Ipswich Town midfielder Massimo Luongo has relished the opportunity to have a rest during the international break, allowing him to prepare for the final games of the Championship season.

The 31-year-old made 45 appearances for Australia between 2014 and 2023, scoring six goals. He returned to the national earlier this season after four years away, but announced his retirement from international action back in December.

As a result, he remained in Suffolk rather than travelling to Syndey and Canberra for the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifiers against Lebanon, where Town team-mate Cameron Burgess helped Graham Arnold’s side secure wins in both matches.

Luongo certainly doesn’t feel like he’s missing out, and he’s enjoyed watching his country play from afar in the last two weeks.

“I was quite used to it before I got called up again,” he said. “I enjoyed having the rest, not travelling 24 hours and spending time with my family.

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“Most clubs balance the work. We work really hard during the international break, but in turn, we have a few days off to recharge our batteries.

“You lose that hard work when you go away with your national team because all you worry about is the game and keeping everyone fit.

“It’s not the same training when you don’t have a game, but you can also focus on getting a little bit fitter or something specific in your game. You can really dial into your game personally, and I think a lot of us do that here.

Ipswich Star: Luongo played his last match for Australia in November 2023Luongo played his last match for Australia in November 2023 (Image: PA)

“Going forward, maybe not the weekend, but in seven games time, I’ll feel the benefit of it.”

In truth, the break came at a perfect time for the players who remained in England. As Kieran McKenna was quick to point out in his pre-Blackburn Rovers press conference, the Blues are set to play five games in the space of just 15 games, so it’s important for them to feel refreshed heading into the home stretch.

“We had it last year,” he explained. “I know every game is tough, but the games we’ve got coming up are really tough. It builds the atmosphere up, and when you’ve had a few days off, you can really hone into the next five games especially.

“You can take them one game at a time and know that each game has its own challenges and each game is big in its own way.

“It’s exciting, I’m really excited, I think most of the boys are excited. I’m a little bit nervous because you never know what’s going to happen, but it’s important to have that as well.”

Of course, Blackburn are next on the fixture list, with a long trip to Ewood Park kicking off a crucial Easter weekend for Ipswich. Under new boss John Eustace, who managed Luongo during his caretaker spell at QPR, their defensive record has improved while their attacking output has decreased.

While the reverse fixture at Portman Road ended in a 4-3 win for McKenna’s men, the switch indicates that we probably won’t be seeing a goal fest in Lancashire tomorrow afternoon.

“If we go off the last game, I think it’ll be a lot different,” Luongo admitted. “They’ve got a different manager, and I know Eusty [John Eustace] quite well. I know how he handles the changing room and how he motivates his players. I think they’ll be right up for it, to be fair.

Ipswich Star: The midfielder scored the winning goal when Town last faced Blackburn RoversThe midfielder scored the winning goal when Town last faced Blackburn Rovers (Image: Ross Halls)

“I think he’ll have a plan. They’re at home, so I don’t know tactically what they’re going to do, but I know it’s going to be a tough game because the manager will know how to motivate his players for this game especially.”

Luongo was, in fact, the man to score the winning goal in the last meeting between the two sides. It came at a point where Town’s high-margin victories began to catch the eye ahead of a tricky festive period, although it was another example of how games on home soil will rarely disappoint the supporters who fill the ground every single week.

“They come out every so often,” he recalled, thinking back to his impressive strike that sealed the points against Blackburn. “That was a good game. It was that period where we were winning 4-3’s for a few games in a row. It just sums us up at Portman Road.

“If you want to watch exciting football, I think Portman Road is the place to be. Whether it goes out way or not, we want to play positive football.

“That game, at the time, they were very attacking. [Lewis] Travis was there, so he’ll tell you. They had lots of numbers in the front line and were a little bit vulnerable defensively. In reverse, attacking, they got three goals at Portman Road.

“We’ll expect a different type of Blackburn in this game, but they’ve still got the same threats, I think.”

With eight games to go, the run-in is well underway, with just eight matches remaining. Southampton will visit Portman Road on Easter Monday before Town make the trip to Carrow Road to face Norwich City in the next instalment of the East Anglian derby.

Ipswich Star: Luongo hopes that last season's run-in will help them in the home stretch this monthLuongo hopes that last season's run-in will help them in the home stretch this month (Image: Ross Halls)

Luongo argued that the squad won’t look to build up the magnitude of the games, nor will they try to play them down. They know what to expect, having navigated a tricky run-in at the end of last season to win promotion from League One, albeit that this will be a much harder task.

“We spoke about it briefly,” he revealed. “A lot of people in the building have had that experience in some way in their careers, but what I remember from the last 12 or 13 games [last season] – a lot of them came really fast – but I think everyone in the dressing room enjoyed it.

“We just enjoyed the occasion, and we enjoyed being up there because I’ve been at the other end, and this end is much better. You can really play with a smile on your face.

“It doesn’t always go your way, and that hope probably makes it hurt a bit more, but we’re a good team at getting over it and we worry about the next game.

“That’s pretty much what the experience taught us. Take one game at a time and try to bring our best levels for whatever’s coming next.

“We always look at each game individually, but we can’t let the occasions get the best of us. Easter weekend is always a big weekend, so that’s one big hurdle we have to get through. Two big games, and then looking forward, they’re all really big games too.

“We know where we are, we know what we have to do, but we have to remind ourselves that three points is three points, and each game is an opportunity to get those three points. We’ve got to try and get the win on the first one, then we’ll worry about the second one when it comes.”

Ipswich Star: CEO Mark Ashton spoke to the players about the new investment last weekCEO Mark Ashton spoke to the players about the new investment last week (Image: Ross Halls)

While the players are focused on the short-term, senior figures at the club have been putting the building blocks in place for Ipswich to be successful for years to come. The squad were told about the £105 million investment from Bright Path Sports before the news broke at the end of last week, allowing them to see the early plans for what’s to come down the line.

“I can’t say whether or not I’ll be here for however long they’re building, but it’s nice,” Luongo chuckled. “We had a small meeting with Mark Ashton, who explained everything and wanted us to know first before it came out.

“It’s exciting. I’d love to be a part of it one way, if I can. I think a lot of us can take pride in knowing that we’re probably the foundation of it. We started the transition, the rebuild, the new era.

“It’s really nice to know that I’m a part of it, a big part of it, going forward.

“I’ve been at clubs that haven’t this kind of progress, so for sure, it’s a great place to be.”