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Opposition Preview - Blackburn Rovers (Away)
Written by ad_wilkin on Thursday, 28th Mar 2024 09:18

Following a much need international break for Town it’s the Easter double, starting with a trip to Blackburn Rovers, who are without a win in eight games.

Despite possessing a bunch of attacking talent, Rovers have conceded the second-most goals in the league with only Rotherham shipped more.

This form has drawn them into the relegation battle as the sit only 17th only three points clear of Huddersfield who currently occupy the last relegation spot. That means that Town’s visit will be to another team fighting for survival down the bottom.

Previous meeting (Ipswich 4 – 3 Blackburn)

One of my favourite games this season at Portman Road. Town took a one-nil lead, only to be almost immediately pegged back, then added another two in the first half to take a 3-1 lead into half-time.

Blackburn came out fired up in the second half and worked some really nice rotations going forward to pull it back to 3-3, before Massimo Luongo scored a sublime volley to win the game in the 79th minute.

Town actually finished the game with just 40% possession but managed 11 shots on target and won 60 duels to Blackburn’s 39 as they dominated a lot of the chance creation but had lapses in concentration where they switched off and didn’t defend as well as they should have done on the transition.

Town started strongly with Wes Burns seizing on some sloppy defensive passing in the Blackburn backline to feed Leif Davis down the left. Davis hit a strong left-footed drive that stung the palm of Aynsley Pears in the Blackburn goal with Town’s first shot on target.

The deadlock was broken early when a Davis corner was headed up into the sky by Cameron Burgess, Blackburn failed to clear, and Conor Chaplin was quickest to the second ball with a right-footed snapshot that was blocked.

The ball fell kindly to Harry Clarke on the edge of the area, rolling slowly into his path so that he could connect with a right-footed drive past the despairing Pears (who was still close to his near post and could arguably have done better) for his first goal for the club.

It wasn’t long before Blackburn were back in it, Sammie Szmodics finding the ball in a pocket of space and laying it inside to Lewis Travis, who held onto the ball and dinked a lovely little pass past the Ipswich backline into the path of Arnor Sigurdsson’s run from the left for the Iceland international to coolly slot past Vaclav Hladky from a few yards out.

Town were back on the attack not long after that, Sam Morsy looping a ball over the top into the path of Chaplin, who brought it down excellently but was unable to poke past the onrushing Pears.

Ipswich got their second goal not long after that with Pears rushing out of his box to try and clear a ball but only finding Chaplin on halfway. The diminutive ten watched the ball down and hooked it straight back into a dangerous area for Nathan Broadhead to chest down and strike crisply past the still backpedalling Pears, who was left on his knees.

Blackburn were still showing a threat going forward, Travis again involved finding Harry Pickering down the left wing. Pickering’s drilled cross almost made it to Sigurdsson, but some good defending allowed Hladky to dive on the ball as it was diverted his way.

Ipswich’s third came when Burgess did his best Davis impression with a glorious left-footed ball over the top of the Blackburn defence, which beat the whole backline and ran nicely into the path of George Hirst, who just had to poke out a toe to nip it under the onrushing Pears into the back of the net.

Town continued to press after that, Broadhead using quick feet to get past a defender and dribble into the box before his cross was hacked away before either of Chaplin or Burns could get a touch.

A Davis-Chaplin wide free-kick routine was then blocked away before Blackburn got an attack of their own in with Ryan Leonard flashing a ball across the six-yard box.

Another Town corner saw a Chaplin header deflected narrowly wide before Clarke tried to do it all himself with a mazy run, beating defenders before chopping back onto his left foot and bending a shot narrowly wide from a tough angle.

Broadhead then continued his good form in this game, receiving a one-two back from Hirst and curling an effort against the post from the edge of the area.

The secondly half also started strongly for Town with the three goal scorers combining. Clarke with a lovely ball to Hirst which got stuck under his feet a little bit. He still managed to show good awareness and lay it off to Broadhead, whose side footed effort was a bit too close to Pears who beat the ball away.

Then came a spell of Blackburn pressure, some nice interplay between Callum Brittain, Ryan Hedges and Leonard meant the ball was switched quickly from right to left and Tyrhys Dolan was fed in down the left to test Hladky.

Hedges and Brittain were then involved again linking up before the latter delivered a deep cross into the box. Clarke was the wrong side of Leonard inside the box and despite the striker missing it, the ball bounced into the net off Clarke’s leg to pull a goal back from Rovers.

Some Dolan and Pickering interplay down the left led to a good cross which Leonard headed back across the goal as Blackburn continued to apply the pressure but Hladky was on his toes to dive and tip the ball away.

Despite the Blackburn pressure, Town were still threatening and following the introduction of Omari Hutchinson and Brandon Williams were in again down the right, Hutchinson with a lovely step over and shot towards the near post which Pears was able to get a foot too and divert away.

Hutchinson then forced another near-post save not long after as he was once again given too much space down that side, but then came the Blackburn counter-punch.

