Stu says: ‘Are you not entertained?’ – Ipswich Town talking points ahead of trip to Aston Villa
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town head to Aston Villa on Saturday just three days after a 2-2 home draw with Sheffield Wednesday. STUART WATSON looks at the key talking points.
Are you not entertained?
Russell Crowe bellowed that phrase to the baying coliseum crowd in his role as Gladiator and Mick McCarthy could be forgiven for doing the same at Portman Road.
The 2016/17 campaign was dull and there was a drop of around 2,000 in season ticket sales as punters sought more bang for their buck.
McCarthy, to his credit, has responded. More often than not he’s started with a fluid front four and the shackles appear to have been loosened.
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The Blues have now scored 30 goals in 17 league games. To put that into perspective, it took them until February 4 to reach that tally last season. The scoring rate has almost doubled.
The flip side of that is that the goals are going in at the other end too – 26 in 17 to be precise. Only the bottom five teams have leaked more. Town hadn’t let in this many until Boxing Day last season.
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Yes, some of the soft ones conceded have been frustrating, but scorelines like 4-3, 2-3, 5-2 and 2-2 are far more palatable than the dour binary code results of before.
Tough on TV
Since that dramatic Noel Hunt winner at Charlton in November 2014, Town have played 22 live televised games and won just two of them – 3-0 at Charlton (Nov ‘15) and 1-0 at MK Dons (Dec ‘15). There has been seven draws and 13 defeats.
Rhodes curse over?
There was always a sense that Jordan Rhodes – let go on the cheap by Roy Keane – would forever come back to haunt Town. He had scored six goals in six games against the Blues for Blackburn. It’s now none in three though in the colours of Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday. He was kept very quiet on Wednesday night.
Those who are squeamish should skip the next sentence. David McGoldrick needs surgery on a four-inch gash very close to his crown jewels which was created by the raking studs of Sheffield Wednesday captain Glenn Loovens.
It was a horror ‘tackle’ that, incredibly, went unpunished. The FA are unlikely to be able to take retrospective action either as referee Keith Stroud clearly saw the incident given the fact he made such a big deal of playing advantage.
How big a blow is it for Town? ‘Didzy’ is undoubtedly the team’s most gifted player on his day. He’s scored seven goals this season and has been a joy to watch at times. He can also leave you pulling your hair out with some of his decision-making though and his strengths have arguably been diluted in a wide right role of late.
Who replaces him?
In a strange way this may have done McCarthy a favour.
Popular midfielder Emyr Huws, the club’s first £1m signing in five years, is back following a long-term Achilles injury.
Yet it would be harsh to drop either Cole Skuse or Callum Connolly from those deep midfield roles at the moment though.
Young Everton loanee Connolly has now had three excellent games in the middle of the park, with his battling presence affording Skuse a greater freedom to press higher up the field. The two have dovetailed nicely.
Perhaps the creative Huws can return to the team in a more advanced No.10 role, with Martyn Waghorn simply moving wide. If the Welsh international is not quite ready for a start then Grant Ward would provide some more natural width.
It was less than two years ago that Freddie Sears instantly endeared himself to Blues fans following a £100k mid-season switch from Essex neighbours Colchester United, but it sadly feels a lot longer than that.
Playing on the last shoulder and combining well with Daryl Murphy in a ‘big man, little man’ strike combo, he netted 12 goals in his first 29 games for the club. Since then he’s scored nine in 99.
A prolonged spell of selflessly grafting on the wing appears to have drained his confidence as a finisher. That was evident when he took a heavy touch around keeper Keiren Westwood and then failed to square to an unmarked Bersant Celina.
It was him who gave the ball away high up the field just prior to the Owls’ last-gasp equaliser too, but you sense McCarthy will be putting his arm around the striker rather than delivering the hair dryer treatment.
Aston Villa, away, on Saturday afternoon (3pm).
Steve Bruce’s side are beginning to live up to their pre-season promotion favourites tag. After a slow start, the Midlands side are up to fourth following eight wins from 11.
No doubt about it, this is a tough trip. Perhaps the toughest test of the season so far.
Town will need to cut out their defensive errors and call upon all that fighting spirit.
Few gave them a chance at Villa Park back in February and Huws’ late goal secured a fine 1-0 win. Could lightening strike twice?