Tommy Smith can follow in the footsteps of Terry Butcher

Tommy Smith

Tommy Smith - Credit: Archant

Good luck Tommy!

Ipswich Town manager Mick McCarthy is desperate to see reliable centre-back Tommy Smith qualify for the World Cup with New Zealand.

Academy graduate Smith had started an impressive 46 games in a row under McCarthy’s management before his international commitments meant he was forced to miss Saturday’s dramatic 3-2 win at Blackpool.

The 23-year-old is currently at a training camp in Los Angeles. He will wear the arm band in a two-legged, winner-takes-all play-off against Mexico over the coming days, the first game at the iconic Azteca Stadium tomorrow morning with the return match in Wellington next Wednesday.

Victory would see Smith – who was part of an unbeaten All Whites side at South Africa 2010 – become the first player to appear at successive World Cups while an Ipswich Town player since England centre-back Terry Butcher went to Spain ‘82 and Mexico ‘86. The likes of John Wark, Alan Brazil and Mick Mills haven’t even got such an accolade on their CVs.

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“I sincerely hope he gets there,” said McCarthy, who was manager of the Republic of Ireland when they qualified for the 2002 World Cup with a tense 2-1 aggregate win over Iran.

“Those play-off games are huge, they’re just crazy. I’ve been an international manager so there was no way I’d have stood in his way. This is qualifying for a World Cup in Brazil, this isn’t messing about.

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“I remember getting in the Ireland squad when I was at Manchester City. I went away in ‘84 and played in my first tournament in Japan. I vivdly recall feeling more confident and a better player when coming back to City in the summer.”

It’s certainly been an incredible journey for the Macclesfield-born, New Zealand-raised defender. Just two years ago it looked as though he wouldn’t make the grade at Championship level after a dismal loan spell at League One side Colchester United was followed by some heavy defeats in a Town shirt.

Moments like a red card in the 7-1 loss at Peterborough and own goal against Wolves are distant memories now though, with Smith one of the first names inked in on Mccarthy’s team sheet.

“Tommy’s been great since I’ve come in,” said McCarthy. “When I first arrived I heard some negative things. Everybody told me this and that about him and I’d seen the infamous own goal against Wolves when it hit every part of his body before it went in.

“But when I watched Tommy in training I just thought what a great lad he was. He’s a player who gets his blocks in, a player who is very good in the air and gets his tackles in. I just thought ‘that will do for me’.

“I think he’d been unfortunate. As a defender when you’re playing in a team that’s not playing very well it always seems to be coming from you. I have to say I’ve not seen that in him at all. He’s just been a solid part of a really solid back four.”

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