|Ipswich Town 3 v 2 Swansea City|
Saturday, 11th November 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Blues Aim to Go Into Break on High Note By Beating Swans
Friday, 10th Nov 2023 17:08
Second-placed Town host Swansea City at Portman Road on Saturday aiming to go into the season’s third international break on a high note.
The Blues, who trail leaders Leicester by three points and are ahead of Leeds in third by eight, have gone into the season’s two previous hiatuses having won hugely entertaining final matches, defeating Cardiff 3-2 and Preston 4-2, both at home.
Quizzed on whether he expects Saturday’s game against the Swans to be similar, manager Kieran McKenna said: “Let's see. We'll go out there with really positive intent, as we do.
“Swansea are an aggressive side, hard running and will try and press us as well and play with a lot of energy, and it should make for a good game.
“And the last games of a block, certainly with the block we've had with cup games, midweek games, away games every week, you need the whole squad and there's a chance it comes down to the latter stages of the game.
“Both those games you're speaking about were decided with big impacts from the bench, and maybe we'll need that tomorrow.
“Let’s see, but it's certainly going to need great energy from everyone on the pitch, great energy from the stands to help us produce a performance and hopefully get a result.”
Swansea, with Michael Duff having taken charge in June after leaving Barnsley following one season at Oakwell, are currently 14th in the Championship having finished 10th last season.
On their travels this year they have won their last three, a 3-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday, a 2-1 win against Norwich and a 1-0 win at Blackburn a fortnight ago.
In addition, they have lost three and drawn one and have picked up more one more point than they have at the Liberty Stadium.
Overall, they have won one of their last four and drew 0-0 at home to Sunderland last Saturday, during which they played with 10 men for an hour following on-loan Arsenal midfielder Charlie Patino’s dismissal for two bookable offences.
However, prior to that run they had won four in a row having gone without a win in their first seven matches.
“I think they're in pretty good form,” McKenna reflected. “If you look at the last eight games, they've won five and had a draw as well and I'm sure Michael feels like he's starting to get his imprint on the team.
“They’re certainly working very hard and look organised, and they have some really good players as well, so we know it's going to be a really tough game.”
Swansea lost a number of last season’s regulars, including Joel Piroe, who joined Leeds, and Michael Obafemi, who moved on to Burnley, in the summer.
Among those who have come in are Newcastle right-back Harris Ashby and Chelsea centre-half Bashir Humphreys on loan, both players familiar to McKenna.
“Two really good young players, I know both really well from the academy circuit, so they have two really good loanees,” he said.
“Jerry Yates coming in [from Blackpool], he was much sought after by many, many Championship clubs in the summer, so a really good addition up front.
“Charlie Patino coming in, suspended this weekend, but he's been doing well and they had some injuries as well.
“So I think it's another really strong squad in the Championship with a lot of years of Championship experience under the belt as a team and as a squad.
“A good challenge for us, but one we're looking forward to. We wanted to be back here competing against these clubs and trying to go out on the pitch and show what we can do.”
McKenna has previously faced fellow Northern Irishman Duff in his time in charge of Cheltenham as well as the Tykes last season.
Quizzed on what the hallmarks of the former Burnley defender's management are, McKenna reflected: “I think there can sometimes be your identity as a manager and then we all adapt to the players that we have at our disposal, so it would probably be unfair to pigeonhole Cheltenham, Barnsley and Swansea all into the same bracket.
“But, in terms of common threads, I think Michael would certainly say himself that he wants his teams, as we all do, to be very hard-working, to be very organised and have that as a base to build from and you can see that he's getting that imprint into his Swansea team and that's helping to pick up some good results.”
Duff has said himself his team is one in transition but their results have shown improvement since their slow start to the campaign.
“I'm sure they're pretty happy with the direction,” McKenna said. “I think they changed shape probably about eight games ago pretty consistently and since then their form has been really good.
“So they've been pretty consistent with their selection and the identity of what they're trying to do on the pitch.
