Pompey were brought crashing back to Earth following their rampant, weather-adapted 4-0 win over Sunderland. First, the second string were humiliated in the EFL Trophy Group Stage at home to Sutton United, before the first string were humiliated in South Yorkshire at the hands of Rotherham United.
Six goals conceded over the course of the two games burned away whatever momentum the Blues may have hoped to generate in the wake of that Atlantean victory over the Black Cats. Now, a familiar face in Paul Cook shall make another return to PO4, this time with his Ipswich Town side, also a team struggling to find their rhythm as of yet.
If the transfer headlines in League One over the course of the off-season and August focused on one club more than any other, then it was certainly the Tractorboys. A triple change of ownership, permanent manager, and playing squad isn’t unique to the Suffolk outfit in the third tier, however it was the most high profile.
Paul Cook looks to bring forth a new horizon for Ipswich to sail towards under the charges of new owners, and to the tune of EIGHTEEN signings, an entire matchday squad, the A12 has seen many professional footballers coming to and fro recently. In fact, no club in League One has seen a larger playing squad turnover for the 21/22 season. This is now very much Cook’s squad, especially considering the financial backing he’s received to go out and get what he feels he needs.
To go through each departure and arrival at Portman Road would be a writing exercise worthy of War and Peace, so this will just be a rundown of some of the notable signings in IP1.
Vaclav Hladky (Salford, undisc.), Christian Walton (Brighton, loan)
George Edmundson (Rangers, £800k), Cameron Burgess (Accrington, £800k), Matt Penney (Sheff Wed, free)
Scott Fraser (MK Dons, undisc.), Wes Burns (Fleetwood, undisc.), Rekeem Harper (West Brom, £500k), Tom Carroll (QPR, free), Lee Evans (Wigan, free), Bersant Celina (Dijon, loan), Kyle Edwards (West Brom, free)
Joe Pigott (Wimbledon, free), Macauley Bonne (QPR, loan), Conor Chaplin (Barnsley, £800k), Sone Aluko (Reading, free)
Aaaand breathe. A veritable armada of players with Championship experience have made Ipswich their new home, to the extent that the Tractorboys could make a fair attempt at fielding two League One calibre elevens simultaneously. In truth, Ipswich hasn’t been the most joyous place to be through the first quarter of the season, despite the town’s population doubling in the summer. Twelve games in, Town have collected just 14 points, leaving them 15th.
There may be a small sense of growing optimism in East Anglia however, as they appear to be recovering from one of the more dismal starts in the club’s history. Opening up with an eight-game winless run in all competitions, conceding at least two goals in seven of those, Town have improved over the last month to win four games and suffer a solitary defeat.
Ipswich have been labelled many things during the off-season and the season so far. If there is indisputable truth above all else, it’s that Ipswich games are highly entertaining. Despite being in the nebulous position of 15th, Ipswich have scored more goals than anybody else in the division (23); while no side has conceded more goals (21). The goal train stops at both ends in every Ipswich game it seems, no side has kept a clean sheet against Cook’s side, while they only have two clean sheets themselves.
Danny Cowley’s side looked to hit the reset button after that Sunderland victory, only to see it explode in front of them following their own collapse against Rotherham on Saturday. Marcus Harness’s grand sweeping finish aside, potshots were the most the Blues were able to create.
What was of greater concern was the rate of Pompey’s collapse in the second. Gavin Bazunu’s error to allow Michael Smith to regain the lead for the Millers was the first in a seven period in which they conceded three times. There was a team meeting after the MK Dons defeat, a go-karting trip and team bonding session a few weeks later, yet some extremely insipid showings, combined with negative reactions to conceding, paint a grim picture of a PO4 outfit that has very little in the way of character, and spine.
In times where gutsiness can be questions, teams look to their auxiliaries to save the day. Except, the bench options for the Blues seem to become fewer in number, and more unpalatable with every passing game. Injury-wise, Paul Downing and Ellis Harrison are expected to join Clark Robertson, Jayden Reid, and Liam Vincent on the injury list for quite some time. Regarding those whom remain, there are valid question marks atop the likes of George Hirst, Reeco Hackett, Gassan Ahadme, and Michael Jacobs. None seem to have the attributes required to impact a game in its latter stages, though Hackett is by far the best of a poor bunch. Miguel Azeez remains off that list for now until more is seen of him.
Two highly disturbing statistics for the Tractorboys ahead of this one may just provide a slither of hope for a Pompey fan base that doesn’t seem to have much at the moment.
1) Ipswich have played five away games, yet haven’t scored a single goal in the second half.
2) Ipswich have conceded six second half goals in just five away games.
Considering Pompey’s respective latter half collapses against MK Dons, Burton Albion, and Rotherham recently, the above may play a large factor in the Fratton clash. Pompey themselves have a litany of issues that they need to resolve in the second half, having conceded eleven of their fourteen goals towards the end of games. Based on the above, something would surely have to give.
In truth, this is one flawed side taking on another flawed side. The positive for Pompey is that they’ve been by far a more productive outfit at home, and will need every ounce of that in order to obtain another result. For Ipswich, the signs are improvement are there for all to see, and a victory in PO4 would no doubt provide a boost to their ambitions, regardless of Blues form.
The Tractorboys are expected to line up in Cook’s familiar 4-2-3-1, tactical surprises are not something that the former Pompey boss has been well-known for. The hosts however are playing it close to the chest following the defeat in South Yorkshire, with Cowley hinting that a return to a back four may have to come into effect if their defensive woes continue. It may be a decision that runs quite close to game time as he tries to find a way to stabilise his ailing side.
Full match coverage of Pompey vs Ipswich is available from 7pm on 93.7 Express FM, while pre and post-match shows can be found via the Express web player.
Photo: Below 2020 Media