Only three teams have scored fewer goals than Ipswich... and one of them is Bristol Rovers

Paul Cook issues instructions at Wigan

Paul Cook issues instructions to Kayden Jackson at Wigan. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town host Bristol Rovers at Portman Road this afternoon. STUART WATSON previews the action.

CRUNCH TIME

Town's season is fading fast.

The so-called 'new manager bounce' has brought just one win in six.

Town are back down to 11th, the position they ultimately finished in last season. 

A distinct lack of goal threat, consistency or momentum means promotion increasingly looks a pipedream.

Indeed, many supporters' minds have already turned to Paul Cook's big summer rebuild job.

A bruised Stephen Ward at Wigan

Stephen Ward in action during last weekend's goalless draw at Wigan. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

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This season is not over yet though.

Tables often look very different following the Easter weekend double header and back-to-back games against the division's current bottom two certainly represents a major opportunity for a Blues rebirth.

Beat Bristol Rovers and Rochdale and there's a strong chance Ipswich will be back in the top-six.

Beat Bristol Rovers and Rochdale and all of a sudden we're talking about Ipswich probably needing four more victories from the last eight to book a play-offs place.

Beat Bristol Rovers and Rochdale and the whole mood could change.

Saying it and doing it are two different things though. As Cook himself has said, it's time for less words and more action.


 

PIRATES SINKING

Some would argue that it's not a good thing to be playing two sides scrapping for their League One lives at this stage of the season.

I would argue that both Bristol Rovers and Rochdale sit 23rd and 24th respectively at this stage of the campaign for a reason.

Rovers have lost 16 of their last 22 games across all competitions. 

File photo dated 23-02-2021 of Bristol Rovers manager Joey Barton during the Sky Bet League One matc

Bristol Rovers have lost seven out of 10 games since Joey Barton took charge. Photo: PA - Credit: PA

The South West outfit arrive at Portman Road having not claimed an away victory in 11 matches dating back to early December (D2 L9).

Joey Barton, appointed in late February, hasn't been able to change the club's downward trajectory so far.

The fact he's not tried to engage Ipswich in any mind games building up to this one, as he did at former club Fleetwood last season, suggests the former Man City and Newcastle midfielder has got enough problems of his own.

Put simply, this is a game Ipswich have to win.

HUNT FOR GOALS

It doesn't take a rocket scientists to work out what Town's problem has been this season.

James Norwood is the team's top league scorer with six and he's only started 13 games. Gwion is next on the list with five, the last of which came back in the middle of October.

James Norwood celebrates opening the scoring at Portsmouth

James Norwood is Ipswich Town's top league goalscorer with six. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Only three teams in the league have scored fewer. Guess what? Bristol Rovers are one of them.

And while Ipswich have managed to concede just 37 times in 36 games, Rovers have leaked 60. That's why 21 points separates the sides.

If Ipswich can't get their attack firing in this game then that's a real concern.

SYSTEM SWITCH?

After the defeat at Portsmouth, Cook said he was really tempted to abandon his long preferred 4-2-3-1 system and give Kayden Jackson a chance up top alongside Norwood.

After the dull goalless draw at Wigan last weekend, the Blues boss said exactly the same again.

Is this the game where he finally decides to go with it? His pre-match quotes certainly suggest that.

Simply playing an extra striker isn't always the answer to scoring more goals of course. Man City play one up top, remember. Peterborough bagged seven last weekend with one up top too. 

Troy Parrott fires the ball forwards.

Tottenham loanee Troy Parrott is available again after being away on international duty with the Republic of Ireland. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com

A variation of 4-3-3 hasn't worked for Ipswich all season though, so they may as well try something different.

The successive wins against Hull, Doncaster and Accrington came when the Blues went more direct to Norwood with Troy Parrott playing right up in support (the latter is available again today after earning his fourth Republic of Ireland cap last weekend).

At the start of last season, Norwood and Jackson dovetailed quite nicely. Incredibly it's now been over a year (February 11, 2020) that those two have started a game together.

Whether it's 4-4-2 or wing-backs, two up top has to be worth a try.

MYSTERY INJURIES

It's hard to predict the starting XI given how guarded Cook has been about Kane Vincent-Young's fitness, following the hamstring problem that forced him off at Wigan, and how vague he's been about 'a couple of other injuries'.

Luke Woolfenden made his first appearance under the new Blues boss last weekend, while James Wilson could be available again after a minor knee problem. Might we see three at the back?

If it is wing-backs, who would play in those roles? Gwion Edwards and Myles Kenlock/Stephen Ward? That's far from ideal.

Kane Vincent-Young battles at Wigan

Paul Cook has been guarded about the extent of Kane Vincent-Young's injury setback. Photo: Pagepix - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

But if it's 4-4-2 then that would mean just two in the middle in the pitch and, without a real energetic enforcer, the Blues potentially getting overrun. Again, far from ideal.

With the games running out though, it's probably time for a throw of the dice.

Forget short-term pain for long-term gain. Few of these players are likely to be here next season, so embedding playing principles is a bit of futile exercise.

Cook's job right now is to find a winning formula for the players he's got. 

MAKE IT A GOOD FRIDAY

Ipswich are certainly due some joy at this time of year.

The last time they played on a Good Friday was the 4-0 defeat at Preston in the relegation campaign of 2018/19.

Ipswich Town fans celebrate after Emyr Huws sealed a 3-1 win against Newcastle on Easter Monday 2017

Ipswich Town fans celebrate after Emyr Huws sealed a 3-1 win against Newcastle on Easter Monday 2017. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Their last victory over an Easter weekend was actually the 3-1 against Newcastle on Suffolk soil back in 2017.

Beating Bristol Rovers in front of an empty stadium might not quite have the same ring to it, but it would arguably be more important.

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