Not ‘just three points’, key battles and selection headaches – talking points ahead of Ipswich Town v Norwich City
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Ipswich Town host Norwich City, at Portman Road, in the first East Anglian derby of the season on Sunday (12pm ko). STUART WATSON previews the action.
Not ‘just three points’
Technically it is. But it’s worth more than that – of course it is. All the usual emotions surrounding a match are magnified tenfold.
Town are bottom, out of the Carabao Cup and winless in six games at the start of the Paul Hurst era. There have been plenty of positives and victory on Sunday would see the emphasis put firmly on those heading into a two-week international break. It could be lift-off.
However, the continuation of a horrible winless run against that lot up the road (10 games stretching back to April 2009, as if you needed reminding) would see some of the underlying concerns about this bold new project get that little bit louder.
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The FA announced yesterday that an Independent Regulatory Commission had rejected Town’s appeal against Toto Nsiala’s red card against Sheffield Wednesday last weekend. RIP slide tackling. The game’s gone.
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So who will partner skipper Luke Chambers at centre-back? Maybe a new signing. Gareth McAuley – who could be signed as a free agent at any time – is one of several the Blues are interested in.
In terms of make do and mend, Janoi Donacien or Jonas Knudsen could move inside. That would see Jordan Spence or Myles Kenlock come into the team. Spence could slot straight in at centre-back himself too.
Alternatively – and perhaps more likely – is Trevoh Chalobah dropping back into defence from his holding midfield role. That’s what happened after Nsiala’s dismissal at Hillsborough. It’s a role he played for (admittedly leaky) England side at the European Under-19 Championships this summer.
With Cole Skuse still struggling with a thigh problem, that could open the door for Flynn Downes in midfield.
One more option is to start Luke Woolfenden. The 19-year-old enjoyed an impressive pre-season campaign but has only just returned to action in the U23s from a knee injury.
Will the new boys start?
Jordan Graham arrived on a season-long loan from Wolves on Tuesday. It’s clear the skilful 23-year-old has been earmarked for the left-wing slot that has proved problematic for Paul Hurst in the early part of this season, with Freddie Sears, Tayo Edun, Grant Ward and Ellis Harrison having all been used as makeshift options, but whether he’ll be chucked straight in remains to be seen.
He barely played last season, including an early season loan spell at Fulham, but says he is in the best shape of his career
Veteran forward Jon Walters completed a six-month loan switch from Burnley yesterday. The 34-year-old former Blues favourite was a Premier League regular during his seven seasons at Stoke, but – not helped by recurring knee problems – made just eight appearances for club and country last season. He did play the full 90 minutes of a Europa League qualifier in Istanbul little more than three weeks ago. He’ll add some much-needed experience and leadership and will be well-suited to Hurst’s high-press.
Onel Hernandez has been the stand out player in a struggling Canaries side at the start of this season. The speedy Cuban-born winger has got fans off their seats with his direct-running down the left.
Town’s star man so far has been flying Welsh winger Gwion Edwards. It will be fascinating to see those two go head-to-head down the same side (if Edwards remains on the right).
Norwich’s homegrown left-back Jamal Lewis enjoyed his first taste of the derby last season, while Town right-back Janoi Donacien has taken the step up from League Two side Accrington Stanley in his stride so far, keeping the likes of Albert Adomah (Aston Villa) and Tom Lawrence (Derby) quiet.
Town may have cashed in on Martyn Waghorn, Joe Garner and Adam Webster this summer, but Norwich – with their parachute payments having run out – were forced to flog James Maddison and Josh Murphy.
Town have signed 10 players so far this summer, while Norwich have six fresh faces. East Anglian derby experience is therefore at a premium.
Of those who featured in the play-off semi-final clashes of 2015, only Alex Tettey, Bartosz Bialkowski and Luke Chambers are likely to play a part this weekend.
Jordan Rhodes will always be the one that got away. The former Kesgrave High School pupil was sold on the cheap by Roy Keane having barely had a sniff of the first team and went on to be a prolific scorer for Huddersfield and Blackburn.
His career has stalled slightly in recent times though and, following quiet stints at Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, he controversially joined Norwich on a season-long loan earlier this summer.
The 28-year-old said in 2013 that ‘I’m still an Ipswich fan, I’m one of them’, but five years on proclaimed he was ‘really looking forward to pulling on the yellow and green jersey’.
His record against Ipswich is six goals in 10 games, but the last time he found the net against Town was back in October 2015.
Norwich haven’t had the best of starts to the season either.
Like Ipswich, they drew their opening game 2-2 thanks to a last-gasp equaliser (at Birmingham).
Then came league defeats to West Brom (4-3 at home) and Sheffield United (2-1 away) followed by an unconvincing, leave-it-late 2-0 home win against Preston. Last weekend they were thumped 3-0 at home to Leeds.
They remain in the Carabao Cup thanks to wins against Stevenage (3-1 at home) and Cardiff (3-1 away). Manager Daniel Farke made 10 changes to his side for Tuesday night’s win in South Wales with the likes of Ben Godfrey, Emiliano Buendia and two-goal Dennis Srbeny all making strong cases for inclusion at Portman Road.
The 12th man
Home tickets can still be bought up until 10.30am on Sunday. A crowd in excess of 25,000 – including a 2,000 sold-out away end – is expected.
Town’s supporters need to leave any doubts temporarily at the turnstiles and, for 90+ minutes, give the home players a lift. They’ll all tell you that it really does make a difference.
Hurst loves engendering a siege mentality in his clubs. That’s fine as long as it includes the supporters. An us-against-the-world mindset, helped by some harsh decisions going against Town already this season, could be healthy.