Both in form, both depleted, both need the win... Ipswich v Portsmouth
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town host Portsmouth this afternoon, both sides trying to make up ground on the League One play-off places. STUART WATSON previews the action.
The picture is becoming clearer by the week.
Rotherham, Wigan and MK Dons look too far ahead at the top. Bolton, following their draw in midweek, look too far back.
That leaves seven teams - Oxford, Sunderland, Plymouth, Wycombe, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich and Portsmouth - vying for three play-off places as we enter the final straight.
Town's next three games? Portsmouth at home, Oxford away and Plymouth at home. That's three proverbial 'six-pointers' on the spin.
Ipswich could finish today inside the top six (that would require a win, Plymouth to lose at Bolton, plus Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe to drop points in home games against Cambridge and Rotherham respectively).
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There's also a scenario where the gap widens to six points with three teams above having two games in hand to come.
It's crunch time.
Town are still in the hunt thanks to a remarkable mid-season upturn.
The record under Kieran McKenna reads W9 D3 L2 F19 A5. The Blues are unbeaten in eight. They've won five of their last six at Portman Road. They've kept 10 clean sheets in 14. And they've probably left a couple of points out there too. It's title-winning form.
Portsmouth are still in the hunt thanks to an big turnaround of their own.
Danny Cowley's men looked to have blown it after losing to MK Dons, Sunderland, Charlton and Oxford at the start of 2022.
A January reshuffle - which saw Tyler Walker and Aiden O'Brien replace Ellis Harrison and John Marquis in the striker department - breathed new life into the south coast club though.
And now they're right back in the mix now thanks to a seven-game unbeaten run comprising of six wins and 21 goals scored.
A TEST OF DEPTH
Town's comfortable 2-0 home win against Lincoln on Tuesday night was soured slightly by a string of second-half injuries.
George Edmundson, a key figure in a consistent back three, and influential skipper Sam Morsy, who has been the beating heart of the midfield, were forced off with ankle and hamstring problems respectively.
In-form defender Luke Woolfenden, talismanic winger Wes Burns and left wing-back Dominic Thompson also required treatment.
McKenna revealed yesterday that Edmundson's season could potentially be over due to the ankle ligament damage he suffered, with Cameron Burgess set to come into the side in his place.
There was better news regarding Morsy, who trained yesterday and could be involved this afternoon, with Burns another to be assessed this morning. Both Woolfenden and Thompson are good to go.
There's no dressing it up, losing Edmundson at this crucial juncture is a blow. You want your big players available for the big games.
But we must also recognise that Ipswich have got a strength in depth that most League One managers will look at with envy.
Even with Lee Evans and Kyle Edwards sidelined, Town's bench in midweek was Vaclav Hladky, Burgess, Tom Carroll, Conor Chaplin, James Norwood, Macauley Bonne and Joe Pigott. The likes of Kane Vincent-Young, Matt Penney, Idris El Mizouni and Tyreece Simpson didn't even make the 18. That's ridiculous.
One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. McKenna will certainly have whoever is called upon ready to slot into his well-oiled machine as seamlessly as possible.
SAME FOR THEM
It's also important to acknowledge that Portsmouth are facing similar issues.
Recently, Cowley - who failed to land a central midfielder in January - has been operating with 13/14 senior outfield players.
Michael Jacobs, Shaun Williams, Kieron Freeman and Jayden Reid have all been injured, while Marcus Harness is in the middle of a three-game suspension.
For Tuesday night's 3-1 win at Crewe, Cowley was forced to name four very inexperienced youngsters on his bench. Then, during the second half, he withdrew in-form striker George Hirst, midfielder Louis Thompson and defender Hayden Carter, admitting he was having to give 'the cotton wool treatment' to several players ahead of a demanding schedule.
Pompey travel to Plymouth on Tuesday night and then face Wycombe (h), Bolton (a) and Rotherham (h).
Last summer, you may remember, it was Portsmouth fans who dubbed Ipswich Town 'Chequebook FC' as Paul Cook went about completely rebuilding the squad (to an often overlooked rough net spend).
The Blues had a deal for Pompey winger Michael Jacobs all but done only to pull the plug at the last minute and sign Edwards. Town then tried to hijack a Portsmouth deal for midfielder Joe Morrell, the Welshman ultimately keeping his word and moving to Fratton Park from Luton.
Ipswich, of course, then went on to win 4-0 at Fratton Park back in October.
Jacobs, who had to laugh off his near exit, subsequently worked his way back into the Portsmouth and was playing a starring role in central midfield before injury struck last month. He returned to training recently and *might* be involved today.
Portsmouth boss Cowley and his assistant Nicky are Essex boys who have Ipswich fans in the family.