Have Town got six or seven wins in them? Stuart Watson's predictions for the run-in
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Ipswich Town slipped back to 10th in the League One table following last night's results. STUART WATSON takes a look at what Paul Cook's men need to do over their final 11 games to secure themselves a play-off place.
TOP FOUR HAS GONE
Back in the middle of November, Town keeper coach Jimmy Walker tweeted (much to the chagrin of then boss Paul Lambert) that ‘League One is bonkers and, dare I say it, very average? If we don't finish top four minimum we might as well wrap up’.
Four months on and (famous last words) I feel pretty confident in saying that looks highly unlikely.
Town are 10 points adrift of third-place Sunderland and 12 behind second-place Peterborough.
Those are not margins that are likely to be overturned within the space of 11 matches.
Are fourth-place Lincoln catchable? They’re eight points ahead having played a game more. Not impossible, but, again, pretty unlikely.
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For me, it looks like the Blues are in an 8/9 team battle for the bottom two play-off spots.
Ipswich have 11 games left to play in 42 days.
The Blues have just one team currently in the top half left to play – a trip to seventh-place Charlton on April 17.
Eight of their remaining matches are against sides currently in the bottom third of the standings.
Read into that what you will.
A chance to build momentum or little chance to take points off those they are trying to catch?
Is it even a good thing to be playing sides that are fighting for their lives?
Wigan, Bristol Rovers, Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon, Northampton and Swindon are all part of a tight six-way scrap at the bottom.
Town have been described as ‘flat track bullies’ in the past. They have also, lest we forget, also dropped points against Swindon and Northampton at Portman Road this year.
If we look at how the Blues got on in the reverse fixtures against their run-in opponents (using last season’s results for AFC Wimbledon, who Town still have to face twice) then we get W5 D3 L3.
That sort of return would most likely put them on course for a 7th/8th place finish.
Better one or two of those results this time around though and they could well be in business.
Six or seven wins should be enough. Eight would definitely get the job done.
For context, six wins from 11 - the minimum requirement - is something Town have managed just four times in the six years since the Championship play-off campaign of 2014/15.
Paul Cook goes back to another of his former clubs at the weekend and will come up against his trusted former assistant Leam Richardson (who may well join him at Portman Road further down the line).
The Latics have won three of their last seven matches and will have been buoyed by the news that a much-needed takeover is finally close.
They’ll certainly be a better side than the one that the Blues beat 2-0 on the opening day of the League One season.
Bristol Rovers (h)
There hasn’t been a huge upturn in form for the Pirates since Joey Barton became the club’s third permanent manager of the campaign after Ben Garner and Paul Tisdale.
They’ll arrive at Portman Road on Good Friday having gone 11 games without a win on the road (D2 L9).
Who knows what we’re going to get? This is a team that lost 6-1 at Accrington in February then won the reverse fixture 4-1 a month later.
Town have to win this game if they’ve gone any aspirations of finishing top six.
During a recent miserable nine-game spell, Rochdale managed just one goal and two points (both from 0-0 draws) to sink to the foot of the table.
The Greater Manchester club have kept their survival hopes alive though with a couple of good results.
First, they won 2-1 at Lincoln, then they came from 2-0 down to lead Peterborough 3-2 (eventually drawing 3-3).
The above is another reminder of just how unpredictable this league is.
MK Dons (h)
Russell Martin’s possession-based side were impressive when Town held on for a 1-1 draw back in October.
Again, it’s hard to know what to expect.
They won three on the spin in February (putting four past Rochdale and Northampton), then hit a four-game sticky patch which saw them ship several goals in defeats to Shrewsbury, Gillingham and Wigan.
Now they’re on another three-game winning streak, with Accrington, Plymouth and in-form Burton all beaten.
AFC Wimbledon (a & h)
Five draws from their last six have kept Wimbledon’s survival hopes alive.
They twice came from behind to claim a share of the spoils against Charlton at the weekend.
This will be Town’s first trip to the newly-opened Plough Lane. The two teams meet again, at Portman Road, on April 24.
Predictions: Draw and win
Charlton Athletic (a)
Manager Lee Bowyer made a surprise move to Birmingham City earlier this month and has been replaced by the experienced Nigel Adkins.
The Addicks were in stuttering form from December through to the end of February, but have got themselves back in the top-six thanks to a six-game unbeaten run.
Injury-hit Ipswich had Liam Gibbs and Brett McGavin in midfield when Charlton left Suffolk with a 2-0 win last November. They'll have a stronger team this time around, but a long-standing poor record against promotion rivals has to remain a concern.
Northampton Town (a)
Northampton sacked Keith Curle, the man who led them to an against the odds League Two promotion, last month. Caretaker boss Jon Brady is now eight games in to a lengthy audition.
The Cobblers arguably should have won at Portman Road last month. Since then they’ve won three (including a 4-1 bashing of Portsmouth and last night's 1-0 victory against Oxford), drawn two (holding Doncaster to a 0-0) and lost four (all by a single goal margin).
This is no gimmie.
Swindon Town (a)
The Robins have lost more games (22) than anyone else in the division, but an ability to pluck a win out the bag has kept them in with a chance of staying up.
Unexpectedly, they won 2-0 at in-form Fleetwood last weekend and followed that up with a 1-0 win at Bristol Rovers last night.
Ipswich have a score to settle after that dismal 3-2 loss at Portman Road at the start of 2021.
Shrewsbury Town (a)
Boss Steve Cotterill is hopefully now on the mend after being in and out of hospital with Covid this year.
The Shrews have battled well under Aaron Wilbraham, beating the likes of Peterborough and Sunderland, plus taking points off Charlton and Hull. Last night they won at in-form Burton too.
Come this stage they may have secured safety and have nothing to play for though.
Fleetwood Town (h)
The Lancashire side are really starting to hit form under mid-season appointment Simon Grayson.
Only three teams have a better record than them over the last six games (W4 D1 L1).
A late charge to the play-off places looks unlikely though, so for them this should be a long journey for a final day dead rubber.
How would Town cope with the pressure if a result was needed?
Those predictions give Ipswich five wins, four draws and two defeats. That record might see them sneak into sixth, but it’s more likely to see them fall just short. I hope I’m wrong.
GUIDE TO THE RUN-INS
Form table (last 10): 22nd
Home games left: 5/12
Midweek games: 4
Top 8 sides to play: 4/12
Middle 8 sides to play: 3/12
Bottom 8 sides to play: 5/12
Form table (last 10): 2nd
Midweek games: 4
Top 8 sides: 4/12
Middle 8 sides: 3/12
Bottom 8 sides: 5/12
Form table (last 10): 12th
Midweek games: 2
Top 8 sides: 5/9
Middle 8 sides: 4/9
Bottom 8 sides: 0/9
Form table (last 10): 21st
Midweek games: 3
Top 8 sides: 0/11
Middle 8 sides: 4/11
Bottom 8 sides: 7/11
Form table (last 10): 5th
Midweek games: 2
Top 8 sides: 3/9
Middle 8 sides: 2/9
Bottom 8 sides: 4/9
Form table (last 10): 10th
Midweek games: 3
Top 8 sides: 1/11
Middle 8 sides: 2/11
Bottom 8 sides: 8/11
Form table (last 10): 18th
Midweek games: 2
Top 8 sides: 2/10
Middle 8 sides: 4/10
Bottom 8 sides: 5/10
Form table (last 10): 15th
Midweek games: 3
Top 8 sides: 7/11
Middle 8 sides: 1/11
Bottom 8 sides: 3/11