As Ipswich Town travel to Chelsea in the FA Cup 3rd Round on Sunday, who’d have thought that the challenge of causing an unlikely upset would fall to a certain Ian ‘Charlie’ McParland.
After the drama of Roy Keane’s exit from Portman Road on Friday, things have seemed so hectic at Ipswich that one might have forgotten there was even a game on. Not just any game though – Town’s first appearance in this year’s edition of the world’s most magical cup competition comes at the splendorous setting of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge. They are not exactly unfamiliar surroundings, with Jim Magilton having seen his team lose 3-1 in Town’s last visit only two years ago. It will be a huge occasion for caretaker manager McParland though; despite insisting that he has no interest in taking the post permanently, the former Notts County boss will lead a team out on Sunday charged with trying to take down one of the finest teams in the country.
His task is not impossible though. For all their celebrity, their ‘big four’ status, their trophies and their immeasurable wealth, defending FA Cup Champions Chelsea are not finding life as easy as it should be. Ever since the departure of assistant manager Ray Wilkins – who more than a few Town fans would like as Keane’s successor – there has been a dubiously coincidental slide in form for Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Such is the slump that the Premier League heavyweights have slipped way off the pace to 5th with just two wins in all competitions since early November; the same, in fact, as Keane’s Ipswich. 5 league defeats in that time, most recently a 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers, has dropped Ancelotti in similarly toasty water to that of the erstwhile Town manager. To compound that run with a home defeat to an underwhelming Championship side would surely be the final straw for the Italian – and would surely earn our Charlie an eternal place in Ipswich Town hearts.
Ahead of his first and perhaps only game in charge of Ipswich Town, caretaker boss Ian McParland has stressed that recent events at the club will not deter his players from giving it their all against Chelsea.
‘It was a shock when we heard the gaffer had left,’ McParland told the Club’s Official Website, ‘and when a manager leaves a club, it’s always disappointing and that was certainly the case with Roy.’
‘It’s been quiet around the place but the players will be ready for Chelsea. We will have no trouble getting them up for this game. It’s a terrific football match for them to look forward to and we’ll go there and give a good account of ourselves.’
And with Charlie likely to give the players a fair deal of freedom in this match, who knows just how good they might be…!
Meanwhile, Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has expressed his disappointment at the dismissal of Roy Keane. The former AC Milan boss revealed that he had actually been looking forward to meeting the Irishman whom he admired during Keane’s playing days at Manchester United.
‘I was excited about the chance to meet Roy Keane for a long time because I was the manager of Juventus when he gave me disappointment because he scored in the semi-final of the Champions League,’ Carlo told the Chelsea Official Website.
‘Now I don’t have the chance to meet him and I am sorry for this because when a manager loses his job it is not a good moment, but this is the life of the manager. The manager has to be able to cope with this moment. It is not good but hopefully he can move forward quickly.’
The question is, was Ancelotti really talking about himself?
Chelsea Team News:
Following a string of poor results, Carlo Ancelotti has hinted that he will play his strongest available lineup against Ipswich as Chelsea open the defence of their title. Brazilian defender Alex is unavailable as are Yossi Benayoun, John Obi Mikel and Yuri Zhirkov. Ashley Cole, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba will undergo late fitness tests while the likes of Josh McEachran, Jeffrey Bruma and Daniel Sturridge could also potentially feature.
Player to watch: Frank Lampard
If Chelsea do indeed plan to field their best team, one would be astonished not to see Frank Lampard involved. The England international midfielder needs no introduction having become one of the most recognised faces in English football since a big money move from West Ham United in 2001. Now in his tenth season at the club, Lampard has firmly established himself as a leading light in the Chelsea team and possesses a remarkable goalscoring record from midfield. 107 league goals in 328 appearances makes him the third-highest goalscorer of all time at Stamford Bridge, as well as having been one of the Premier League’s top providers for much of the past decade, topping the chart last season with 17 assists. His attacking prowess will also be well known to Ipswich fans after the 32-year-old scored a fantastic free kick on Town’s last visit to Chelsea in the FA Cup in 2009. Fitness problems have hampered him this season however with just two goals so far, so Ipswich may just have a chance this time…!
Ipswich Town Team News:
Ipswich are missing more than just a manager for the trip to Stamford Bridge. Ian McParland will be without on-loan striker Rory Fallon who is cup-tied having featured for parent club Plymouth, while fellow loanee Jake Livermore will not play despite receiving clearance from Tottenham Hotspur as he is suffering with a groin injury. In fact, following Jack Colback’s return to Sunderland, Celtic’s Darren O’Dea is the only loan player available for the tie. Town will also be missing midfielder Grant Leadbitter after his sending off in the 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest, while Brian Murphy and Shane O’Connor are still injured. Gareth McAuley, who only recently returned from a spell on the sidelines, remains a doubt but should be fit enough to feature, and there may be a return to the first team for young Luke Hyam.
Player to watch: David Norris
This could be a very tough game for a weakened Town team, and without a permanent manager, they will need strong leadership on the pitch. That is where captain David Norris comes in. The former Plymouth midfielder has led by example on more than one occasion this season and is the Blues’ closest equivalent to a ‘Frank Lampard’ figure having netted 6 times from midfield in all competitions, making him the club’s second top scorer behind Jason Scotland. That includes the 3 goals that have helped Town progress in the Carling Cup, so hopes will be high that he can contribute in this competition as well. With McParland potentially playing a five-man midfield in this contest, Norris will most likely be at the heart of the team and could play a crucial part in keeping everyone organised around him.
FA4 – Chelsea 3-1 Ipswich
24 January 2009
Chelsea: Ballack 16, 59, Lampard 85
Ipswich: Bruce 34
Chelsea: Cech, Bosingwa, Carvalho (Ivanovic 70), Alex, Ashley Cole, Belletti, Ballack (Deco 79), Lampard, Malouda (Drogba 58), Kalou, Anelka
Ipswich: R Wright, D Wright, McAuley, Bruce, Garvan, Miller (Quinn 81), Counago, Norris, Balkestein, Haynes (Lisbie 60), Walters (Stead 71)
Goodness knows how this one will turn out. Both teams are out of form, and Ipswich enter this match as completely unknown quantities with Keane gone and McParland taking over. As I am travelling to Stamford Bridge, I would dearly love us to give Carlo Ancelotti what would probably be the final kick. What is more likely to happen however, if Town’s recent form is anything to go by, is it’ll all be over by half time! I’d like to be wrong and I could well be, particularly if Charlie is really able to get the boys up for it and playing with freedom. However, I don’t see a weakened and managerless Ipswich Town team being the ones to knock Chelsea off their perch in this competition, especially if their starting lineup proves to be as strong as Ancelotti is promising.
Prediction: ‘Never mind, lads – there’s always the Arsenal game.’ Chelsea 4-0 Ipswich.
12/01 CCS1 Arsenal (H) LIVE on Sky 19:45
15/01 FLC Millwall (A)
22/01 FLC Doncaster (H)
For more build-up to the big match, why not take a look at our interview with the guys at Vital Chelsea in ‘From the Other Side‘. You can also read the Vital Ipswich half over on the Vital Chelsea website.
And you can join in all the pre-match chat by signing up to our club forums: