Can Ipswich build on victory at Swansea when QPR visit? Big questions ahead of return to action
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town return to action this weekend when QPR visit Portman Road. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the game.
Off and running?
You could feel the relief in the air as the Blues finally secured their first victory under Paul Hurst, last time out.
The win at Swansea and the celebrations which followed will surely have put a spring in the Ipswich camp’s step during the two-week break from action – a time when weary legs can be rested and further work put in on the training ground away from the relentless match schedule the Championship brings.
We’ve been here before though, when the Blues signed off for the September break with a spirited 1-1 draw with Norwich. A good two weeks of training was followed by an extremely disappointing 2-0 loss at Hull – arguably the worst display of Hurst’s reign.
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Ipswich can’t afford for that to happen again.
‘This doesn’t mean we’ve suddenly cracked it’, Hurst stressed at the Liberty Stadium. He’s right. There is a lot of hard work still to come but the hope must be that playing without a winless weight around their necks will free the Blues from the pressure which was building above them and so clearly impacting their performances.
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The visit of QPR begins what is looks to be a crucial run of five matches for Hurst and his side, with four coming against sides in the bottom third of the Championship.
A period of success could mean a move up the standings into the relative safety of midtable, while a disappointing run will surely cement their place in a relegation battle.
A defining three weeks, in many ways, for which this game can set the tone.
Can the Blues exert themselves?
There have been times this season, particularly during the opening stages of games early in the campaign, where it looked as if the Blues would be able to stamp their authority on their opposition.
That became harder and harder to do as the winless run went on.
A point at Birmingham and three at Swansea came courtesy of well-designed away displays, as the Blues took their chances when they came and dug in defensively to try and keep hold of what they had.
But this game offers an opportunity for Ipswich to make their mark as they search for a first win at Portman Road under Hurst.
They were able to do it in the second half against Brentford, following changes at the break, but fell flat against ten-man Bolton and never got going against a robust Middlesbrough side gifted two goals inside 16 minutes.
That midweek game, screened live on national television, was played out in front of a crowd understood to have been less than 10,000 as circumstances conspired to ensure an attendance significantly lower than the ‘tickets sold’ figure officially announced. But things should be different this Saturday, with renewed optimism, a return to a traditional 3pm kick-off and a ticket promotion to boot.
So how good would it be if the Blues got the fans off their feet with an early stamp of their authority? That surely has to be the aim.
Who plays up front?
Striking options remain thin, following the loss of both Jon Walters and Ellis Harrison to injury.
Kayden Jackson and Freddie Sears have shouldered the load in their absence, with the latter putting in an excellent performance at Swansea as he led the line alone, ran the channels well and ensured Ipswich continued to carry a threat despite being pushed back by wave after wave of home attacks.
But it’s fair to say Hurst certainly did not envisage using the former Colchester man in such a way before his hand was forced by unfortunate injuries.
You would think Sears’ display in south Wales would earn him the start against Steve McClaren’s Rangers, and deservedly so, but in Jackson, Hurst possesses a striker blessed with blistering pace who can get in behind any defence if given the opportunity.
It’s exciting to think of the possibilities Jackson’s pace and Andre Dozzell’s ability to pick a pass and dissect defences could create if they were paired togehter.
The search for a free agent forward has yet to bear fruit, with the market offering little in that regard, so it’s extremely likely Sears and Jackson will have to shoulder that burden for a good few weeks yet before Harrison is able to return from his ankle ligament problem.
But that trio has just one Championship goal between them this season (Jackson’s header against Brentford) and that simply must improve if the Blues are to force their way up the table.
Does Knudsen return?
The biggest surprise on the Swansea teamsheet was Hurst’s decision to drop Danish international Jonas Knudsen to the bench.
Yes, the left back has not been at his best since returning from the World Cup in the summer and he certainly has his critics, but it was still a real surprise to see him left out at the Liberty Stadium.
With Myles Kenlock out with an ankle injury, Janoi Donacien started on the left side of defence before Knudsen returned at the break after the former was complaining of dizziness as he came off at the interval.
The Ipswich back four looked more balanced following the left-footed Dane’s introduction, with Knudsen performing well and playing his part in a defensive effort that got the job done under sustained pressure.
He’s been away with Denmark during the international break, playing 89 minutes in Austria on Tuesday night before being substituted as a precaution after taking a knock to the head.
That injury is not expected to impact his involvement for his club this weekend, but it remains to be seen whether he is restored to the starting line-up.
Dozzell has also been away on international duty, with England Under 20s, having made a much-anticipated return to the first-team prior to the break.
Time will tell if, after playing 80 minutes in the Czech Republic on Monday night, he is deemed fit enough to start for the Blues again against QPR.
One thing’s for certain, though, his impact in his substitute appearance against Middlesbrough and start at Swansea show he certainly has a role to play as the Blues look to move up the table.