‘While there’s life there’s hope’ – Four observations ahead of Bolton v Ipswich

Jonas Knudsen could fill in at cebtre-back once more for Ipswich Town. Photo: Steve Waller

Jonas Knudsen could fill in at cebtre-back once more for Ipswich Town. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town take on Bolton Wanderers in a Championship game at The Macron Stadium tomorrow. STUART WATSON previews the action.

Bolton Wanderers player look dejected after their recent FA Cup defeat to Huddersfield. Photo: PA

Bolton Wanderers player look dejected after their recent FA Cup defeat to Huddersfield. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

It’s do or die...

Town have been flirting with the play-offs all season. It’s always felt like their valiant attempts at chat-up lines are destined to ultimately receive a polite cold shoulder, but while there’s life there’s hope...

Last weekend’s 1-0 home victory against Leeds was far from convincing – Mick McCarthy’s men struggled to break down 10 men and required a 25-yard screamer from Bersant Celina to break the deadlock – but it was job done in a pressurised situation.

Following a torturous turn of the year which saw just one point collected from a possible 12 and the now traditional early FA Cup exit, an injury-hit but spirited squad once again pulled a result out the bag when they needed it most.

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The Blues remain 12th in the Championship table, but have closed the gap to the top-six back to four points. And now they face three of the bottom four in their four matches.

First up it’s tomorrow’s game at 21st-place Bolton, then the visit of league-leaders Wolves, followed by matches against rock-bottom Sunderland (a) and third-bottom Burton (h).

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Emerge from those matches with a healthy points total and it would set things up nicely for the cross-border trip to bitter rivals Norwich City on Sunday, February 18.

MORE: ‘I expect him to be here at the end of the season’ – McCarthy on Bialkowski

Goals have dried up

Town certainly need to improve on recent performances if they are to get their season back on track.

The Blues were fun to watch in the opening four months of the season thanks to their ultra-clinical counter-attacking threat. Every shot on target seemed to go in and for a long time they were among the division’s leading scorers as the likes of Joe Garner, Martyn Waghorn, David McGoldrick and Celina regularly found the net.

Chances have remained at a premium though (an average of two shots on target per match since the middle of December) and now the conversion rate has slowed.

Just three goals have been scored in the last six games. One of those was Celina’s wonder strike, while the other two were Garner headers direct from set-pieces. Town are undoubtedly lacking creativity from an injury-decimated central midfield.

A goal difference of plus one – 40 for and 39 against – is the worst in the top half. That’s why McCarthy was so delighted with a clean sheet last weekend.

MORE: Ipswich boss McCarthy hopeful of ‘a few new players’ in time for Bolton clash

Fresh faces

McCarthy revealed yesterday that is hopeful of signing ‘a few new players’ in time for tomorrow’s game. It’s understood that two loan deals are at an advanced stage and could be announced today.

If a centre-back arrives then the long-serving Tommy Smith will be allowed to join his former New Zealand boss Anthony Hudson at MLS side Colorado Rapids.

If a centre-midfielder arrives then Kevin Bru, who has been on the transfer list since the summer, will be allowed to depart too.

Chances are, regardless of incomings, McCarthy will stick with his central midfield duo of Cole Skuse and Callum Connolly for the time being.

And there’s a strong possibility he will carry on with Jonas Knudsen filling in alongside skipper Luke Chambers after admitting that the Dane could end up being converted from a left-back to a centre-back.

MORE: ‘An opportunity he would like to explore’ - McCarthy confirms Smith can join Colorado

Bolton are battling

Not many teams bounce straight back following relegation to League One, but Bolton managed just that when finishing second last season. It was some achievement by manager Phil Parkinson given he was dealing with a transfer embargo.

Trotters chairman Ken Anderson, who is looking to sell a club beset by financial problems, has recently admitted he ‘underestimated how much the Championship has moved on’ in the year his side were away.

Bolton failed to win any of their opening 11 games back in the second tier (D2 L9), but rallied to go undefeated in seven (W2 D5). Things have been mixed since then with four wins and four defeats from the last eight leaving them hovering a point above the drop zone.

Town laboured to a 2-0 win when the Lancashire side visited Portman Road last September and McCarthy is expecting another tough test against a team ‘littered with Championship experience’.

Parkinson is hopeful that 35-year-old combative midfielder Karl Henry, who was one of McCarthy’s stalwarts at Wolves, will be fit to return to the team after missing the last two with hamstring and back problems. Bolton have lost just six of the 17 games he’s started since arriving on a free transfer from QPR last September.

The likes of David Wheater, Mark Little, Will Buckley, Gary Madine, Adam Le Fondre and Aaron Wilbraham know what this division is about, while youngsters Antonee Robinson and Harry Charsley are on loan from Everton.

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