Following a stale 1-0 win against Shrewsbury Town, the lads travel to Portman Road on Tuesday evening to play 9th place Ipswich Town, appearing to have 0-0 written all over it. Lee Johnson’s men have been in fine form on the road, certainly bettering our home form of late.
The Tractor Boys have fell on tough times recently, the memories of Bobby Robson’s 1981 UEFA Cup victory now distant but still romanticised by fans of the Suffolk club. Ipswich were established as a solid Championship side for many years in the late 2000s and 2010s, even pushing for the play-offs and promotion – they’ve been led by two former Sunderland managers too, first of all Roy Keane just months after leaving Wearside and then a long stint under the guidance of Mick McCarthy. But now they find themselves in the third tier of English football, for a second consecutive season, after a disastrous Championship campaign and some financial hardship.
Since beating Paul Lambert’s side back in early November, Ipswich have played ten games: drawing one, winning four yet losing five proving to be struggling to obtain promotion-type form and showing inconsistency, the problem lying in (similarly to Sunderland) having a link between midfield and attack. Mark Ramsey, the Ipswich Town Supporters Club chairman, jokingly stated “you know you’re in trouble if we’ve had a shot in the first seventy-five minutes” as a guest on the Red And White Podcast, noting that lone-striker Drinan tends to become isolated due to a lack of support from midfield. Potentially playing into our hands, this could allow either our full-backs or deeper midfielders to join the attacking four (which can be prone to not being enough to break teams down alone) because there is less of a risk of Ipswich getting numbers forward.
As for Sunderland, the 1-0 victory on Saturday could have a larger impact than it seems. Despite a lot of fans unhappy with the performance, expressing a disappointment in us seeming to only perform for 35 minutes, the lads did what they had to do in getting a goal, amongst an impressive first half display, before getting to the final whistle without conceding against a side who hadn’t not scored in a game since October, and beat three out of the last four top six sides they’d played. It seems as if the decision to not over-commit but be conservative in approach led to a scenario where the lads were able to grind out the three points as opposed to leaving ourselves exposed at the back meaning when individual errors such as Lee Burge’s misplaced pass occurred, we were able to defend effectively, leading to our second clean sheet in three games. As I touched on last week, if a side are able to keep clean sheets consistently, they should win a lot of games over the course of the season, as well as accumulate a lot of points from drawing; clean sheets can only be a positive thing.
It appears the game could be a bit of a stalemate, with Ipswich failing to register a goal against the four top six sides they’ve placed since they played us back in November whilst we, ourselves, struggle to score goals, as I’m sure we’re all aware by now. With both teams appearing to lack a lynchpin to link attack and midfield, a lot of the game may be focused on the midfield battle, with Ipswich’s strong areas clearly lying in defensive midfield, an area it appears Sunderland are now stacked in with the likes of Grant Leadbitter, Josh Scowen and Carl Winchester, with both teams lacking that spark in the final third to create serious chances.
Aside from 0-0, the only other result I can see is 1-0 either way. Given recent form, I give us the edge due to the slight improvement in going forward I’ve seen recently following the switch to 4-2-2-2 which allows us more options going forward than 4-3-3 did so I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to nick a goal and take a 1-0 win home, but with Ipswich’s strength in defensive midfield compared to our lack of strength in attacking midfield, I can’t see us breaking through very often.