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By Stuart Watson
Thursday, February 14, 2013
IT’S just as well that Ipswich Town prefer playing teams higher up the table.
The Blues are the only club in the bottom half of the Championship not to have a home game against a team currently in the bottom six left to play.
That may not necessarily be a bad thing though given the fact that Town – one point above the drop zone with 15 games to play – have struggled against the sides around them this season.
Defeated by Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday at Portman Road under the management of Paul Jewell and Chris Hutchings respectively earlier in the season, Town have been held to home draws against bottom three Peterborough, Bristol City and Barnsley under Mick McCarthy.
In fact, their only win against teams currently in the bottom six came at Wolves over Christmas, with a draw at Barnsley and defeat at Bristol City completing the set.
That only leaves matches at Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday to come, with only Wolves having so few games left against the teams in the bottom six.
On the face of it, that is a worrying fact considering that at least five more wins are probably needed to avoid the drop.
However, Town – short on creativity but high on organisation and work rate – have been at their best when the order of the day has been frustrating more expansive opponents and then picking them off on the counter.
Their three most impressive homes wins have come against Nottingham Forest, Millwall and Middlesbrough, meaning the visits of high-flying Hull, Leicester, Watford and Crystal Palace need not be looked upon with trepidation.
And last weekend’s narrow 1-0 defeat at Blackburn shouldn’t take anything away from the fact that four away wins have already been achieved under McCarthy, as well as a goalless draw at table-toppers Cardiff. Games at top-half sides Millwall, Derby and Burnley could also suit the Blues’ approach.
Looking to avoid relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in more than half a century, Town’s run-in starts with the visit of Blackpool on Saturday – a side who, despite winning the reverse fixture 6-0 six months ago, are currently dropping like a stone.
SEVEN KEY FIXTURES
BLACKPOOL (H) When: Saturday
THIS Saturday’s visit of the free-falling Seasiders could well be crucial.
Rocked by the departure of manager Ian Holloway to Crystal Palace last November, Michael Appleton lasted just 65 days as his replacement before moving to Blackburn, while the latest reports are that Paul Ince – father to star man Tom – could replace caretaker boss Steve Thompson in the hot-seat by the time the team arrives at Portman Road.
The Lancashire side have claimed just 11 points from their last 10 games – one less than Ipswich – and could easily be sucked into the relegation fight. Victory for Town at the weekend would see them move to within just two points of a side currently occupying 14th spot in the table.
When: Saturday, February 23
ONLY Wolves are in worse form than the Terriers at present – another side who are dropping like a stone under caretaker management.
The Yorkshire club – who started the season so strongly after promotion – have won just one league game in 15 to fall within three points of the drop zone.
Having beaten a weakened Leicester side 2-1 away to progress in an FA Cup replay on Tuesday night, Mark Lillis’ side are at home to Wigan in the fifth round on Sunday. Time will tell if the cup is a boost or a distraction.
They travel to Nottingham Forest next Tuesday, a side also out of form, before hosting Ipswich four days later.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST (A)
When: Tuesday, March 5
TOWN went down to an embarrassing duo of defeats to Forest last season – the Midlands side putting three goals past the Blues at either end of a seven-game streak in which they’d failed to find the net once.
As it stands, Mick McCarthy’s men can feel confident that it could be them completing the double in these matches this season. The Suffolk side despatched the Midlanders 3-1 on a Tuesday night with a virtuous display at the end of November and could be heading into the reverse fixture – also on a midweek night – as the team in better form.
Having controversially sacked manager Sean O’Driscoll after a Boxing Day win over Leeds left the side just a point adrift of the play-offs, Forest’s Kuwaiti owners have been left with egg on their faces. Alex McLeish lasted just 38 days in the job, with Billy Davies returning to the club last week.
Forest – who have taken just nine points from a possible 30 – face Bolton (a), Huddersfield (a), Charlton (h) and Sheffield Wednesday (h) before Town’s arrival at The City Ground.
PETERBOROUGH UNITED (A)
When: Saturday, March 9
IPSWICH Town will not be short of motives when they return to London Road.
The Blues were thumped 7-1 there in front of the Sky television cameras towards the start of last season and return battling against their fellow East Anglians for survival.
With their campaign including a seven-game losing streak and an eight-game winless run, Posh looked certainties to return to League One this time around not so long along ago.
Just two defeats from the last nine means the division’s rock-bottom club have stayed in touch with the pack though, with manager Darren Ferguson having called upon father Sir Alex to bring in two players on loan from Manchester United last month. Town have won just once in their eight games against teams in the bottom six. Posh are unbeaten in five home league games.
When: Saturday, Match 16
DOUGIE Freedman may be regretting making the move from Crystal Palace to the Reebok for reasons of ambition.
While his former club – full of young and exciting talent – push for promotion under Ian Holloway, the Trotters’ underperforming experienced players – many of whom came down with the club from the Premier League – are facing the very real possibility of back-to-back relegations.
Like Ipswich, the north west outfit have taken just 12 points from their last 10 games, with the in-form chasing pack all closing the gap during that time. Last weekend’s 2-1 home win over Lancashire rivals Burnley will have provided a shot of confidence though and, in a month’s time, they may well be travelling to Portman Road in far better shape once the likes of January signings Craig Dawson and Craig Davies have settled in.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (A)
When: Saturday, April 20
WITH his side just two points above the drop zone, it might seem strange that Owls boss Dave Jones is wishing the season wasn’t heading towards its finish. The Yorkshire side are second in the form table to league-leaders Cardiff though, having dropped just nine points from their last 10 games, and are looking up rather than over their shoulders at present.
By the time Ipswich travel to Hillsborough it will be the third-from-last game of the campaign. Wednesday – who thumped Town 3-0 at Portman Road the game after Paul Jewell’s departure – could still be flying by then, but there is a good chance their purple patch will have come to an end by then.
When: Saturday, April 27
TOWN’S final home game could be crucial heading into a season finale at Burnley.
Birmingham are currently just three points above Ipswich in the table. Having won just twice in 15 matches, they have picked up of late – beating both Burnley and Forest before drawing at Charlton.
The Midlands outfit still have to travel to the likes of Hull, Palace and Leicester though and could well be still scrapping it out come the final few weeks of the season. This has all the ingredients for a nervy afternoon at Portman Road for all parties.
Blackpool 14th (H)
Watford 4th (H) Huddersfield 18th (A)
Leicester 3rd (H)
Nottingham Forest 13th (A) Peterborough 24th (A) Bolton 17th (H)
Leeds 11th (H)
Millwall 12th (A) Derby 10th (A)
Hull 2nd (H)
Crystal Palace 5th (H)
Sheffield Wednesday 19th (A) Birmingham 16th (H)
Burnley 9th (A)