Town Look to Bow Out of Championship on Positive Note
Friday, 3rd May 2019 19:08
Town boss Paul Lambert says his team will be doing everything they can to try to end the club’s 62-year stay in the top two divisions on a positive note when they face Leeds United in their final game of the season at Portman Road on Sunday, but admits the third-placed Whites will go into the game as favourites.
The Blues, whose relegation to the third tier for the first time since the 1956/57 campaign was confirmed in mid-April, have lost their last three games and have won only four times all season.
At home Town, whose 17-year stint in the Championship will end on Sunday, have won only twice during 2018/19 and only three times since they defeated Leeds 1-0 in last season’s corresponding fixture in January 2018.
The Whites, who will be joined in Suffolk by an increased following of 4,000, might have gone into the game looking to secure promotion back to the Premier League but a disastrous Easter, during which they were beaten by Wigan and Brentford, saw them drop out of the running with Sheffield United and Norwich confirming their places in the top two last week.
Leeds appear set to finish third but could drop to fourth if they lose to the Blues and West Brom win at Derby while achieving a three-goal turnaround.
Asked if he wanted Town’s miserable season to end on a high on Sunday, Lambert said: “We’ll do what we can, but Leeds United are favourites, I don’t think anybody should kid themselves on that, Leeds United are favourites because they are higher than us in the league.
“They’ve won more games, they are a relentless team, they beat Ipswich quite easily in the first game.
“We don’t have a divine right because we’re at home that we’re going to win, and if we don’t match their energy then we’re in for a hard 90 minutes. Match their energy and fight then we’ve got a chance.”
Reflecting on how Leeds might approach the game, he added: “I think they’ve got momentum; they’ve got a manager [Marcelo Bielsa] that’s relentless.
“Their team is really good. I’ve not played against them, but their fanbase is great, the manager as I said before looks relentless.
“Do I expect any different when they come down? No, I don’t. But if you don’t match their desire then it’s going to be a difficult game because they are one of the best teams in the league and were in a really strong position.
“If their Easter games had gone their way they’d probably have been challenging Norwich and Sheffield United to get out of the division, so I don’t expect anything different from their manager, that’s for sure.”
Lambert has previously said keeper Bartosz Bialkowski will return in goal, while it’s likely Josh Emmanuel and Myles Kenlock will continue as the full-backs, the Blues having taken up one-year options on the duo’s contracts.
At the heart of the defence, assuming the Blues return to a back four from the three-man defence which matched Sheffield United’s system last week, skipper Luke Chambers will probably be partnered by Toto Nsiala with Lambert less sure whether he’ll give youngster Corrie Ndaba his first senior start having been unimpressed with the Irish U21 call-up’s display for the U23s in midweek.
Cole Skuse seems likely to move back into midfield - unless Lambert decides to have a look at the 33-year-old in a back four - with on-loan Chelsea man Trevoh Chalobah playing his last game for the Blues if he is included. Jon Nolan, Teddy Bishop, Andre Dozzell, Flynn Downes and Idris El Mizouni will all be hoping to be named in the starting line-up.
Up front, Collin Quaner is likely to start down the centre if fit - Kayden Jackson is an alternative depending on his hamstring problem - with Alan Judge probably on the left.
Gwion Edwards has been struggling with a groin problem in recent weeks so may miss out, which could see Dozzell, Bishop or El Mizouni used in a similar role to Judge on the right.
Leeds, who may well rest a few of their regular starters against the Blues ahead of the play-offs, will be without the suspended Patrick Bamford, while Tyler Roberts (ankle) and Stuart Dallas (knee) are doubts. Barry Douglas, Gjanni Alioski and Leif Davis (all knee) have been ruled out for the season.
However, the Whites’ 14-goal top scorer Kemar Roofe is completely fit, although head coach Marcelo Bielsa hinted that the former Oxford United man might not be ready for a full 90 minutes and is unlikely to take any risks in what is essentially a meaningless game.
Historically, Leeds have the superior record in the fixture, winning 33 (32 in the league) clashes between the teams. Town have been victorious on 28 (23) occasions and 21 (18) games have ended in draws.
The teams met at Elland Road in October in what proved to be Paul Hurst’s last match in charge of Town with owner Marcus Evans wielding the axe the following afternoon.
Roofe and Liam Cooper were on target as the Blues were comfortably defeated 2-0 by Leeds at Elland Road as the Whites returned to the top of the table.
Roofe put the West Yorkshiremen ahead in the 22nd minute and skipper Cooper added the second on 66 with Town never looking like taking anything from the game once they had gone behind.
The teams last met at Portman Road in January last year when Bersant Celina’s brilliant 30-yard second-half strike saw Town to a 1-0 victory over 10-man Leeds.
Whites midfielder Eunan O’Kane was dismissed on 37 for head-butting Jonas Knudsen and Celina sealed the Blues’ first win of 2018 in the 67th minute.
Matthew Pennington, who remains officially on loan with the Blues despite having returned to parent club Everton having suffered an ankle injury, spent 2017/18 at Elland Road, making 15 starts and nine sub appearances.
Town midfielder Tom Adeyemi spent 2015/16 on loan with Leeds, making 17 starts and seven sub appearances, scoring two goals.
Sunday’s referee is Gavin Ward from Surrey, who has shown 123 yellow cards and seven red cards in 37 games so far this season.
Ward’s last Town match was the 6-1 pre-season thrashing at Charlton ahead of the start of the 2017/18 campaign.
His most recent competitive Blues fixture was the 1-0 away victory over the MK Dons in December 2015 in which he yellow-carded Chambers, Jonathan Douglas and Freddie Sears.
A month earlier he had taken charge of the 2-2 draw at home to Wolves in which he again booked the Blues skipper and two visiting players.
Ward was also the man in the middle for the 3-1 home victory over Cardiff in April of the same year in which he booked Skuse, Tyrone Mings and Christophe Berra and two visiting players. Prior to that he was in charge of the 2-0 defeat at Rotherham that February.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Bree, Emmanuel, Kenlock, Collins, Chambers (c), Nsiala, Ndaba, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Nolan, Dozzell, Bishop, El Mizouni, Edwards, Dawkins, Judge, Quaner, Jackson.
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