Going strong, changing outlook and two clubs with one thing in common - Town face Oldham in the FA Cup
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Ipswich Town take on Oldham Athletic in the first round of the FA Cup this afternoon. Andy Warren looks ahead to the Blues' clash with the League Two strugglers.
Here we go again
Right then, Ipswich Town in the FA Cup. It’s been an all-too-familiar tale in recent years.
The Blues’ record in this competition is miserable, we know that. It’s one win in 19 matches, dating back to 2019. It’s a run which includes defeats to lower-league opposition, including Lincoln, Accrington, Portsmouth and Preston.
But, with Paul Cook in charge, Town have a manager who reached the last eight twice during his playing days and also, more notably, as a manager in 2018.
Cook’s Wigan side, beginning in round one, beat Crawley and Fylde before dumping out three Premier League sides. Bournemouth and West Ham fell before, memorably, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City were beaten by a single Will Grigg goal at the DW Stadium.
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Southampton knocked them out in the quarter-finals but, just a couple of months later, Cook and Wigan were celebrating winning the League One title.
A decade of FA Cup misery has left all associated with Ipswich feeling anything but positive about the famous competition.
But none of that came on Cook’s watch, remember. Under him, things feel a little different now.
Speaking in the summer, Paul Cook vowed to take the FA Cup seriously, making it clear it was his second priority behind winning promotion to League One.
Then, speaking after the draw was made for round one, he set his sights on the third round and a possible meeting with great rivals, and Premier League strugglers, Norwich City.
And he reiterated his stance yesterday, insisting the strength of his side this afternoon will show just how much he values this competition.
After years of significant change, neglecting the most famous cup competition in the world, we’re not used to this.
But exactly how strong the side looks will only become clear at 2pm.
Could the Town manager name an unchanged team, following Tuesday’s big win at Wycombe? Highly unlikely, especially given Hayden Coulson left that game injured. Matt Penney should replace him at left back.
But you could certainly argue the vast majority of the side should continue.
Christian Walton has been excellent in goal but has missed time through injury. He could surely benefit from another game behind the growing central defensive partnership of George Edmundson and Toto Nsiala.
Sam Morsy and Lee Evans are a well-oiled machine in the middle of midfield, while Bersant Celina is heading away for two games with Kosovo and will likely miss next weekend’s clash with Oxford. He’ll want to play, given his brace on Tuesday.
Kyle Edwards is growing by the game and could benefit from further gametime, while Conor Chaplin has been dealing with back spasms of late.
Kane Vincent-Young returned from injury on Tuesday but, after being replaced late in that game, could he go again? Janoi Donacien, should he have recovered from illness, or Luke Woolfenden could play there.
Wes Burns has been managing a niggling Achilles problem and Macauley Bonne has played every minute of Town’s last 11 League One games, aside from stoppage time of the victory over Shrewsbury.
They could be potential candidates for a rest, with Sone Aluko, Scott Fraser and Joe Pigott likely in consideration to take their places.
Traditionally, Town have used the FA Cup to give minutes to first-team players on the fringes of the starting line-up.
The Papa John’s Trophy, in which Town play Colchester on Tuesday night, could serve that purpose this season.
That could mean the likes of Vaclav Hladky, Woolfenden, Cameron Burgess, Myles Kenlock, Rekeem Harper, Idris El Mizouni, Louie Barry and Kayden Jackson, along with Aluko, Fraser and Pigott, potentially getting minutes against the U’s.
The Boring Bowl
At the height of Ipswich’s miserable run of 11 hours without a goal, towards the end of last season, there was plenty of discussion surrounding whether the Blues were the most boring team in English football.
It wasn’t just the lack of goals. It was the fact Town had not won a promotion in 20 years, had never played at the new Wembley and, a trip to the League Cup semi-final in 2011 and the Championship play-offs in 2015 aside, had nothing really to get excited about in two decades.
Ipswich are one of just nine sides in the top four tiers of English football, not to have played at the national stadium since it was rebuilt.
The others are: Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers, Accrington Stanley, Oldham Athletic, Colchester United, Sutton United, Port Vale and Crawley Town.
You’ll notice today’s opponents on that list, with Oldham perhaps the biggest challengers to Town in the ‘boring’ stakes.
The Latics, while also not playing at Wembley, have to go all the way back to 1991 for their last promotion, with their decline from the Premier League to League Two seeing them spend 21 successive seasons in the third tier. They were relegated to the fourth division in 2018 and haven’t finished higher than 14th since.
They’re 22nd now and have significant off-field issues, with ongoing protests against supremely unpopular owners, meaning their place in the EFL is surely in doubt.
Things are looking up for Ipswich. They’re scoring goals and playing exciting football under Cook.
Oldham though, right now, would surely just take survival.
Ipswich should win this game comfortably, make no bones about it. But this is the FA Cup – anything can happen.
In the stands
Portman Road has become used to hosting 20,000 fans for Ipswich matches this season, but things will be a little different this afternoon.
The top tiers of the North and South stands are closed, with only Oldham supporters occupying the Cobbold Stand to leave supporters consolidated in the lower tiers behind the goals and in the West Stand.
Cook is maybe a little optimistic when he suggested 15,000 could be in the ground, with a crowd of around 11,000 expected but, with the Town boss taking the cup a little more seriously, some of the mistakes and neglect of the past could begin to be undone.
A big win in this one and progression in the tournament could see Ipswich Town attendances in the FA Cup begin to rise again.