BIG MATCH PREVIEW: Jewell faces formation dilemma as season starts at Bristol City
PAUL Jewell must decide whether to pair another striker with Michael Chopra or continue with three central midfielders as Ipwich Town kick off their Championship season this afternoon.
The Blues start their campaign with a visit to Bristol City looking to stretch their unbeaten league run against the Robins to seven matches (3pm ko).
Both Jewell and his counterpart Keith Millen have the luxury of a virtually fully-fit squad to call on.
Ivar Ingimarsson and Carlos Edwards have got over pre-season knocks, although the latter worryingly admitted on Thursday that he was still “some way short” of peak fitness.
Lee Bowyer arrived at the club a week after pre-season begun and he looked a little off the pace at first. But, as with the whole team, improvements were obvious in last Saturday’s showcase friendly against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
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With no injuries to worry about, Jewell’s dilemmas will be over personnel and formations only. The Wolves game gave a big hint to his thoughts with the Town boss likely to adopt a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation with the emphasis on ensuring lone central striker Chopra does not become too isolated.
With everyone focusing on starting the season with three points in the bag, one interesting sideshow will be who leads Ipswich Town out this afternoon.
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The race for the captaincy has provided a good source of intrigue throughout the summer following the departure of David Norris and Gareth McAuley. Damien Delaney and Ivar Ingimarsson were said to be in the running while Lee Bowyer has been given the armband once in pre-season.
But judging on previous weeks, Grant Leadbitter is the frontrunner.
Paul Jewell has made up his mind, but is keeping his cards close to his chest. In fact, the Town boss said: “It is a great honour to be captain of any football club, but it is something I haven’t really thought about.
“I know who the captain is, but it is not something that is as important to me as some people might think. We want 11 leaders and that is something we are working on.”
Bristol City boss Millen’s biggest concern this summer has been a lack of defensive options.
But they seem to have been eased somewhat with the return of Jordan Spence who arrived this week on a season-long loan from West Ham.
And he has been further boosted by the news that experienced defenders Jamie McAllister and Louis Carey have recovered from injury and illness respectively.
While Town old boy Jon Stead is expected to get the nod against his old club, fellow strikers David Clarkson and Marlon Jackson are both missing, along with right-back Christian Riberio.
For the 2,000 travelling Town fans expected at Ashton Gate, and the thousands more who haven’t made the trip, today’s match is all about three points.
But while determined to do all he can to ensure a successful start, Icelandic defender Ivar Ingimarsson has reason to believe an opening day victory is not the be all and end all.
He admitted: “You want to land on both feet and have a good start. Saying that though, this season is a marathon and not a sprint. The year I got promoted with Reading with the highest number of points, we lost the first game. “So there is nothing that says if you start badly, the season is going to be poor, or if you start well, it isn’t. It is more about how you compete, how well the team plays and then maintain it throughout the season.”
Probable starting line-ups:
Stockdale; Edwards, Ingimarsson, Delaney, Cresswell; Martin, Kennedy, Bowyer, Leadbitter, Emmanuel-Thomas, Chopra.
Subs (from): Fulop, Smith, Drury, Carson, Hyam, Healy, Scotland, Ellington, Priskin.
James; Spence, Carey, Fontaine, McAllister; Adomah, Skuse, Elliott, Campbell-Ryce; Stead, Maynard.
Subs (from): Gerken, Nyatanga, Wilson, Woolford, Pitman, Taylor, Bolasie.