Tough decisions, a big blow, an unexpected bonus and an area Town must dominate as Oxford visit
- Credit: stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town face Oxford United this afternoon in a battle between two in-form League One sides. Andy Warren looks ahead to the game.
Not another one?
Ipswich Town and Oxford have played each other four times since the Blues dropped into League One. There has been just one goal across those 360 minutes.
Three games ended 0-0, while Matty Taylor’s goal was enough to secure victory for the U’s in February of 2020.
The matches have, in the main, been more entertaining than the scorelines suggest, but the results don’t lie.
Surely today’s game will be different, though?
Oxford and Ipswich are first and fourth in the League One form table respectively, both averaging not-too-far-shy of three goals per game across those matches.
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Managers Karl Robinson and Paul Cook, who know each other well, both play open football, have something of a ‘we’ll score more than you’ mentality and tend to find the net whenever they take to the pitch. Indeed, Cook’s side have scored in every league game so far.
So, surely, we won’t get a repeat 0-0 this afternoon?
Famous last words.
Paul Cook has some decisions to make.
The Town boss went with his strongest side against Oldham in the FA Cup but watched on as his front-line stars let him down, with complacency undoubtedly creeping in as the Blues drew 1-1 and found themselves needing a replay.
That means Cook may well be considering more changes than he would have done, had his side marched through to round two with the ease all expected once the team was named at 2pm last Saturday.
The spine of the side is likely to remain intact, with Christian Walton in goal, George Edmundson and Toto Nsiala at the heart of defence, Lee Evans and Sam Morsy in midfield, Bersant Celina at the No.10 position and Macauley Bonne up top.
But change will surely come at full-back, with at least one switch likely. Kane Vincent-Young and Cameron Burgess started in the wide defensive areas a week ago, but the former suffered a shoulder injury on Tuesday against Colchester and the latter is far from an ideal fit for Cook’s full-back positions.
That could mean recalls for Janoi Donacien and Matt Penney. Or, with Vincent-Young's shoulder injury not a long-term issue, he could keep his place and partner with Donacien. Both men have significant experience playing as both right and left backs. Alternatively, Hayden Coulson could return from injury at left-back, with Cook giving nothing away in his pre-match press briefing.
Wes Burns is a wildcard option for the right-back role which, if he’s used there, could allow either Sone Aluko or Conor Chaplin to start in an advanced right-side position. Both of those could also come into consideration should Cook opt to switch Kyle Edwards out of the left-wing position he’s started in of late.
Blow for visitors
Make no mistake, losing Alex Gorrin to a knee ligament injury is a huge blow for this afternoon’s visitors.
In a side packed with attacking talent who want the ball in offensive areas, the Spaniard is a player completely different to the rest of his team-mates. He breaks up play and recycles the ball, sitting in front of the back four to shield Oxford’s defence.
So for him to be missing, following an injury suffered against Morecambe a week ago, is an issue Robinson needs to solve.
He’ll reshuffle his midfield, with James Henry, Cam Brannagan and Herbie Kane likely to start. But, in reality, he doesn’t possess another piece quite like Gorrin.
That could present a real opportunity for Town. If the pairing of Sam Morsy and Lee Evans can get on top of the Oxford midfield trio, missing their enforcer, then Ipswich could find an edge in this contest and gain control in the middle of the pitch.
That could be key.
Celina’s availability comes as something of a surprise.
The attacker was called up by Kosovo for games with Jordan (Tuesday) and Greece (today) but, with his country out of contention to qualify for next year’s World Cup, an agreement was reached for him to stay with Ipswich.
That can benefit both parties.
Clearly, having Celina available is a plus for Town, given the threat he’s began to pose in recent weeks.
But, while Celina represents his country with real passion, staying behind could benefit him, too.
When he last went away on international duty, he left occupying a starting role but had to make do with a place on the bench for Town’s next four matches, only returning to the starting line-up for the excellent win at Wycombe.
He won’t want to be in that situation again.
Town’s Celina bonus means the Blues now don’t have any senior players missing due to international call-ups, with Macauley Bonne not going away with Zimbabwe, despite being called up, and Sam Morsy not included in the Egypt squad.
Three plusses right there.
Support from the stands
Portman Road is set to hold more than 20,000 supporters for the fourth time this season, when Oxford visit.
And that number could reach 21,000 by the time kick-off rolls around as, with the support of more than 800 Oxford fans, the two teams will play in front of an excellent atmosphere.