What a difference a few days can make.
This is yet another preview of an embattled Lincoln City facing an in-form play-off challenger. However, we will go into this game with some real hope after the spirit shown overcoming a very good Sheffield Wednesday side at the weekend.
We will need the spirit again on Tuesday as we face heavily in-form Ipswich. The Tractor Boys overall look a bit above average at home this season (eight wins, seven draws, two losses). However, they have recorded four of those wins and are unbeaten at home since new manager Kieran McKenna took over in late December. Ipswich look to have ramped up their form conceding just four times and losing only twice in the same timespan. To put that into perspective they conceded an average of 1.5 goals per game in the first half of this season.
Ipswich are also pretty prolific scoring at home, definitely outperforming the expectation; their home xG is 1.41 but their actual scoring rate is 1.72. More importantly, they’ve failed to score in less than 20% of home games this season. Given our poor record of clean sheets, I think it’s fair to expect a goal from them. One stat that did stand out though – a goal has been scored in the second half of every one of Ipswich’s home matches this season. In some respects that bodes well for us. We do tend to concede more in the second half but we also (and perhaps unexpectedly given our struggle with second-half performances) score about 61% of our goals.
Our away form has been impressive for a few years now and this year is no different. Purely on away results we rank twelfth in the league whilst Ipswich rank tenth for home matches. That suggests it could well be a competitive game. Let’s be honest, though, it is likely to be a tough match against a heavily in-form side with a great recent home record.
This season it feels like we are doing well against teams who play with pace and take risks – which is probably why we are seeing some success against the better teams (even when we’ve lost to top-half teams we’ve played good football and deserved better results). So we can be hopeful of something similar against Ipswich.
The Tractor Boys like to play a passing game with a lot of variety. Many attacking moves start with a long-ish ball from the back out to the wing, a quick 1-2 (not dissimilar to one of our favourite tactics) ending in a pull-back cross to the edge of the box. They seem very positive about loading the box (watching clips I can regularly see them getting four or five up). It seems their aim is to try and push the defence toward the goal so as to create space on the edge of the box for a shot. Our midfield tracking back positively is going to be an important element for us. Perhaps making an opportunity for Fiorini, who made a solid return to the starting eleven on Saturday, to impress. That said they are also not scared of a deep cross and occasionally running the ball into the box. So we will have to stay sharp all round.
Ipswich have quite a fluid formation so it’s hard to call how they will line up, except that there will definitely be three at the back. The recent combination of Hopper and Marquis upfront should continue to have an impact here. In their recent games, a bit of pressure has forced the Tractor Boy’s defence deeper and disconnected from their midfield, breaking up their ability to play out. Three at the back also leaves a lot of opportunity for our wingers darting into the box at the back post. Ipswich definitely defend quite tight to goal and, as a progressive team, do leave a lot of space on the edge of the box to take advantage of.
A final note on tactics; the pitch at Portman Road looks in great condition (as good as Sincil Bank) so expect a very fast ball-speed and a quick game overall.
Keep an eye out for Joe Piggott, whether he starts or comes on as a sub. Piggott was a major signing for the Tractor Boys in the summer window (having scored 20 goals for Wimbledon in the 20/21 season). Suffice to say that he has not hit that form so far in 21/22, scoring just two goals in nineteen appearances. He is a huge threat, however, and will be hungry to get on the score sheet.
Ipswich top scorer Macauley Bonne could also present a threat, although he is having a dry spell at present without a goal since early January. In midfield, Bersant Celina is another to watch. His style reminds me a lot of McGrandles, with a high work rate and a good variety of forward passes. He tops Ipswich’s table for assists this season.
A special mention as well for James Norwood, a player we are familiar with over the last few years during his spells at Forest Green Rovers and later Tranmere.
We have quite a lot of recent form with Ipswich. Their relegation from the championship in 2019 put us in the same league for the first time in about seventy years. That first league encounter, in late December, is one to remember. In fact, we were in a not dissimilar position to today; hovering above the drop-zone and struggling for form. Cue a wonderful 5-3 scoreline with some familiar modern legends on the scoresheet; Tyler Walker got a brace and Harry Anderson scored what I remember to be a wonderful strike in the first ten minutes.
Since then our encounters have been less exciting featuring just one or two goals per game. But of course, it’s not our league matches that stick in recent memory. Ipswich were our third round opponents in the glorious 2017 FA Cup run. We played them twice in the end. Our away fixture probably felt like the party opportunity where we hoped just to give a good showing against a Championship team before a second-half thrashing. But the game came alight with us scoring two goals and to be frank we were unlucky not to go through. Of course, we all then remember the reverse fixture, featuring probably one of my favourite City goals of all time (Nathan Arnold, 90’) and certainly the most glorious assist I’ve ever seen at the Bank.
So our history with Ipswich is rich, and if we don’t go into the game as favourites I hope we remember that having recently been the underdog we still came away with a result.