Let's get physical, 'spanner in the works' and selection headaches

Sam Morsy is chased by man of the match Harry Pell at Accrington Stanley.

Ipswich Town skipper Sam Morsy, left, is available again after serving a four-game ban. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

Ipswich Town take on Accrington Stanley at Portman Road this afternoon (3pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.

Macauley Bonne is disappointed on the final whistle at Bolton Wanderers.

Macauley Bonne is disappointed on the final whistle at Bolton Wanderers. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

BOUNCING BACK

Kieran McKenna's reign as Ipswich Town boss got off to a flying start with wins against Wycombe and Gillingham.

Could he become the first Blues boss of the professional era to start with three successive victories? Could the Blues close the gap on the play-off places further? 

The answer, sadly, was no.

Last weekend's 2-0 loss at Bolton brought back memories of defeat by the same scoreline at Sunderland last November. The Blues had plenty of possession, but didn't create enough chances and ultimately let their concentration drop to concede twice late on.

It was a reminder of why Ipswich are where they are in the table.


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If we're looking for a positive spin, it's that suffering that first bump in the road early on might just be able to help McKenna fix a few things before it's too late.

“We don’t want too many days like it and we don’t accept it as ‘one of those things’ that happen,” said the calm and assured Northern Irishman.

“Losing is a set-back but, if we’re clever and open, there’s a lot to learn from the game to improve. That’s what we will try to do over the next week to try and rectify some things."

When Town beat Portsmouth and Fleetwood back-to-back in October, an entertaining 2-1 loss at Plymouth followed. Town's reaction to that set-back was to go and win 4-1 at Wycombe. A similar type of response today would do just nicely.

Disappointed Ipswich players trudge of the pitch at Accrington Stanley.

Cameron Burgess, Sam Morsy and Wes Burns trudge off the field following Ipswich Town's 2-1 defeat at Accrington Stanley earlier this season. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

HOME ADVANTAGE

Accrington Stanley *feel* like they've become a bit of a bogey side for Town over recent years.

That narrative started with the FA Cup defeat up in Lancashire, as a Championship club, back in January 2019. Later that year, back at the same venue, it was a 2-0 defeat on the road which saw the wheels start to fall off for Paul Lambert's men following a flying start to life in League One.

It was the same story up there again earlier this season, Town going down 2-1 in pretty limp fashion just days on from having thrashed Doncaster 6-0 on Suffolk soil.

And even when they won 2-1 there under the caretaker management of Matt Gill and Jimmy Walker last season, the Blues were somehow left clinging on against 10 men.

Yes, the Wham Stadium has not been a happy hunting ground.

This fixture at Portman Road, however, has been a different story. Town were comprehensive 4-1 winners in January 2020, with Kayden Jackson, Alan Judge, James Norwood and Will Keane all on the scoresheet. Last season, Gwion Edwards and Freddie Sears netted in a 2-0 victory that kept Town top in October.

Hopefully, many of the new or returning fans who enjoyed the 'Pack Out Portman Road' fixtures against Sunderland and Wycombe will be back this afternoon to create a fine atmosphere.

Accrington Stanley's Mitch Clark (left) tackles Rotherham United's Mickel Miller during the Sky Bet

Accrington Stanley's Mitch Clark (left) tackles Rotherham's Mickel Miller during Stanley's 1-0 win on Boxing Day. - Credit: PA

LET'S GET PHYSICAL

Since relegation from the Championship, Town have tended to struggle against the more physical and direct sides. That's changed in recent weeks though, with McKenna devising a game plan to exploit spaces left by the man-to-man tactics deployed by both Wycombe and Gillingham.

Last weekend, the Blues came unstuck against a Bolton side that likes to get the ball down and play. Today, it's back to facing another team that unashamedly makes the game a war.

After a 2-1 defeat in the reverse fixture, frustrated Blues skipper Sam Morsy said: "The way they play is disgusting – one of the players just kicked the ball out of the stadium (to waste time) which I’ve never seen before in my career. They’re a horrible team. They play like a non-league team and that’s no disrespect to them – that's just the style and it works for them. We couldn't get to grips with that."

