MATCH PREVIEW: Ipswich Town head to Brighton knowing their season is very much on a knife’s edge with 10 games to go

Ipswich Town

Ipswich Town - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Town head to Brighton & Hove Albion this afternoon knowing that their season could still end in top six glory or mid-table mediocrity.

OVERVIEW

Ipswich Town head to Brighton & Hove Albion this afternoon knowing that their season could still end in top six glory or mid-table mediocrity.

Following last weekend’s 3-1 home defeat to rivals Wigan, the ninth-place Blues are six points adrift of the top six.

Their opponents today are just one spot higher in the Championship table, but they are five points ahead and have a game-in-hand to come.

Victory or a draw would keep Mick McCarthy’s men very much in the promotion race heading into back-to-back home games against Derby (third) and Nottingham Forest (sixth).

Just a few weeks ago it looked as though the top five positions were spoken for, but Derby, QPR (fourth) and Forest are all faltering and even fifth-place Wigan saw their eight-game winning streak halted by a 3-3 draw against Yeovil in midweek.

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On the other hand, defeat today could see the Suffolk side slip to 11th in the table, with Blackburn and Watford both hot on their heels.

With so much to play for, Brighton are expecting to top their best crowd of the season (28,282).

ALL TO PLAY FOR

Ipswich Town boss Mick McCarthy still believes that anyone in the top half of the Championship could end up in the play-off places with just six weeks of the season to go.

Leicester and Burnley look as though they will claim the two automatic promotion spots, but the poor form of Derby (winless in four), QPR (two wins in nine) and Nottingham Forest (winless in six) has given the chasing pack – including Ipswich – hope.

“I think the play-offs have been great,” said McCarthy. “They keep interest in the league, we’re still interested in the league because there’s a play-off spot.

“If it was the top three going up we’d be forgetting all about it.

“We’re still interested though and it keeps us all honest.

“If you remember last year it was down to 12th spot (still fighting for promotion). I think it is now – if somebody puts in a good run they could get there.”

While other team’s performance levels have been up and down throughout the campaign, Ipswich have always remained in and around the top six thanks to their consistent displays. On just one occasion they have been comprehensively outplayed (3-0 at table-toppers Leicester), while you can count the number of bad days at the office on one hand (away defeats to Millwall and Middlesbrough).

“I think our performances have been consistent,” agreed McCarthy.

“We’ve not been slapped like we were a couple of times last season (6-0 at Leicester, 5-0 at Crystal Palace). That’s reflected by where we are.

“We’ve not been up and down, so we’re not in the bottom end, but when we’ve had the chance to beat people we’ve not taken that chance or let them back into it (28 points have been dropped from winning positions).

“That’s why we are where we are; not in the top six and not in any danger.”

TEAM NEWS

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION

– Former Suffolk schoolboy and England international Matthew Upson has played a key role in Brighton’s good defensive record. The Seagulls kept 25 clean sheets in the 52 games he started (and finished) in succession. The 34-year-old missed last weekend’s 2-0 win at Bolton through illness but returns to action today.

– Keith Andrews (who scored nine goals in 20 games for Ipswich during a loan spell in the 2011/12 season) is available again. He was ineligible to play against his parent club Bolton last weekend.

– Andrew Crofts (knee), Andrea Orlandi (thigh), Will Hoskins (knee) and Craig Mackail-Smith (groin) are all sidelined, though the latter two are nearing a return and may even be on the bench today.

IPSWICH TOWN

– Blues boss Mick McCarthy deployed a 4-4-1-1 formation in the latter stages of the 1-0 win at Yeovil and throughout last weekend’s 3-1 home defeat to Wigan. He may decide to match up Brighton’s 4-3-3 system today.

– Cole Skuse took a heavy kick to his leg in the latter stages against Wigan and has been ruled out after not training all week. The midfielder has been an ever-present in the league this season. He will also be a doubt for next week’s home games against Derby and Nottingham Forest.

– Frank Nouble is ready to play again after missing the last two matches with a tight hamstring. David McGoldrick (knee) remains a long-term absentee.

LIKELY LINE-UPS

BRIGHTON (4-3-3)

29 Tomasz Kuszczak

2 Bruno

3 Gordon Greer

20 Matthew Upson

17 Stephen Ward

38 Rohan Ince

18 J Forster-Caskey

6 Dale Stephens

30 Will Buckley

19 Leonardo Ulloa

35 Jesse Lingard

IPSWICH (4-4-1-1)

22 Dean Gerken

4 Luke Chambers

6 Christophe Berra

5 Tommy Smith

3 Aaron Cresswell

11 Paul Anderson

16 Paul Green

19 Luke Hyam

12 Stephen Hunt

25 Jonny Williams

9 Daryl Murphy

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Big Argentine striker Leonardo Ulloa has been the focal point of Brighton’s attack this season.

Not only has he scored an impressive 22 goals in all competitions, but his size and strength means he is an out-ball for the Seagulls on the counter-attack with the likes of Will Buckley and Jesse Lingard looking to play off of him.

Town centre-back Christophe Berra will be the man charged with marking him today. The former Wolves man will be a strong contender for Ipswich’s Player of the Season but needs to put last weekend’s 3-1 home defeat to Wigan quickly behind him.

Will have added motivation due to the fact that Gordon Greer, his chief rival for a place in the Scotland starting XI, is on the other team today.

LAST MEETING

Ipswich Town 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 0

David McGoldrick scored twice as Ipswich Town saw off Brighton to climb to ninth in the Championship table last September.

McGoldrick opened the scoring with a shot that took a deflection off former Blues loanee Keith Andrews. He then rifled a shot into the far corner after cutting inside Gordon Greer.

Ipswich lost 3-0 on their last visit to the Amex Stadium, Paul Jewell’s side well beaten courtesy of goals from Dean Hammond, Craig Mackail-Smith and Wayne Bridge.

OPPOSITION

Keith Andrews, Brighton midfielder

“We are ticking along very nicely while certain teams above us are stuttering a little bit. We probably haven’t had a spell of losing three or four all season and hopefully that continues.

“Ipswich still have an eye on the play-offs but we can kill them off a little bit if we beat them. Like any Mick McCarthy side they are very hard-working. They kind of emulate him on the pitch.

“You’ve got to enjoy these games.

“That is what you have played the last 30 games for, to go into the last 10 or so with a realistic chance of winning promotion.

“We have let ourselves down on a few occasions against a few of the so-called lesser sides, but we have done quite well against teams in the top half of the table.”

Prediction

Brighton 1 Ipswich 0

Brighton may not be the free-flowing side they were under Gus Poyet, but they have proved far harder to beat under new boss Oscar Garcia this season. Just 28 goals have been conceded in 35 league games (14 fewer than Ipswich), but only 39 have been scored (seven fewer than Ipswich).

Teams have had joy by flooding the midfield at The Amex, but the Seagulls are happy to keep it tight and then pounce on the counter-attack. Unfortunately, I can see Mick McCarthy’s men getting caught by one.

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