Burgess wasn’t able to get enough on his defensive header and the ball fell to Dilan Markanday on halfway. It was another right to left or right to centre switch as Markanday fed Leonard who played it on to Szmodics whose clever run had found him in space between Luke Woolfenden and Williams as the whole Ipswich defence was drawn across to defend the left side of the pitch.

Szmodics didn’t need another invitation, a clever feint and touch took him away from the attentions of Williams and into the box where he fired a crisp right-footed drive into the corner of the net.

That goal meant Blackburn started playing with their tails up. Markanday an influence yet again finding Brittain on the overlap but his cross was smothered by Hladky.

Hladky quickly started a counter with a big throw out to Broadhead, who dribbled down the pitch and slotted a nice ball into Hirst, but the big number nine was unable to connect properly and finish.

Hirst has another chance not long after when good work from Hutchinson presented Williams with a crossing opportunity. Williams's cross was into a good area and Hirst beat his man but was unable to direct it on target.

The end-to-end nature of the game continued as Sam Morsy produced an excellent sliding tackle to stop Dolan from running at the Ipswich defence before feeding Broadhead. Space opened up for him but his long-range effort was deflected wide.

It was then Blackburn’s turn to attack again, the influential Travis feeding Dolan who had lost his man in the box. Dolan’s ball across the box should really have been turned in but a combination of Williams and Hladky somehow prevented Leonard from poking home from close range.

The Town breakthrough finally game thanks to more good work from Hutchinson. His chop and progressive dribble into the box was unable to open up an opportunity for himself but he was able to lay it off to Marcus Harness on the edge of the area, who dinked a ball into the box.

Dane Scarlett was challenging but it should have been an easy catch for Pears. Instead, he opted to punch straight to the chest of Luongo, who controlled expertly on his chest and caught it exquisitely on the half-volley, arrowing a strike into the corner of the net and sparking wild scenes at Portman Road.

Town saw out the game with sustained pressure on the Blackburn goal. Hutchinson could have made it five, intercepting a loose ball and running through one on one with Pears but he was unable to find the finish past the Blackburn goalkeeper.

What’s Changed?

Following a hectic January with rumours aplenty that there were disagreements between Jon Dahl Tommason and the board that had rumbled on from the end of last season, the Dane finally left the club in February to take up a role with the Swedish national team as head coach.

Blackburn moved quickly for John Eustace, who was the victim of Birmingham’s new owners and still has high managerial stock. No wins from his first nine games (seven of those have been draws) won’t have done him any favours in that regard.

Rovers had a pretty busy January but it’s hard to say they’ve upgraded in any areas with the club in serious financial trouble. Arnur Sigurdsson’s loan has been made permanent.

Young defenders Billy Koumetio and Ben Chrisene joined on loan from Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively but have limited appearances between them. Young defender Connor Riordan was also added from Crewe but again has only made two appearances off the bench so far.

Experience has been added with the free transfer of John Fleck who provides midfield depth having made 278 appearances for Sheffield United. He’s made one appearance from the bench so far.

Joining him through the door was 37-year-old Kyle McFadzean having fallen out of favour at Coventry City. He’s made eight starts so far but was dismissed against Plymouth but will be back for Friday's game having served a one-match ban.

The final addition they made on loan was Yasan Ayari, whose lack of game time at Coventry saw parent club Brighton move him on. He’s taken time to get up to speed but has a run of games recently, chipping in with his first assist of the season in the 1-1 draw with Plymouth.

Those incomings have all come to try and fill the void left by the sale of influential midfielder Adam Wharton to Crystal Palace and the surprise loan of club captain Travis to Town

Key Players

Sammie Szmodics

The Championship’s top goalscorer is now on 21 goals for the season and is on a run of four in his last five. Seventeen of those have been from inside the box with an additional four long-range strikes and he’s also chipped in with three assists, all of this from the role behind the central striker.

His 21 goals make up 41% of Blackburn's total goal output with Arun Sigurdsson the next closest to him on five. If there’s one man that Town need to keep an eye out for it’s certainly him.

Like Burgess and Moore for Town, he started both of Ireland’s games during the recent international break to earn his first two international caps and may be tired but also on a high from his first experience of international football.

Sam Gallagher

One of Town’s transfer targets in the January window has become an important member of the Blackburn team since then having been injured for a large part of the first half of the season.

His two assists and a goal saw Rovers past Wrexham in the FA Cup and he’s added goals against QPR and Preston in the league, whilst providing the type of strong running and hold up play that Kieran McKenna looks for in his number nines.

His form has dipped in recent weeks as Eustace seems to be using him wider on the left in a more fluid front three with Szmodics playing down the middle, but he’s still a striker that will make a nuisance of himself, be a handful for defenders and is able to take his chances when they come to him.

The Teams

Wes Burns looks set to be a long injury absence having limped off in the first half against Sheffield Wednesday but other than that McKenna should have the same squad of available players to choose from.

