Two in-form teams clash on emotional day at Portman Road
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Ipswich Town take on Plymouth Argyle at Portman Road this weekend. Andy Warren looks ahead to the League One clash.
Win or bust
We’re at the point now where Town need to be not too far short of perfect between now and the end of the campaign, if they are to have any shot at the play-offs.
The reality is, it’s likely now that we’ll be talking about a fourth-successive League One season when July and August roll around.
But, mathematically, Ipswich are still in it. They’re unbeaten in 10 games, which is not to be sniffed at.
The margins are extremely small, with seven wins from seven giving Town a 97% chance of making it in. Six wins and a draw gives a 75%, according to number-crunching equations, while a single defeat takes that number down to less than a 50/50 shot.
That should highlight just how tough Ipswich’s situation is now.
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Only three points will do today.
Easier said than done
Today’s task sees Town take on the division’s form team, with Plymouth arriving in Suffolk on a run of six-successive victories, all of which were aided by clean sheets.
Steven Schumacher has picked up where former boss Ryan Lowe has left off, following the latter’s exit for Preston in December, and has the men from Home Park purring at the business end of the campaign.
They will surely make the play-offs from this point but, with Rotherham faltering, they’ll still believe they can finish in the automatic promotion places. That would be some achievement.
Plymouth will be without a couple of key men this weekend, with 11-goal striker Luke Jephcott and Panutche Camara missing in midfield due to international call-ups. The latter is a powerful central midfielder who has been a central figure for Argyle this season and will be a big miss.
They will still be extremely strong, though, with their left side particularly threatening during Town’s 2-1 loss at Home Park earlier in the campaign.
Town have yet to beat a team in League One’s top seven this season, which is of course one of the reasons the Blues are where they are.
They’ll need to break that run today if they are to keep their faint hopes alive, while top two Rotherham and Wigan are still on the Ipswich agenda.
Plymouth operate with a back three, similar to Kieran McKenna’s Ipswich, with James Wilson a vital cog on the right side of a well-oiled machine.
He’s Ipswich’s reigning player-of-the-year, of course, winning that crown following an excellent 2020/21 campaign before being one of the army of players released by former Town boss Paul Cook.
In the context of what happened at Town last summer, his exit wasn’t surprising. But what did and continues to raise eyebrows is that he was jettisoned and Toto Nsiala kept on.
Wilson could have undoubtedly contributed to the Ipswich side this season, had he been retained, especially at the start of the season when Ipswich lacked cohesion and continuity. But, given he’s 33 now, the likes of Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson certainly have greater value to the Blues in the long-run.
By all accounts, Wilson has been Mr Consistent for Plymouth this season, just as he was at Ipswich.
He and the rest of his side will prove a tough nut to crack this afternoon.
Ipswich were excellent during the second half at Oxford a week ago. They deserved victory and were only denied it by a thumping Luke McNally header in the fifth-minute of added time.
Ipswich were sparked by an early double-change at the start of the second period, which saw Sam Morsy and Macauley Bonne replace Tom Carroll and Joe Pigott.
Surely, if it’s possible, McKenna would like to field the team which blew Oxford away before just falling short?
That would mean Bonne starting his first game in a month, following four on the bench, and Pigott dropping out. The former AFC Wimbledon man is the only Town striker under contract for next season but has had a rough ride of late.
It would also mean Morsy partnering Tyreeq Bakinson in the middle of midfield. That would rely on the skipper being in a good place with the hamstring injury which has been bothering him for several weeks now.
It sounds as if he is.
Remembering a legend
Last, and certainly not least, today’s game is the chance to remember a true Ipswich Town legend.
Paul Mariner’s passing last summer, following a battle with brain cancer, came far too early as the former striker lost his life at the age of just 68.
He joined Town from Plymouth in 1976 and went on to be a vital member of Sir Bobby Robson’s Town teams which so memorably won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup.
And it’s that connection with Plymouth that means today is the perfect day to remember a legend.
There’s plenty planned, ranging from events on the FanZone pre-match to displays in the stands prior to kick-off.
Plymouth fans will hold up green and white sheets in the away end, as both sides come together, just as they did at Home Park back in October.
Members of the Mariner family will also be present, as both clubs remember a man who gave them so much during his exceptional career.