Sunday sermon required at Portman Road... why Crewe game is 'must win' for Town
- Credit: Ray Lawrence
Ipswich Town host Crewe Alexandra in a rare Sunday fixture this afternoon (3pm ko). STUART WATSON previews the action.
Ok, first thing's first, why on earth is this game being played on Sunday I hear you cry?
Well, that very question was raised at the Fans' Forum event earlier this month. Here's what manager Paul Cook had to say: "I think it was due to giving us more time to recover from the Tuesday night game (Rotherham). I think it was just an option that we took up.
"After Crewe on the Sunday, if I'm not mistaken, there is no game until the Saturday. So it gives us a little bit of extra recovery time and maybe it's just something a little bit different for our supporters as well."
Those comments were made before Ipswich progressed in the Papa John's Trophy. As a result, the Blues do now have a midweek game next week - the visit of Arsenal's U21s on Wednesday night.
MAKE US BELIEVE
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A Sunday sermon, delivered in physical form, is required to get the Portman Road congregation all singing from the same hymn sheet and truly believing once more.
After finally getting those elusive back-to-back league wins, against Portsmouth and Fleetwood, we all looked to a run of five matches against some of the division's leading lights with optimism. Things were finally clicking. This could be lift off.
Ultimately, the Blues ended up with just four points from a possible 15 against Plymouth, Wycombe, Oxford United, Sunderland and Rotherham though and they find themselves back down in 13th - an equal eight points between the play-off places and relegation zone.
"It's disappointing because we have made some really good strides, there has been positivity, but we've probably dampened that a lot," admitted Paul Cook, following Tuesday night's comprehensive 2-0 home loss to Rotherham.
That was a result which undoubtedly opened some deep wounds for Blues fans. A crowd of 18,221 were flat. All the off-field excitement that's come since April's takeover has left us emotionally exposed again. It's the hope that kills you, as they say.
And so, after such a deflating few days, it's understandable that many have put on that emotional armour of cynicism and pessimism again. 'Here we go again...' It hurts less that way.
Town fans have been patient and supportive in the extreme. It's now up to the players to give them a timely lift.
To label this 'must win' sounds ridiculous given we're not even halfway through the season, but Ipswich really have left themselves with very little margin for error now.
Town need to start upping their run rate. Realistically, they need to win *at least* 13/14 of their remaining 27 matches to secure a play-off spot now.
A home game against the division's rock-bottom side is an opportunity that simply can't slide by.
Crewe Alexandra rightly earned plenty of plaudits last season.
A team packed with homegrown talent played easy on the eye football under David Artell to comfortably finish 12th following promotion from League Two.
Success brings problems for a club of that size though.
Perry Ng was the first to move up the pyramid - joining Cardiff back in January. Harry Pickering (Blackburn), Ryan Wintle (Cardiff), Charlie Kirk (Charlton), Owen Dale (Blackpool) and Olly Lancashire (Southampton) were all part of the summer exodus.
The Railwaymen are still trying to play the same way, but with lesser players. As a result they find themselves bottom of the table with just two wins and 16 goals to their name.
Reflecting on Tuesday night's 3-2 defeat at AFC Wimbledon, Artell said: "We gave away really soft goals and that was really frustrating. Our decisions on the ball were not good enough and when they are not good enough you present opportunities to the opposition to score against us.
“I can half accept that we can concede goals when we are trying to play our football but not in the manner or the extent we did at Wimbledon. We cannot concede poor goals like that and that made it very tough going into the second half – but credit to the lads they kept going, held in there with some last ditch blocks and tackles and all that and actually created enough chances to perhaps have got something from the game in the final 10 minutes.
“They are the fine lines between winning and losing and we have to make sure we come out on the right side of them.”
TIME FOR TWEAKS
Taking away Tuesday night's loss to Rotherham, Ipswich's performance levels have been pretty good.
They were applauded off after going toe-to-toe with Plymouth in Devon. They were ruthless in the 4-1 win at Wycombe. Oxford United, the division's most in-form side at the time, were forced to resort to cynical time-wasting to escape Portman Road with a point. Town dominated the game at Sunderland before being hit by two late sucker punches.
Some concerns about the goals having dried up? Yes. But it's hardly been disastrous form. A few tweaks to the team here and there could get the engine purring again.
Kyle Edwards and Matt Penney improved the left side when they stepped off the bench in midweek. It would be no surprise to see them start. That opens up the possibility of Scott Fraser playing in a deeper midfield role.
Wes Burns (hamstring) and Sone Aluko (absent after his father suddenly passed away) were both big misses in midweek. Aluko should return today.
Could Kane Vincent-Young be an option to add some pace and drive to the team? And will Cook be tempted to give Joe Pigott his first league start since the end of August?
As ever, we'll find out an hour before kick-off.