Ipswich Town’s thrashing by Reading last Friday was not what Rob Kelly would call a typical Mick McCarthy performance. On that basis alone, Leeds United’s assistant expects nothing other than the resumption of normal service tonight.
McCarthy likes to speak his mind and the result at the Madejski Stadium - a veritable shambles all over the field, ending in a 5-1 defeat - found him in scathing mood. Ipswich’s manager said he was “dumbstruck” and “hurt.” He accused his side of reverting to the “dark ages” of his earliest days in charge.
Leeds might see a window of opportunity at Elland Road this evening, against a club who reached the play-offs last season and started this season with reasonable intent last month, but Kelly is loathe to encourage the suspicion that Ipswich are unusually prone.
“They’re a wounded animal, absolutely,” Kelly said. “They were fantastic last year, in the play-offs, and I’d expect them to be around there again. Any team of Mick’s is going to be there. I watched the game on Friday and it wasn’t a normal team that Mick would put out, as in how they played. But that can happen. It can happen to anybody at any stage in the Championship.
“They’ll be wanting to put that right, I’m sure. I know one or two of their players and they’ll be dangerous, dangerous opponents. All Mick’s teams are highly motivated. But we’ll be ready.”
Leeds have not been caught short often this season and even on Saturday, in an exacting game at home to Brentford, Mirco Antenucci’s 76th-minute equaliser averted a first league defeat. Over the course of the term, Rosler has set a top-10 finish as his specific target but Kelly, who spoke yesterday about the danger of looking “too far ahead”, said the thought of an unbeaten run through United’s first six games would have satisfied him when he joined Rosler in the coaching team in June.
Kelly - a former Leicester City manager and previously a number two at several other clubs, most recently West Bromwich Albion - has the reputation of being the opposite of a ‘yes-man’ and a reputation for saying what he thinks. He and Rosler knew each other before coming to Leeds but had not worked together in the past.
Kelly, 50, is sold on the plan that Rosler is implementing and clear in his view that the German’s plan will benefit from a fair amount of patience. Even McCarthy, for all his accomplishments, is three years into the pursuit of promotion at Ipswich. In the midst of questions about team selection and tactics after Saturday’s draw with Brentford, Rosler was not slow to say that he needed time and space for his approach to work.
“I’m not outspoken but I’m different to Uwe,” Kelly said. “There’s no point in me being here if we don’t have an input but that’s one good thing with Uwe. He’s very open minded. He’ll listen but he makes the final decision. He’s a very determined character.
“The squad know what we believe is right to gain success in this league but it isn’t going to come straight away. If you’d offered us an unbeaten start then everyone would have take it. It’s something we don’t want to give up. Runs have to start somewhere and we’re six games unbeaten. It’s difficult in this league to turn that into seven, nine, 10 or 12 because it’s so competitive and there’s the volume of games but we don’t want to give up. It’s up to us to keep it going. Runs are hard to get back.”
McCarthy might be tempted to gut his team tonight after their capitulation at Reading. Rosler’s changes, assuming there are any, will not be sweeping but Mirco Antenucci and Luke Murphy are both in his thoughts having appeared from the bench to good effect in the past two matches. Leeds have no new injuries and Tommaso Bianchi remains the only absentee. Alex Mowatt, who carried a problem into the Brentford game and was substituted at half-time, has been ruled fit to play against Ipswich.
Brentford’s passing and pace caused United problems on Saturday, contradicting the widespread belief that the London club have lost their way after a summer of extensive change at Griffin Park. Ipswich, in McCarthy’s tenure, have always been more powerful and direct; led by the big frame of Daryl Murphy up front and reliant on overlapping full-backs and deliveries from the wings. They were the last side to lose at Elland Road, far back in March.
“They understand the league but they’ve got good footballers in there,” Kelly said. “I wouldn’t label them as (direct).
“They had a nice blend last season and they’ve got players who know the Championship and do what’s required to win games. They’ve got a manager with a proven track record too. It’ll be a difficult game for us - but a difficult game for them.”