MATCH PREVIEW: Away day specialists Birmingham City out to put another dent in Ipswich Town’s play-off ambitions

Ipswich Town

Ipswich Town - Credit: Archant

Ipswich v Birmingham: Ipswich Town host a Birmingham City side with one of the best away records in the Championship today.

Lee Clark’s side have struggled at St Andrew’s, winning just two of their 16 games on home turf.

However, seven victories on their travels – a number surpassed only by league-leaders Leicester and third-place Derby – means they are 16th in the table and a comfortable eight points clear of the relegation zone.

The statistics don’t suggest this will be a classic. Birmingham have won just two of their last nine in the league, while Ipswich have won just two of their last 12.

Last weekend’s 3-0 defeat at table-toppers Leicester City may have been only Ipswich’s ninth league defeat of the campaign, but 12 draws (only Nottingham Forest have more) has contributed towards play-off hopes fading.

Victory today appears to be vital if the Suffolk side are to keep pace with a host of teams battling for sixth spot.

COMMENT

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A look at today’s visitors to Portman Road should put things into perspective for Ipswich Town fans.

Publicity-shy Blues owner Marcus Evans has been criticised for tightening the purse strings at Portman Road. At Birmingham, the pot is even more empty, with owner Carson Yeung’s money laundering trial adjourned in Hong Kong this week.

Ipswich Town have been accused of relying too much on loan players in recent years, with the arrival of Jonny Williams this week making it 18 temporary additions during Mick McCarthy’s 15-month reign (just five this season).

Lee Clark has brought in 21 different players on loan during his 18 months in charge at St Andrew’s, with eight currently in the squad.

While Town have started to create stable foundations on which to build, Birmingham have used 40 different players in the league this season (the most in the division).

The fact that Ipswich are five points adrift of the play-off places and Birmingham could still be dragged into a relegation dogfight is proof of just how good McCarthy is at getting the best of what he’s given.

TEAM NEWS

IPSWICH TOWN

– New loan signing Jonny Williams is set to make his debut after joining from Crystal palace until the end of March. The 20-year-old creative midfielder prefers playing through the middle.

Blues boss Mick McCarthy said: “I’m delighted to have got Jonny, He’s a very exciting young talent. He’s got bundles to offer, loads of energy and he’s a threat, that’s what he’ll be, a constant threat. He can open defences up.

“He can play narrow on the left or in behind one or two. He’s a clever footballer, an intelligent footballer.”

With the 20-year-old’s temporary deal ending at the end of March (making him available for the next seven games), McCarthy added: “His future is not here. He’s a Palace player and a very talented lad. He’s not been playing and Tony (Pulis) has been very gracious to let me have him for the month.

“It really is until the end of the season, but there is a recall. We always put a recall clause in all of our loans so that’s understandable. They might need him back considering their position.

“If he has seven games with us and helps us get back in the top six that’s why I’ve taken him.”

– Luke Hyam remains sidelined with the hamstring strain he suffered in the early stages of the goalless home draw with Blackpool.

– Top-scorer David McGoldrick (knee) has been ruled out for the rest of the season.

BIRMINGHAM CITY

– Lee Clark has used 40 different players in the league this season (the most out of all 24 clubs). Twenty-eight different players have been in the match-day squad over the last six games, with 23 of them having been used.

– All eight of Birmingham’s current loaness are from Premier League clubs: Federico Macheda, Tom Thorpe and Tyler Blackett (all Manchester United), Emyrs Huws and Albert Rusnak (both Manchester City), Jordan Ibe (Liverpool), Shane Ferguson (Newcastle) and Scott Allan (West Brom).

– Liverpool loanee Jordan Ibe impressed when stepping off the bench to make his debut in last weekend’s 2-1 win at Blackpool. The 18-year-old winger could replace Chris Burke on the right of midfield.

– Centre-back Will Packwood (20) has just been called up to the senior USA squad for the first time.

Probable line-ups

Ipswich Town: Gerken, Chambers, Berra, Smith, Cresswell, Green, Skuse, Williams, Hunt, Murphy, Nouble.

Birmingham City: Randolph, Robinson, Packwood, Hancox, Spector, Burke, Lee, Adeyemi, Huws, Macheda, Novak.

Opposition

Lee Clark, Birmingham City manager

“Mick (McCarthy) is one of the few managers outside the Premier League whose name will rightly be mentioned when a job comes up in it. His CV is top quality, both in club football and international football, and you know that when you play one of his teams they will be strong and well-organised.

“They will play at a very high tempo and make life difficult for you.

“It is always tough playing against one of Mick’s teams and, in a way, last weekend didn’t do us any favours because we will have to deal with the backlash from their defeat at Leicester.

“Losing 3-0 to Leicester is no disgrace because they are a very good team but I am sure Mick will be expecting a big response from his players against us.”

Last meeting

Birmingham 1 Ipswich 1

A man-of-the-match performance from keeper Darren Randolph denied dominant Ipswich victory at St Andrew’s in the opening month of the campaign.

Town led 1-0 at the break, courtesy of Christophe Berra’s close-range header, but could have been out of sight had it not been for Randolph’s two fine saves from David McGoldrick. The home side’s equaliser arrived out of nowhere in the 77th minute when Chris Burke’s heavily deflected shot looped over a helpless Dean Gerken.

Head-to-head

With all the statistics suggesting this will be another tight game, much could depend on which team’s target man has the biggest influence today.

Ipswich’s Daryl Murphy has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career and has been rewarded with his first Ireland call-up in more than six years. With top-scorer David McGoldrick ruled out for the rest of the campaign, even more rests on his shoulders.

Lee Novak plays a similarly unsung role for Birmingham. He may have scored just six goals in 24 league starts this season, but the 25-year-old’s strength and aerial ability makes him a useful foil for whoever his strike partner is.

In a game which could descend into long-ball tactics or be decided by a set-piece, one of these two may be the deciding factor.

Prediction

Ipswich Town struggled to break down Blackpool on home turf a fortnight ago and Birmingham – who have won seven on their travels this season – should provide an even tougher challenge today.

Lee Clark’s side have lost just twice on the road since the end of last October (1-0 defeats at Brighton and Watford). Without injured talisman David McGoldrick, Ipswich’s big hope is that new loan signing Jonny Williams can provide a creative spark in a game which looks must-win if any top six hopes are to stay alive.

Live updates

For live match updates from this afternoon’s game, follow @Stuart_Watson on Twitter. Team news, report and reaction to appear on this website.

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