|Ipswich Town 2 v 1 Coventry City
Saturday, 2nd December 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Town Out to Continue Home Run Against Coventry
Friday, 1st Dec 2023 18:04
Boss Kieran McKenna is looking for the second-placed Blues to continue their remarkable home form when they face Coventry City at Portman Road on Saturday afternoon.
Town have won 16 of their last 17 home league matches and 31 of their 43 league games at Portman Road since McKenna took charge, most recently the 3-1 defeat of Millwall on Wednesday.
This season Town have scored three or more goals in all but one of their home Championship matches, the 2-0 victory over Stoke with their only loss the 4-3 reverse to Leeds United. Since then, the Blues have won seven in a row in the Championship on Suffolk soil.
On Wednesday, the Blues set a new club record for goals in a calendar year of 66, the previous best having been 63 achieved under Sir Alf Ramsey in 1956 and 1957.
"It's very, very important,” McKenna said when asked about the home form. “Our intent doesn't sway wildly, home or away, to be honest, we want to be a really attacking aggressive team and that's our identity.
“But there's no doubt having a full stadium, almost 30,000 people cheering for every attack, every touch, every set play, every tackle and really importantly sticking behind the players when we've conceded and been behind in some of those games as well.
“So coming back and the supporters sticking right behind the players, that's been a big part of that as well.
“And we've built up really good home form but also a real home identity. The supporters know we haven't won every game and we're not going to win every game at home. We lost to Leeds at home, but we scored three goals against a team that was one month out of the Premier League.
“And even on that day, the supporters knew there was going to be maximum effort, there was going to be attacking intent.
“It doesn't mean we're going to score every game, but there's going to be a real intent to go and score goals, a real intent to play in a brave style, try and play as a big club and make it an exciting place to go and watch football.
“And the players will work really hard until the last minute and those are the only things that we've tried to guarantee.
The supporters are being right behind it and that's helped us. But we can't rest on that, we need to keep giving that from a staff and from a player’s point of view, we need the supporters hopefully to keep turning up, keep giving that level of support no matter how the game's going, which isn't always easy.
“To try and maintain that home record and to make Portman Road a great place to play for us, a great place for the supporters to come and watch and hopefully a difficult place for opposition to come.”
Town can return to the top of the Championship if they beat the Sky Blues and Leicester fail to win at West Brom in the lunchtime kick-off.
That won would take Town's points total to 45, which would have been enough to avoid relegation last season with Reading and Blackpool in 22nd and 23rd having managed only 44.
Coventry, who lost the likes of Victor Gyorkeres to Sporting Lisbon and Gustavo Hamer to Sheffield United over the summer, are currently 15th in the Championship having reached the play-off final last season having finished fifth before losing on penalties to Luton.
Away from home this season they have won two, drawn two and lost five. They have won their last two matches - 3-0 at Millwall last Saturday and 1-0 at home to Plymouth on Tuesday - having previously gone six games without a win, losing the middle four of those fixtures.
Only seven teams have scored fewer than the Sky Blues’ 23 in their 18 games up to now, but only four have conceded fewer than the 21 they have shipped at the other end. They have kept clean sheets in their last three matches.
“They're playing well,” McKenna reflected. “They've changed some things tactically in the last couple of games and that's maybe helped them a little bit, and they've brought in a lot of good players in the summer.
“When you lose two players of the ilk that they did, it's always going to be a bit of a readjustment for any team and they've brought in some really good players in the summer to replace them.
“But that takes time and you can see that they've gone through that process and they're starting to get some really good form now and coming off some good results, so it's a really good challenge for us but another one to look forward to, another one to embrace.
“I'm sure they'll know that we're a good side as well, and it will be a challenge for them, and I think it'll be a really good game.”
McKenna, a Manchester United fan growing up as well as a member of their coaching staff before joining the Blues, is too young to remember Sky Blues manager Mark Robins’s winning goal in a January 1990 FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest, which is credited with keeping then then-under pressure Sir Alex Ferguson in his job at Old Trafford.
“I obviously know about his well-documented, famous goal that was at an important time in United's history, but it was probably just before my phase of really following United closer,” McKenna said.
“He's done a fantastic job at Coventry, from where they were to where they are now and last season to have got so close to promotion.
“He's done a terrific job and again this summer, they've sold two of the top players in the division, but they've replaced them well and you can see he's building another team again with the players that have come in.
“I think he’s one of the longest serving managers in the whole Football League [six years and 270 days, the third longest in the EFL] and on that alone to have that longevity in football nowadays is a massive achievement. And that is reflected in the progression they've made.”
Among the players they have brought in is striker Ellis Simms, who joined from Everton for an initial £3.5 million with Town understood to also have shown interest.
Quizzed on whether he was keen on Simms, who spent the first half of last season on loan at Sunderland, McKenna said: “We were linked with so many players, and I'm sure we will be again in January and next January.
“Ellis is someone who I know in terms of seeing him in Everton's youth team. A very good striker, a good profile of a striker, who I think probably more than three-quarters of the teams in the Championship would have had a look at given his profile.
“He's at Coventry and an important player for them and part of a really good forward line that we have to be ready for.”
Saturday’s fixture is the 19th of the Championship season which is the final match when five yellow cards lead to a one-game ban.
