Big match preview: Why both Ipswich Town and Charlton Athletic have to go for broke
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town host Charlton Athletic at Portman Road tonight, in a crunch game that could go a long way to deciding both teams’ destinies at the end of the season.
Town, are eighth in the Championship table – five points off the play-off zone – with seven games to go, and clinging on to hopes of finishing in the top-six.
In contrast, the Addicks are second-from-bottom and six points adrift of safety – also with seven games to go – and have won just three times on the road this season.
However, Jose Riga’s side are seventh in the current form table – based on the last six games, having taken 10 points from their last 18 – and are making a good fist of escaping the drop.
They know a win is crucial tonight and, having taken the scalps of top-six sides Hull, Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, albeit all at home, they will be confident of another positive result tonight.
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As for Town, with away games at promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough, Derby and Wednesday to come, their home form needs to be spotless with Charlton (tonight), out-of-form Brentford, and relegation contenders, Fulham and MK Dons still to visit Portman Road.
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The Blues have not drawn any of their last five home games, while Charlton have not ended equal on the road, since Boxing Day.
Every point is a prisoner according to Mick McCarthy, but it is hard to see how either side would benefit from a draw tonight.
In Town’s case, it could cause minimal damage with their nearest rivals for a play-off spot, Birmingham, Cardiff and Preston, playing Brighton (third), Burnley (top) and Fulham (fighting for their lives), respectively, tonight.
One thing is for sure, the Blues will be looking to increase their performance levels at Portman Road, given the display against Rotherham a fortnight ago – a defensive approach in a 1-0 defeat to a team near the bottom, causing much frustration in the stands.
With that in mind, some may think that the Town boss would go for broke tonight, against a team with the division’s worst defensive record (70 goals) and with the joint-third fewest goals in the division.
The ideal players for such a situation would be Teddy Bishop and David McGoldrick, but both have only just returned from long injury play-offs. While their flair and creativity has been badly missed this season, McCarthy is loathe to rush the duo back too soon.
They will both be on the bench, and could be vital should the game become stretched at the end.
That leaves McCarthy pondering whether to stick with the starting line-up that drew 0-0 at Wolves on Saturday.
Daryl Murphy (calf) missed out and will again tonight, meaning Freddie Sears and Brett Pitman are almost certain starters in attack.
Further back, Ben Pringle and Liam Feeney have provided much-needed width on the flanks, leaving Cole Skuse and Jonathan Douglas in the engine room.
McCarthy could recall the more creative Kevin Bru for Douglas, but with the Blues boss describing his central duo as “terrific” this season, he may just opt for an unchanged side.
Whatever his selection, McCarthy will not underestimate Charlton and will pay them big respect, no matter how galling that may sound to some fans, who want to see a more expansive approach.
Charlton’s recent results must be treated with caution, one defeat in five, and victories at MK Dons and at home to Middlesbrough and Birmingham (2-1 on Saturday) in the last month, giving them hope.
Discussing tonight’s opponents, McCarthy said: “I’m pleased Charlton won at the weekend.
“They will be full of it and confident, but so will we after the way we played on Saturday, but then they are not coming into the game needing a reaction from a bad defeat.
“It shows the spirit in their team, despite everything that’s going on (off-the field) at Charlton, that the team and manager are still a really tough unit.
“They went 1-0 down against Birmingham, there was a demonstration for one minute, and they won in the 94th/95th minute. That shows some guts for me.
“They have been playing 4-2-4 when they have got the ball, being quite expansive, then when they lose the ball they get back and defend their half, like they did against Middlesbrough.
“It would be great if it was an open game, I don’t think that will be the case, because like us, they need to win. Games are running out for both of us. Let’s hope it’s an open game and the best team wins.”
With their remaining games looking favourable at home and tough on the road, McCarthy, meanwhile, discussed the importance of taking maximum points from the Blues’ games at Portman Road: “It looks that way (That Town need to win their home games). We could win our three away games, that’s not beyond the realms of possibility, but the likelihood is that we need points at home, of course.”
Teddy Bishop will be a sub, having missed the entire season with injury.
David McGoldrick is another likely substitute, having returned from his own lay-off in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Wolves.
Daryl Murphy is out with a calf injury, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles returns to the squad.
Midfielder Alou Diarra is set to play through the pain barrier, despite having a cracked foot.
Former Town loan ‘keeper Stephen Henderson is pressing for a first-team recall, having missed out recently with injury. Bury St Edmunds-born Nick Pope has been deputising.
Forward Jordan Cousins and full-back Chris Solly are fit again.