It's the past vs the present as stalwarts return to Town for winner-takes-all Trophy clash
- Credit: Steve Waller/Pagepix
Ipswich Town take on a Colchester United side including plenty of familiar faces this evening. Andy Warren looks ahead to the game.
The winner takes it all
Before we get onto the players on the pitch in this game, it’s worth noting that the two teams are facing a ‘winner-takes-all' scenario.
West Ham’s Under 21s are already through, beating Gillingham last month, and one of tonight’s participants will join them.
The easiest route through is to simply win the match and claim three points but, if neither side is able to do that in 90 minutes, the contest will go to a penalty shootout to decide which team takes two points from this clash. That would be enough for the winner to make the knockout stages of this tournament.
If Ipswich win in 90 minutes and score two goals in the process, they’ll top the group and secure a home tie in the next round. A 1-0 win, though, would mean the Hammers win the group by virtue of their victory at Portman Road earlier this season.
Town would then be on the road in the last 32, just as they would with a shootout victory.
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Defeat means the end of the road in this competition, with the U’s heading through.
Knowing me, knowing you
As well as being a decider on the pitch, the cast of players involved means this is probably as exciting as it gets in the group stage of the EFL Trophy.
And that’s because the Colchester United squad has 1,466 Ipswich Town appearances between them.
How many of them play in this game remains to be seen, though surely all will want to take to the pitch at Portman Road one more time.
Chief among those pushing to play will be Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse who, along with Freddie Sears and Alan Judge, headed down the A12 in the summer following their Portman Road departures.
Skuse is yet to feature in the Trophy this season while Chambers did play as the U’s beat West Ham in their second game. Both started as Colchester beat Sudbury 4-0 in front of a BBC audience on Tuesday evening.
Sears is Colchester’s leading scorer this season, with six in all competitions, while Judge hasn’t played in a month due to a calf problem. A return tonight isn’t impossible, though.
The four joined a pre-existing group of ex-Ipswich players in Essex, led by current Colchester skipper Tommy Smith. He’s been called up by New Zealand, though, for a game against Gambia in Abu Dhabi tonight.
Goalkeeper Dean Gerken played at Portman Road last week, but for the U’s Under 23s, having barely played any first-team football this season. The 36-year-old's only appearance this season came in the Trophy against West Ham, so a nostalgic appearance tonight’s can’t be ruled out.
Then there’s Frank Nouble and Tom Eastman. Nouble made 60 appearances for the Blues under Mick McCarthy, while Eastman came through the Ipswich youth system and made 13 appearances, before moving to Colchester and making 426 for the U’s. He’s 30, now.
Armando Dobra, currently on loan from Town, is away on international duty with Albania’s Under 21s, having already featured for Ipswich in this competition in any case.
Thank you for the music
Chambers and Skuse made nearly 700 Ipswich appearances between them.
They led from the front during the highs of Mick McCarthy’s time in charge and continued to be figureheads within the squad as things went wrong under Paul Hurst and Paul Lambert.
A third Paul, Cook, made the decision to move on from the duo in the summer, releasing them at the end of their contracts.
That decision came just two days after Town had beaten Fleetwood on the final day of last season, a game played in front of empty stands. It denied the duo the send-off their years of dedication and service certainly deserved.
Debate over their role in Town’s decline in recent years comes down to a matter of personal opinion. Was their leadership of the squad the problem as Town were relegated in 2019, or was it the fact a raft of experienced second-tier players made way for a group unproven at Championship level? The same debate can be had regarding Town’s inability to factor in the League One promotion race during the last two seasons. How much of that is on the shoulders of Chambers and Skuse and how much came down to other factors?
The truth is, as it so often turns out to be, probably somewhere in the middle of it all.
But surely even those who pin the blame on the two experienced pros can acknowledge the professionalism, commitment and passion with which the duo represented Ipswich over so long a period.
Chambers now has a place inside the top 10 appearance-makers in Ipswich Town history, alongside some legendary figures. Both men were active in the community during their time as Ipswich players, with Skuse a particularly strong role-model in that regard. You won’t hear anything other than intense praise for the duo from those inside the club.
Town have moved on. Chambers and Skuse have moved on too. So tonight’s game represents a perfect opportunity to acknowledge all they gave to the club during their time here.
Make no mistake about it, though. They’re coming back to Portman Road to try and turn their old team over.
Take a chance on me
“The team will change on Tuesday,” Cook confirmed following Saturday’s draw with Oldham. “We’ve got a lot of players that want to play and that will be reflected in the team selection.
“I think the fans who pay good money to come in, I think they can be quite comfortable knowing that that’s the situation, so if they want to pay their money, that’s what will be turned out.”
That all means a chance for the players currently outside of Cook’s first-team to stake a claim in this game.
Vaclav Hladky, Luke Woolfenden, Cameron Burgess, Matt Penney, Idris El Mizouni, Rekeem Harper, Scott Fraser, Kayden Jackson, Louis Barry and Sone Aluko will surely all be hoping to play as they bid to force their way in.
Myles Kenlock may even be involved again, having come in from the extreme cold at Gillingham in the last group game.
All will be looking to prove a point.
I have a dream
Much of the build-up to this game will discuss football players in their 30s, but this tournament usuall offers a route into senior football for young players. Surely a few of Ipswich’s will be involved tonight.
Zanda Siziba, Albie Armin, Cameron Humphreys, Elkan Baggott, Tete Yengi, Matt Ward and Fraser Alexander have all made cup squads this season.
Some or all of them will surely make tonight’s bench.