Town's final five begins at Shrewsbury with plenty of interest remaining

Macauley Bonne and James Norwood embrace, as the pair swap places with Bonne coming on as a second h

Both Macauley Bonne and James Norwood will be hoping for a start this afternoon - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Ipswich Town travel to Shropshire to take on Shrewsbury this afternoon. Andy Warren takes a look ahead to the action.

The final five 

Defeat by Cambridge a week ago was a hammer blow to Town’s play-off hopes. It’s one they surely can’t recover from. 

The Blues are eight points adrift with only 15 left to play for, at a time when so many of League One’s top side have found a supreme level of consistency. 

The chances are extremely slim and, for any hope to remain, they would need to finish the campaign perfectly with five wins from five matches. 

Town haven’t won three games in a row all season long. To ask them to claim five now, which would involve beating both Wigan and Rotherham, seems far too much to ask. 

Dead rubber? 

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So, is this the first of five dead rubbers for Ipswich Town? 

It’s unlikely you’ll hear manager Kieran McKenna or any of his players describing this game as such, even if there is an acceptance their season is probably not going to end the way we all wanted it to. 

In skipper Sam Morsy, Town’s on-pitch efforts are led by a man with laser focus. How many times have we seen him demand higher standards from his team-mates on the pitch in recent months? He’s not likely to stop now, even if the season is past the point of no return. 

Bersant Celina’s another player who approaches every game he plays in in the same way. There are countless others across the team. 

Town had a penalty appeal waved away after this shot from Sam Morsy appeared to be handled by Adam M

Town had a penalty appeal waved away after this shot from Sam Morsy appeared to be handled by Adam May - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

The defensive unit will want to further prove why they can be the bedrock of a real promotion challenge next season, while Macauley Bonne, James Norwood and Joe Pigott will all be wanting to show they are much better striking options than their goal-scoring returns of late suggest. 

There are futures and contracts to play for, too. 

For the team in general, there’s the prospect of finishing higher than the ninth-place they managed last season, while five more points are required to equal the 2020/21 points total. In themselves they’re nothing worth celebrating, but it would be at least a sign of progress. 

But perhaps the biggest reason Ipswich can’t afford to see these games as dead rubbers is the mood around the club which, considering what’s happened on the pitch, is incredibly high. The club is clearly moving in the right direction. 

A really good finish here would take Ipswich into the summer full of belief that better times and a first real League One promotion challenge is on the way next season. 

And, while it’s surely not going to happen, football is a funny old game. You never know where an improbable run of five successive wins might take Ipswich. 

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna looks on.

Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna is among the early favourites for the soon-to-be vacant Watford job. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

The approach 

So, how does McKenna approach what’s left of the campaign? 

There has been illness in the camp this week, which may impact McKenna’s team selection, but the Town boss isn’t ready to experiment, insisting he will continue to field the best team available to him in search of victories. 

“Our priority very much is getting the best team together to play against Shrewsbury," he said. 

"We have to look to win the game and then look to win the game after that.  

“Our 100% focus is on putting out the team which we think is going to be most competitive.  

“We always have an eye on the longer-term, but at the moment it has to be all eyes on Saturday." 

So that would appear to mean little change to the relatively settled Ipswich Town teams we’ve seen of late, with loan players still involved and no rush to turn to any of the Blues’ up-and-coming young players. 

Elkan Baggott is around the first-team at the moment, due to George Edmundson’s season-ending ankle injury, and could make the bench, while Cameron Humphreys, Tawanda Chirewa and Tyreece Simpson are spending time training with the senior side. 

As the games go on they may creep closer to involvement, but it may just be they need to wait until pre-season rolls around to push their case. 

James Norwood and Adam May collide.

James Norwood and Adam May collide. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Strike it rich 

Town’s striking situation is particularly interesting during these final five games. 

Bonne, Norwood and Pigott are the three fit front men, but will any of them be around for next season? That’s doesn't feel like a slam dunk for any of them at the moment. 

Norwood’s had the last two starts and has had bright and quiet moments in both games without finding the net, while Bonne’s solitary start in Ipswich’s last 10 games was at Morecambe. He missed big chances there. Pigott’s not played at all since being hooked at Oxford, following a difficult display. 

Will any of them take their chance between now and the end of the campaign? 

Bonne leads the scoring charts on 12 goals but is now just one ahead of flying winger Wes Burns, who has fired himself to 11. 

He will be wanting to claim Ipswich’s golden boot in his debut season with the club. 

Shrewsbury Town's Matthew Pennington during the Sky Bet League One match at AESSEAL New York Stadium

Shrewsbury Town's Matthew Pennington during the Sky Bet League One match at AESSEAL New York Stadium, Rotherham. Picture date: Saturday March 19, 2022. - Credit: PA

Tough nut 

Shrewsbury may be 16th in League One, but they will be a tough nut to crack this afternoon. 

Steve Cotterill’s side have pulled themselves well clear of relegation worries, which threatened them earlier in the season, and possess one of League One’s best defences. 

Since McKenna took charge of Ipswich, the Blues have only conceded seven goals in 18 games and have the best backline in the division over that period.  

Rotherham have conceded nine and then, in third place, is a Shrews defence including former Ipswich loanee Matt Pennington. They’ve let in 10 along with MK Dons. 

So, Town will have to work hard to get anything out of the Shropshire side this afternoon. 

Toto Nsiala and Jon Nolan arrived at Ipswich Town in a �2m double deal from Shrewsbury Town in Augus

Toto Nsiala and Jon Nolan arrived at Ipswich Town in a �2m double deal from Shrewsbury Town in August last year, both reunited with their former boss Paul Hurst. Photo: ITFC - Credit: Archant

Missing links 

There was a time when Ipswich and Shrewsbury were intrinsically linked. 

Town’s poaching of Paul Hurst in the summer of 2018 didn’t go down well in Shropshire, with Shrews chief executive Brian Caldwell vocal in his displeasure at the way Marcus Evans appointed Mick McCarthy’s replacement. 

He was even more unhappy a few weeks later when both Toto Nsiala and Jon Nolan put in transfer requests to force their way to Suffolk. 

But all three are now gone, with Ipswich and Shrewsbury links severed. Unless you count former Town loanee Pennington, that is. 

Hurst’s chasing the National League play-offs with Grimsby, Nsiala is part of a Fleetwood Town side battling to stay up and injury-hit midfielder Nolan has only played 26 minutes of football since joining Bristol Rovers at the start of February.