‘Even the best teams get beaten sometimes’ – McCarthy relishing return to big spending Wolves
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Ipswich Town are at Championship league-leaders Wolves tomorrow and then host QPR on Boxing Day. STUART WATSON previews the festive action.
Into the Wolves’ den
Wolves were in League One in 2013/14 and have finished 7th, 14th and 15th in the Championship since then.
A takeover by Chinese investment group Fosun International has provided a huge injection of funds though and now they find themselves four points clear at the top.
There is a strong Portuguese influence behind the revolution at Molineux, with head coach Nuno Espirito Santo – previously in charge of Valencia and Porto – and ‘super agent’ Jorge Mendes (looks after Cristiano Ronaldo) having overseen some multi-million pounds deals for several of their countrymen.
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Ruben Neves (£15.8m, Porto, midfielder), Helder Costa (£13m, Benfica, winger), Ivan Cavaleiro (£7m, Monaco, midfielder), and Diogo Jota (Atletico Madrid, loan, attacker), have been joined by Brazilian striker Leo Bonatini (Al-Hilal, loan) and Moroccan midfielder Romain Saiss (£3m, Angers).
They’ve won seven of their last eight games and dropped just seven points at home all season.
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Mick’s old stomping ground
Town boss Mick McCarthy spent almost six years in charge of Wolves, winning the Championship title, twice keeping them up before controversially being sacked. He has repeatedly insisted he would have kept the West Midlands club up had they not pulled the trigger and put assistant Terry Connor in charge of the final 13 games of 2011/12.
You could see how much it meant to McCarthy and Connor when they went back to Molineux and masterminded a 2-0 win weeks after being appointed at Town in December 2012.
It was the start of a seven-game unbeaten streak against Wolves comprising of two wins followed by five successive draws. Town haven’t lost at Molineux since August 2006.
“There are a few clubs I’ve left that seem to have changed. I keep looking at Manchester City and wondering if I played there – I think I did!” joked McCarthy.
“I wasn’t bitter when I left and I’m still not now. I’m not envious of anybody, I just keep enjoying what I’m doing.
“They’ve spent money, but it looks to me like money well spent. Despite all the flair football they have been stoic and won 1-0 when needed.
“They are the best team in the league, I think, but even the best team in the league get beaten sometimes.”
The last three meetings between these two sides have ended goalless, though surely that won’t be the case tomorrow.
Wolves are the division’s leading scorers with 42 goals to their name, 28 of them coming on home turf. Town are the division’s second leading scorers with 37 goals scored, 15 of them coming on their travels.
“We won’t go and park the bus. I haven’t tried to park the bus anywhere,” said McCarthy. “We’ve lost away because of lapses in concentration.”
McCarthy says he had just 15 fit and available players involved in training on Wednesday.
Cole Skuse (foot) was forced off at half-time in last weekend’s 2-0 home win against Reading and won’t be risked at Molineux.
Fellow midfielders Tom Adeyemi (hamstring), Luke Hyam (knee), Tristan Nydam (hip) and Flynn Downes (calf) are also out – though should all be back in the new year – while Emyr Huws and Andre Dozzell (both knee) have been ruled out for the season.
Transfer-listed Kevin Bru, the man likely to replace Skuse alongside Callum Connolly tomorrow, has also missed some training this week due to a bang to the ribs.
Meanwhile, young Michael Crowe will continue to deputise for injured back-up keeper Dean Gerken (hip) on the bench.
Town’s record on Boxing Day under McCarthy’s management is pretty good.
Prior to last year’s 2-0 battering by Fulham at Portman Road, there were wins against QPR (2-1, home), Brentford (4-2, away), Doncaster (3-0, away), Charlton (2-1, away).
QPR are currently 18th in the table, with Ian Holloway’s men finally record their first away win of the season last weekend (2-1 at Birmingham). That result ended a dismal run which saw them pick up just one point from a possible 18.
Tomorrow, the West London side host a high-flying Bristol City outfit on cloud nine following their Carabao Cup quarter-final win against Manchester United on Wednesday night.
Town lost 2-1 at Loftus Road in the reverse fixture back on September 9, Bersant Celina’s superb late consolation strike coming after goals from Jamie Mackie and Luke Freeman.