Big crowd, new boss and defeats to avenge - Will Town rise to the occasion?
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town host Sunderland in a League One match this afternoon. STUART WATSON previews the action.
Wednesday night's televised 2-0 defeat at lowly League Two side Barrow in an FA Cup second round replay was embarrassing in the extreme. The first half non-display was unforgivable. The 200 or so fans who made the long journey to Cumbria were badly let down.
Town's players should be pumped up to put that right today.
The dramatic ups and downs of this season leaves everyone unsure what they're going to get from the team on any given day though.
Last week, Town were dreadful in the 2-0 midweek defeat at Charton. Four days later they secured a spirited comeback draw at high-flying Wigan.
"I wouldn't be surprised if, come Saturday, our guys put on another excellent performance like they did against Wigan just with the way they are at the moment," said interim boss John McGreal, in the immediate aftermath of the Barrow defeat.
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Is the rollercoaster ride due another high this afternoon?
Today will be the biggest crowd Portman Road has seen since the Championship play-off semi-final against Norwich back in May 2015.
The success of the club's 'Pack out Portman Road' campaign meant that, as of Wednesday, 28,700 tickets had been sold with only 500 remaining.
Understandably many may opt not to use those reduced price tickets now given the rapidly rising Covid rates heading into the Christmas period. Nevertheless, it will still feel like a big occasion.
Before the game, a statue of the late Kevin Beattie - widely regarded as the club's greatest ever player - will be unveiled outside the stadium.
"If all that doesn’t get you going and wanting to run around then maybe some of the guys are in the wrong game," said McGreal.
“There will be a lot fans coming back for this game and hopefully we can put on a performance that has them wanting to keep coming back."
It has to be said that things have tended to fall flat on such days in the past.
Town's recent record in home games where the attendance has been 21,000+ reads: P22 W0 D8 L14.
Ipswich announced that Kieran McKenna had been appointed as the club's new manager on Thursday night, the young Manchester United coach bringing Martyn Pert with him from Old Trafford to be assistant.
The duo, who were working with world superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba just days ago, will sit in the stands this afternoon to assess the mid-table League One side they are taking over.
"He’s said he wants us guys to take charge of this game and then he’ll start with a clean slate on Monday," revealed McGreal.
“But he’ll be in the stands and if he needs to make contact we’re open to that. There’s no problem with that at all. He’s the new gaffer – whatever he wants we’ll support him and try to supply for him."
Will McKenna's presence have an instant impact?
I remember Ipswich being 4-0 up at Derby in 2013 only to draw 4-4 after recently appointed Rams boss Steve McClaren came down from the stands to deliver a half-time team talk. I also remember the newly-appointed Paul Lambert sitting in the stands and watching Ipswich go down to a limp 3-0 defeat at Millwall in 2018.
In addition, two of the club's US-based owners will be in attendance for the first time too - Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer. It was meant to be the whole gang, but unfortunately the Covid situation meant Brett Johnson, Ed Schwartz and Mark Steed had to stay Stateside.
Ipswich have now won just two of their last 12 games in all competitions. In truth, they weren't that good in those two wins either (Oldham and Crewe).
Their four home wins this season (from a total of 17 games) have all come against teams currently in the bottom six (Doncaster, Shrewsbury, Fleetwood and Crewe).
Sunderland, by contrast, look to have come through their own little sticky patch and are on another roll.
Lee Johnson's men were on a six-game winless streak when Ipswich arrived at the Stadium of Light four weeks ago. The atmosphere was edgy, the Blues dominated the game but they were hit by two late suckerpunches and lost 2-0.
Since then, the Blacks Cats haven't lost in the league. Recent home wins against Morecambe (5-0) and Plymouth (2-1) have them back up to third and within two points of leaders Rotherham.
Town have yet to beat Sunderland since they dropped down into League One (D1 L4).
WHO WILL PLAY?
You'd imagine the personnel will revert largely to those that scrapped their way to a 1-1 draw at Wigan last weekend.
George Edmundson, Lee Evans, Kyle Edwards and Macauley Bonne were all left behind in Suffolk during the week in preparation for this game.
Whether it's James Norwood or Joe Pigott who gets the nod alongside Bonne up front will be interesting.
It's unclear as to whether Bersant Celina is ready to return to action following an unspecified injury.
The other question is whether it's 4-4-2 again, as it was for the entirety of the Wigan game and the first half against Barrow, or the 3-5-2 system that was deployed after the break at Holker Street. The latter may be seen as the more solid and pragmatic option in the circumstances.