Championship preview: Derby County v Ipswich Town
PUBLISHED: 11:22 07 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:22 07 May 2016
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Ipswich Town head to Derby County today, playing for nothing more than pride, following a disappointing end to the season, which has yielded just one win in their last eight outings.
In contrast, the Rams, who could only finish eighth last season and watch as Town faced Norwich in a two-legged play-off semi-final, have already made the end-of-season lottery, and are unbeaten in six.
They already know they will face Hull City for a chance of reaching Wembley.
However, a victory for Derby today and defeat for the Tigers will see Darren Wassall’s men leapfrog Steve Bruce’s side into fourth position in the table, thus giving the Rams home advantage in the second leg.
Town will be looking on enviously at Derby – the Rams dreaming of Premier League football next season – but at the same time, given the disparity in the clubs’ respective transfer budgets, it’s surprising the East Midlands outfit have only finished 12 points ahead of their rivals from Suffolk, and not won automatic promotion.
David McGoldrick and Teddy Bishop could step up their rehabilitation from injury today, following their impressive performances at home to MK Dons last weekend.
McGoldrick has been in and around the squad for the last couple of weeks whereas Bishop only made his first league start of the season seven days ago.
It was difficult not to get carried away last Saturday, watching that duo in action – given the dearth of attacking intent Town have shown in their absence – but it is also worth remembering that the Blues were playing an already-relegated team in the Dons.
A dead-rubber it may have been but just as Town’s defending caught the eye for all the wrong reasons again, the way the Blues played at times in the final third did not go unnoticed either.
Bishop, McGoldrick, plus a fit Ryan Fraser and Daryl Murphy would have made the difference, but given Town’s final position – the Blues will finish seventh or eighth – there is a sense that ultimately the team has over-achieved this term.
“We unfortunately lost four of our creative players and it affected us,” said manager Mick McCarthy.
“I can’t remember every year as a manager but I doubt very much I have lost four of the more influential ones in one season.
“If they were all fit, they would all be playing, Murphy, Didz (McGoldrick), Ryan Fraser and Bish (Teddy Bishop). They would have all had a lot of games this season.”
Losing that quartet was a big blow but, had Derby lost the services of Tom Ince, Chris Martin, Jacob Butterfield and Johnny Russell for long periods, they would have been able to spend big on replacements, despite already having strength in depth.
Not that spending always guarantees success, as the Rams can testify – Steve McLaren’s expensively-assembled squad failing to reach the play-offs last May. Town owner, Marcus Evans has also been very responsible in adhering to Financial Fair Play rules.
But you do wonder where Town would be if they had possessed a fraction of Derby’s spending power.
While the Rams have got off relatively lightly with injuries this season, they have still supplemented their squad, bringing in the likes of Nick Blackman (£2.5m), Marcus Olsson (undisclosed) and Bradley Johnson (£6m). That’s on top of Ince’s (£4.75m) arrival in pre-season.
Blackman has failed to live up the standards he produced at Reading so far, while Johnson has arguably not been as influential as he was during his time at Norwich.
But their additions kept the existing squad on their toes.
Having recovered from a mid-season dip that saw Paul Clement lose his job, they have finished the campaign strongly, winning eight and drawing three of caretaker manager Darren Wassall’s 15 games in charge. Derby have also retained a consistency in their squad with influential figures such as Richard Keogh, Johnny Russell and Chris Martin excelling again.
Martin has 15 goals and 10 assists, and is to Derby what Daryl Murphy was to Ipswich last season. The Blues will be looking towards their talisman and fellow frontmen McGoldrick, Brett Pitman and Freddie Sears to be more prolific next season.
If they get that right, sort the defence out and enjoy a relatively injury-free campaign, then they will not be far away again.
And if McCarthy can bring in the players he wants, without having to scramble around the bargain basement, then Town could be gearing up for the play-offs in a year’s time.
Jamie Hanson (shoulder), Craig Forsyth (knee) and Lee Grant (groin) will miss out.
Jeff Hendrick and Bradley Johnson could return after injury.
Republic of Ireland international Daryl Murphy (calf), remains out, ahead of Euro 2016.
Former Shelbourne youngster, Adam McDonnell will make his Football League debut in midfield for Town.
Luke Chambers returns after injury and replaces Josh Emmanuel at right back. Myles Kenlock will play again at left-back with Jonas Knudsen (knee) still sidelined.
LAST TIME OUT
Tom Ince scored the only goal of the game as Ipswich Town lost 1-0 at home to Derby County, in December.
The alert winger latched onto a loose ball, after it had spun free from a 50/50 tackle, and fired into the bottom corner five minutes before the interval. The Blues then huffed and puffed and weren’t able to break down the Rams’ defence.
Jonathan Douglas’ header was cleared off the line in the 81st minute, but that was one of just two shots on target for Mick McCarthy’s men.
The only thing riding on this game is where Derby will finish in the table. A win for the Rams and defeat for Hull, will see Derby leapfrog the Tigers into fourth and, crucially, play the second-leg of the teams’ play-off encounter at home.
That’s the ideal scenario for Darren Wassall’s men, but Derby won’t want to exert too much energy and risk any injuries with bigger fish to fry.
As for Town, if they can recreate the football they produced against MK Dons, then a last-day draw could be on the cards.