Reaction: Mick McCarthy looking forward to ‘unbelievable tie’ between Ipswich Town and Norwich City in the Championship play-off semi-finals
Blackburn v Ipswich: Ipswich Town manager Mick McCarthy is looking forward to an ‘unbelievable’ two-legged Championship play-off semi-final with East Anglian rivals Norwich City over the coming two weekends.
The Blues secured a sixth-place finish following a nerve-shredding final day of the regular season, their 3-2 defeat at Blackburn Rovers not proving costly thanks to Derby County’s 3-0 home defeat against Reading – two of those goals coming late in the match.
And with Norwich bettering Middlesbrough’s result to finish third, it means the Blues will face their East Anglian rivals in the first leg at Portman Road on Saturday and the second leg at Carrow Road the following Saturday. Both those games will kick-off at 12.15pm, with Middlesbrough facing Brentford in Friday night semi-finals.
Town have lost both league fixtures against the Canaries this season, 1-0 at home and 2-0 away, while McCarthy – twice a title winner in this division – has lost second-tier play-off semi-finals with Millwall, Sunderland and Wolves, the latter against rivals West Brom.
Asked if the overriding emotion was relief today, McCarthy replied: “Yes, but delight as well. I’ve just had to remind them in the dressing rooms that we’re in the play-offs and deservedly so after ending up with 78 points.
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“Nobody gave us a chance at the start of the season but I think everybody has seen what we’re made of.
“We weren’t great today but we still kept going and could have got back in it. I’d like to have done it on our own merits, but the play-offs is something to relish and look forward to.
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“Facing Norwich is an unbelievable tie. I’m looking forward to it. There’s nothing else I can do. They’ve beaten us twice and some might think it will be an easy turnover for them, but anybody who knows anything about us will know that won’t be the case.”
Are his team the underdogs then?
“I actually don’t think there can be an underdog in a two-legged tie,” he replied. “They’ve finished third, we’ve finished sixth and there’s not that many points between us over the course of a season. I’m not going to portray myself as the underdog, no.
“I kept saying it’s what you end up with on May the second, well now it’s what we end up with on May the 25th. We’re hoping we’ll be at Wembley but we’ve got a hell of a tie. They are a good side, a very good side Norwich.
“It’s not been great my play-off past, I have to be honest. Although I did get to a World Cup (as manager of the Republic of Ireland) via a play-off.
“That doesn’t count for anything now. It’s different. This is a new game, a new season. There’s a lot at stake and I’m looking forward to it.
“I tried to keep them calm all this week. Maybe I’ll try and make them anxious this week because we didn’t play all that well today. Maybe we need to get them excited.”
Reflecting on his side’s defeat, Daryl Murphy scoring twice (2, 81 pen) either side of goals from Jordan Rhodes (36), Craig Conway (42) and Rudy Gestede (58), and the drama that unfolded elsewhere – Brentford getting the win and goals they required, but Derby slipping up – McCarthy said: “I’ve had every scenario given to me this week and the one that has happened is not the one anyone would have picked.
“At half-time I knew what was happening. Then, at 75 minutes, I was told it was 2-0 (to Reading). I still wanted us to get a point though and then nobody could have said anything untoward about us. Well they can’t anyway because the season’s finished and the points are there and it’s done.
“I’ve always said it’s what you end up with on May the second and that somebody would end up getting a slap on the last day. Thankfully that was Derby and not us. How happy does that make me feel? It’s great.
“Had we not qualified I was going to go in there and say ‘listen lads, I’m immensely proud of what you’ve done and what you’ve given me this season and what we’ve achieved’. It was nicer to be able to do it now we’re in the play-offs, but I would have still said it anyway because they’ve been fab.
“They give everything. You’ve seen today that, despite not playing that well we didn’t leave anything on the pitch. Even when we knew the result at Derby we were still going hammer and tongs for a point.”
With Freddie Sears missing one gilt-edged chance, the Blues boss added: “That was bad finishing from Freddie today and he felt really bad about it, but I just said to him ‘save it for the play-offs’. He can’t score every game, so let’s hope he saves it for next week and the week after. I said ‘isn’t it lovely that you’ve missed chances and we’re still in the play-offs?’ Now he’s got two good matches to go and score. I’m sure he will.”
– See today’s EADT and Ipswich Star for match analysis, comment and more reaction.