With international football for three of Town’s other players over the break, those are the most likely to drop out. That means George Edmundson has an outside chance of breaking into the back four, however, heading into the final stretch.

I think McKenna will look to keep the team as consistent as possible, but a lot will depend on Burgess’s minutes for Australia, who have played their international games in the southern hemisphere meaning a lot of travelling hours for the big man. I think with the travelling time we may see a one-off Edmundson appearance for this one.

There is also still the question over right-back as well with the emergence of Axel Tuanzebe as an option in that position. He’s currently the man with the shirt having started four of the last five there, but the one he didn’t start was an away match with the energy of Clarke preferred.

Given the quick turnaround in games, I think Clarke could rotate back in for this one with Tuanzabe back at Portman Road for the visit of Southampton.

The only other change will likely be the enforced one of Chaplin back in for Burns. Kayden Jackson was excellent when he came on against the Owls but Chaplin is one of the first names on the teamsheet and Hutchinson just keeps getting better and better.

There is also a striker question to contend with, with Welshman Kieffer Moore playing 120 minutes of Wales' penalty shootout loss to Poland in the European qualifiers. For me, to break down a Blackburn team that sits deep, even if he is tired, he has to start with a rest more likely to come against Southampton where Ali Al-Hamadi's pace in behind will be more effective at causing problems.

For Blackburn, the team is harder to predict with Eustace experimenting with both formations and personnel during his time in charge.

In goal, both Aynsley Pears and Leopold Wahlstedt have been given chances. Pears was in possession of the shirt for their last match against Middlesbrough and having kept a clean sheet is likely to maintain that starting berth.

With McFadzean suspended, Eustace dropped from a back five to a back four and those four starters (Callum Brittain, Dominic Hyam, Scott Wharton and Harry Pickering) against Middlesbrough are also likely to continue.

Sondre Tronstad made his return from injury in that match and having been a mainstay previously will retain his position there. Alongside him it will be one of John Buckley, who has forced his way back into the fold following a recall from Sheffield Wednesday where he spent the first half of the season, loanee Yasan Ayari or the more defensive Jake Garrett. Buckley is probably the most likely of those three to start, assuming he's over a knee injury which makes him a doubt.

Out of the front three, Gallagher and Szmodics are almost certainties to start but it’s the wings where there could be some rotation with Sigurdsson, Dolan and Hedges the three fighting for two positions there.

Sigurdsson and Hedges started against Middlesbrough, but Dolan could well come back in for this one to provide more lively dribbling than the more defensive Hedges, particularly after he created a lot of chances having come off the bench against Middlesbrough.

Action Areas

The previous meetings between these sides was an absolute goal-fest and based on the amount of goals both sides have conceded since then, that could well continue.

Blackburn’s main threat is clear, keep Szmodics quiet and Town are likely to come out on top.

Counter intuitively to their high number of goals conceded, Blackburn do rank highly for tackles, blocks and ball recoveries. That implies that tactically they are quite sound but have a team of players that are prone to individual errors.

This was the case in the reverse fixture and Town ruthlessly exploited those. In that game a lot of Blackburn’s attacks came from the interplay between their front five as they moved the ball quickly between then and found good attacking routes to goal that way.

Travis was particularly effective then and Buckley could play a similar floating role this time round. However, it is unlikely that they will be as open at the back with one of Eustace’s first tasks with the team to shore up the defence, which he seems to have achieved albeit with the downside of blunting Rovers attacking force.

Under Eustace, Rovers have switched to a back five but since the suspension of McFadzean, the lack of other defensive options saw a return to a back four.

Rovers played well in the match against Middlesbrough in an even game which more clinical finishing would have seen them win. It’s likely that back four will continue, which means the midfield battle could prove to be an important factor in Town getting at the Blackburn backline.

Eustace’s Rovers will likely surrender possession despite being at home and looks to hit Town on the counter-attack with their quick and aggressive front four.

All of this is backed up by the fact that they have had less possession, fewer shots and made fewer passes than under Tomasson’s tenure.

Rovers were a bit more fluid going forward against Middlesbrough but were largely restricted to shots from range. If Town can limit the impact of key man Szmodics then they should come away from this one unscathed.

Breaking Blackburn down will be the hard bit whilst not leaving themselves too exposed on the counter. I think set pieces could again play a part in that aspect and am going for a battling 1-0 win for the Super Blues.

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Europablue added 09:57 - Mar 28
I agree with your tactical reasoning for starting Moore, but I'd start Al Hamadi and see how it goes, just because he will be much fresher and Moore could be absolutely exhausted. We don't have all the information, I'm sure KM will make the right call.

ad_wilkin added 10:42 - Mar 28
Yeah, the international pair were the two hardest positions to call for this one. Ali also withdrew from international duty because he was carrying a knock so might not be fully fit to start either. 100% McKenna doesn't get many things wrong
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