|Ipswich Town 2 v 2 West Bromwich Albion
Saturday, 10th February 2024 Kick-off 12:30
McKenna: We're Looking Forward to Getting Another Go at West Brom in Our Home Stadium
Friday, 9th Feb 2024 16:22
Boss Kieran McKenna is looking forward to taking on West Brom at a packed Portman Road in Saturday’s live-on-Sky, fourth-v-fifth clash with the Baggies one of only three teams to have beaten the Blues in the Championship this season (KO 12.30pm).
McKenna admits that Town were given a difficult evening by the Baggies at the Hawthorns in November when the home side ran out 2-0 victors, inflicting the Blues’ first away Championship defeat of the campaign.
“It's a really tough game, you'd probably say that they showed the best of themselves in that game,” the Town manager recalled.
“They're statistically the best team in the league from set plays and they scored with their first corner.
“They showed how defensively resolute they can be, especially when they've got a lead, they're very hard to create chances against.
“They've got real physicality and discipline in their defending, and they've shown that when they're on top of things and things are going their way. And they've got really good players as well with good technical quality.
“A good team, very good players, very well coached, good structure in all phases of the game and a really good challenge for us but one we're looking forward to.
“The game up there didn't go our way, the early goal didn't help but it's a day we would say West Brom were the better team.
“We're looking forward to getting another go at them in our home stadium and testing ourselves and seeing if we can try and impose more of our game on them.”
West Brom are fifth in the Championship table, 11 points behind the fourth-placed Blues, but their current league form is up and down, having won five, drawn one and lost five of their last 11.
On the road this season they have won four, drawn three and lost seven in the league, including their last three, 1-0 at Middlesbrough and Swansea and 2-0 at Norwich three weeks ago.
The Baggies have conceded the third fewest goals in the division, 27, but have scored only 41, the 13th-highest.
Away, they have netted the 11th fewest in the Championship, 16 from 14 matches, conceding the same number, the fourth fewest in the division.
Having been relegated from the Premier League in 2020/21, West Brom still have players with top flight experience as well as those with aspirations to play at that level.
“We don't speak about it too much internally but it's not lost on us that West Brom are having a really good season,” McKenna said.
“They've got a very good manager and an outstanding team full of top-end Championship and Premier League experience.
“They're happy with the season that they're having, so I think we should certainly be happy to be in the position that we are.
“But we're under no illusions of the level and challenge, we don't make comparisons with ourselves to anyone, but certainly not the teams that are recently removed from the Premier League.
“We're on our own journey, we're enjoying that journey and there's ups and downs along the way. We'll just stick to the plan that we've mapped out and stick to doing the right things.”
McKenna, whose side have won only one of their last eight in the Championship, was pleased to have a free midweek and time to work on integrating new signings Kieffer Moore, who scored twice on his second Town debut having come on as a half-time sub at Preston last week, and Ali Al-Hamadi, who also came off the bench in the second half at Deepdale.
“Very much so, it's been a good week,” he said. “The two of those arrived so late before the Preston game so the start of this week was the first proper session and that's been really good.
“Of course there's a process to integrating them, both physically and technically, getting used to how we train and the intensity that we work at.
“But also tactically understanding our principles and how we play and us understanding them and how we can utilise them both best within the team.
“We've done some good work on that this week, it doesn't happen in a day or a week and that will continue over the next few weeks before we really start to see the best of how we can utilise them in the team.
“But it's been a really good week for that, and having Cameron Burgess back [from international duty with Australia at the Asian Cup] has been a boost. The group is healthy and well and is looking forward to the game.”
Despite last week’s 3-2 defeat at Preston, McKenna is unlikely to make too many changes for the Baggies’ visit.
Vaclav Hladky will be in goal with Harry Clarke and Leif Davis the full-backs. Luke Woolfenden will probably get the nod ahead of Axel Tuanzebe at right centre-half with McKenna having a decision to make on the left.
George Edmundson has excelled in Burgess’s absence and appears likely to keep his place, particularly with the Australian international having played only one full game and made a 36-minute sub appearance at the tournament having been unavailable to the Blues since New Year’s Day.
Skipper Sam Morsy and Massimo Luongo are likely to continue in the centre of midfield with Conor Chaplin in the centre ahead of them and Wes Burns on the right.
Nathan Broadhead could return to the XI on the left in favour of Jeremy Sarmiento, who made his first league start for the club last week.
Moore seems certain to be handed his Town full debut as the out-and-out striker, seven years after initially joining the club, having made only 11 sub appearances in his first stint at Portman Road.
West Brom boss Carlos Corberán has been hugely impressed with the way the Blues have competed alongside last season’s relegated Premier League sides this season.
“There are three clubs in the Championship this year who a lot of people will see as Premier League clubs,” he told his club’s official website.
“Leeds United, Leicester and Southampton were all in the Premier League for a number of years before coming down to the Championship.
“Ipswich weren’t one of those sides in terms of playing in the Premier League, but they have been up there with those three teams this season in terms of points and the number of wins they have been getting. They are one of the best-performing teams in the division this year.
“There is a gap between them and us. They are fourth and we are fifth. We want to keep improving and we want to finish the season in the best position possible.
“I don’t need to mention how good a job their coach Kieran McKenna is doing because the numbers are there for everyone to see.
“Yes, they haven’t been able to pick up as many wins recently as they managed to in the first three or four months of the season, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous.
“It’s impossible to think we can win at Ipswich without being strong at set pieces, in defence or in attack. It’s an encounter which is going to demand our best levels.
“They have added real quality to their squad in January and they have a really good style.
