Dugout games, a big boost, a missing man and the return of a 'Mickey Mouse' official
- Credit: Pagepix/PA
Paul Cook takes his Ipswich Town side back to former club Portsmouth this afternoon in a vital League One clash for both sides. Andy Warren takes a look ahead to the game.
Back at his old stomping ground
Ipswich Town manager Paul Cook will be back at the scene of one of his greatest triumphs when he leads his side at Portsmouth this afternoon.
Rewind four years and Cook’s Pompey team were just about to start a run of seven wins and a draw from the final eight games, which saw them claim the League Two title with a thumping 6-1 victory over Cheltenham on the final day.
It sparked a pitch invasion as fans spilled onto the Fratton Park playing surface, in scenes which will hopefully be repeated at Portman Road under Cook in the future.
But just a few weeks later he was gone in mysterious circumstances, heading to Wigan amid contract discussions and an imminent American takeover at Portsmouth.
Pompey fans still hold a grudge now and Cook, while remaining guarded, had his say yesterday, insisting all was not as it seemed and that he believes he should not have left. He also suggested incoming manager Kenny Jackett had already been approached behind his back.
But, despite some animosity, Cook spoke with real joy of his time at Fratton Park.
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He’s clearly looking forward to the chance to get a victory over them on his return, though.
In the other dugout
There will be a familiar face in Fratton Park’s home dugout this weekend, following Danny Cowley’s appointment.
Ipswich fans know he and brother Nicky best for being the men at the helm of Lincoln as the Imps knocked Mick McCarthy’s Town out of the FA Cup in 2017, before taking the Sincil Bank side from non-league to League One and then moving to Huddersfield in the Championship.
They’ve taken on the Portsmouth job until the end of the season, having been linked with every League One vacancy so far this season and showing interest in the role at Portman Road prior to Cook’s appointment. Town did preliminary work into the brothers but never made formal contact.
Their arrival at Fratton Park comes with their side sitting 10th in the table, three points from the play-off places and just one behind Town.
Both teams will feel they have a real chance of making the post-season shoot-out.
Must do better
Cook’s been pretty clear that he won’t accept another performance like Tuesday’s loss at Fleetwood, even if he softened his blows when discussing the issue in public.
It’s clear the new boss is doing all he can to instil confidence in his players for the run-in and couldn’t be more clear that he ‘100%’ believes they can get promote. But don’t let that kid you into think he hasn’t let his players that they need to raise their standards.
“I’ve got to be very careful, I won’t be criticising the players in any shape or form, it’s not something that I like to do in the press,” he said.
“I think for managers, dressing rooms and meeting rooms are very important areas because that’s where you get your messages across.
“Performances like that are not acceptable, not just from Ipswich Town, but from any club that travels away. If you can’t do basic stuff well, then you won’t win football games.”
The most welcome of returns
The sight of Kane Vincent-Young in competitive action for Ipswich Town is something many feared would never happen again.
It’s been nearly 17 months since the flying full-back limped off the Roots Hall pitch. Little did he or anyone else know just how long he would be sidelined.
What started off as a groin problem led on to Achilles, calf and then knee issues for the former Colchester man, robbing the Blues of a player who made such an impact during his hugely impressive nine-game start to life at Portman Road.
He’ll be on the bench tomorrow and will get a few minutes at the end at most, you would think, but his return is a huge positive. He’s exactly the kind of full-back Cook wants in his side.
James Norwood is also available again, having missed the victory over Plymouth with back spasms and then the loss at Fleetwood due to a morning court appearance. He’s likely to lead the line.
Changes will be at a premium, given Cook has stated his desire to keep a settled side, but if there are to be any, Cole Skuse could potentially drop out of the side having pushed to give his manager 80 long minutes at Fleetwood on Tuesday, while Gwion Edwards is a doubt after hobbling off at Highbury Stadium.
Teddy Bishop and Jack Lankester could be candidates to come in.
A sigh of relief
Former Ipswich striker Ellis Harrison has caused Town real trouble when the two sides have faced off over the last 18 months, most notably on the Blues’ last visit to Fratton Park in December 2019.
Harrison bullied former team-mate Toto Nsiala that day, tempting him into an early booking before the Ipswich defender was hooked before half-time in order to avoid a second caution.
He won’t be around this weekend, though, given he’s suffered a knee ligament injury which has ended his campaign.
Harrison picked up the problem in Pompey’s draw with Gillingham at the end of February but, remarkably, played in his side’s next three games and didn’t complain of any issues before a routine scan revealed the full extent of the problem.
Nsiala and the rest of the Town defence will be breathing a sigh of relief.
The man in the middle for this game is certainly not a popular figure at Ipswich Town.
Alan Young has the whistle at Fratton Park – he's the man who oversaw the debacle that was the home draw with Wycombe Wanderers back in November 2018.
He failed to give Town an early penalty for handball before, most alarmingly, ruling out Luke Chambers’ header as he adjudged it went in off Town striker Kayden Jackson, when in actual fact it hit Chairboys’ midfielder Curtis Thompson.
He handed out 11 yellow cards and also, with the help of assistant Aaron Farmer (who isn’t working this weekend’s game), awarded Wycombe a late penalty as David Wheeler dived over Chambers’ foot, outside the penalty area. Thankfully Tomas Holy saved the penalty as time ticked down.
His display was branded ‘Mickey Mouse’ by then Ipswich manager Paul Lambert. He hasn’t refereed an Ipswich game since.
Better is needed from Town, as well as the referee this afternoon.