Four festive crackers in just 11 days... so how will the Blues get on?
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town are faced with a tough run of four Championship games in 11 days over the busy festive period. Sports writer Andy Warren previews the action.
Wolves (a) - December 23
First up is the biggest test of all.
Ipswich face a Wolves side who are threatening to run away with the Championship, thanks in part to a summer spending spree which has seen the Molineux club recruit heavily from abroad and appoint former Valencia and Porto boss Nuno Espírito Santo as manager.
Brazilian striker Leo Bonatini sits second in the Championship scoring charts with 12 while Diogo Jota, on loan from Atletico Madrid, has nine to ensure this weekend’s trip to Molineux is a daunting one against a side who have scored a league-high total of 42 goals. Ipswich are second on that particular list on 37.
There is hope, though, on a day when Mick McCarthy returns to his old club for the fourth time as Blues boss, given he has yet to be beaten on any of those previous visits to his old stomping ground.
Wolves are unbeaten in eight, winning seven of those, meaning it would take a brave person to bet against a home win. Ipswich have triumphed in a similar situation earlier this season when they went to Derby and returned with three points. It’s a bit harder to see that happening this time.
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Prediction: Wolves 3-1 Ipswich Town
QPR (h) - December 26
There’s nothing like Boxing Day football and, after a long drought, this is the Blues’ third festive home game in as many years.
Last year’s home defeat by Fulham aside, McCarthy has a hugely impressive Boxing Day record as Ipswich Town boss, having won his previous four games on the day after Christmas.
The Blues also beat this year’s opponents, QPR, 2-1 on December 26 two years ago, so the omens are looking good even before you take into account Ipswich’s good home form this season.
QPR will also be the first side Ipswich have faced twice this season, with McCarthy’s men looking to put things right following their 2-1 defeat earlier in the campaign.
Town were far from their best that day but have found something of a winning formula since that September clash and, coupled with Rangers’ inconsistencies, this game is there for the taking for the hosts.
Prediction: Ipswich Town 2-0 QPR
Derby County (h) - December 30
The year ends with what is sure to be another thorough examination at Portman Road.
Ipswich went to Derby and defended for their lives for more than half an hour to leave Pride Park with three points last month, against a Derby side packed with firepower.
Tom Lawrence and David Nugent - two players who Ipswich players and fans know all about - were kept quiet, but since then the Rams have won three in a row to move up to fourth in the table.
While Ipswich have not tasted defeat at Pride Park in more than a decade, the Rams have won on their last three visits to Suffolk and will no doubt be looking to make amends when they come to Portman Road.
Though he now wears white, Lawrence remains one of the Blues’ stars of 2017 and keeping him quiet again will hold the key to McCarthy’s side ending the year on a high.
Prediction: Ipswich Town 1-1 Derby County
Fulham (a) - January 2
The new year begins with a trip to Craven Cottage to take on a Fulham side who have well and truly had Town’s number over the last 12 months.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s men have thoroughly outplayed the Blues in each of the three games they have contested since Boxing Day last year, controlling the midfield battle throughout and securing nine points.
After making the play-offs last season, where they lost to Reading in the semi-finals, the Cottagers made a slow start to the new campaign but still came to Portman Road, dominated proceedings and left with a 2-0 victory.
In Tom Cairney, Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald they possess a trio of midfielders capable of dominating any Championship side. They keep possession but, unlike recent opponents Reading, much of that possession is higher up the field in more threatening positions.
The midfield duo of Cole Skuse and Callum Connolly have been working well in recent weeks and should be more capable of keeping them quiet - and Town have found their scoring boots since they drew a blank against Fulham in August.
Prediction: Fulham 1-1 Ipswich Town