“They know us well. We know they've been pretty consistent in what they're doing and we've had the respect to prepare for that, and both teams have worked now and tried to put their plan on the pitch.
“It’s going to be another really good battle, it's going to be really hard-fought I'm sure and we look to take it head on.
“We’re the home side, we love playing at home, we've got our supporters behind us and we'll go and try and make it a really good game of football, try and perform and from that you can never guarantee the result but if we perform as well as we can, if we give maximum effort, then we at least give ourselves a good chance to get the points as well.”
The Blues have been in brilliant form at home having won 22 of their last 30 at Portman Road in the league, drawing six and losing just two.
However, despite that form, and a similarly impressive record on the road, McKenna says it’s important for fans not to turn up feeling blasé and expecting to win with their role in backing the team important.
“It's massive,” McKenna said. “Our support has been fantastic home and away and that's been a part of us coming out on the side of tight games and margins time and time again.
“Of course, the way the players stick together and stick to our principles, but it's hard to do that if you don't have the crowd behind you and certainly extremely hard to do that if the crowd isn't with you.
“That's been a massive part of it and we're really realistic inside the camp and I think, in general, the supporters are as well. It's a big step up.
“Of course, we've won a lot of games and we've played some really good football, but the games are a big challenge and going to Rotherham on Tuesday night, for example, away from home after a long trip to Birmingham, in difficult conditions with some injuries, I think anyone who's realistic knows that you're not going to go there and win 3-0.
“They've hardly lost a home game by more than one goal in the last calendar year. Leicester City went there with three-quarters, 80 per cent of a Premier League team and needed a late winner on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon.
“So if you go there on a Tuesday night after an away game, it's unlikely that you're going to go there, have a lovely game of football and pass through them, pass them off the park and win 3-0.
“On top of that, other teams are allowed to have plans as well and it's been more common over the last few weeks that teams are trying to stop us, teams are changing their marking strategy through the middle of the pitch, teams are trying to really stop us playing through them and make it difficult.
“That’s then a challenge that the players on the pitch have to adapt to, have to rise to and I think they've been doing a terrific job trying to do so and trying to find different ways and build their way through the game and build pressure and work out where they overload and find the solutions as the game goes on, which is what you need to do and teams set out the stall to try and stop you.
“I think the supporters have been massive. I think everyone is pretty realistic with how difficult the games have been. Our record has been excellent, but the margins have been really tight and having the supporters right there with us and understanding the effort and the challenges the players are facing has been massive for us and is going to be massive for us for the rest of the season.”
Having said teams are increasingly trying to make it difficult for Town to play their football, McKenna doesn’t anticipate Swansea sitting in in the manner Duff’s Cheltenham side did to claim a 0-0 draw at Portman Road in February last year.
“No, and I didn't necessarily mean sit in,” he said. “There are different ways to try and stop you, but I think what does become more common if your team is doing really well is teams adapting and changing their game plan in different ways to try and stop your flow from what they've been doing consistently in previous weeks.
“That might be sitting in, it might be adding an extra defender to the backline, it might be man-marking certain players through the middle of the pitch, it might be trying to be much more aggressive off the ball than they have been previously to get in your faces and stop you from building your flow.
“So there are different ways that teams can try and stop you, and we have a fair idea what type of identity Michael's trying to get in the Swansea team and he's said it himself, so there are no secrets.
“He’s trying to get them really front-footed and aggressive against the ball and I'm sure that's a version of what they'll try and do tomorrow.
“But we have to keep working to be ready to adapt against different strategies, different pressing strategies, different marking strategies and trying to find the solutions, and that's a great challenge.
“It's one of the more enjoyable challenges of the job and the players are fully aware that that's one of the challenges we're going to face and we'll take that on tomorrow.
“Swansea have had a free week. I know their staff were at the game on Tuesday night, they know us well. They're for sure going to have a plan to try and stop us and impose themselves in the game and we're going to have to prepare as well as we can to overcome that, so that's the challenge ahead of us.”
McKenna may look at making changes for Town’s fourth game in 11 days but Vaclav Hladky will continue in goal with Leif Davis at left-back.
