McKenna's Town out to prove themselves on big night for Wigan
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Ipswich Town take on Wigan Athletic at Portman Road this evening. Andy Warren looks ahead to the contest.
Three to go
We have entered the final furlong.
Defeat at Rotherham means Town’s chances of making the play-offs are officially over. Even mathematics, the old friend which keeps chances alive when all sense says otherwise, accepts it’s over.
So now it’s a run of three dead rubbers for Ipswich.
Games with already-relegated Crewe and safe-in-mid-table Charlton are certainly dead. But, for tonight’s opponents Wigan, the game is anything but.
The Latics top the table and are surely heading to the Championship, with victory in Suffolk tonight coupled with an MK Dons defeat at Oxford confirming their ascension.
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It’s Ipswich’s job to delay their party for a further few days.
Kieran McKenna has revealed the Blues have some injury worries heading into this game.
Neither Janoi Donacien nor Sone Aluko have been able to train following defeat at the New York Stadium, while a couple of unnamed others are in the same situation.
They will be decisions made in the hours coming up to kick-off, with a reshuffle a possibility.
How the Town boss deals with any absences remains to be seen. Should Aluko not make it then Conor Chaplin is an obvious like-for-like replacement, but any injury issues in the backline will be difficult to deal with.
George Edmundson’s injury absence means there is no right-sided defensive deputy for Donacien, so could it lead to a switch in formation?
Injury issues aside, one big decision McKenna needed to make going into this game was whether or not to give teenage defender Elkan Baggott another outing.
The youngster certainly gave his manager no reason to drop him, with a calm and assured league debut at Rotherham on Saturday as Cameron Burgess served his one-game ban.
But there must be a part of McKenna who would naturally want to restore Burgess to the side, given how widely he was praised for his hard work while waiting so long for a first appearance under his new boss.
The injury worries may give McKenna the opportunity to play them both, though one would need to play out-of-position on his wrong foot. Unless, that is, Luke Woolfenden was shifted over to the right side and either Baggott or Burgess deployed in the centre of the back three.
Baggott plays that role for Town’s Under 23s and is certainly at home there, but Woolfenden has been ultra-consistent in a role he appears perfect for. Switching things around could cause more harm than good.
Then there’s the usual questions over the Ipswich striker and whether James Norwood should continue in attack or a chance be given to either Macauley Bonne or Joe Pigott.
Will Tyreece Simpson make the bench? Will Matt Penney get another start or is there room for Cameron Humphreys to push his way into contention?
We’ll find out at 6.45pm.
The players’ view
Town goalkeeper Christian Walton has been speaking ahead of the clash with Wigan.
“It’s another tough game against a team doing well in the league,” he said.
“They’ll be coming to pick up the points and have some real threats with some good players.
“It’s going to be a test and one we need to stand up to. We’re looking forward to it.
“It could set us up ready for next season. If we can pick up results against teams up at the top end of the league it will put is in a good place going into next season.”
It’s a return to Suffolk for two former Ipswich players this evening.
Will Keane has been one of Wigan’s stand-out performers this season, with the forward netting 22 goals in all competitions.
He’s done it largely playing in a withdrawn forward role, which has allowed him to drop deep and use his good feet while also pushing into the box in equal measure.
It’s a combination we knew he possessed during his time at Ipswich but, under Paul Lambert, never really played in a system which particularly suited his talents.
Wigan’s clearly does, though, and he and his team have been reaping the rewards.
Gwion Edwards is probably happy he rejected a new contract at Ipswich in order to sign for Wigan at this point, with a return to the Championship looking likely. But the Welshman has been on the fringes for much of his debut campaign with the Latics.
He’s made nine league starts in all, with his most-recent seeing him replaced at the break as Leam Richardson looked for something different during Saturday’s loss to Cambridge.
He’ll be hopeful of a start against his former club this evening but may have to make do with a place on the bench.
Voting has already closed for Town’s player-of-the-year award, with Welsh winger Wes Burns a leading contender for the prize.
But there’s another gong he’ll be searching for – that of Town’s top scorer.
Macauley Bonne still leads the standings on 12 for the season but Burns is just one back on 11.
Bonne’s not been starting games of late meaning Burns perhaps has the better chance of adding to his tally. But he’s running out of time.
Promotion was the real prize this season, but Burns will surely still fancy picking up some personal honours of his own.