Double header, welcome home and points to prove - Town host Owls

Bersant Celina applauds fans chanting his name after the game.

Bersant Celina's last appearance for Ipswich Town at Portman Road was a 4-0 loss to Aston Villa in April 2018. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller

Ipswich Town host Sheffield Wednesday at Portman Road this afternoon. STUART WATSON previews the action.

Town fans celebrate.

Ipswich Town's travelling fans enjoyed their trip to Lincoln last weekend - but will the Portman Road faithful be given something to cheer over the coming days? - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

BIG WEEK

It's still early days, of course, but this has the potential to be a season-shaping week for Ipswich Town.

After a frustrating eight-game winless start across all competitions, last weekend's gritty, professional and ultimately fully-deserved 1-0 win at Lincoln City released a whole load of tension.

The question is, can the Blues now kick on and quickly start undoing some early damage? 

Two home games in the space of four days - Sheffield Wednesday today, followed by rock-bottom Doncaster on Tuesday - certainly presents a golden opportunity for this new-look squad to fully win the hearts and minds of supporters and send a statement out to the rest of the league.

I always refer back to 2014/15 as an example of how powerful the home double header can be.

Daryl Murphy celebrates putting Ipswich Town 2-0 up. Picture: Steve Waller

Daryl Murphy celebrates sealing a home win against Brighton back at the start of the 2014/15 season. - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

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Town beat Millwall (2-0) and Brighton (2-0) in quick succession at Portman Road in September. They then sent both Wolves (2-1) and Watford (1-0) away from Suffolk with their tails between their legs in the space of five November days. And they repeated the trick against Blackpool (3-2) and Cardiff (3-1) in April on the way to a Championship play-off finish.

Mick McCarthy's men also beat Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley in back-to-back home games inside the opening month of the following campaign. It meant that, in the space of 12 months, the Blues had claimed maximum points from four out of five home double headers.

Do you know how many times it's happened since then? Just once... from 24 attempts.

That was last season and, even then, the unconvincing 1-0 wins against Gillingham and Crewe (October) didn't exactly capture the imagination.

Four points from a home double header is also a decent haul. Since the start of 2016/17, that has happened just twice though (1-1 v Birmingham and 3-0 v Wigan in April 2017; 1-1 v Lincoln and 1-0 v Plymouth in March 2021).

Town's full home double header record (league games only) over the last seven seasons is thus:

2014/15: WW, WW, LW, WW

2015/16: WW, DW, WD, WL, DL

2016/17: DL, LW, LD, DD, DW

2017/18: WL, DL, DL

2018/19: DD, LL, DD

2019/20: DD, LL

2020/21: WW, WLL*, LW, LL, DD, DW

* Town played three home games in eight days.

Bersant Celina ahead of the game.

Bersant Celina has been capped 29 times by Kosovo. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller

CELINA'S HOMECOMING

It's been 1,253 since Bersant Celina last pulled on an Ipswich Town shirt at Portman Road.

The 25-year-old Kosovan, having been away and played for Swansea and Dijon over the last three years, will make his eagerly anticipated second home debut for the Blues this afternoon.

He may, once again, only be on a season-long loan, but - just like Macauley Bonne - there is a far deeper connection between player and fans than you usually get with a hired hand.

This is someone who has played against the likes of Neymar, Mbappe, Payet, Ibrahamovic, Pedri and Depay over the last 12 months. He wasn't short of offers from higher level clubs, but the love he felt from Town supporters back in 2017/18 drew him back to Suffolk.

It's important not to expect too much, too soon given his severely limited pre-season due to Covid and a heart problem. Some flashes of class at Lincoln last weekend certainly whetted the appetite though.

Matt Penney celebrates scoring early at Cheltenham Town.

Matt Penney scored on his last league start for Ipswich Town - a 2-1 loss at Cheltenham. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

REMEMBER ME?

Is it fate that the door has opened for Matt Penney just in time to face the club that released him this summer?

Hayden Coulson's injury at Lincoln last weekend means the 23-year-old left-back will come back into a league starting XI for the first time since that thumping finish at Cheltenham. 

Penney joined the Owls at the age of eight and, either side of loan spells down the leagues and abroad, made 32 appearances for his boyhood club.

