Meet the opposition: A cautionary tale, improving form and two familiar strikers
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Ipswich Town take on Portsmouth, at Fratton Park, in a League One clash tomorrow afternoon. STUART WATSON takes a closer look at the home side’s season so far.
Portsmouth act as a cautionary tale for Ipswich Town.
The South Coast club were top of the League One table this time last year with 48 points after 22 games. For context, the Blues (on 36 points after 19) couldn't reach that mark even if they were to win their next three.
Pompey's campaign started to falter in the new year as a run in the FA Cup (which ultimately saw them lose to QPR in a fourth round replay) and the Checkatrade Trophy (which they won after beating Sunderland on penalties at Wembley) added to fixture congestion.
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A 1-0 home loss to Blackpool on January 12 was the beginning of an eight-game winless run in the league which saw them slip to fourth. Seven wins in eight during March/April kept them on the coattails of Luton and Barnsley, but two points from the final three games saw them finish fourth and a narrow 1-0 defeat to Sunderland in a two-legged play-off semi-final followed.
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And so the vultures swooped.
Former Ipswich Town academy graduate Matt Clarke (who joined Pompey as part of a swap deal for Adam Webster in 2016) moved to Premier League club Brighton for a fee reported to be in the region of £3-5m.
Jamal Lowe, who had bagged 17 goals from the wing, moved to Championship club Wigan for around £2.5m.
Right-back Nathan Thompson turned down a new deal to join League One rivals Peterborough.
Kenny Jackett moved quickly to snap up long-term target Ellis Harrison from Ipswich for £500k (more on him later), as well as experienced defender Paul Downing (Blackburn, free) and winger Ryan Williams (Rotherham, free).
Then, later in the window, he landed winger Marcus Harness (Burton) and striker John Marquis (Doncaster). The latter, who had scored 61 third-tier goals in three seasons at Keepmoat, arrived for a fee reported to be close to £2m.
There was a definite play-off hangover for Pompey as they lost 1-0 at Shrewsbury on the opening weekend and claimed just one victory in their opening seven league games.
Things began to improve in late September (WWDLWDD) before really igniting from November 5.
A 4-1 thrashing of Southend proved to be the start of six-game winning streak. Rochdale (3-0 away) and Rotherham (3-2 at home) were both beaten in the league, while Harrogate, Alrincham (both FA Cup)and Northampton (EFL Trophy) were seen off in knockout competitions.
Then came a topsy-turvy 2-2 home draw with Peterborough before a hot streak came to a crashing end with a 4-1 thrashing at Accrington Stanley - the club's biggest league loss in almost six years - last weekend.
Now in his fifth season at Fratton Park and approaching 200 appearances, centre-back Christian Burgess is a key man at the heart of defence.
It's no coincidence that Portsmouth leaked four goals - including three in a nightmare 15 minutes spell midway through the second half - while he served a one-game suspension last weekend.
Left-winger Ronan Curtis has scored eight goals in all competitions, including five in his last eight outings. Fun fact: The London-born, three-cap Republic of Ireland international is the Godson of former Wales boss Chris Coleman.
Up top, Marquis is the main man. He's started 22 games so far and, while the goals haven't been flowing as much as in previous seasons (five so far), the 27-year-old is integral to the attack.
Brett Pitman, who Town allowed to walk away for nothing in 2017, scored 25 goals in his maiden campaign. He then had to settle for a bit-part role for large chunks of season, before a revival in the No.10 role towards the end of the campaign. Impressively, he was still the club's joint-second top scorer with 13.
Now largely a super sub, he is still scoring important goals. A last-gasp penalty earned a 2-2 draw against Burton, while a superb header clinched a 1-0 success over Bolton. He's also scored winners against Crawley and Altrincham in the cups.
Jackett finally landed his man when prising Harrison away from Ipswich for £500k back in the summer. The 25-year-old was in-and-out of the side to start with, but he's been a regular of late and has eight goals to his name so far.
He'll certainly feel like he's got a point to prove tomorrow having been let go, at a loss, following one relegation season at Portman Road.
Speaking after his move, Harrison said: "I'm disappointed injuries kept me out for so long and I'm disappointed I didn't get to show the fans and my team-mates what I was capable of. I never got going at Ipswich and that's a real disappointment because the move was so good for me."