Brandon Williams, Wes Burns and Massimo Luongo are all currently on four, while skipper Sam Morsy is on eight and will face a two-match suspension should he hit 10 before the 37th Championship game.
McKenna says that deadline shouldn’t make any difference to how Williams, Burns and Luongo approach Saturday’s match.
“No, you have to play your natural game,” he said. “We can't look a game ahead, we know tomorrow's going to be such a hard-fought battle.
“We always try and play to the rules, but we want to be aggressive and physical when we can be and I don't want players carrying around that burden of being afraid to make a good challenge because of the risk of a yellow card.
“We'll go out and play our game and the first batch of yellow cards are cleared after tomorrow, so hopefully, we come through it in a clean way.”
McKenna may make one or two tweaks to his team with the match the Blues’ second in four days and third in eight.
Vaclav Hladky will continue in goal with Williams probably returning at right-back having missed the Millwall match with a minor knock.
McKenna is weighing-up whether Axel Tuanzebe is ready to play two games in quick succession but if not Luke Woolfenden will return to the XI alongside Cameron Burgess with Leif Davis at left-back.
In central midfield, Luongo again looks set to partner Morsy with the Blues manager having options in the three ahead of them but will perhaps stick with Burns, Conor Chaplin, who will be facing his old club, and Nathan Broadhead.
Coventry boss Mark Robins watched Town’s victory over Millwall and knows his team have to get off to a better start than the Lions, who conceded twice in the first 12 minutes.
“We saw Ipswich on Wednesday evening and the first thing you've got to do is match their intensity. They try and suffocate the space and make you feel that pressure and the intensity that they play out is really impressive,” he told his club’s official website.
“We've got to start the game as well as we possibly can do and as well as them if not better, and that's going to be a big ask.
“I think they are a really intelligent group that have got a real understanding because they've played together for a period.
“They've added some quality, they've got a big squad and they've set the stall out 18 months ago and they've stuck to that with a with a good coach, who's come in with a big reputation for Manchester United, and he's obviously living up to that reputation at Ipswich, and he's got them going. There's no doubt about it.
“It's going to be a big task but a big challenge and one we can look forward to absolutely on the back of the results that we've just picked up.”
He added: “For us and for any team that's going to a side that's flying, it's a big challenge. They are one of the form teams in this division if not the form team now because of results the other night.
“They play in a way that is exciting, they’re scoring goals, but they also concede them and they concede space, there's areas where we can hurt them, but we've got to we've got to be good and consistently good throughout the game, but then so are they.
“We've got to go there without any fear and go into this game with an expectation of matching that insensitive that they have and if we can do that, then we'd have a chance in the game.”
“He is a really good footballer, and he is somebody that probably was here maybe 12 months too soon in terms of his development and our development,” the former Norwich City frontman continued.
“I think he's a really good footballer who's got a lot of confidence and has got a really good relationship with those players down there and he has a really good personality as well.
“I'm really pleased for him. He's a young man, and it was a delight to have him for the short spell that he was here.”
Town have a good record against Coventry over the years, winning 38 games (36 in the league), losing 24 times (21) and with 25 matches (23) ending in draws. The Sky Blues have won only five of the last 28 games between the clubs.
However, the Blues’ most recent victory over them was a 3-2 success at the Ricoh Arena in February 2012 and Town last beat them at Portman Road, 3-0, in September 2011.
The teams last met at Portman Road in March 2020 in the final game before football was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Matt Godden’s 16th-minute goal saw League One title-bound Coventry to a 1-0 victory over the Blues.
Town had improved from the previous Tuesday’s defeat to Fleetwood by the same scoreline but were unable to find an equaliser.
The teams had also faced one another in an FA Cup second round replay at Portman Road in the previous December, the third game in 10 days between the clubs.
Sub Luke Garbutt pulled a late goal back but it wasn’t enough to prevent an understrength Town team from falling to a 2-1 defeat.
Jordan Shipley and Max Biamou had given Coventry a deserved 2-0 half-time lead, netting in the 18th and 33rd minutes, and Town never looked like getting back into the game until Garbutt’s 86th minute header.
In a League One fixture at the Sky Blues’ temporary home at St Andrew’s on the previous Saturday, Will Keane gave the Blues the lead in the 31st minute and Biamou levelled for Coventry on 56.
Six days prior to that, the teams had met in the initial FA Cup tie, also at St Andrew’s, Keane again having given Town the lead before Callum O’Hare equalised deep in injury time.
Blues forward Chaplin with with the Sky Blues during the 2018/19 season, the first half on loan from Portsmouth before the switch was made permanent in the January. Chaplin netted eight goals in 22 starts and nine sub appearances before moving on to Barnsley that summer.
Saturday’s referee is Andrew Kitchen from Durham, who has shown 37 yellow cards and one red in 14 games so far this season.
Kitchen’s last Town match was the 2-1 pre-season victory at Preston North End but his most recent competitive Blues game was the 3-2 win at Port Vale in October last year in which he kept his cards in his pocket throughout.
Kitchen’s only Town fixture prior to that was the 2-0 win at Fleetwood in March when he yellow-carded Morsy, Woolfenden and one home player.
Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Williams, 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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