Score to settle, new test and keeper conundrum - Bolton v Ipswich

Conor Chaplin, Cameron Burgess and Rekeem Harper after Bolton Wanderers had scored their fifth.

Conor Chaplin, Cameron Burgess and Rekeem Harper react during Ipswich Town's 5-2 home defeat to Bolton. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller

Ipswich Town take on Bolton Wanderers in Lancashire this afternoon. STUART WATSON previews the action.

Bolton Wanderers' Josh Sheehan (centre) celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal of the game during

Bolton's Josh Sheehan (centre) celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal at Portman Road last September. - Credit: PA

SCORE TO SETTLE

Town were thrashed 5-2 in the reverse fixture back on September 11.

Macauley Bonne gave the Town an early lead at Portman Road, but it didn't take long for the scoreline to swing.

Kane Vincent-Young was hooked after 21 minutes having been given a torrid time by tricky winger Dapo Afolayan. The Trotters had bagged five before the hour mark. 

Christian Walton and George Edmundson both made their debuts that day. It was Sone Aluko's first league start. Conor Chaplin made only his second appearance. Recent deadline day recruits Sam Morsy (suspended) and Bersant Celina (unfit) weren't able to feature. 

"We are a million miles away from where we need to be as a team," admitted Blues boss Paul Cook afterwards, adding 'this is probably the lowest point of my career'.

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That was game seven of an eight-game winless start to the campaign across all competitions for the new-look Blues.

Bolton, meanwhile, had carried some strong momentum forwards after storming to League Two promotion in the first part of 2021.

A lot has changed since then though...

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna celebrates after his sides 1-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna celebrates after his side's 1-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

MCKENNA MOMENTUM

Town improved, regressed and Cook was sacked in early December with the team sitting 11th in the table.

Too much damage done to salvage the season? It looked that way... until the bold appointment of young Manchester United assistant boss Kieran McKenna.

He's made the perfect start, a gritty 1-0 home win against Wycombe followed up by some total football in last weekend's 4-0 romp at Gillingham. The gap to the play-off places has been cut to eight points. 

Can Town win three successive games for the first time since February/March last year? Will McKenna be able to build the sort of freight train momentum that's going to be required to catch the teams above?

We'll see. There's certainly a buzz about the place again.

Bolton Wanderers manager Ian Evatt is interviewed after the Sky Bet League One match at the AESSEAL

Bolton boss Ian Evatt says his side are in 'transition'. - Credit: PA

TROTTERS TRIPPING

Bolton have slipped to within three points of the drop zone following Tuesday night's 2-0 home loss to Wycombe.

The Bolton Evening News has suggested that 'tensions are rising' following five straight defeats. The last time the Trotters beat anyone outside of the bottom three was back in early October.

"Of course they (fans) will get concerned, and they have every right,” said boss Ian Evatt. “But there are 22 games left and that’s a lot of points to play for.

"I have had back-to-back promotions and I want another one. That is the kind of guy I am.

“But, realistically, we are in a transitional period and we are almost a window or two behind where we need to be.

“We recruited the squad capable of getting out of League Two and at the moment I think we have a competitive 14 or 15 but it really does need layering to add more competitiveness.

“When you get the injuries we have it shows the level really drops off and we’re relying on players who are not really ready for the level."

Two new faces arrived at the club this week in the form of 19-year-old goalkeeper James Trafford (Man City, loan) and 21-year-old creative midfielder Aaron Morley (Rochdale). That takes Bolton's number of January additions up to four following the arrivals of striker Dion Charles (Accrington) and right-back Marlon Fossey (Fulham, loan).

Bolton Wanderers' Marlon Fossey (left) and Wycombe Wanderers Joe Jacobson battle for the ball during

Marlon Fossey (left) is one of four January recruits for struggling Bolton. - Credit: PA

A NEW TEST

McKenna's first two games at the helm have come against two direct and physical outfits in Wycombe and Gillingham.

Today, he knows his team are in for a different type of test.

"Next week is a completely different game,” the Northern Irishman said in the immediate wake of his team's impressive display at Priestfield.

"Gillingham were quite man to man, so it opens up some spaces that you don’t normally get and we exploited that really well, but we know Bolton will be a completely different type of challenge.

“Bolton are a really good footballing team, tactically a good team, so it will be a different challenge.

"What we’ve done here today gives us confidence but it doesn’t give us any right to think that next week’s going to be any easier.”

Macauley Bonne celebrates at Gillingham.

James Norwood and Macauley Bonne both scored in last weekend's 4-0 win at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

BASH BROTHERS

James Norwood found the net twice when Town ruthlessly beat a young Bolton side 5-0 back in August 2019. That was at the height of the Lancashire club's financial problems.

Since then, Norwood's hair has grown back, he's had multiple injury set-backs and been exiled to the Under-23s. But he returns to the UniBol Stadium two-and-a-half years later doing what he does best again - scoring goals.

The 30-year-old has bagged in all four of his last four league outings. Can he extend that run to five? Not even Macauley Bonne managed that during his red-hot streak earlier this season.

Talking of Bonne, he'll be itching to get back on the goal trail again after he ended a 10-game drought last weekend. 

Confidence should be high among the duo who have been labelled 'the Bash brothers' by boss McKenna.

Ipswich Town goalkeeper Christian Walton during the Sky Bet League One match at the Valley, London.

Will this be Christian Walton's last game for Ipswich Town? - Credit: PA

KEEPER CONUNDRUM

Brighton triggered a recall clause in goalkeeper Christian Walton's contract earlier this week. A seven-day grace period means he is available for selection today though.

So what do Town do? If they're confident of landing the 26-year-old on a permanent basis, then clearly he plays. But if they have real doubts a deal can be done, then maybe it's correct to start getting Vaclav Hladky up to speed.

SAME AGAIN?

Will it be the same outfield 10 for the fourth game running? It's hard to see McKenna changing anything from last weekend.

Picking the subs is going to be tricky though. Tom Carroll, Conor Chaplin, Kayden Jackson and Joe Pigott have all been deployed off the bench by McKenna so far.

And now Bersant Celina and Kyle Edwards are both available again after injury and illness.

We've already seen Scott Fraser not making the 18. Hopefully such depth will prove key as the games start to come thick and fast again.

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