MATCH PREVIEW: It’s an unfair league, but that would make success all the more sweeter – Mick McCarthy
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town start their 13th successive season in the Championship with the televised visit of newly-relegated Fulham at Portman Road this teatime (5.15pm). STUART WATSON previews the match.
Ipswich Town start their 13th successive season in the Championship with the televised visit of newly-relegated Fulham at Portman Road this teatime (5.15pm).
Following 22 months of slow and steady progress under manager Mick McCarthy, the low-budget Blues will be hoping that the unsexy qualities of organisation, hard-work, spirit, togetherness, familiarity and stability can see them upset the odds and gatecrash the play-off places following last season’s ninth-place finish.
Fulham start the season as a bit of a unknown quantity. Their 13-year stay in the Premier League came to a dramatic end last season, the west London side finishing 19th after twice changing manager during a turbulent campaign.
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Felix Magath has overseen a complete overhaul of his squad over the summer. There has been a mass exodus of key players, with the eight new arrivals recruited from seven different leagues and consisting of seven different nationalities.
Several of those who departed Craven Cottage have criticised Magath’s management style, but the German responded in an explosive press conference yesterday during which he hit back at outspoken ex-players Brede Hangeland and Matthew Briggs, while also confirming that the likes of Maarten Stekelenburg, Bryan Ruiz and Kostas Mitroglou are also set for the exit door.
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By rights, Ipswich Town should have no chance against Fulham today. It’s simply not a fair fight.
For the second successive summer, the Blues – heading into their 13th successive campaign at Championship level – have been restricted to free transfer additions.
The Cottagers, by contrast, drop into the division with £26million to burn following last season’s bumper Premier League parachute payments and TV deal. Very quickly, £11m of that was splashed out on striker Ross McCormack – the man who top-scored in the second tier with 28 goals for Leeds last season.
“I think they should change that name ‘Financial Fair Play’,” said Blues boss Mick McCarthy. “Eleven million pounds spent on one player…
“The parachute payments teams get for coming down from the Premier League doesn’t create a fair playing field at all.
“It makes it more of a challenge and certainly more rewarding when you get results.
“That’s where we are at. Is it possible (to get promoted)? Well look at Burnley. I don’t know exactly what their finances were last season, but nobody would have sat here 12 months ago and tipped them to get promoted.
“Somebody will upset the odds, whether that be us or somebody else. Why can’t it be us?”
Asked if he thinks Fulham will be challenging for automatic promotion, he replied: “You’d think so. They’ve got shut of a lot of players though.
“We’ve been watching their games and it’s only (Hugo) Rodallega and Scott Parker who are still there really.
“They’ve taken some players from some top German clubs, they look very capable, but I don’t take much notice of pre-season friendlies.
“They’ve been a Premier League club for a long time, they’ve got plenty of money and should certainly be in the mix.
“It doesn’t always work like that though does it? Reading and Wigan both dropped away towards the end last season. The teams that come down don’t always go straight back up.”
– Stephen Hunt (calf), Cameron Stewart (jaw), Jonathan Parr (groin) and Paul Anderson (hamstring) have all been ruled out, while Tommy Smith (groin) has been passed fit.
– Young right-back Elliott Hewitt could well play on the right-wing, as he did in the final pre-season friendly at Leyton Orient last weekend, due to the shortage of wing options. McCarthy said: “Elliott’s come back to pre-season training much-improved having played some football (on loan) for Gillingham. He looks more mature, a better player and stronger.”
– Talismanic striker David McGoldrick – who scored 16 goals last season before a knee injury ended his campaign in mid-February – is set to be on the bench after two cameo appearances in friendlies. McCarthy must decide who to play alongside Daryl Murphy up front – Frank Nouble, Jack Marriott or new signing Balint Bajner.
– Matthew Briggs, Brede Hangeland, John Heitinga, Steve Sidwell, Sascha Riether, Pajtim Kasami and Kieran Richardson were among several key summer departures. Magath has also confirmed that Maarten Stekelenburg, Bryan Ruiz and Kostas Mitroglou are set to follow them out the exit door.
– In addition to £11m man Ross McCormack, the Cottagers have signed Thomas Eisfeld (Arsenal), Shaun Hutchinson (Motherwell), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets), Tim Hoogland (Schalke), Kay Voser (Basle) and Kostas Stafylidis (Bayern Leverkusen).
– Magath has been playing a 4-3-1-2 system in pre-season, with as many as six new signings set to start today.
IPSWICH TOWN (4-4-2)
1 Dean Gerken
4 Luke Chambers
6 Christophe Berra
5 Tommy Smith
3 Tyrone Mings
21 Elliott Hewitt
8 Cole Skuse
19 Luke Hyam
18 Jay Tabb
9 Daryl Murphy
14 Balint Bajner
40 Marcus Bettinelli
15 Kay Voser
5 F Amorebieta
4 Shaun Hutchinson
3 Kostas Stafylidis
8 Scott Parker
7 Thomas Eisfeld
11 Alex Kacaniklic
20 Hugo Rodallega
17 Adam Taggart
44 Ross McCormack
Ipswich Town 1 Fulham 0
Marcus Bent’s 10th minute goal proved to be the winner as Ipswich Town secured their eighth win in nine matches back in 2002.
A 2-1 win at Everton three days later lifted the Blues further up the Premiership table, but a 6-0 home defeat to Liverpool proved to be the beginning of the end.
Just one win from the final 13 matches saw George Burley’s side relegated a year after a fifth-place finish in the top-flight and two years following promotion via the Play-Off Final.
Why Ipswich fell just short in their play-off push last season was clear – a lack of midfield goals and assists.
Central duo Cole Skuse and Luke Hyam – for all their tenacity and tidiness – need to be a bit more adventurous this season, bursting on to the edge of the box from time-to-time in order to pick up the bits and pieces. Hyam, in particular, seems to have been encouraged to get forward more and will take confidence from his pre-season goal at Gillingham.
Former England international Scott Parker is one of the few players who didn’t depart Fulham following relegation.
The 33-year-old was also one of the few players at Craven Cottage to come out of last season with any credit and will be determined to shine in what is his first time playing outside the top-flight since 2000.
Ipswich played all three of the recently-relegated sides early on last season (QPR, Reading and Wigan) and, despite playing well in all three matches, ended up losing all three by narrow margins.
This Mick McCarthy side will undoubtedly be competitive virtually every time they step on the pitch, but do they have enough quality to take advantage if Fulham are suffering from a bit of a relegation hangover? I don’t think either manager would be too displeased with a draw.
Follow @Stuart_Watson on Twitter for live match updates.