to see the Blues to victory and back up to second in the table.

The teams last met in the Welsh capital in October 2017 when Bersant Celina was on target for the Blues but the Kosovan international’s late goal wasn’t enough to prevent Town from falling to a 3-1 defeat.

Junior Hoilett put the Bluebirds in front on 12, then Omar Bogle doubled the lead seconds after the break.

Celina’s final-minute goal threatened to set up an unexpected grandstand finish but Danny Ward’s injury-time goal ended Town’s hopes of gaining a surprise point.

Town wideman Burns was with his hometown club as an academy schoolboy before being released but was a Bluebirds supporter as a boy, as are his family.

Blues striker Moore spent 18 months at Cardiff between the summer of 2020 and January 2022, scoring 25 times in 56 starts and 10 sub appearances.

Former Blues loanee McGuinness, was at Portman Road from Arsenal in 2020/21 making 24 starts and one sub appearance, scoring three times. The Irish international joined the Bluebirds that summer.

Saturday’s referee is Oliver Langford from the West Midlands, who has shown 84 yellow cards and six red in 25 games so far this season.

Langford's most recent Town match was the 0-0 draw away against the MK Dons in February 2022 in which he yellow-carded Morsy, Dominic Thompson, Tyreeq Bakinson and three home players.

He also took control of the 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday in February 2019 in which he booked Flynn Downes and three Owls.

Prior to that he was in charge of the 3-2 victory at Swansea in October 2018 in which he booked Trevoh Chalobah, Andre Dozzell and one Swan.

Langford also refereed the March 2018 game between the Blues and Wednesday at Hillsborough, which Town won 2-1, when he yellow-carded Luke Chambers, Cameron Carter-Vickers and one Owl.

He was the man in the middle for the 2-1 home defeat to Derby at the end of December 2017 in which he cautioned only Adam Webster.

Before that he refereed the 3-1 defeat at Cardiff in October of the same year when he booked Tommy Smith and one home player.

He also took control of the 2-0 home victory over Brentford two months earlier in which he booked Myles Kenlock and two Bees.

Langford officiated in the 2-1 win at Burton over Easter 2017, cautioning only Freddie Sears, and also refereed the 1-1 East Anglian derby draw at Carrow Road in February that year in which he again yellow-carded Sears as well as Jordan Spence.

Before that he was the man in the middle for the 2-0 home defeat to Fulham on Boxing Day 2016 in which he booked Tom Lawrence, David McGoldrick and one Cottager.

Langford whistled during the 2-0 home victory over Burton Albion in October of the same year in which he cautioned Cole Skuse and two Brewers.

Before that he refereed the 0-0 home draw with Charlton in April 2016, in which he yellow-carded Jonas Knudsen and two Addicks, and the 2-1 home defeat to Leicester in November 2013, in which he booked only Chambers.

The only other Town game he has officiated in was the 2-0 defeat at Leeds in the preceding April when David Norris, by then with the Whites, was the only player to have his name taken.

Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Davis, Humphreys, Tuanzebe, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Burgess, Morsy (c), Luongo, Luongo, Travis, Taylor, Ball, Burns, Chaplin, Harness, Jackson, Aluko, Hutchinson, Sarmiento, Broadhead, Moore, Al-Hamadi.

Photo: TWTD

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MK1 added 14:41 - Mar 8
I'm off to Lanzarote in the morning, so missing this one. Reckon we will be to strong up front for them, so seven on the trot fingers crossed. With any luck, Leeds lose tonight as well. Safe journey everyone and enjoy.

BobbyBell added 16:51 - Mar 8
22 scorers for us this season. It could be tomorrow that our only outfield player in the starting 11 not to score this season is Burgess. Wouldn't it be great if he could add his name to the list.

kiwiblue added 19:19 - Mar 8
Change in midfield with Morsy Luongo and Luongo as a threesome?

bobble added 22:33 - Mar 8
to be sure, to be sure

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