A test of fortress Portman Road... will the first goal be key?

Conor Chaplin wheels away after scoring the only goal of the game.

Conor Chaplin scored the winner in Ipswich Town's last home game - a 1-0 victory against Gillingham. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town host Burton Albion at Portman Road this afternoon. STUART WATSON previews the action.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna applauds fans after the game.

Ipswich Town have won their first three home games under manager Kieran McKenna. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

BACK AT HOME

Just two of Town's opening eight games of 2022 have been at Portman Road.

Now, for the first time since Paul Cook's final two games - Arsenal U21s and Barrow - the Blues have back-to-back home games within the space of four days.

Kieran McKenna's first three home games in charge - Wycombe (1-0), Accrington (2-1) and Gillingham (1-0) - have all ended in victories.

You have to go all the way back to Ipswich Town's first ever professional manager, Mick O'Brien in 1936, to find someone who had such a good start at Portman Road. 

The Blues won their opening five competitive matches on Suffolk soil under him. Those games were played in the Southern League and FA Cup qualifying rounds. Opponents back then included Tunbridge Wells Rangers, Eastern Counties United, Stowmarket, Lowestoft and Cromer.

Most Read

The longest unbeaten home starts under new managers are: John Duncan (W10 D2), Paul Cook (W3 D6), Mick McCarthy (W3 D2) and Paul Hurst (D5).

George Edmundson at MK Dons.

George Edmundson applauds the large travelling support following Ipswich Town's 0-0 draw at MK Dons last weekend. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

WINS REQUIRED

Last weekend's 0-0 draw at high-flying MK Dons was seen as a positive one.

It ended a win-win-loss pattern. It closed the gap on the play-off places to five points. It kept the points-per-game tally ticking over at two - that's promotion form - under McKenna.

Town need to get back on the winning train again now though.

Realistically, the Blues are going to need to register at least seven victories - probably eight - of their remaining 14 matches if a top-six spot is to be secured. 

Home games against Burton and Cheltenham have to be seen as two of the better opportunities to put another notch in the win column. After that it's three more matches against bottom half sides in Morecambe (a), Fleetwood (a) and Lincoln (h).

This next batch of games represents a very good opportunity to build some powerful momentum ahead of a potentially crunch run of games against top-six rivals Portsmouth (h), Oxford (a) and Plymouth (h) at the end of March.

Burton Albion manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on the touchline during the Carabao Cup first round ma

Burton Albion manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. - Credit: PA

ALL CHANGE

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, a fine striker back in the day for Leeds, Chelsea and Middlesbrough, has done a remarkable job since returning to manage Burton for a second spell on New Year's Day 2021.

The Brewers went on a storming run to escape the relegation zone and finish a comfortable 16th last season. They currently sit 12th, just five points behind Town, as the season enters its final straight.

On Tuesday night, the Staffordshire side ended a run of nine straight defeats against teams currently in the top half by beating in-form Bolton 3-1 at the Pirelli Stadium.

Town lost 2-1 in the reverse fixture back on August 14. Scott Fraser failed to convert a penalty at 1-1 that day and, ultimately, Burton won through a spot-kick of their own after relentlessly putting the ball on top of Town's defence and working hard to pick up the second balls.

Much has changed at both clubs since then. Town's team that day was Vaclav Hladky, Kane Vincent-Young, Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden, Matt Penney, Lee Evans, Rekeem Harper, Fraser, Armando Dobra, Louie Barry and Joe Pigott. The likes of Corrie Ndaba and Bailey Clements were on the bench. Only three of those mentioned are likely to start today.

It's been all change at Burton too. Six players were allowed to depart in the recent January transfer window, including the ling-serving Lucas Akins, with five fresh faces arriving. Among them is young Norwich City loan forward Gassan Ahadme and former Everton striker Oumar Niasse.

Macauley Bonne celebrates at Gillingham.

James Norwood and Macauley Bonne both scored in last weekend's 4-0 win at Gillingham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

HORSES FOR COURSES?

There's only one real question mark when it comes to Town's back eight. Will Lee Evans be available again after illness? If so, he's likely to replace Tyreeq Bakinson in midfield. Christian Walton, Donacien, Woolfenden, George Edmundson, Wes Burns, Sam Morsy and Dominic Thompson, meanwhile, all look nailed on starters.

By contrast, predicting the Blues' front three is almost impossible. McKenna has routinely rotated his forward options in an attempt to not only keep players happy, but also find the right formula for each specific match.

Last weekend, it was Kayden Jackson as the central striker with Conor Chaplin and Bersant Celina in support. The game plan was to try and press and stretch an MK Dons team that likes to play out from the back. 

Might the attributes of James Norwood, Macauley Bonne or Joe Pigott been seen as more suited for this more physical test? They could certainly help repel Burton's set-piece threat. Could Sone Aluko be seen as someone who can calm and slow the game down if it becomes a bit chaotic? 

One thing's for sure, Hasselbaink will have no idea what to prepare for. 

FIRST GOAL KEY?

Town have kept six clean sheets in nine under McKenna. When they've gone in front, they've seen out games pretty comfortably thanks to an ability to dominate the ball.

Burton, meanwhile, have won nine of the 11 league games in which they've scored the game's first goal this season (drawing the other two). 

The age old cliche of the first goal being important looks relevant today.