Santos calm ahead of clash with Baggies

IT is not clear what makes Ipswich games at the Hawthorns such prickly affairs but tomorrow's encounter with table-topping West Bromwich could be just as explosive as some years gone by, writes Derek Davis.

IT is not clear what makes Ipswich games at the Hawthorns such prickly affairs but tomorrow's encounter with table-topping West Bromwich could be just as explosive as some years gone by, writes Derek Davis.

Remember when Manuel Thetis picked Sean Flynn up by the ears and marched him back a couple of paces, and that after the Frenchman had scored the match-winner with a bizarre overhead kick, in March 1999?

And who can forget when David Johnson rounded on Jim Magilton three years ago when the now Town skipper berated the Jamaican for missing a relatively easy chance?

Now Georges Santos, a former Baggie himself, could be at the centre of a couple of potentially thorny reunions with Andy Johnson and Thomas Gaardsoe in the home side.

The history between Johnson and Santos is akin to Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank with as little love lost.

Santos was left with a broken cheekbone after Johnson elbowed him while playing for Nottingham Forest and in their next encounter Santos extracted revenge. He went on as a substitute for Sheffield United against West Brom and clattered into Johnson, sparking a mass brawl, which ended with the Frenchman and a Blades team-mate being sent off. The game eventually had to be abandoned in controversial circumstances when Neil Warnock's side ran out of players.

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Santos reflected: "It is fair to say we are not friends. He almost blinded me in one eye when he elbowed me and when we met again I was sent off although it was a fair challenge and I did nothing wrong.

"It blew up into a big fight and I was one of the people sent off. The game was ruined and I was made a scapegoat by Sheffield United.

"But it was not too bad as I went to Grimsby and had a good season, ending up as player of the year for them.

"But that is all in the past. I will play my game on Saturday as usual; I will not change my style. I'm a physical player but I will not be looking for Andy Johnson or anyone else.

"The past is the past – end of story."

The match-up with Gaardsoe is none of Santos' doing. The Dane was sold to West Brom for £520,000 with Joe Royle saying he was not part of his first-team plans, unlike the Frenchman, who he had brought in to replace him. Royle made it clear he thought Gaardsoe only suited a centre of the three position, which Ipswich would not be employing much this season.

But he has since decided Santos is not ideal in the holding role in front of the back four and is now dropping him into the back line.

Gaardsoe has been an instant success at the Hawthorns, winning the man-of-the-match award in the past three games and helping to keep four clean sheets in their last five games.

Santos said: "It will be interesting to come up against Thomas, who I know well, and people like Neil Clement, who I'm still good friends with.

"This is a game we need to win if we are to start climbing the table to catch the top five or six teams.

"West Bromwich are a good team with a lot of good players and we know it will be a physical game which we are prepared for.

"They are a strong side with a lot of players over six foot tall. I know Lee Hughes well, and he will run and run so you know along with (Rob) Hulse they will be dangerous up front."

Santos was signed by Gary Megson from Tranmere Rovers but was soon shipped out to the Blades.

Santos said: "I really enjoyed my three months at West Brom and it was a good period with Gary Megson, who I have a lot of respect for. It is always a pleasure to go back there to see people like Neil (Clement)."

The former Marseilles defender has no qualms at dropping into the back line after an initial period in midfield. He said: "I don't mind at all. I will play centre forward if the club asks me. I am used to playing at centre-half, I did it all last season at Grimsby and think I did a decent job."

After tasting relegation with Grimsby last season, Santos is convinced he will not be doing the same with Ipswich. He said: "I'm not worried at all. We still have a lot of very good quality players here, and now we have Alan Mahon and Chris Bart-Williams, we are even stronger."

There is no doubting Santos' serene attitude pre-match – but it could just prove to be the calm before the storm.

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