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It’s the final countdown... ‘Good on paper’ run-in makes the recent damage all the more galling

PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 March 2020

Ipswich Town head to the Memorial Stadium to take on Bristol Rovers this weekend. Photo: PA

Ipswich Town head to the Memorial Stadium to take on Bristol Rovers this weekend. Photo: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

Ipswich Town’s chances of finishing in the top-six now look slim following seven defeats in nine, which makes their ‘good on paper’ run-in all the more galling. STUART WATSON takes a look at the Blues’ final eight matches.

Kayden Jackson smiling during Ipswich Town's 2-1 home defeat to Bristol Rovers at Portman Road. Photo: ROSS HALLSKayden Jackson smiling during Ipswich Town's 2-1 home defeat to Bristol Rovers at Portman Road. Photo: ROSS HALLS

BRISTOL ROVERS

Where: Memorial Stadium

When: Saturday

Current position: 14th

Form: WLLLW DLLDDL

Rovers moved up to fourth in the table days after their 2-1 win at Portman Road on December 14. Three days later, manager Graham Coughlan made a shock move to League Two side Mansfield for family reasons. Since then, the Gas have tanked. They've won just one of their last 18 games across all competitions (scoring just nine times), exiting both the FA Cup and EFL Trophy and slipping down to 15th.

Last Saturday's 3-1 loss at lowly Southend was a new low. Manager Ben Garner is coming under increasing pressure.

'The results haven't been good enough, there's no shying away from that,' said the former Crystal Palace and West Brom coach. 'I completely understand all the frustrations of the support. I understand the criticism coming my way. I can't work any harder than I am. We're all playing for our futures, results haven't been good enough and I shoulder the blame for that.'

The response? A 2-0 home win against Sunderland last night. Saturday's game suddenly looks that little bit harder for Town.

Former Ipswich Town striker Ellis Harrison (left) is leading the line for Portsmouth. Photo: PAFormer Ipswich Town striker Ellis Harrison (left) is leading the line for Portsmouth. Photo: PA

PORTSMOUTH

Where: Portman Road

When: Saturday, March 21

Current position: 4th

Form: DLLWW LWWLW

Kenny Jackett's men were on an ominous march, winning 13 out of 15 games in all competitions, but will a jam-packed schedule catch up on them?

They only recently went out of the FA Cup to Arsenal and have an EFL Trophy defence against Salford City, at Wembley, to look forward to. Virtually every mid-week slot is filled.

In the big games, they've generally been coming up just short of late. There were 1-0 losses at promotion rivals Coventry and Fleetwood last month. Last weekend they lost 2-0 at Peterborough. Last night they drew 2-2 at home to Fleetwood.

They host Accrington and Doncaster before travelling to Portman Road a week on Saturday.

Sol Campbell's Southend are slipping towards League One relegation. Photo: PagepixSol Campbell's Southend are slipping towards League One relegation. Photo: Pagepix

SOUTHEND UNITED

Where: Portman Road

When: Saturday, April 4

Current position: 22nd

Form: WLLLL LLWLW

There's every chance that the Shrimpers' relegation will be confirmed by the time their short trip to Suffolk comes around.

Sol Campbell's men may have secured a 3-1 home win against Bristol Rovers last weekend (only their fourth victory of the campaign), but they remain 16 points adrift of safety with just 27 left to play for. Before heading to Portman Road they face Rotherham (a), Bolton (h) and Sunderland at (h).

There are woes behind the scenes too. The Essex club have recently been hit with misconduct charges for 'failing to pay their players on time for February' and 'fielding an ineligible player in the 2-1 victory against Lincoln City'.

'Some have been paid but some haven't so for them to put that to one side and play football is testament to their good mentality,' said Campbell, after Saturday's win. 'It's massive for us really. We worked really hard in the week and I told the guys to just go for it. I wanted us to be on the front foot and that's what you have to do with so many young guys in the team. But this result has been coming and the lads all played really well.'

Toto Nsiala (right) is currently on loan at Bolton and won't be able to face his parent club. Photo: PAToto Nsiala (right) is currently on loan at Bolton and won't be able to face his parent club. Photo: PA

BOLTON WANDERERS

Where: Portman Road

When: Good Friday (April 10)

Current position: 23rd

Form: DDDLL LLLWD

The Trotter's fate will certainly be sealed come Good Friday. The Lancashire club started the campaign with a 12-point deduction and muddled through their first few matches with what was virtually their youth team, Ipswich one of the teams profiting with a 5-0 stroll at the University of Bolton Stadium back last August.

Manager Keith Hill has cobbled together some senior players, and they've ground out the odd result, but it's remained a struggle. The Lancashire side have only won five league games all season.