Hopefully, the Blues are now better equipped for this type of test.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna gives instructions to Conor Chaplin during a break in play.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna gives instructions to Conor Chaplin. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

TIME FOR A TWEAK?

A back three of Donacien, Woolfenden and Edmundson. A midfield four of Burns, Morsy, Evans and Penney. A forward three of Aluko, Bonne and Norwood.

The same outfield 10 have started the last four games in a row for Ipswich - and understandably so.

Could today be the day that McKenna tweaks the personnel slightly? He's suggested that will be the case.

Tyreeq Bakinson arrived on loan from Bristol City on Thursday night. McKenna says the midfielder needs time to settle before getting involved in the action.

The likes of Conor Chaplin and Bersant Celina are champing at the bit, but it's hard to see which of the forward players will be dropped.

Maybe Kyle Edwards or Kane Vincent-Young for Penney on the left? Possibly even a formation change? We'll see.

Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman before the Sky Bet League One match at the Wham Stadium, Acc

Accrington Stanley come into this game unbeaten in five under manager John Coleman. - Credit: PA

DEFYING THE ODDS

Stanley continue to punch above their weight.

A club who have historically always played in non-league or the bottom end of League Two, are beginning to become an established third-tier outfit.

Operating under one of the smallest budgets in the division, they've finished 14th, 17th and 11th. And they come into today's game sitting one point and one place above the Blues in 10th.

John Coleman's men got off to a good start this season but then had a bit of a wobble, winning just two of 12 league games (guess who one of those was against?)

A 1-0 win at Lincoln stopped the rot and a 5-1 thrashing of Fleetwood soon followed. After a 2-0 loss at AFC Wimbledon, the good form resumed. They come into today's game unbeaten in five, home wins against Bolton and Rotherham (both 1-0) having been followed by draws against Shrewsbury (0-0 away), MK Dons (1-1 at home) and Sunderland (1-1 at home).

Stanley played with 10 men for almost an hour against MK Dons, after Liam Coyle was sent off, and had to see out the game against Sunderland a man down too after Ross Sykes was dismissed on 76 minutes.

“There is a feel-good factor, it’s a good place to be," said Coleman.

“The best way to foster team spirit is win games, or don’t get beat, or perform well in adversity and we have done all them over the last five weeks.

“The lads are starting to believe in each other. Sunderland are one of the top teams and if we are slugging it out with them and not looking out of place it shows we belong in League One.”

Plymouth Argyle's Joe Edwards (centre) is tackled by Accrington Stanley's Ross Sykes (right) during

Key defender Ross Sykes (right) is suspended for Accrington Stanley. - Credit: PA

GOOD TIMING?

While McKenna works out which senior players to leave out of his deep squad, counterpart Coleman has a different sort of selection headache.

The aforementioned Sykes and Coyle are both suspended today. Sykes, who has been Stanley's man-of-the-match on five occasions this season, is a particularly big loss. Then again, he was suspended for the reverse fixture too.

Striker Dion Charles was sold to Bolton earlier this month, while forward Jovan Malcolm has been recalled by West Brom.

It's hard to know whether the thin-on-the-ground visitors will line-up in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-2-1 system.

Is this the day that spirited Stanley finally hit a wall? 

'SPANNER IN THE WORKS'

In the build-up to this game, Coleman has said of Ipswich: “I have a good relationship with Paul Cook and unfortunately he was dismissed. 

“If I am honest, I still think that is the best squad in the league and everyone is waiting for them to get going. Eventually they will get going and will go on a run and that will be down to Paul’s recruitment.

“The new manager has come in and, by all accounts, he has been really good with the players and got them firing and that club will eventually get it right.

“I hope he (McKenna) has a good career but I hope we don’t enhance that on Saturday, I hope we can put a spanner in the works.”