A point to prove against his former employers and an opportunity to stake his claim for a starting spot - he has double motivation today.

It looks like he'll be up against Saido Berahino - the former England U21 international who played in the Premier League with West Brom and Stoke. The 28-year-old, who has spent the last two years in Belgium, scored six minutes into his full debut last weekend before being withdrawn with cramp on the hour.

Meanwhile, Town fans will remember Owls defender Dominic Iorfa from his loan spell at Portman Road in 2017/18 (the same season as Celina). He plays centre-back these days.

Also, Blues boss Paul Cook will know all about Wednesday's other centre-half, Chey Dunkley, given they worked together for three years at Wigan.

Town manager Paul Cook celebrates at the final whistle.

Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook applied for the Sheffield Wednesday job last season. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

COOK OVERLOOKED


Another man with a bit of a point to prove today is Blues boss Paul Cook.

When out of work last January, he revealed on talkSPORT2's EFL Show that he had been snubbed for the Owls job.

He said: “If I can be as honest as I can be with anyone, Sheffield Wednesday supporters, I applied for the job first time around when Tony Pulis took the job (Nov 2020) and I wasn’t considered, I never got a phone call. That’s football.

"The second time around (Pulis was sacked after 10 games) I deemed that if I didn’t get a phone call first time, I didn’t see the point in applying second time."

New signing Tom Carroll warming up at Cheltenham Town.

Tom Carroll replaced Rekeem Harper in Ipswich Town starting XI last weekend. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

FINAL AUDITION

This afternoon is the final chance for midfielders to prove to Paul Cook that they shouldn't be the one dropped when captain-in-waiting Sam Morsy returns from suspension for Tuesday night's visit of Doncaster.

After Lee Evans and Rekeem Harper didn't look like the right blend during the opening weeks of the campaign, the Tom Carroll and Evans partnership worked a lot better at Lincoln last weekend.

Is the composed Carroll, with his Premier League pedigree, now in pole position? Or will the fact that Evans formed a successful partnership with Morsy at Wigan give him the edge? Cook's mind may not yet be made up.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Harper gets any more game time in a more advanced role today after impressing there as a substitute at Sincil Bank.

Macauley Bonne gives Town the lead.

Macauley Bonne heads home Ipswich Town's winner at Lincoln last weekend - his fifth goal of the season. - Credit: Steve Waller - www.stephenwaller.com

CARRY ON BONNE

Macauley Bonne has scored five goals in his first seven Town appearances, including four in his last three outings.

Can he bag for the fourth match in a row? The last player to do that was James Norwood back in August 2019.


FINDING THEIR FEET

Darren Moore is a well-respected manager who had relative success at West Brom and Doncaster. And he's got himself a good looking squad for League One level.

Experienced players like Barry Bannan, Sam Hutchinson, Liam Palmer, Dunkley and Iorfa stayed after relegation, while summer signings Lee Gregory, Lewis Wing, Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Jack Hunt, Marvin Johnson, Dennis Adeniran have all played in the Championship. Berahino, as mentioned, has played even higher.

Sheffield Wednesday's Barry Bannan (left) celebrates his team's win after the Sky Bet League One mat

Barry Bannan (left) is a key player for Sheffield Wednesday. - Credit: PA

Even so, the South Yorkshire club are still very much finding their feet back in League One - a level they haven't played at since 2011/12.

After a four-game unbeaten start consisting of three wins and not a single goal conceded - Charlton (0-0, A), Doncaster (2-0, H), Fleetwood (1-0, H) and Rotherham (2-0, A) - came sobering defeats to Morecambe (1-0, A) and Plymouth (3-0, A). 

They arrive at Portman Road today off the back of a 1-1 home draw against Shrewsbury and will be backed by a sold out away following of 1,892.

Speaking after the recent Shrews stalemate, Moore said: "First half we were absolutely blistering at times, second half we just kind of went away from the game plan. There were big moments in the game (that didn't go our way) – Saido's second chance, Baz's (missed) penalty and then we had a clear goal disallowed.

"It’s frustrating but we have a point and it stopped that run of consecutive defeats and we build on that and move on. We are on a journey and there will be times when there will be bumps in the road."

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