PREVIEW: Ipswich Town boss sticking with winning formula as Johnson mulls over Bristol City selection
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Ipswich Town head to Ashton Gate this afternoon, aiming to record back-to-back wins in the Championship for the first time this season.
Buoyed by last weekend’s 3-0 home victory over QPR, Blues boss Mick McCarthy took the unusual step on Thursday of naming his first XI for the clash with the Robins.
Unsurprisingly, the team will be unchanged, following the Blues’ biggest win since November 28, 2015, meaning veteran duo Jonathan Douglas and Luke Varney will start in midfield and attack respectively, in place of Teddy Bishop and Freddie Sears.
Mick McCarthy and Lee Johnson both know their starting XI’s at Ashton Gate this afternoon, but while the former was happy to reveal his on Thursday, the latter is keeping his cards close to his chest.
Both managers are searching for consistency and a winning formula, and victory for McCarthy today would suggest he is inching closer to finding the right blend.
Last weekend’s victory over QPR saw McCarthy add physicality to his forward line, with Luke Varney replacing Freddie Sears, while Jonathan Douglas’ presence gave the Blues more steel in the engine room – the more attack-minded Teddy Bishop the man to miss out.
McCarthy has always had a fair idea of the formula required for success – two Championship title-winning campaigns, with Wolves and Sunderland prove that – and he is big advocate of the traditional 4-4-2 formation.
However, selecting the right personnel at Town has not always been straightforward and square pegs in round holes over the last couple of seasons, have not always yielded positive results.
Today he will line up with two disciplined central midfielders, wingers that understand the art of tracking back and an experienced strike duo combining hard work and guile in abundance.
It’s unsophisticated, but simplicity paid dividends last weekend.
And McCarthy will hope the formation serves him well for the foreseeable future, the Blues boss emphasising the importance of his side’s run of six games in December and how they could make or break Ipswich’s season.
So far this season, Town have been up and down – the away victory at Sheffield Wednesday on November 5, which was sandwiched the home howlers against rock-bottom Rotherham (2-2) and Nottingham Forest (0-2) summing things up.
The mid-table Blues boast a record of six wins, six defeats and six draws and an unspectacular zero goal difference, but three wins in their last six and nine goals scored have been positives, while the form of on-loan winger, Tom Lawrence has raised fans’ spirits.
As for Johnson, he is having his first sticky spell in charge of the Robins, having taken over in February.
Following a barnstorming start to this season, City – one place above Town – have lost five of their last six league games and Tammy Abraham’s goals have dried up.
They have, however, conceded just seven goals at home – only Burton, Derby and Brighton have shipped less – and Ipswich, despite their new-found confidence in front of goal, are the Championship’s lowest scorers away from home (4).
In contrast to McCarthy, Johnson said this week: “I’ve had a look at it and there will be a couple of changes in there somewhere. There needs to be.
“It was Einstein who said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Sometimes, you need to freshen it up, whether that be a change in shape or personnel.”
Meanwhile, Johnson’s former City team-mate, Cole Skuse, who returns to his old club for the first time as a player today, is certainly impressed by the aforementioned Lawrence, but also praised his midfield ally, Douglas.
“Grant Ward got off to a great start and caught the eye with his goals and great feet, but Lawro (Lawrence) has got into gear going forward, but he also does the nitty-gritty as well – he does the hard work,” said Skuse.
“Going forward he is a threat and he was unlucky not to get a couple of penalties against Forest recently.
“His deliveries from set-pieces are fantastic and horrible to defend against.
“We practice against them in training but when you are facing someone with that much quality, it is horrible.”
With Douglas in the side, the Blues midfield has looked a little pedestrian with both him and Skuse playing together.
However, with pacy wingers on the pitch, his defensive discipline comes in crucial.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him (Douglas),” added Skuse.
“The gaffer talked about Dougie doing ‘exactly what it says on the tin’ and all the lads are behind him (Douglas). He has been around a long time, he knows the tricks of the trade and he is a steady Eddie.
“He is easy to bounce off and experienced enough to know when to go forward into the box and when not.
“When he plays I am not forever covering in behind him.”
Defender Joe Bryan is suspended, but Aaron Wilbraham, Korey Smith and Scott Golbourne may be recalled.
Luke Hyam (knee) and Tommy Smith (back) are working their way back to fitness.
Brett Pitman (ankle) returned to training this week, but won’t be in the squad today.