Search for a win, silver linings and wildcards on the bench - big questions ahead of Birmingham visit
PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:47 28 September 2018
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Ipswich Town's bid for a first victory under Paul Hurst goes on. Andy Warren looks at the big questions ahead of the Blues' visit to Birmingham City tomorrow.
Will this be the one?
The big question being asked heading into each Ipswich game these days as the winless run goes on: Will this be the day the Paul Hurst era truly gets up and running?
Clearly a first victory would be a major plus for a side struggling for confidence right now, although both the Town manager and goalkeeper Dean Gerken stressed just how good the mood is in the camp during their press conferences yesterday.
Getting the monkey off their backs would surely allow the Blues to play with more freedom, although it’s maybe a little naïve to expect a maiden three points to immediately lead to a major surge up the table.
While much of the attention is on the fact Hurst’s Ipswich are the division’s only winless side, it must be said they have yet to secure as much as a point on their travels, either.
Doing the latter, accompanied by a good performance, would represent progress heading into two big games against Middlesbrough and Swansea prior to the next international break.
“We’ve had a couple of knocks in training that could rule players out so that might have to be a late call,” Hurst said at his press conference yesterday.
“We are travelling tomorrow (Friday) so that’s not ideal when it comes to knowing exactly what we’re doing.”
The Blues boss stopped short of naming those players struggling with injuries, just as he did when Jon Walters was dealing with an achilles problem ahead of the recent game with Brentford.
Hurst’s hand could be forced depending on whether the mystery men are available or not, but the Blues boss has decisions to make in any case.
Does Matthew Pennington continue at right back or does Janoi Donacien return? Who starts in attack – Ellis Harrison, Kayden Jackson or both? Who fills the left wing position?
Freddie Sears is back after suffering with a groin problem and will travel to Birmingham while Andre Dozzell ‘is not a million miles away’ as he continues to work on his fitness in the Under 23s.
Long-term absentees Emyr Huws, Teddy Bishop and Tom Adeyemi will again all miss out as they deal with their own injury problems.
A good or bad time to face Birmingham?
At one stage it had looked as if this contest had been destined to be a showdown between the Championship’s two winless sides.
However, that narrative was scrapped after Birmingham’s shock victory at table-topping Leeds United last weekend.
Despite disappointing results and the looming threat of a potential points deduction for financial irregularities, there had been a feeling of positivity surrounding Garry Monk’s side throughout the opening weeks of the season.
Even still, despite a string of good performances, a 2-1 win at Elland Road certainly was not in the script.
So will that spark be the victory Monk’s side needed to truly get their season off and running or will it be another case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’? Confidence will certainly be high but Monk has already pointed out his side must now capitalise and beat Ipswich if they are to really feel the benefit of their shock Leeds win.
Could Walters’ injury actually lead to positives?
News that the veteran striker has been ruled out for six months has come as a bitter blow to the Blues.
The 35-year-old’s loan return seemed a perfect fit as he brought experience to a squad lacking second-tier know-how and helped lift a fanbase yearning for better days.
He will be missed, that’s for sure, but his presence also played a part in giving Hurst a selection headache each and every matchday.
With six loanees in the squad and only five able to be included, defender Donacien has often been the fall-guy despite a string of promising performances.
This is no longer an issue for the Ipswich manager, who is still yet to find his best XI at Portman Road.
Jackson and Harrison look set to shoulder the striking load between now and January at least, with the pair still trying to find their feet at second tier level.
They will have benefited greatly from Walters’ presence but will now share his minutes on the field. Time on the pitch is the only real way to find form but now it’s up to them to take advantage.
It’s hard to argue losing a player of Walters’ stature and ability could be in any way positive, because in an isolated sense it certainly isn’t, but there is at least a faint silver lining to this dark cloud.
MORE: ‘I’m devastated but there are a hell of a lot of people worse off than me’ - Walters reflects on injury
Could youth offer Hurst a wildcard?
The Blues’ youth teams are flying right now, playing a similar system to Paul Hurst’s first team in a pointed bid to try and replicate a universal style throughout the club.
The Under 23s and Under 18s both top their Professional Development League Two South tables, with a number of young players impressing.
The older age group beat Coventry 4-1 on Monday night, with Ben Folami scoring twice, new professional Jack Lankester catching the eye once again and Andre Dozzell looking good in midfield.
Folami is away with Australia for the next month while Hurst says Dozzell ‘isn’t a million miles away’, but could Lankester add something to the party? He’s certainly a confident young man, with that confidence showing itself in his displays at youth level this season.
It’s overly simplistic to suggest any of the above can seamlessly reproduce their good form in the senior arena but, if afforded a place on the bench, could youthful enthusiasm and undoubted confidence offer Hurst a potential wild card in the second half of a tight game?