Brandon Williams is likely to return at right-back with Luke Woolfenden similarly restored as the right-sided central defender with Harry Clarke and Axel Tuanzebe probably dropping to the bench.
In central midfield, alongside skipper Sam Morsy, McKenna may look at resting Massimo Luongo, in which case Jack Taylor would come into the XI.
Wes Burns is set to return to the squad but seems likely to be used as a sub so Omari Hutchinson could well start on the right of the three behind the central striker with Kayden Jackson among the subs.
Conor Chaplin will probably continue in the middle with Nathan Broadhead set to come back on the left with Marcus Harness on the bench. George Hirst again looks likely to start as the out-and-out striker.
Swansea head coach Duff admits that due to injury and suspension, his options are limited going to Portman Road, but is confident his squad will still be able to compete with the Blues.
On-loan Arsenal midfielder Patino is suspended having been sent off against Sunderland, while defender Josh Key and forward Mykola Kuharevich are out with short-term knocks, joining longer-term absentees Joe Allen, Josh Ginnelly, Nathan Wood and Azeem Abdulai on the sidelines.
“We are a bit short of numbers with Charlie suspended, and a couple have knocks so we will need to see where they are at,” he told the Swans official website.
“It’s all hands to the pump, and everyone who has been called upon has put their hands up and performed and we want to take that forward into this weekend.
“No-one is coming back who missed out last week so we will need to stay as resolute as we have been.”
Duff, who faced Town twice as Barnsley boss last season, believes the Blues have a real chance of going up for a second successive season given their excellent start to the campaign.
“They have put themselves in a really good opportunity to go again,” he added, speaking to BBC Sport Wales. “I think Kieran has had a long time there now in terms of football.
“In his first four or five months they did OK, they didn't set the world alight, but they were obviously building something and then last year they were fantastic.
“They recruited well, they almost recruited for the Championship in League One, but we've seen having good players doesn't mean you will win, football isn't that simplistic.
Over the years Swansea have just had the better of it, winning 12 games (12 in the league), Town having won 10 (eight) and with nine (eight) matches ending in draws.
The teams last met at Portman Road in April 2019 when Wayne Routledge’s 57th-minute goal saw Swansea City to a 1-0 victory over the Blues at Portman Road, ending a run of seven successive defeats on the road.
Routledge followed-up after Town keeper Dean Gerken had pushed a Daniel James strike on to the post.
At the Liberty Stadium in October the previous year, Chalobah’s 84th-minute header saw Town to what proved to be the only victory of the Paul Hurst era as the Blues beat Swansea 3-2 in a topsy-turvy game.
A Janoi Donacien own goal put the Swans in front in the eighth minute as the home side dominated but Edwards and Freddie Sears gave Town an unlikely lead via goals in the 27th and 31st minutes.
The Blues held on to their lead until the 79th minute when former and future loanee Bersant Celina lashed in an equaliser, but Town weren’t to be denied the three points and Chalobah headed his second of the season five minutes later.
Town most recently beat the Swans at Portman Road in January 2007 when an Alan Lee goal saw the Blues to a 1-0 FA Cup fourth round victory.
The last time Town beat Swansea at home in the league was in November 1982 when the Blues won 3-1 with Russell Osman, George Burley and John Wark on the scoresheet.
Saturday’s referee is Sunny Gill from Bracknell, who has shown 71 yellow cards and two red in 16 games so far this season.
Gill will be refereeing both the Blues and Swans for the first time having taken charge of his first Championship match, the 0-0 draw between Huddersfield and Watford last Saturday in which he booked only two Hornets.
Gill was promoted to the EFL in June 2022, becoming the first South Asian referee in the EFL since his father Jarnail in 2010.
Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Williams, Donacien, Davis, Woolfenden, Burgess, Edmundson, Tuanzebe, Morsy, Luongo, Taylor, Ball, Humphreys, Burns, Jackson, Chaplin, Broadhead, Harness, Aluko, Hutchinson, Hirst, Ladapo, Jackson, Scarlett.
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