Friday, 28 September 2012

Ipswich fan in Barnsley: match preview

Barnsley fans are a funny lot. Wherever you go in the town you will see people's who love that club. A bit like Ipswich, I'd like to think.

It's a funny place for an Ipswich fan to live too. Friday nights routinely consist of me asking the pub which game they would like to discuss: Wembley 2000 or Oakwell 2011. Give them their dues, they always take it in good humour.

Their amazing 5:0 win against Birmingham at the weekend is a long awaited, long deserved one. They're proud of the new manager, proud of the players they've managed to keep hold of (Vaz Te leaving last year was a disaster) and yet they seem to have an everlasting patience. I hear no whining about how long they've been in the Championship and, though they have hopes this may finally be the year they reach the Play Offs, it's not the be all and end all.

My feeling is Town fans could learn a lot from them - though that's not to entirely discount the understandable concerns about our current situation.

That game at Oakwell stands as one of my favourite ever Ipswich games: it's up there with Wembley and the San Siro in the pure emotion and pride I felt for the club and fellow Blues fans.

I'd love for that to have an affect on the player's moods before the game today. But, interestingly it's a very different side to what it was less than 12 months ago.The starting line up on December 10th last year was: Stockdale, Cresswell, Collins, Sonko, Edwards, Martin, Bowyer, Andrews, Murphy, Chopra and Scotland. 

Just five of those are likely to be playing today, admittedly one of those not doing so is Chops who Paul Jewell has confirmed as unfit to play.

More significantly though we've no Keith Andrews to pull us out of a rut this year, he really was the engineer of that victory. I thought Taylor could be our man, sadly his long term injury is a real blow.

But enough about us, I've spent too long worrying about us in recent weeks, what are the Tykes expecting? I've asked fan and blogger Liam Fountain for a match preview from their point of view.

1. Barnsley have had a mixed bag of results so far this season, how are you feeling about it?

It's definitely not a true reflection of where we are in the league table so far this season, that's for sure. We've only really deserved to lose one game, and that was away at top of the league Brighton after which Keith Hill said the team's performance was 'unexplainable'. 

Apart from that we've looked like an extremely strong team who will give anyone a tough game. We ought to have beaten both Blackpool and Blackburn by two or three clear goals but we're just one or two players away from having a squad capable of anything. 

At home we're unbeaten so far and have only conceded once - it was Tom Ince who scored for Blackpool and he's probably the best player in the league which speaks volumes.

2. I still can't believe your result on Saturday, was it expected or a bit of luck?

It was an excellent result and it's a bit of both - the performance in the game against Blackburn was just as good if not better, but undeservedly we came away with nothing. I'd say around half of the fans expected a performance like that, but based on our away record and Birmingham's home record, it was a bit of a shock to see a five goal margin in our favour. All the more sweeter with it being live on TV! 

I think the result has made every team in the league aware of what we can do and how unpredictable the division is.

3. Our last game against you was our last win at Portman Road, how have you changed since then?

We've got more strength in depth and we've replaced the players we didn't in January, to put it simply. If you play us between August and December there's a bigger chance we'll beat you, as we're known for getting our squad ripped apart in January and not repairing it. That may change this year with there being no chance of Jacob Mellis leaving and Craig Davies has stated he wants to stay with us which is a massive boost. 

We're also more of a unit since we last played you, which is obviously key in any squad. Keith Hill's philosophy at the club is paying its dividends and these are exciting times for all connected to the club!

4. What are you expecting from us this weekend?

I'm expecting you to throw the kitchen sink along with everything else you've got at us on Saturday. You're in bad form at the moment with one point from five games, however, you were in worse form last season and you thumped us in front of millions, so who knows. I think we will run out as clear winners, maybe 3-0. 

It sounds arrogant, but with Paul Jewell in charge you're not going up the table any time soon. I had you down for relegation before the season started and I believe he will take you down. 

5. What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?

Our strengths? Well, we're a brilliant team that play on the floor and in Keith Hill we've got one of the best managers outside of the Premier League. We've also got the top scorer and second top assist leader in our ranks, and if that fact doesn't fill any team with fear, I don't know what will. I'd say our biggest weakness is our inability to put away all our chances; if we'd done that with the ones that strikers put away 99/100 times then we'd be sitting pretty in second place right now, and it'd be nothing more than we deserve, but that's football for you. 

However, a temporary factor that you may be able to take advantage of is if this takeover talk gets our players into the wrong mindset for Saturday's game. The last thing we need right now is something that may cause a lapse in concentration while we're in this rich vein of form. As a team you should be worried all over the pitch; up front we can score plenty of goals and our strikers put in endless effort (excluding Harewood, ask any fan), in midfield we have creativity and composure in abundance, and at the back we have extreme solidity but have a tendency to switch off sometimes, and between the sticks we have Luke Steele - the league's best shot stopper without a doubt, though he's injured so it's thought Ben Alnwick will continue to deputise.

Score prediction: 3-0 (Davies, Mellis, Cywka) 

Player to watch out for: I couldn't give you just one because it's so hard to pick; Craig Davies - has an eye for goal and is as strong as an ox. Jacob Mellis - bags of potential and can pick out a pass. Tomasz Cywka - very exciting to watch and is brilliant when on the ball. He'll have your defenders quaking in their boots. I could go on; Dawson, Cranie, Stones...

So, welcome to Barnsley those of you who are making the journey up here. As a local resident I wanted to give you a few 'inside tips' for while you're here.

Journey up:

If you're driving it is an incredibly easy journey thanks to the roadworks that I've had to put up with for the past 5 years or so! The A1 is now a straight road with no roundabouts to deal with and I'd say it'll take you 3 - 3 1/2 hours.

