A chance for revenge, a potential top two clash and a trip to a stirring giant - Town's crucial four game run, plus predictions
PUBLISHED: 06:00 21 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:12 21 January 2020
Ipswich Town have bounced back to form just in time for a crucial-looking run of four games which could boost or blow-up their automatic promotion chances. Mark Heath takes a look at the matches and storylines - and offers his predictions!
Saturday, January 25: Lincoln (home)
Ah, a chance for some swift revenge. Town's rank capitulation at Lincoln over the festive period, shipping five goals in a 5-3 loss four days after Christmas, was perhaps the lowest point of their recent poor run.
What better way then to continue to gather momentum in 2020 than by putting them to the sword at Portman Road just three weeks later?
That will be no easy task though - since that high-scoring triumph at Sincil Bank, the Imps have taken ten points from a possible 15, beating promotion-chasers Peterborough and Blackpool, plus thumping Bolton 5-1 and drawing 1-1 at Shrewsbury.
A 3-1 defeat at newly-resurgent Sunderland has been their only reverse over that time, so they'll arrive in Suffolk with their tails up, armed with the happy knowledge that they've already put five past the Blues.
Tyler Walker bagged a brace for the Imps in that win and continues to terrorise League One defences, having scored 15 goals in all competitions so far this campaign. Indeed, his 14 league strikes are second only to Peterborough's Ivan Toney - more on him later!
Lincoln have been weakened though by the departure last week of ever-present defender Harry Toffolo, who was reunited with former boss Danny Cowley at Huddersfield last week. A fascinating game awaits at Portman Road - and it's one which Town really should be winning if they plan to crack the top two.
Mark's prediction: 2-1 Town win
Tuesday, January 28: Rotherham (away)
When the Blues were beaten 2-0 at home by Rotherham back in October it was seen as something of an upset, Town suffering their second straight defeat after a storming start which saw just them and European champions Liverpool remain as the only sides in English league football without a loss to their name. Happy days.
At the time, the Millers were toiling in mid-table - but now they sit proudly atop it, and will pose even more questions of Town in this midweek clash which, if results conspire on Saturday, could yet be a battle of the league's top two.
Rotherham haven't lost in the league since December 7 - a 1-0 defeat at home to Rochdale - and have won five matches in a row, most recently a 3-0 victory over Bristol Rovers on Saturday.
They boast the best goal difference in League One (+22) and have three players with nine or more goals to their name so far this season.
Freddie Ladapo leads the way with 12, followed by Michael Smith with 10 and Matt Crooks with nine.
Rotherham are red-hot, big, physical and full of confidence - this will be a very tough test for Town. I'd love to be bold and predict a Town win and some more revenge, but realistically even a point would be a tremendous result.
Mark's prediction: 1-0 Rotherham win
Saturday, February 1: Peterborough (home)
Not too long ago, Posh were looking like Town's main rivals for automatic promotion, Darren Ferguson's men scoring goals for fun via their three-headed monster of Ivan Toney, Mo Eisa and Marcus Maddison.
But, while the likes of Rotherham and Sunderland have put together impressive runs and appear to be gathering momentum at the right time, Posh have gone right the other way, falling apart over the festive period and struggling to recover.
They've not won in the league since December 14 - a 1-0 win over crisis club Bolton - and have lost four of their last five.
They were crushed 4-0 by Rotherham in that run, which has seen them drop all the way down to tenth in the table.
It also looks like key man Maddison is on his way, with the club accepting a bid from Champiionship strugglers Charlton for the playmaker last week. While ex-Colchester star Sammie Szmodics has come in on loan, the loss of Maddison will be seen as a huge blow for Ferguson's men.
Toney (17) and Eisa (15) are still big goal threats, but Posh are struggling to keep them out at the other end. It will be interesting to see who Posh can bring in before the transfer window slams shut - it never closes gently, does it? - but this looks like a game Town should enter with confidence.
Mark's prediction: 3-1 Town win
Saturday, February 8: Sunderland (away)
Mighty Sunderland, arguably the biggest club in League One, had been slumbering this season under the stewardship of former Town target Jack Ross, having missed out on promotion straight back to the Championship last campaign.
Like a shark smelling blood in the water though, they have been roused of late by new boss Phil Parkinson, who took over last October.
He struggled initially, enduring a run of just two wins in his first nine league games, but since then the Black Cats have bared their claws, winning four and drawing one of their last five.
That good run has moved them up into sixth spot, with a game in hand on promotion rivals Town, Oxford, Wycombe and Rotherham.
Their stingy defence is a strength - Parkinson's men are tied with Town and Doncaster for the fewest goals conceded so far in the league with 24.
Going forward, Chris Maguire is their top scorer with nine, though they have just signed Northern Ireland international striker Kyle Lafferty to bolster their attacking options. Despite their good run, you get the feeling Sunderland - now up for sale - are never very far from a crisis, and I just have a feeling that Town might turn them over.
Mark's prediction: 1-0 Town win