Town's youngsters have been a shining light in a dark season... now they're looking to end year on a high
PUBLISHED: 16:37 30 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:37 30 April 2019
Ipswich Town's Under 23s are in play-off action against Birmingham City this evening. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to a game played under the Portman Road lights.
How they got here
It's been a miserable season for Ipswich Town, resulting in relegation to League One, but the Under 23s have been something of a bright spot.
Gerard Nash and Chris Hogg's side finished top of the Professional Development League Two South table this season, ending the regular season seven points clear of their nearest challenges while playing some excellent football along the way.
It's also worth noting the Under 18s also reached their play-offs, having finished second in their league, before losing out to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
The Under 23s' efforts have earned a spot in the end-of-season play-offs, with tonight's semi-final seeing them take on a Birmingham side who finished second in the Northern section of the league.
Tonight's game, which kicks off at 7pm at Portman Road, will go to extra-time and penalties if the scores are level after 90 minutes.
What happens if they win?
The winners of tonight's game will take on the winners of the other semi-final, Leeds United.
Following a draw made earlier this week, the winners of tonight's game will travel to Elland Road after United beat Coventry 3-2 after extra-time yesterday.
The game must be played by May 10.
Some senior faces
The Under 23s' success this season has been based around its young core, a consistent line-up and a solid identity.
But the games have also offered some members of the senior squad a chance to get vital minutes in their legs.
Midfielders Teddy Bishop, Andre Dozzell, Emyr Huws and Tom Adeyemi are among those to have featured for the young side this season as they continued the long road back from injury, while defenders Jordan Spence, Janoi Donacien and Toto Nsiala have used Under 23 games as a method of getting minutes in their legs while out of the first-team.
Clubs are allowed to field three outfield players over the age of 23, plus the goalkeeper is also permitted to be over the age limit.
While Adeyemi could potentially be involved again, it's likely to be side made up primarily of youngsters for this game, though.
Central defender Corrie Ndaba has taken the armband for the Under 23s this season and has led from the front.
He quickly moved up to train regularly with the first-team following Paul Lambert's appointment at the end of October, with the Town boss and his staff impressed with his strength, speed, positional sense, vocal approach and ability on the ball with his valuable left foot.
He will surely be the next youngster to make his senior debut, having been on the bench for each of the last three first-team games, but will also want to finish the job with the team he has led all season.
Barry Cotter has been a central part of the young Blues' successes this season but will be a frustrated spectator this evening.
He only has himself to blame, though.
The young Irishman was sent off in the 4-1 loss to Nottingham Forest two weeks ago after picking up two yellow cards for dissent.
His first came after disputing a refereeing decision and, a matter of seconds later, he sarcastically applauded the official's next call and was lucky not to receive a second yellow immediately.
That second yellow did inevitably come in stoppage time, though, as he showed dissent once again and was given his marching orders. As a result he'll miss his side's play-off game.
This is a side of his game he must really improve if he is to make it as a professional.
The young pros
A string of youngsters have signed professional contracts during the course of this season, forming the core of this successful Under 23 team.
Harry Wright, son of Richard, is likely to start in goal, having put in a string of good displays this season both with the Blues and on loan at Chelmsford. As well as being a good shot stopper, most notable is his distribution and ability to pick a pass from inside his own box.
Young left-back Bailey Clements, a calm head despite still being only 17, signed his first professional contract earlier this season, as did Brett McGavin, a responsible midfield player in the mould of first-teamer Cole Skuse.
Teenager Tristan Nydam, a veteran of 21 first-team games, could also be involved having struggled for minutes in the senior side since his return from a fruitless loan in Scotland with St Johnstone.
Idris El Mizouni began his season in the Under 18s, progressed to the 23s, earned a pro deal and has now made four senior appearances. He could also be involved along with creative midfielder Armando Dobra, with forward Kai Brown also likely to start.
A number of players yet to turn professional have also played important roles this season.
With both Ben Folami and Ben Morris out injured, leading to a striker shortage, Tyreece Simpson has jumped up from the Under 18s and hasn't looked out of place.
He's a talented rugby player who has previously been on trial at Manchester City, with the first-year scholar capable of holding the ball up well and bringing others into play.
Striker Zak Brown, wide player Dylan Ruffles and midfielders Riley Scott and Lounes Foudil could also be involved.
Defender Ethan Patterson, winger Deese Kasinga-Madia and striker Colin Oppong all started the young Blues' last game but it remains to be seen whether they will get another chance to impress.
Patterson is an 18-year-old central defender, currently on the books at Aston Villa, who captained the Midlanders at Under 18 level but has been unable to break into the Under 23 side on a regular basis.
Kasinga-Madia, also 18, is currently with Newcastle, where he was named as one of the 20 young Premier League players to watch as recently as last year.
Oppong is a teenage Northern Ireland striker, currently with Cliftonville, who has featured for the Under 18s and Under 23s during his time in Suffolk.
The club are opening the East of England Co-op stand for this fixture, with adult tickets costing £3 and concessions at £1. Season ticket holders and members get in free.