Four festive fixtures which could make or break Ipswich Town's season

PUBLISHED: 06:00 20 December 2018

Ipswich Town are back to within five points of Championship safety following Freddie Sears' winning goal against Wigan at Portman Road last Saturday. Photo: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town are back to within five points of Championship safety following Freddie Sears' winning goal against Wigan at Portman Road last Saturday. Photo: Steve Waller

© Copyright Stephen Waller

Ipswich Town are back to within five points of Championship safety following Saturday's 1-0 home win against Wigan. STUART WATSON looks at the four festive fixtures ahead.

Ex-Blues strikers David McGoldrick is fit and firing for Sheffield United ahead of his return to Portman Road this weekend. Photo: PAEx-Blues strikers David McGoldrick is fit and firing for Sheffield United ahead of his return to Portman Road this weekend. Photo: PA

SHEFFIELD UNITED

Where: Portman Road

When: Saturday, December 22 (3pm)

Current position: 5th

Current form: LWLWD

Away record: W6 D1 L4 F18 A14

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has been critical of his side in recent weeks. Photo: PASheffield United manager Chris Wilder has been critical of his side in recent weeks. Photo: PA

The Blades are now nearer seventh than they are second following their 2-1 home loss to fellow high-fliers West Brom at Bramall Lane last Friday night.

Manager Chris Wilder bemoaned his side’s inability to kill the game off when in front and, on the second half, said: “I haven’t seen us pass the ball that badly for 45 minutes in a long time.”

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He previously said he had to remind his players of ‘standards’ after a late win against Reading and slammed a ‘very, very poor’ performance following a 2-2 draw at Rotherham.

United have claimed just six points from a possible 24 against teams currently in the top nine, but remain in the promotion hunt thanks to a near flawless record against sides currently in the bottom nine (20 points from 24).

The mercurial David McGoldrick, released following a five-year spell at Town which saw his undoubted talents ultimately overshadowed by persistent injuries, returns to Suffolk fit and firing. The 31-year-old has scored six goals in 17 starts and five substitute appearances.

QPR ended a four-game winless run with a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Middlesbrough last weekend. Photo: PAQPR ended a four-game winless run with a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Middlesbrough last weekend. Photo: PA

QPR

Where: Loftus Road

When: Boxing Day (3pm ko)

Current position: 13th

Current form: WLLDD

Home record: W6 D1 L4 F16 A13

It's been an up-and-down season for QPR under manager Steve McClaren. Photo: PAIt's been an up-and-down season for QPR under manager Steve McClaren. Photo: PA

Steve McClaren was reportedly on the verge of the sack just a few weeks after taking charge after the R’s lost their opening four league games, including a 7-1 thrashing at West Brom and 3-0 home humbling by Bristol City.

Experienced strikers Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells were recruited on loan and results soon picked up.

They saw off a lacklustre Town 2-0 at Portman Road in October – the game which proved to be the beginning of the end for Blues boss Paul Hurst. A 3-2 home win against West London rivals Brentford on November 10 lifted them to within two points of the play-offs places.

MORE: ‘The great escape is on!’ - Sears hopes Wigan win can spark Town’s revival

Draws at Stoke and Rotherham (both 2-2) followed by defeats against Hull (3-2 at home) and Leeds (2-1 away) saw them drop back into the bottom half, but last weekend’s 2-1 home win against Middlesbrough got things back on track.

“It was a great performance,” said McLaren, whose team are scoring and conceding plenty. “This team never says die. We needed this win.”

Middlesbrough defender Aden Flint reacts during a goalless home draw with Rotherham. The promotion-chasing Teesiders have stuttered of late. Photo: PAMiddlesbrough defender Aden Flint reacts during a goalless home draw with Rotherham. The promotion-chasing Teesiders have stuttered of late. Photo: PA

QPR are at Nottingham Forest this weekend.

MIDDLESBROUGH

Where: Riverside Stadium

When: Saturday, December 29 (3pm ko)

Current position: 6th

Current form: LDLDW

Middlesbrough and Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph has kept 13 clean sheets for club and country this seaosn. Photo: PAMiddlesbrough and Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph has kept 13 clean sheets for club and country this seaosn. Photo: PA

Home record: W5 D4 L2 F11 A7

Tony Pulis’ promotion hopefuls are stuttering. Defeat at QPR made it four league games without a victory. Since their comfortable 2-0 win at Portman Road on October 2 they’ve won just two of 11 league games to slip to sixth in the standings.

“We need a few breaks,” said Pulis, after defeat at Loftus Road. “The players have reacted to the fact that we haven’t been scoring and, in their desperation to score, we’ve lost our shape a bit.”

MORE: Ipswich Town transfer rumour: Blues ‘make initial enquiry’ for Boro striker Gestede

In their 11 league games at the Riverside Stadium they’ve kept seven clean sheets.

They face struggling duo Reading (a) and Sheffield Wednesday (h) prior to the visit of Ipswich and will be hoping to build some positive momentum again.

Millwall players react to Jack Harrison's late equaliser for Leeds at The Den back in September. The Lions are yet to win on the road this season and haven't registered a victory since beating Ipswich 3-0 on October 27. Photo: PAMillwall players react to Jack Harrison's late equaliser for Leeds at The Den back in September. The Lions are yet to win on the road this season and haven't registered a victory since beating Ipswich 3-0 on October 27. Photo: PA

Lost 1-0 at home to League One Burton Albion in Carabao Cup quarter-final on Tuesday night.

MILLWALL

Where: Portman Road

When: Tuesday, January 1 (3pm ko)

Current position: 22nd

Current form: LDDLD

Millwall manager Neil Harris. Photo: PAMillwall manager Neil Harris. Photo: PA

Away record: W0 D3 L8 F10 A22

This is the big one; a true relegation ‘six-pointer’; the chance to get 2019 off with a bang ahead of the FA Cup trip to Accrington Stanley and subsequent visit of Rotherham.

Since beating Town 3-0 at The Den on the day of Paul Lambert’s appointment, the Lions have gone on a seven-game winless streak which has included matches against Brentford, Bolton, Bristol City, Hull and Preston.

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Reflecting on last Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Deepdale, manager Neil Harris said: “It was Groundhog Day for us, we’ve conceded five or six chances and conceded three goals. At the other end we’ve created about 10 clear cut chances and scored two and ultimately come away with nothing.”

The South London set-piece specialists are yet to win on their travels this season. They’re at Stoke on Saturday, then host Reading and Nottingham Forest before arriving in Suffolk on New Year’s Day.

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