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11:00 7th March 2014

Keeper set for derby day duel

Born in Birmingham, and having come through the Wolves Academy, Carl Ikeme doesn’t need any telling when it comes to the local significance of tomorrow’s trip to Walsall.

But if he did, then the ticket requests from friends and family have offered him a gentle reminder!

“I’ve been asked for about 15 tickets already so I know it’s sold out or nearly sold out,” says the big keeper.

“Being a tight ground you can imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like.

“We’re taking a fair few fans and I love derby days – there’s a bit more of an edge to the game and people look to get the bragging rights as well as us pushing on for promotion.

“Walsall gave us a tough game when we played them in September and it’s a local derby.

“We haven’t really played each other for a long time which always adds a bit more spice to the game.

“I’m not really thinking about the record (getting eight successive wins) – it’s more about trying to get another win in what’s a difficult month.

“It’s a derby and we all enjoy those so it’s one to look forward to but we’ve got to concentrate on our performance and hopefully the right result will come.”

Ikeme was in goal when Wolves suffered their first league defeat of the season in the home fixture against Walsall back in September.

Well acquainted with both former Wolves striker Ashley Hemmings and the Chambers twins, he says he won’t be getting involved in any pre-match banter!

Instead his focus will be on trying to help Wolves to another three points to try and keep pace with such an intense battle at the top of Sky Bet League One.

“It’s about cool heads in derbies and not getting carried away with the atmosphere,” adds Ikeme.

“We just need to play our own game, which we’re doing quite well at the minute, and try to keep this run going.

“It was a bit of a surprise at the time when we lost at home, and because we hadn’t been beaten this season at that point.

“But we knew Walsall were a decent side and they seem to do well against the better sides of the division.

“It was just a shame to get beat in a local derby, but you’re going to lose games during the season.

“It’s about us and where we want to go and what we want to do.

“We’ll give them the respect they deserve but we’ll be worrying about our game and how we’re trying to win it.

 “Leyton Orient and Brentford seem to keep winning so we’re just looking at the next match.

“Being top is great and we’d rather be there than anywhere else, but as boring as it may sound, it is about the next game.

“I saw a fan on the train the other day and he was saying he expects us to walk away with the title.

“A lot of people seem to think the job’s done, but I was trying to explain to him that I was just concentrating on Saturday – that’s enough!

“But if we only look to the next game and then to have a positive month then get to April and have a really strong push over the last five games of the season.”

It is an excellent defensive record which Ikeme and company will be putting to the test tomorrow, including five successive clean sheets.

That, says the keeper, is a true team effort.

“From the start of the season, these lads – especially the back four, whoever has been playing – has had real pride in trying to keep the ball out of the net,” he explains.

“And to be fair the whole team, with the midfield and the strikers, have been defending from the front.

“So it’s been a team effort to keep the back door shut as much as possible without being too defensive at the same time.

“We take pride in keeping clean sheets, and as a back line it is our triumph to keep a clean sheet – it’s what we strive for.

“Keeping a clean sheet is like us scoring a goal – if you see me go mad for no apparent reason at times it’s because I’m determined to try to not let any goals in or keep it to as low an amount as possible.

“All the lads at the back are the same, putting their bodies on the line and putting in last-ditch challenges.

“Aaron played in the first two of the current run so he has to take some of the credit.

“He kept four clean sheets in five, so he did fantastically well and he can claim a few of them, so it’s a proper team effort and I was happy for Aaron as well.”

For now then, all thoughts are on Walsall tomorrow, and not the more long term of what lies ahead.

“There’s no promotion talk – I’m not saying the word has been banned, but I think the lads are too focused,” Ikeme explains.

“We’ve got a really good set of lads and a really good team spirit – everyone is pulling in the right direction, which we might not have had for the last few seasons.

“Everyone is scared of talking about promotion because we’re concerned about the next game and how we’re going to beat Walsall.

“After that we’ll worry about Tuesday’s game, but until then we’re not going to start thinking about top spot or anything like that.”

* Walsall are producing a 100-page programme for tomorrow's game including features with Kenny Hibbitt and John Richards. The programme is priced at £4.  

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