(Photo: Action Images)
By Chris Dunlavy
IPSWICH striker Freddie Sears says killing off Norwich’s play-off hopes is all the Tractor Boys have left to play for.
Hamstrung by the sale of last year’s top-scorer Daryl Murphy and crippled by a miniscule budget, Mick McCarthy’s side have failed to trouble the top six this term.
And, while a recent upturn in form has averted any relegation fears, Ipswich are now doomed to spend the remainder of the campaign slogging for mid-table supremacy.
But all is not lost. They were beaten 4-2 on aggregate by their bitter East Anglian rivals in the 2015 play-off semi-finals, so today’s trip to Carrow Road offers a bite at revenge – and a chance to derail the Canaries’ shot at the top six.
“At the start of the season, you’d have put Norwich in the top two, top four,” says Sears, the former West Ham forward.
“You definitely wouldn’t have expected them to be struggling to reach the play-offs. Like us, they’ve had indifferent results and picked up. We want to stop that momentum.
“That play-off defeat did hurt. We’d played really well at home, drawn 1-1. And it was very tight at their place until Christophe Berra got sent off. It completely changed the game.
“For us, the play-offs are looking unlikely. Mid-table is the reality, but we know Norwich really need a win today to put themselves back in the mix, and we know a win for us would put a massive dent in their hopes. That’s a great incentive.”
McCarthy came under huge pressure following a barren autumn spell, and again after the limp FA Cup exit to Non-League Lincoln in January.
But last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Leeds marked a third successive draw against sides in the top six, a run which also included victory over big-spending Aston Villa. And, while Sears admits Portman Road has been hostile at times, he has thanked supporters for keeping the faith.
“Mick’s been around the block long enough to deal with stick,” he adds. “But it’s not nice for anyone, players included, going to home games and hearing the jeers and boos.
“The last two years, we’ve been in and around the play-offs. That sets expectation levels and being 15th-16th, losing games at home, it’s understandable the fans can turn a little bit.
“But, at the same time, you get a couple of results and things change.
“They’ve been brilliant the last couple of weeks and I think that’s helped us get the results we have.”
Sears, 27, scored his first goal for four months against Leeds, following another ten-month drought. Those who remember him scoring the winner on his West Ham debut ten years ago may wonder where those poaching instincts have gone, but he says he is happy with his contribution.
“Of course, you want to score goals,” he explains. “And you want to get them as quickly as possible. When that’s not happening, it does play on your mind a bit.
“But I’ve been on the bench a bit, playing wide. If Mick was playing me up front every week, maybe it’d be different.
“But when you’re out wide and doing other jobs for the team, I feel like I’m doing what’s expected. You’ve just got to get on with it and take your chances when they come.”
*This match preview was originally featured in The FLP’s 26 February 2017 edition.