There are plenty of Ipswich connections. Daryl Murphy, now 36, leads the line. Josh Emmanuel and Toto Nsiala (on loan from Town) are part of the defence, while recent Blues loanee winger Anthony Georgiou is there (and again struggling for game time).

Drew 2-2 at Burton last night.

Shrewsbury Town's Josh Laurent is tackled by Liverpool's Adam Lewis and Leighton Clarkson during the FA Cup fourth round replay match at Anfield. Photo: PAShrewsbury Town's Josh Laurent is tackled by Liverpool's Adam Lewis and Leighton Clarkson during the FA Cup fourth round replay match at Anfield. Photo: PA

SHREWSBURY TOWN

Where: Montgomery Waters Meadows

When: Easter Monday (April 13)

Current position: 16th

Form: LWLWL LDLLL

The Shrews started the season reasonably well. The 3-0 scoreline at Portman Road at the end of August wasn't wholly reflective of the game. A good run of form leading up to Christmas had them on the cusp of the play-off places.

Sam Ricketts' men may have taken Liverpool to an FA Cup fourth round replay at Anfield, but the league form has nose-dived in the second half of the season. A bottom half finish now looks more than likely, especially as they have some tough games coming up against Coventry (a), Wycombe (h) and Sunderland (a).

The Shropshire side were 2-0 up against Oxford last weekend, but Josh Vela was then dismissed and the visitors came back to win 3-2. Ricketts said: 'I thought the players were very, very good. We set up this week how we wanted to play in what we were trying to do - really taking the game to Oxford. We were deservedly 2-0 up and it could've been more.

'Then it's never been a sending off. It's an incredible decision.'

Rochdale's Michael Williams celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the FA Cup third round replay match at St James' Park, Newcastle. Photo: PARochdale's Michael Williams celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the FA Cup third round replay match at St James' Park, Newcastle. Photo: PA

AFC ROCHDALE

Where: Portman Road

When: Saturday, April 18

Current position: 19th

Form: WLLLD WLDLL

Time will tell if Rochdale are still embroiled in a relegation battle by the time they come to Portman Road.

Saturday's surprise 3-1 home win against Rotherham (which completed an unlikely double over the Millers) suggests they'll have enough to stay clear of the drop zone. They've now got crucial home games against Tranmere and AFC Wimbledon on the near horizon.

Brian Barry-Murphy's men proved stubborn opposition when the Blues ground out a 1-0 win at Spotland towards the start of November. However, beyond Rotherham, the highest placed team they've beaten this season is 16th place Shrewsbury.

'The atmosphere in the stadium today reminded me of last season when we put a great run of form together,' said Barry-Murphy. 'The lads gave absolutely everything like they did last week away at Portsmouth. I thought we were on the front foot all game and the lads were determined to push on right until the end. The players showed a great understanding of what they want to be, and it was brilliant for everybody because the supporters have been craving that.'

Alan Judge battling with Doncaster's Niall Ennis during a 0-0 draw at Portman Road. Photo: Steve WallerAlan Judge battling with Doncaster's Niall Ennis during a 0-0 draw at Portman Road. Photo: Steve Waller

DONCASTER ROVERS

Where: Keepmoat Stadium

When: Saturday, April 25

Current position: 9th

Form: WWLLW DWLWD

Darren Moore's men still have an outside shot at the play-offs following back-to-back wins against Wycombe and MK Dons.

After Saturday's visit of AFC Wimbledon, seven of their last nine games are away. So Rovers fans will be looking forward to a home game by the time Ipswich arrive.

Moore said: 'We are not in the play-offs yet so I will not talk about it at the moment. We have a lot of work to do.

'We are trying to get some momentum but we just have to move to the next game and we are not looking beyond that.'

Gwion Edwards tries to keep his balance at Stadium MK. Photo: PagepixGwion Edwards tries to keep his balance at Stadium MK. Photo: Pagepix

MK DONS

Where: Portman Road

When: Sunday, May 3

Current position: 18th

Form: LDLWD DWWLL

The Dons are starting to develop an attractive playing style under the management of former Norwich favourite Russell Martin.

Since the start of November they've lost just five league games in 17, recording wins against the likes of Oxford, Portsmouth and Wycombe, though consistency remains an issue.

By no means out of the woods yet, you imagine they'll more than likely be safe by the time this final game comes around.

'We are where we are and we are learning more about what we want to do,' said Martin. 'We have really clarity on what we need to work on, but we just lacked a little bit of strong mentality - we have to make sure we are at it every week and hopefully we will get a reaction from this result.'

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