Finishing with a smile, striker shortage and a few farewells - issues to sort on the final day as Town host Leeds
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town host Leeds United in the final game of a miserable season. Andy Warren looks at the questions heading into the game.
Can Town sign off with a smile?
It’s been a miserable season for Ipswich Town, culminating in the club facing up to life in the third tier for the first time since 1957.
The Blues’ fate was confirmed following the draw with Birmingham on April 13, with poignant scenes post match highlighting the unity between the club and supporters at the end of the most trying of campaigns.
In many ways it would have been useful had the season ended there and then, allowing players, staff and fans alike to drift off into the summer with that positive feeling still fresh in their minds.
But it’s been a tale of three games, three defeats in the games post-relegation, with Paul Lambert’s men well-beaten in all three to dent the positivity and partially lift the veil hiding concerns for what the future holds.
Season ticket sales have been going well and have already surpassed last season’s total, but a good display and a positive result would go a long way to convince those on the fence to sign up before Monday’s Early Bird deadline.
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Leeds’ travelling army
This game looked as if it had the potential to be Leeds United’s promotion party.
But losses to Wigan and Brentford, prior to Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa, means the Whites will have to make do with the lottery of the play-offs.
Such was the hope that the Elland Road side would secure a Premier League return on the final day, Leeds supporters had been messaging Ipswich supporters for weeks in advance, trying to secure tickets in home areas of the ground, while 4,000 official visiting fans will be inside Portman Road.
Thousands more were set to travel without tickets but, sadly for them, this game is now a dead rubber before the post-season begins.
New EFL rules, introduced a year ago to maintain integrity, mean Leeds can’t make wholesale changes to rest players for the play-offs, with clubs required to name 10 players from the previous game’s matchday squad in their 18 for games played after the middle of March.
It’s conceivable that Lambert won’t have a single fit striker to choose from heading into this final game.
Will Keane and Kayden Jackson both left the game at Sheffield United with hamstring injuries, while Collin Quaner and Ellis Harrison missed the match entirely due to injury.
Freddie Sears suffered a season-ending knee injury at Norwich in February, while young back-ups Ben Morris (knee ligament) and Ben Folami (Achilles) also had their seasons ended early by surgery.
Jordan Roberts, who filled in as a central striker in the early games of Lambert’s reign, is currently on loan at Lincoln while Aaron Drinan is part-way through a temporary spell in Ireland with Waterford.
The story’s not much better in terms of wingers, with Jack Lankester (back) and Grant Ward (knee) out for the season and Gwion Edwards struggling with a groin problem.
Scholar Zak Brown led the line for the Blues’ Under 23s in their play-off loss earlier this week, with Kai Brown coming on as a substitute to play in a wide forward role, but it’s likely to be too early for either to make the jump into the first-team picture for this game.
Jackson is the most likely to be fit to lead the line, while assistant manager Stuart Taylor said last week that there is a ‘strong possibility’ that Harrison will appear again before the end of the campaign as he continues his recovery from a back injury.
The rest of the line-up remains to be seen.
Ipswich will rebuild for the future around its core of young players, with 10 academy products taking the field for the senior side throughout the course of this season.
The next to make a debut figures to be Irish defender Corrie Ndaba, who has captained the club’s Under 23 side during the course of the campaign.
Speaking ahead of the visit to Preston on Good Friday, Lambert said he would like to see the 19-year-old in action before season’s end, with Sunday’s game the last chance to do that.
Idris El Mizouni will be hopeful of another start on the final day, while Tristan Nydam has played just 25 minutes of senior football for the club this season after playing 21 times last year.
A few farewells
There are a few players for whom this will be their final game in Ipswich blue.
Trevoh Chalobah has made 43 appearances for the club during his loan from Chelsea and is the most likely of the club’s five loanees to be involved, while James Bree (Aston Villa), Quaner (Huddersfield), Keane (Hull) and Callum Elder (Leicester) all see their temporary deals end after this game.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Keane, who the Blues would love to keep but need to weigh up whether his injury record is worth the risk, or Elder may be back at Portman Road in the future, but for Chalobah, Bree and Quaner it’s a definite goodbye.
Neither Jonas Knudsen or Jordan Spence are likely to be involved and appear certain to have played their final game for the club, while last weekend’s loss at Sheffield United could also prove to be Dean Gerken’s final game in an Ipswich shirt.
Lambert has already confirmed Bartosz Bialkowski will start this game, but could it be his Portman Road swansong?
Even with a hefty wage drop following relegation, the Pole will be one of the club’s highest earners at a time when they need to cover a £9million drop in income.
Could the Blues look to cash in? Would Bialkowski want to stay and play in the third tier, given he was with the Poland at the World Cup less than a year ago?
With Lambert stating his desire to operate with a smaller squad next season, further departures are certainly possible as the club rebuilds ahead of a League One promotion bid.