“They’re a side who now have different ways to win games. Kieffer Moore for me is a player who is a Premier League player. With him on the pitch, you don’t need to play well in every game to win games. He’s very dangerous and we know that.
“Our performance against them at The Hawthorns was very, very good. However, this is a completely different challenge and we need to be ready.”
Albion will be without winger Matt Phillips, who has undergone surgery on a hamstring injury, while one-time England defender Martin Kelly is out with a muscle problem.
Another winger, Adam Reach, isn’t yet ready for a return and forward Josh Maja is out for the season having had an ankle operation.
Midfielder Jayson Molumby has also had surgery, for a foot problem, and is also expected to miss the rest of the campaign.
Attacking midfielder Grady Diangana and centre-half Semi Ajayi are away at the Africa Cup of Nations with DR Congo, who are in the third-place play-off, and Nigeria, who are in Sunday’s final, respectively.
The Baggies are in the process of signing free agent former France international midfielder Yann M’Vila, but that deal won’t be done in time for Saturday’s match.
Historically, Town have won 33 games between the sides (30 in the league), West Brom 23 (22) with 17 (15) ending in draws.
Town most recently beat West Brom at Portman Road in the League Cup quarter-final in December 2010 with a Grant Leadbitter penalty the difference between the sides.
The Blues’ most recent league win over the Baggies was back in January 2008 when goals from David Wright, now an U21s coach at Playford Road, and Jason De Vos saw Town to a superb victory over the then-Championship leaders.
In November, Town fell to only their second Championship defeat of the season and first away from home in the league since January as goals at the start of each half from Darnell Furlong and Diangana saw West Brom to victory at the Hawthorns in Blues manager McKenna’s 100th game in charge of the club.
Furlong’s flicked header from a corner gave the Baggies the lead in the fifth minute, then Diangana added the second two minutes after the break with the Blues subsequently never looking like taking anything from the game.
The teams last met at Portman Road in November 2018 when Kayden Jackson netted his third goal of the season five minutes from time but the Blues fell to a 2-1 defeat to West Brom, who climbed to second.
Jay Rodriguez gave the visitors the lead on 26, Harvey Barnes doubled the margin in the 77th minute before sub Jackson made the most of a Tosin Adarabioyo error to pull a goal back for Town, who almost claimed what earlier had seemed an unlikely point when another sub, Jack Lankester, hit the post with a free-kick deep in injury time.
Blues CEO Mark Ashton was born and bred in West Bromwich and grew up supporting the club. He was a youth goalkeeper with Albion - playing under Town legend Brian Talbot - and subsequently held various community and coaching roles before switching to the business side of the club, eventually joining the board.
Town chairman Mike O’Leary is another former boyhood Baggies fan-turned-director and was the chief executive at the Hawthorns for two years.
Blues winger Sarmiento was on loan with Albion in the first half of the season, making seven starts and 14 sub appearances, scoring twice.
West Brom centre-half Ajayi was on trial with Town in January 2015 when he played a game for the U21s, while full-back Conor Townsend was the subject of an offer from the Blues in the summer of 2018 but they lost out to the Baggies when the former Hull City man left Scunthorpe.
Saturday’s referee is David Coote, who has shown 64 yellow cards and three red in 14 games so far this season.
The Nottinghamshire-based official’s last Town match was the 2-2 draw at Middlesbrough on the final day of the 2017/18 season in which he yellow-carded Cole Skuse, Martyn Waghorn, Freddie Sears and one Teessider.
He was also in the middle for the 1-1 draw with Norwich City at Carrow Road in February the same year in which he booked Callum Connolly, Jordan Spence, Joe Garner, Skuse and Waghorn, as well as two Canaries.
Coote also refereed the 1-0 defeat at Wolves in December 2017 in which he booked Adam Webster, Connolly and Waghorn and one home player.
Prior to that he was the man in the middle for the previous month's 2-2 draw at Hull City, booking five Blues - Jonas Knudsen, Webster, Connolly, Garner and Grant Ward - as well as three home players. He also awarded the Blues a penalty but David McGoldrick’s spot-kick was saved.
Before that he refereed the 1-0 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in April last year in which he booked only Skuse.
He also took charge of the December 2016 2-1 victory over Bristol City at Portman Road, yellow-carding Brett Pitman, Tom Lawrence and two of the visitors.
Coote was also the man in the middle for the Portman Road derby four months prior to that which ended 1-1. He booked no home players and one Canary as well as ruling out what replays showed to be Jonathan Douglas’s perfectly good goal, his linesman having wrongly flagged for offside.
He refereed the 2-2 FA Cup draw at home to Portsmouth in January 2016, in which he cautioned Skuse and one visiting player, and the 0-0 home draw with Cardiff in October 2015 in which he yellow-carded eight players, Tommy Smith, Skuse and Kevin Bru as well as five Bluebirds.
Coote officiated in the 2-2 draw with Brentford on the opening day of 2015/16 when he booked only Bees' midfielder Jota.
Earlier, he refereed the 3-1 defeat at Cardiff in October 2014, in which he yellow-carded Tyrone Mings and two home players, the 2-1 defeat at Reading on the opening day of the 2013/14 season and the 3-1 home loss to Wigan later that campaign.
During the season prior to that he took control of Town’s 2-1 defeat away against the Tigers, which turned out to be Paul Jewell’s penultimate game in charge of the Blues, and the 3-0 home victory over Millwall.
Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Davis, Humphreys, Tuanzebe, Woolfenden, Edmundson, Burgess, Morsy, Travis, Luongo, Ball, Burns, Chaplin, Broadhead, Harness, Aluko, Hutchinson, Sarmiento, Moore, Al-Hamadi, Jackson.
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