Rovers bottom, Town starting to click, key men back... is this the night?
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Ipswich Town host Doncaster Rovers in a League One match tonight (7.45pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
A HOME WIN?
Saturday's 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday meant Ipswich Town's wait for a home win went on.
The Blues have now gone seven matches in all competitions at Portman Road without tasting victory at the start of 2021/22. Previously, they'd faced Morecambe, Newport, MK Dons, AFC Wimbledon, Bolton and West Ham U21s.
You have to go back to the last game of 2020/21 for Town's last triumph on Suffolk soil - 3-1 against Fleetwood. Wes Burns scored against Ipswich that day.
You have to go back to December 15, 2020 for the last time they won at home in front of supporters - a 2-1 victory against Burton (Keanan Bennetts and Emyr Huws the goalscorers) coming in that brief period when a small number of spectators were allowed back inside grounds.
That, incidentally, was also the last time Town won a Tuesday night home game (LDDLLL since then).
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And you have to go right back to February 15, 2020 for the last time the Blues won in front of an unrestricted crowd at Portman Road - 4-1 against Burton (Alan Judge and Kayden Jackson both scoring twice).
The Portman Road faithful are long overdue that winning feeling.
Highly competitive in League One over recent years, 2021 has seen Doncaster Rovers hit by the sale of captain Ben Whiteman (January), exit of boss Darren Moore (March) and retirement of club legend James Coppinger (May).
Boss Richie Wellens (who had a loan spell at Ipswich during the Paul Jewell era in 2012) has made some solid summer signings, such as Tommy Rowe (Bristol City) and Ben Close (Portsmouth), but it’s been a tough start to the campaign for the South Yorkshire club.
They started without a win in nine across all competitions (D2 L7), though those opening fixtures did comprise of tough games against the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Portsmouth, Rotherham and Wigan. A low point was a senior side getting thrashed 6-0 at home to Rotherham in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Like Ipswich, they finally ground out that elusive first victory of the campaign little more than a week ago, beating Morecambe 1-0 at home courtesy of a late Rowe header.
“We’ve won a football match because we did the basics well, it wasn’t pretty at times but the win gives us confidence,” said Wellens, whose side followed that up with a 2-1 home win against Man City U21s in the Papa John's Trophy.
Rovers took the lead at Plymouth on Saturday, but ended up losing the game 2-1 after giving away two second half penalties.
“I’m disappointed with the result but really proud of the performance," said Wellens, whose side will have travelled more than 1,000 miles in the space of five days by the time they get back from Suffolk.
"They’re fourth in the league, but I thought we were better than them. That gives me a lot of satisfaction."
It was a result which left Doncaster with just four points and four goals scored in their opening eight league games.
Will Bersant Celina start a third game in 11 days having had no pre-season due to a Covid-related heart problem? I'd say that's unlikely.
Is it also sensible to give Wes Burns, who is managing Achilles tendinitis, a rest? I'd say so.
There's no point taking any risks when the back-up options are so strong.
Cook says livewire winger Kyle Edwards is available again following a four-game unspecified injury absence. Whether he's fit enough to go straight into the starting XI remains to be seen.
Conor Chaplin will be itching for a start, after his last-minute goal at the weekend, while Rekeem Harper may be considered as a starting No.10 following two powerful cameo displays in that role off the bench.
Joe Pigott, James Norwood and Sone Aluko are other options for change in the front four.
In mIdfield, Sam Morsy will almost certainly go straight into the team, and take the captain's armband, after serving the three-game league suspension he picked up in his final match at Middlesbrough.
Tom Carroll would seem his most likely partner, in the absence of Lee Evans (hamstring), though Idris El MIzouni will have given Cook food for thought with his performance against the Owls.
The back five - Vaclav Hladky, Janoi Donacien, George Edmundson, Cameron Burgess and Matt Penney - are unlikely to change, with Christian Walton and Hayden Coulson both still injured.
Already, Ipswich find themselves 12 points behind the leading League One duo of Sunderland and Wigan.
All the talk of a new-look squad needing to settle and gel can only last so long.
Town do look to have turned a bit of a corner over the last week or so, but pretty soon those baby steps need to become bigger strides.
With a clear goal threat and increased solidity, there's a growing feeling that 'it's only a matter of time before someone gets a big beating'.
Could tonight be that night? To be honest, any sort of victory will do.
It's certainly not unreasonable to say this is a game Cook's men really should be winning given how high their ambitions are this season.