|Ipswich Town 1 v 1 Birmingham City|
Tuesday, 17th April 2012 Kick-off 19:45
Jewell Sticking With Strongest Side for Birmingham's Visit
Tuesday, 17th Apr 2012 11:19
Town boss Paul Jewell looks set to stick with an unchanged team for tonight’s home game against play-off-chasing Birmingham. The Blues manager has said his squad will be much the same as the one which drew 1-1 at Crystal Palace on Saturday with younger players more likely to get their chance in the games against Millwall and Doncaster.
Jewell was pleased with the first half performance at Selhurst Park, aside from one important aspect: “The only thing that was missing on Saturday was goals.
“Possession-wise, passing and creating opportunities were good, the thing that was missing was getting on the end of it and putting it in the back of the net.”
The Blues boss says he’s not overly happy with another mid-table finish with his team having been too inconsistent over the season, but he believes results and performances in recent months have shown an improvement: “I know we didn’t play great in the second half against Leicester, but you can see the players have been enjoying their football over the last 15 or 16 games.
“We want to finish the season on a high but it’s more important that we start next season on a high. We’re disappointed how the season has panned out over the 43 games so far but in the last 15 games I think our form is probably top six.”
As for Birmingham, he feels they have a good chance of making a quick return to the Premier League via the play-offs: “They’ve had a great season. They’re difficult to beat, they’ve got some good players.
“They had a bit of a traumatic summer what with one thing and another, getting relegated and things happening [off the field].
“But credit to Chris Hughton, he’s done a really good job there. He’s kept some key players and brought in some good players as well, so they’ll be a tough test, they're a strong team.”
Amongst those tests will be dealing with Serbian man-mountain striker Nikola Zigic, who scored both goals in Town’s unlucky 2-1 defeat at St Andrew’s earlier in the season.
“We didn’t cope very well with him there,” Jewell admits. “He got two goals from long throw-ins against us. It’s difficult to play against him when the ball comes into the box from long throw-ins.
“We’ve got to defend not just the first ball but the second ball. He’s a handful and anyone who is 6ft 8in is going to have a huge advantage.”
Arran Lee-Barrett will continue in goal, while Cody Cropper will be the sub keeper with Richard Wright out with a knee injury. Midfielder Jimmy Bullard is the only other absentee due to illness.
Aaron Cresswell and skipper Carlos Edwards will be the full-backs with Tommy Smith and Damien Delaney continuing at the centre of the defence.
In midfield, Grant Leadbitter looks set to start tonight’s game regardless of any developments on his future but with Jewell likely to omit him from the final two matches if the 26-year-old has indicated that he plans to leave when his contract is up in the summer.
Andy Drury will probably take up the other central midfield role, leaving no place for former Birmingham man Lee Bowyer, while Daryl Murphy is likely to continue on the left and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas on the right.
Lee Martin will probably be in the role behind lone striker Jason Scotland, although Ryan Stevenson might be considered having impressed before tiring against Leicester. Scotland is likely to be replaced by Michael Chopra at some stage.
Birmingham, who are fourth in the Championship on 71 points, 11 places and 14 points ahead of the Blues, have more than a few injuries at present.
Defenders Stephen Carr (knee) and Jonathan Spector (thigh) are out long term, while keeper Boaz Myhill (thumb) and midfielders Keith Fahey (groin) and Guirane N'Daw (hamstring) are also now sidelined, while Jordon Mutch could also miss tonight's match (ankle).
Manager Chris Hughton, who has recalled England U21 international keeper Jack Butland from a loan spell at Cheltenham and has named Belgian U19 international midfielder Brice Ntambwe in his squad, admits his options are limited, particularly in midfield: "We've got a few injuries which is a bit of a blow.
"Guirane is out and will miss the game. It's a slight strain but everybody recovers a little bit differently. He is certainly recovering; we just hope that the progress in the next few days is better.
"Keith Fahey will miss the game and we'll have to assess Jordon Mutch but he could be a doubt. It's always a blow when you are losing players from certain positions. But these are the things you have to work around the best way you can.
"It's unfortunate that we have picked a few injuries up at this stage, but we have got good individuals who are very, very capable of adapting."
In January at St Andrew’s, Zigic's two goals saw Birmingham to a 2-1 victory. Town deserved more from the game with Lee Martin slamming in a superb equaliser and the midfielder should have been awarded a second half penalty prior to the Serb’s final-moments winner.
Jewell’s post-match comments about the penalty, female assistant referee Amy Fearn not having spotted the trip on Martin, were taken out of context by some newspapers leading to a brief media furore.
The teams last met at Portman Road on Boxing Day 2008 when a James McFadden penalty eight minutes before half-time condemned Town to what was their second successive home defeat as Birmingham grabbed a 1-0 victory. The spotkick had been awarded for handball by Moritz Volz.
Historically, the Blues have had the better of Birmingham, winning 30 times (27 in the league), drawing 11 (11) and losing 27 (21).
Town midfielder Lee Bowyer spent 18 months with Birmingham, initially on loan before signing on a free transfer from West Ham, prior to joining the Blues last summer. One-time Town loanee Andros Townsend is currently on a similar spell at Birmingham, the 20-year-old Tottenham winger’s eighth loan club.
Tonight’s referee is Darren Sheldrake from Surrey, who has shown 86 yellow cards and 11 red in 30 games so far this season. Sheldrake’s most recent Town match was the 1-0 home defeat to Nottingham Forest in January last year, Roy Keane’s final game as Blues boss. Grant Leadbitter saw a late red card for an over-the-top challenge, while David Norris and two Forest players were booked.
Squad from: Lee-Barrett, Cropper, Edwards, Cresswell, Smith, Delaney, Sonko, Drury, Hyam, Leadbitter, Bowyer, Stevenson, Emmanuel-Thomas, Murphy, Carson, Martin, Scotland, Chopra, Ellington.
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