Richards: Sun saved me

MATT Richards, one of the young guns at Ipswich Town, believes that the short break in Tenerife might have saved him from burn-out.

MATT Richards, one of the young guns at Ipswich Town, believes that the short break in Tenerife might have saved him from burn-out, writes Carl Marston.

Left-back Richards is currently in his first full season of senior football at Portman Road, and he was beginning to feel the strain of a gruelling schedule.

Now, though, the 19-year-old is looking forward to the last third of the season, feeling refreshed from a couple of days in the sun. The first test is provided by today's visitors Preston.

"Hopefully, the few days away will have the desired effect," explained Richards, who has been a regular this term, despite starting on the bench at Burnley last weekend.

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"We've all been feeling a little tired, especially the younger players like me. The rest and relaxation should have done us some good.

"I played about half-a-season last year, but this is my first full campaign. I've played a lot of games in a row, and it was beginning to burn me out a little.

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"The older and more experienced players know how to pace themselves for the whole season, but the younger ones really needed a break. It was getting very tiring," added Richards.

Town were blitzed 4-2 at Burnley last Saturday, but they will be looking to bounce back and build on their encouraging home form this afternoon, against a Preston side who are four points below them in the table.

Even though they are 10 points adrift of second-placed West Brom, Town boss Joe Royle insists that his side can make the top two. More realistically, though, a play-off place appears the more likely aim.

For Town to stay in the top six, they need to improve on the defensive side of their game. They are the division's top scorers with a healthy 60 goals from 32 league fixtures, but only basement club Wimbledon (61) have conceded more than their 52 goals against.

As the regular left-back for most of this season, Richards is fully aware of the problem of leaking too many goals.

"Defending as a team is something that we have been working on," continued Richards.

"It's not just about the defenders. It's a team problem. There's no use in blaming any one individual. You just have to focus on defending as a team.

"On the other hand, we look like scoring in every single game that we play. We're the top scorers in the league, and we want to keep it that way.

"The pressure's been on us at the back, because we're often on all-out attack, which leaves gaps all over the pitch," added Richards.

Between the end of August and last weekend, Richards was ever-present in the starting line-up, either as a left-back or left wing-back. He started 29 games in a row, before being employed as a first half substitute for the injured Fabian Wilnis at Turf Moor last Saturday.

In fact Richards, who has progressed through the youth team and the reserves, has figured in all except two matches this campaign – he didn't appear at Crewe or against Coventry last August.

It's no surprise, then, that Richards relished the chance to unwind in Tenerife during the first half of this week.

"I see it as the season starting afresh again," said Richards. "It's a mini-season of 14 games. We are going to have to treat them as 14 cup finals, and we haven't given up hope of finishing in the top two.

"We can't afford too many more hic-cups, which means going on a good run.

"It's all important that we beat the teams around us, to take points off them as well," concluded Richards.

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