We've entered the home straight... let the League One play-off sprint begin
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Ipswich Town take on Lincoln City this evening in a vital League One clash. Andy Warren looks ahead to the action.
We have reached the home stretch.
Just 10 games remain in Ipswich Town’s season, as they bid to make the League One play-offs.
Kieran McKenna’s men begin the sprint five points back from where they want to be, with eight teams seemingly fighting for three play-off places.
Rotherham and Wigan are in the driving seat when it comes to automatic promotion. MK Dons may argue with that, given they’re only three points back from the Latics (but have played two games more) and will surely at least make the play-offs from this position.
On that basis, Oxford, Wycombe, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, Plymouth, Ipswich, Portsmouth and Bolton will all have their eyes on one of the remaining spots.
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Ipswich have been consistent under new boss McKenna, but will need to remain so during the run-in to have any kind of chance.
Game one of 10 sees Lincoln City visit Portman Road.
On paper, Town should see off a side sitting 18th in the table, in the midst of a patchy season which has seen them fall away from their status as promotion-hopefuls during recent campaigns.
But we’ve seen in Ipswich’s the recent games with Cheltenham (0-0) and Morecambe (1-1) that it doesn’t always work like that.
Town dominated both of those games and created more than enough chances to win them both several times over, but ultimately were made to pay for not taking their opportunities.
Patience may be needed tonight, in a game Town surely need to win, but the Blues can take real heart from their weekend win at Fleetwood, in which both goals came late as their persistence paid off in another game they fully controlled.
What will McKenna do with his side tonight?
We’ve been used to surprises on the team sheet during the former Manchester United assistant’s time in charge, so it’s difficult to know what to expect.
Well, apart from the six players we can scribble down in permanent ink, as long as there’s no late injury trouble. Christian Walton, Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden, George Edmundson, Wes Burns and Sam Morsy are surely certain starters. You can probably add Dominic Thompson to that list, too, though there are suitors for his left-side role in the form of Matt Penney and Kane Vincent-Young.
But, in regard to the rest of the side, here follows a few questions which only McKenna can answer.
Both the boss and skipper Morsy praised striker Joe Pigott’s weekend performance, so is he deserving of a second-successive start? He’s only done that once in his Ipswich career, dating all the way back to August.
Will McKenna persist with Morsy and Celina in the middle of midfield? That’s how he started Saturday’s game, before Pigott’s exit and Tyreeq Bakinson’s introduction saw both Morsy and Celina move one position further up the pitch. It worked a treat, with both men involved in Ipswich’s goals from their advanced roles.
Are Kayden Jackson and Conor Chaplin the men to partner the central striker, or will there be a switch? Should Bakinson or Tom Carroll come into the side in midfield, Celina could advance to be one of the forward trio, while Macauley Bonne, James Norwood and Sone Aluko are all options there.
McKenna will provide his answers at 6.45pm
Town came up against former Blues Toto Nsiala and Ellis Harrison at Fleetwood on Saturday.
Tonight, they welcome Teddy Bishop back to Portman Road.
The academy product was part of the summer exodus as former boss Paul Cook came good on his ‘Demolition Man’ pledge, bringing an end to Bishop’s 132-game Town career.
He’s settled in well at Lincoln, making 34 appearances and scoring three goals, but was an unused substitute as his side beat Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend.
He’s played against Town once already this season, playing 78 minutes of Town’s 1-0 victory at Sincil Bank in September, on an afternoon when he received a mixed reception from the traveling Ipswich supporters.
He was extremely quiet that afternoon, with barely any involvement before he was substituted, but all those packed into Portman Road tonight will know exactly what he’s capable of.
At his best, Bishop is a twinkle-toed dribbler who can skip towards the box and create some dangerous moments for his team.
Town will be hoping to keep him quiet once again.
This game was supposed to be played on New Year’s Day, only for the match to be postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Lincoln squad.
That’s seen the match moved from a prime spot on the calendar to a Tuesday night in March, but the game is still set to be attended by a bumper crowd.
That’s because the match was originally part of Town’s ‘Pack Out Portman Road’ campaign, which offered reduced ticket prices for the games with Sunderland, Wycombe and then the Imps.
More than 29,000 saw Town draw with Sunderland and then a crowd of nearly 26,500 took in the victory over Wycombe, with more than 25,000 tickets sold for tonight’s game.
It should be a great occasion. Hopefully Town can deliver.