Players with points to prove in this deadest of dead rubbers
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Ipswich Town take on Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road this afternoon (3pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
Ipswich Town's slim play-off hopes, realistically, ended three weeks ago with a 1-0 home loss to Cambridge United. Another third successive season of failing to finish in the top-six of League One was mathematically confirmed by a 1-0 defeat at Rotherham last Saturday. Then, on Tuesday night, the Blues played out an entertaining 2-2 home draw with a Wigan side still fighting for the title.
There was a bit of intrigue over how Kieran McKenna's men would fare against two automatic promotion chasing sides over the Easter period. Now, however, we head into two of the deadest of dead rubbers.
The Blues sit 11th in the League One table and can drop no lower. The highest they can finish is ninth.
Today's hosts, rock-bottom Crewe, were relegated a fortnight ago. Next weekend's visitors, Charlton, will finish somewhere between 12th and 19th.
FINISH ON A HIGH
Quite rightly, there is a plenty of optimism surrounding the Blues right now.
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An open and ambitious new ownership have grand plans. McKenna has developed several individuals and got the team playing some very easy on the eye football.
Just one win in the last seven has acted as a timely reminder of the size of the task ahead though.
Maybe that little bit of grounding has not been a bad thing.
It would, however, be nice for the Blues to head into a big summer with a bit of a spring in their step though.
For the reasons above, McKenna says he plans to field 'a competitive team that gives us a really good chance to win and continue the development of our performances'.
Cameron Burgess' outstanding display against Wigan on Tuesday night means he should stay in the defensive unit alongside Christian Walton, Janoi Donacien and Luke Woolfenden.
Matt Penney is out with a dead leg. That means Dominic Thompson should replace him on the left.
With Lee Evans not quite fit enough to return, you'd imagine it will be Sam Morsy and Tyreeq Bakinson in central midfield again.
And with Sone Aluko still sidelined following a hefty collision with the keeper at Rotherham, Bersant Celina and Conor Chaplin are likely to continue as the dual No.10s.
That leaves just a couple of positions with a question mark over them...
RISK OF BURN(S)-OUT
Wes Burns is going to stand a very good chance of being crowned Ipswich Town's Player of the Season.
The flying Welshman has provided 11 goals and six assists, often terrorising opposition full-backs with his direct running.
He played with Achilles tendinitis early in the campaign and, as his reputation has grown, has come in for some rough treatment over recent months.
McKenna says the 27-year-old says Burns has got some 'bruising on his ankle' following the Wigan game.
Is it prudent to give the star man a deserved rest? Probably. The problem is there is no natural replacement.
Kane Vincent-Young would be the obvious man to turn to, but he's only just returned to training following a hamstring injury. Is it worth risking him breaking down again ahead of pre-season?
MAKING A CASE
Town have nine senior players coming towards the end of loans or contracts.
Kayden Jackson and Sone Aluko are injured. Tom Carroll, it seems, is heading towards the exit door. And young striker Tyreece Simpson, it was revealed this week, has said he wants to leave.
Bersant Celina, on loan from Dijon, has made it clear he wants to return next season. Have Ipswich seen enough to decide it's worth putting a significant chunk of next season's budget into getting the mercurial Kosovan back? Another goal like the one he scored in the reverse fixture against Crewe back in November might just persuade them to really push the boat out.
McKenna says Tyreeq Bakinson has got better by the game since arriving on loan from Bristol City in January. Does he still need to finish the season strongly to convince Ipswich to take up their option of signing him permanently?
Brentford loanee Dominic Thompson has an even bigger question mark next to his name.
And then there's strikers James Norwood and Macauley Bonne. Norwood started three in a row recently, while Bonne started in midweek. Which of them gets the chance to shine over the next two? Or does Joe Pigott return from the cold?
The team may have nothing to play for, but several individuals do.
CALLING ON THE KIDS?
McKenna says 'a big group' of the club's table-topping Under-23s have trained with the first team this week.
Some will just be part of the travelling party, while others may get a spot on the bench and a chance of a sub outing.
Elkan Baggott made his league debut at Rotherham last weekend. The two most likely to join him in stepping up from the academy over the next eight days are versatile central midfielder Cameron Humphreys and prolific attacking midfielder Tawanda Chirewa.
Others with a chance of involvement include right-back Edwin Agbaje, versatile full-back Albie Armin, midfield skipper Fraser Alexander, skilful wideman Matt Ward and the versatile Tommy Hughes.
Newly-promoted Crewe received plenty of plaudits for their style of play on the way to a 12th place finish last season.
The Railwaymen's progress was derailed by several key men being sold over the course of two transfer windows though, the likes of Perry Ng, Harry Pickering, Ryan Wintle, Olly Lancashire and Charlie Kirk all moving on.
That was always likely to make things tough for the Cheshire club this time around. And so it's proved.
They've lost 18 of their last 20 games and are heading back to the fourth-tier needing another batch of youngsters to come off that famed youth production line.
Ipswich have claimed 19 points from a possible 21 against the sides currently in the relegation zone. That really should become 22 from 24 this afternoon.
Crewe sacked long-serving boss David Artell after relegation was confirmed with a 2-0 defeat at 23rd-place Doncaster.
Assistant manager Alex Morris was installed as 'interim manager' until the end of the season, with the 38-year-old having made his ambitions for the job clear.
Morris, like his Ipswich counterpart McKenna, is someone who turned to coaching after injuries forced him to hang up his boots in his early 20s.
There's certainly a trend developing in League One for clubs giving young managers a chance.
Altogether, seven third-tier bosses are in their 30s: McKenna (Ipswich, 35), Mark Bonner (Cambridge, 36), Liam Manning (MK Dons, 36), Steven Schumacher (Plymouth, 37), Morris (Crewe, 38), Johnnie Jackson (Charlton, 39), Gary McSheffrey (Doncaster, 39) and only four (John Coleman, Steve Cotterill, Marl Bowen and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink) are beyond their 40s.