Six observations ahead of Ipswich Town’s visit of Leeds United

Luke Hyam made his first start in more than 18 months in last weekend's 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Sheffie

Luke Hyam made his first start in more than 18 months in last weekend's 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town host Leeds United in a Championship clash at Portman Road tomorrow afternoon. STUART WATSON previews the action.

Focus on the league

‘We’ll get back to focussing on the bread and butter of the league’ – expect those sort of sound bites to come out of both the Ipswich Town and Leeds United camps ahead of tomorrow’s Championship clash at Portman Road (3pm).

The Blues crashed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle for the eighth successive season last weekend, failing to register a shot on target in a limp 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield United.

It was a tie that barely registered on the national radar as two second-tier sides made sweeping changes to their line-ups (six for Ipswich, eight for United).

Ipswich Town keeper Bartosz Bialkowski reacts after last weekend's 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United. P

Ipswich Town keeper Bartosz Bialkowski reacts after last weekend's 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Leeds, however, made headlines for the wrong reason when losing 2-1 at mid-table League Two side Newport County. Thomas Christiansen had made nine changes to his team.

‘We need a win really’

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Quickfire wins against Derby, Nottingham Forest and Reading had Town just two points adrift of the play-off places in the middle of December, but the mood has soured following a poor spell of form at the turn of the year.

Mick McCarthy’s men lost 1-0 at league-leaders Wolves, played out a drab goalless Boxing Day home draw with QPR, were comfortably beaten 2-1 at home to Derby, folded after Jordan Spence’s red card in a 4-1 defeat at Fulham before last weekend’s annual FA Cup disappointment.

Just eight shots on target were registered over those five games in 15 days. The Blues have dropped to 12th in the table. If everything goes against them this weekend they could end up nearer the drop zone than the top six.

Improved results and entertainment value in the opening six months of the campaign kept a lid on the ill-feeling which grew during a dire 2016/17 campaign, but the resounding boos which greeted last weekend’s final whistle indicates the toxic atmosphere may soon return.

“We need to get a result asap,” admitted McCarthy. “We’ve got Leeds next. It’s not going to be easy, but we need a win really.”

The Blues can take heart from their performance at Elland Road last September when they pushed the then league-leaders all the way in an entertaining 3-2 defeat.

Leeds United were dumped out of the FA Cup at League Two side Newport County last weekend. Tempers f

Leeds United were dumped out of the FA Cup at League Two side Newport County last weekend. Tempers flaired after Leeds forward Samuel Saiz was sent off at the end. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Which Leeds will show up?

Leeds currently occupy sixth spot, but could be leapfrogged by Sheffield United if they get something from their derby against rivals Wednesday at Bramall Lane tonight.

It’s been a strange season for the Yorkshire side. They won seven of their opening nine games in all competitions, then lost eight of the next 11, but picked up again from the middle of November to win six of the next eight.

Are things turning again? Leeds lost 1-0 at lowly Birmingham on December 30, had a goalless home draw with Nottingham Forest on New Year’s Day before last weekend’s unwanted cupset.

Travelling army

Hundreds of Town fans have been told to move seats to accommodate a travelling army of 3,500 Leeds fans. It’s been done to avoid the controversial ‘all-ticket’ matchday rules from last season – which were in place to prevent away fans trying to buy tickets in the home end. It will provide extra revenue and a better overall atmosphere, but is also likely to provide the visiting players with a lift.

Fresh blood

Town currently have 11 first-team players sidelined through injury. Cole Skuse, Martyn Waghorn and Joe Garner are likely to return to the starting line-up after being rested last weekend, but McCarthy undoubtedly needs to bolster his squad in the January window.

“As Mick has already said, we will be bringing in new players, be it loans or acquisitions, and we’ve got to understand that even loan players cost a lot of money through salaries,” said managing director Ian Milne.

“Do I know any names as of this moment? No, I don’t. There’s always many names they are discussing, but until they get to fruition then it’s quite right it remains between those two gentleman.”

When asked if the extra income secured from a new shirt sponsorship deal with online casino ‘Magical Vegas’ would change the level of money that owner Marcus Evans invests in the club, Milne replied: “No. We’ve got quite strict financial budgets, but his investment will remain very much in line with what we’re doing at the moment.”

East Anglian derby on TV

Town’s visit to rivals Norwich City on Sunday, February 18 (12pm ko) will be screened live on Sky Sports. Meanwhile, the Blues’ subsequent home clash with Cardiff has been moved forwards 24 hours to Wednesday, February 21 (7.45pm).