Ipswich Town are back on the road this evening as they face off-form Millwall at The Den. Alex Jones previews the action.

East Anglian Daily Times: Ipswich's 0-0 draw against Bristol Rovers was the turning point in their promotion-winning campaignIpswich's 0-0 draw against Bristol Rovers was the turning point in their promotion-winning campaign (Image: Pagepix)

A whole year on

Valentine’s Day brings positive thoughts and memories for many people, but the 1,299 Town fans who went to the Memorial Stadium last year may say otherwise.

Bristol Rovers 0-0 Ipswich. The Blues were the better side across the 90 minutes, but six shots on target from 20 total attempts summed up their night. They couldn’t find a way through, and hope began to fade away.

That’s because Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield Wednesday were looking imperious in the League One promotion race, while Kieran McKenna’s side had won just one of their eight league games between December 29th and February 14th. They dropped to fourth in the table as a result, and even a top-six finish began to look increasingly unlikely as the teams below them boasted games in hand.

It proved to be the turning point in the season. They went on an astonishing unbeaten run that took them all the way back to second, sealing automatic promotion to the Championship after four years away.

A year on, we can already see similarities in Town’s push for Premier League football. They started the campaign incredibly well, but a dip in form around the midway point has allowed their rivals to catch up. Repeating last season’s revival will be much harder in the Championship, especially against the likes of Southampton and Leeds United, but they’ve shown that they have what it takes.

East Anglian Daily Times: Millwall have taken just one point from their last five league gamesMillwall have taken just one point from their last five league games (Image: PA)

Lions’ relegation form

Millwall made a brave choice following Gary Rowett’s departure. Having lost an experienced yet defensive-minded manager, the Lions turned to 37-year-old Joe Edwards, who has a strong attacking philosophy. Making such a switch just three months into a season always raises eyebrows.

Edwards’ CV is exciting, albeit quite thin, managing Chelsea at under-18 and under-23 level before working as an assistant to Frank Lampard and Thomas Tuchel, winning the Champions League with the latter before following the former to Everton. He took charge of England under-20’s for two months before taking the job in South London.

It’s his first senior management role, and although it took some time for him to find his feet at The Den, successive wins against QPR, Norwich City and Bristol City showed that he was capable of turning Millwall’s season around.

It’s all gone wrong since then. The Lions have lost five of their last six games in all competitions, and they now sit just four points above the relegation zone in 18th. Their form is that of a bottom-three side and the performances haven’t been much better.

If things don’t change quickly, they could find themselves in the midst of a real scrap, which is far from ideal for a young manager who’s been brought in to execute a long-term vision.

East Anglian Daily Times: No team has picked up more points from losing positions than TownNo team has picked up more points from losing positions than Town (Image: Ross Halls)

Points gained, points dropped

We all know the big problem at Ipswich right now is conceding early goals. They’ve conceded the first goal in each of their last five matches, winning one, drawing two and losing two.

Addressing that is easier said than done. Is it a mentality issue? Is there something that Ipswich need to tweak tactically? McKenna will be working hard to find that out. At the end of the day, it’s also hard to ignore the fact that Town have won the most points from losing positions this season - 22 in total.

Of course, that’s not always going to be sustainable. You can’t accept going behind every week with the knowledge that you’ll improve later on in the game. Ipswich found that out the hard way in their 3-2 defeat at Deepdale earlier this month.

On the flip side, Millwall are the opposite. They tend to start games well before losing their composure. We saw them do that against Coventry City on Sunday, taking a 1-0 lead through Romain Esse before caving in after the break as Haji Wright scored two goals in three minutes to win the match. They’ve dropped 24 points from winning positions.

It certainly creates an ideal situation for Ipswich given their recent performances.

East Anglian Daily Times: Kieffer Moore and Jake Cooper are set to go head-to-head at The Den tonightKieffer Moore and Jake Cooper are set to go head-to-head at The Den tonight (Image: PA)

Giants collide

How do you mark Kieffer Moore? West Brom gave it a good go over the weekend, but not every team has experienced defenders like Cedric Kipre and Kyle Bartley. When the latter went off injured, it changed the game.

Millwall, on the other hand, have one of the only players in the league who’s taller than Moore. The Wales international stands at 6’5, which is a little bit shorter than than 6’6 centre-back Jake Cooper, who’s set to start for the Lions tonight.

Cooper can be a bit of a nightmare to play against because he’s such a big presence in both boxes. Although he’s uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, he uses his size and his physicality incredibly well. Ipswich’s defenders will certainly have a tough time marking him from set pieces.

The 29-year-old will relish the chance to test himself against Moore, who came close to joining Millwall on loan last summer. Cooper probably won’t have forgotten when the striker pushed past him with ease to score at The Den in Cardiff City‘s 1-1 draw with the Lions back in November 2020.

If they end up keeping each other busy throughout the match, it might help Ipswich’s attackers find a bit more space.

East Anglian Daily Times: Ali Al-Hamadi could make his first start for the Blues this eveningAli Al-Hamadi could make his first start for the Blues this evening (Image: Stephen Waller)

Who could start?

McKenna isn’t one to make wholesale changes, but midweek games are often seen as a good chance to rest and rotate, especially after a run of one win in nine in the league.

With Vaclav Hladky, Harry Clarke and Leif Davis all likely to start, attention turns to Ipswich’s centre-backs. Luke Woolfenden has performed well while George Edmundson was Town’s Player of the Month for January, but they’ve still been conceding too many goals. Could this be a chance to bring Axel Tuanzebe and Cameron Burgess back in? After all, that was the same partnership that started in the 3-1 win against Millwall back in November.

Ahead of them, Jack Taylor’s injury leaves Sam Morsy and Massimo Luongo as the unquestioned first-choice midfielder partnership. Lewis Travis hasn’t played a single minute since starting away at Leicester City. Dom Ball hasn’t been in the squad since the defeat to Maidstone United.

Once again, it’s the forward line that looks most likely to change. Wes Burns hasn’t been at his best recently while Omari Hutchinson has looked dangerous off the bench, so that could be a sensible swap. Conor Chaplin and Nathan Broadhead are likely to start, but Ali Al-Hamadi can’t be far away from a place in the lineup after his impressive cameos against Preston and West Brom.

And of course, Moore is the only man to lead the line in this game. He’s the perfect striker for a cold Wednesday night at The Den.