Bad timing? Town are still heavy favourites for a reason
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Ipswich Town host Gillingham at Portman Road this afternoon. STUART WATSON looks at the big pre-game talking points.
Just four weeks ago, Kieran McKenna's men romped to a 4-0 win at Gillingham playing some sexy football. Just one week ago, Gillingham were thrashed 7-2 on home soil by Oxford United.
Much has changed at Priestfield since then though.
Neil Harris, strongly linked to the Town job prior to McKenna's arrival, took charge of the Kent club on Monday. The following night his team beat fellow relegation-battlers Crewe 1-0 on home soil to keep alive faint hopes of beating the drop.
McKenna is full of admiration for Harris, the pair having spent time together on their Pro Licence coaching course. He insists that Gillingham's previous heavy beatings now have 'zero relevance'. It's his job, of course, to keep everyone fully focussed.
Ipswich are heavy favourites today for good reason though.
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Gillingham have won just four games all season - and three of those were against teams also in the relegation zone. The personnel didn't change too much in January and there's only so much of a lift Harris can give.
Bad timing to walk into them now? Perhaps. You could also argue that the initial adrenaline rush provided by a new manager may have slightly faded.
The gap to the play-off places has grown to nine points after last weekend's 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday was followed by Oxford United drawing at Wigan in midweek.
Town's margin for error now is miniscule.
The Blues have averaged two points a game since McKenna's arrival and they will need to replicate that form over the final 17 matches to stand any chance of gatecrashing the top-six.
Beat Gillingham today and then follow that up with another victory at Doncaster on Tuesday night and things would be set up very nicely for Town to go to fourth-placed MK Dons roared on by 7,000 away fans.
Slip up over the following four days though and the narrative could quickly turn to preparing for next season.
GOING FOR GOALS
Town's performances haven't hit the same heights of that aforementioned Gillingham demolition over recent weeks.
Victories against Accrington Stanley and AFC Wimbledon were both filed under 'weren't at our best, but found a way to win through moments of quality'.
And, despite having 65% possession, Town ended last weekend's defeat at Hillsborough without producing a shot on target.
"Obviously that is not a stat that we want to happen very often," said McKenna.
"It’s clear we had some good elements to our game against a team who has the best home record in the league.
“On numerous occasions we got into really dangerous areas and we had eight shots blocked in the game, a couple of them really good opportunities.
“We just weren’t quite able to get the last pass right, the timing or the movement and we didn’t quite get the bounce of the ball in their penalty box."
McKenna has rotated his front three so far.
Macauley Bonne, James Norwood and Sone Aluko started his opening three games. Then Bersant Celina and Conor Chaplin came into the side to support Bonne against Accrington. After that, Kayden Jackson was a surprise starter alongside Norwood and Aluko at AFC Wimbledon. Then it was back to Bonne, Celina, Chaplin at Hillsborough.
Sometimes it's been a front three, sometimes it's been a front two with one in behind and sometimes it's been a lone striker with two in support.
“For me, whether it’s one striker, two strikers or three strikers, it’s about getting people in the right areas, having a threat behind the defence and about having bodies in the box whenever we get around the side," said McKenna, who also has Joe Pigott, Kyle Edwards and the recalled Tyreece Simpson as attacking options.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily a formation thing, that’s about working on our movements and our patterns as a team to make sure that we have bodies arriving in goalscoring areas.
“We’ve worked on that this week and it's something we'll hopefully see an improvement on on Saturday.”
A LATE CALL
Influential skipper Sam Morsy will be serving the third match of a his four-game ban today. In amongst all the chat about his absence, it's perhaps been underestimated how much the Blues have missed fellow central midfielder Lee Evans over the last three games.
The Welshman, whose form had gone up a notch or two since McKenna's arrival, has not featured since tweaking his groin in the warm-up prior to the Accrington match.
McKenna says a 'late call' will be made on whether he can return to the team today.
Without him, the options would be Tom Carroll, Tyreeq Bakinson and Idris El Mizouni. Getting the blend between technique and tenacity in the middle of the pitch could be crucial.