Your sat nav will try to take you via the M1, ignore it and keep going until junction 37 of the A1. If you turn right on to Park Springs (A6195) and then follow through to Barnsley (past my house!), you will be on the road that takes you to the ground (A628). This way also avoids the notoriously terrible Stairfoot roundabout.

Top tip for parking is the Ward Green Kia garage on Oakwell View, opposite the ground. If you're there reasonably early there will be plenty of space on the road and it's free! However, other street parking around there is mostly all permit holders only.

Failing that, the two multi-storey car parks are a short walk and really priced or there's Barnsley College, which is well sign posted as parking for away fans.

Off t'pub?

Away fans are recommended the Barnsley Metrodome, which we really enjoyed last year. It's right next to the ground and over the road from the station.

If you're in town, like us, there are quite a few nice pubs around: Joseph Brammah's Wetherspoons is a great little chain pub but gets very full of Barnsley fans just before the game.

On the square in the middle of town there's a sports bar but also my personal favourite The Corner Pin. If you go there make sure you have the Club Sandwich: I make trips into town just for that!

Whilst you're here you have to try chips and gravy too...

Wherever you go I am sure you will have a great time because they really are a great bunch up here.

I just hope we have as good a time whilst we're watching the game...


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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Middlesbrough Away Match Preview

The Riverside is a totally new experience for me and I'm looking forward to adding that to my list of visited grounds.

But I hate to admit that's the only part of today I expect to be exciting. It just feels to me like we are in limbo, and that's a feeling I am getting all too familiar is.

I've spent the international break trying to right a blog to explain how I feel about our dealings in the transfer window, or lack of them.

To summarise, it basically says:

I'm getting tired of hearing 'we need a centre back'. We know that, Jewell knows that. Stop stating the bleeding obvious.

For whatever reason, it hasn't happened for us and I've considered the possibility it may be down to Evans, Jewell, Clegg, the club itself or even just there's none out there. I just wish the club could be more open about it.

But the fact is we don't have one, we must do the best with what we've got and I honestly believe the first team we have now are better than this time last year.

So I say it every week and Ipswich fans always make me proud with the support they give on match days, but let's leave the worries behind and see what we can get out of today. The last trip to Middlesbrough was far more successful than we expected, could it be the same today?

On the other side of the fence, it seems Boro fans are similarly dubious about the start of their season. The big difference for them is that they have had a few reasonable new players sign up. Including, of course, the man Town fans inexplicably loved to hate: Grant Leadbitter.

I spoke to Chris Powlay, Boro fan and great tweeter to follow.

1. How has the start of the season been for you? 

Not so much happy, rather disappointed away from home with losses to Barnsley and Millwall. At home no complaints, some superb football vs. Crystal Palace and a well fought victory over Burnley.

2. What was the transfer activity like for you?
I personally thought the transfer activity was very good, Jonathan Woodgate returning was a huge signing. The guy is head and shoulders above anything else in this division. The club did a lot of work very early in the window for once and brought in a lot of players for no, or little transfer fees.

3. How has former ITFC midfielder Grant Leadbitter been getting on for you? What was your view on him before he came and has that changed?
He has settled quickly, he adds some bite to the team that went missing when Barry Robson went on his Canada trip. I knew what to expect as i'd seen him play for Sunderand. A very committed player who will do ok at this level but may lack that little something for the premier league.

4. Our result against you at Riverside last year was one of our most unexpected of the season (even if it was only a draw), any memories from that for you?
Scotland smacking the post and Sonko being an idiot in the way he went about himself. It wasn't a match for the home team to want to remember, we were the second best side that day and were lucky to get a point.

5. What do you expect to see from ITFC on Saturday? Any players you expect to be impressed with?
I hope that Scott Loach doesnt have a game like he did for Watford against us last season. The guy was amazing, stopped everything that was thrown at him. I've seen some of players like Carlos Edwards, Daryl Murphy and Chopra from their time in the North East. Chopra on his day is as good a finisher as there is in this league. Hopefully he has an off day.

6. Is there anywhere you can recommend for the traveling ITFC fans (including me!) to go before the match? Any good places to eat and drink? Tips for parking!?
If people are driving in just for the game and not a pre match drink then stay on the A66 until you get to the ground, come off and aim for the ground and there is a roundabout just before the bridge in front of the Riverside, turn right there. There are cars parked all the way along that road and its a few minutes walk to the ground. In the ground definatly sample the Parmo in a bun. Its a local food and its worth the experience. Chicken with a bechemel sauce then breaded, in a bun. Pop a bit of Garlic Mayo on and wowzers. You will see why the people are so fat!
Otherwise go into the town centre and find a pay and display park probably near the cinema just off the A66. (make sure you dont park in a leisure bay as you will be ticketed!) There are plenty of pubs in the centre places like walkabout, Yates etc. Im not a pre match drinker so im not the best person to ask that question to!

7. Finally, can I have a score prediction and a Boro player for us to watch out for please?
Middlesbrough have not got the best record against ipswich but i feel our home form is crackling a little. Players are combining well. Adam Reach is a young youth player (and of course from my twitter @boroyouths you can tell i keep an eye on those!) who has been on fine form this season. He smashed a wonder goal in vs. Burnley and Speroni of Palace had to be alert when Reach let rip from 40 yards a few times vs. Palace. If he starts then expect a fine performance from a classy young player. If he doesnt start then...George Friend. A cheap summer import from relegated Doncaster. Has come in at left back and the sale of Joe Bennett doesnt look all too bad. Friend looked brilliant so far this season, accomplished going forward (won a penalty vs. Millwall) and not half bad in defence!
Prediction. Middlesbrough 2 Ipswich 1.

Will definitely be getting a Parmo I think! Enjoy the day all who are going.


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