Halfway down the Road to Wembley is a place where two Towns meet. That place is Portman Road, where Ipswich take on Northampton on Tuesday for a spot in the Carling Cup Quarter Finals.
It’s probably for the best that Ipswich have a Cup campaign to focus on this week. The last week has been very much one to forget for the Blues, coming out of league matches against Coventry, Watford and Nottingham Forest with three straight defeats for the first time under Roy Keane. A match against lower league opposition could be just what the doctor ordered to help restore some confidence after slipping to 14th in the Championship. On the other hand however, it could be just what their opponents want too.
League Two Northampton will no doubt have kept an eye on the fortunes of their Championship opponents in the run up to this game. Since recording one of the biggest shocks in League Cup history by knocking out Premiership heavyweights Liverpool in the Fourth Round, the Cobblers have struggled with a run of five straight defeats putting them second-bottom of the Football League. However, the Carling Cup has up to now been the shining light of Northampton’s season, with Ian Sampson’s side knocking out loftier opposition in all three rounds so far – Brighton, Reading and of course Liverpool – and it is a light which they will not wish to see snuffed out by the likes of Ipswich.
It’s probably just as well for both sides that league form counts for nothing in contests like this. As such, the visitors will fancy their chances of causing another upset on Tuesday; something which the Blues must avoid at all costs, especially as there can be no doubt that the draw has granted them a fabulous opportunity to reach the last eight for the first time in a decade. Whatever happens, as the only tie of the round that guarantees progression for a non-Premier League club, neither side will want to slip up now when there are plenty of bigger fish to fry.
Ipswich midfielder Grant Leadbitter has had his say about Tuesday night’s contest, dubbing it a ‘massive game’ for the Blues. The 24-year-old told the East Anglian press: ‘We have got to be ready for it as for Northampton it will be their cup final. They wanted a bigger club after beating Liverpool and they will see this as their chance to ensure that might happen in the next round.’
The warning not to underestimate lower league opposition is frankly a given in matches like this, especially with Town’s recent form. However, Leadbitter stressed that he is confident that everyone at the club will stick together and get the season back on track. ‘Losing three games on the trot is not nice, but it happens to every team, and we know we can get out of this – starting tomorrow.’
Roy Keane is also eager for the side to recover quickly from the recent slump, but he also acknowledges the criticism from the fans who have held him responsible to ‘sort it out’. ‘When the fans sing that I agree with them, because it is up to me to sort it out. If I don’t there’s trouble,’ the Town boss told BBC Radio Suffolk; ‘I enjoy that responsibility, I share the fans’ frustration but we need to step back and say we have had a bad week.’
‘As much as we’re disappointed with the past week, if we win tomorrow we’re in a quarter final and we’re still only three points off the play-offs’.
Indeed, despite poor recent results, Town are far from the crisis that they faced this time last season. A win against Northampton will hopefully be enough to get things moving again and encourage a lift in spirits beyond the old ‘glass half empty’ syndrome.
Ipswich Town Team News:
Roy Keane will need to make changes for the match against Northampton with several players either unavailable or ineligible. Jack Colback and Jake Livermore are cup-tied having already featured in this tournament for Sunderland and Tottenham respectively, while Darren O’Dea and Mark Kennedy are still out with injuries. Brian Murphy may be recalled ahead of Marton Fulop having played in all three rounds of the competition for Town so far, while Connor Wickham could finally earn a place back in the starting lineup.
Player to watch: Connor Wickham
Given the opposition and the competition, it is hard to predict what kind of lineup Town will field tomorrow. Nonetheless, we’ve plumped for Connor Wickham to get the nod for a starting berth on Tuesday night. Without a goal so far this campaign, The 17-year-old has not been able to live up to much of the media hype this season having not long returned from injury, while his appearances since then have been limited by Keane’s recent use of Jason Scotland in a 4-5-1 formation. With these tactics not exactly proving fruitful however, and with Wickham putting in some decent displays from the bench against Watford and Nottingham Forest, a cup tie against League Two opposition could be the perfect opportunity for the England U19 International to remind the Town boss and fans of his dazzling potential and possibly re-establish his place in the first 11.
Northampton Town Team News:
Northampton are waiting on news of John Johnson’s appeal after the defender was sent off in the defeat at Oxford on Saturday, though a verdict will not be forthcoming until Tuesday afternoon, mere hours before the match is due to kick off. One man who is definitely suspended for the trip to Portman Road is Dean Beckwith who serves the final match of a three game ban following his straight red card at Cheltenham earlier in the month. Abdul Osman and strike duo Tadhg Purcell and Courtney Herbert are suffering from injuries, while the Cobblers will also be without Josh Parker after the midfielder cut short his loan spell from QPR on Monday, though he would have been cup-tied in any case.
Player to watch: Leon McKenzie
Just when you think you’re safe, an ex-Scummer crops up amongst the opposition. Former Norwich striker Leon McKenzie will be well remembered by Ipswich fans, most notably for scoring twice on his debut for the Canaries in their 3-1 East Anglian derby win at Portman Road in 2003. The former Peterborough striker may have dropped down a couple of levels since then having joined Northampton in September 2010, but his goalscoring threat is still evident. 4 league goals in his last two appearances – including a first half hat-trick against Hereford on 16 October – are the signs of a man in form, joining Billy McKay at the top of the Cobblers’ goalscoring charts. Presuming that he plays, the nightmare story for the Blues could be all lined up for the pundits to drool over…
LC2 2nd Leg – Northampton 2-4 Ipswich (AET)
07 October 1987
Northampton: Morley, Donegal
Ipswich: Harbey, d’Avray (2), Lowe
Northampton: Gleasure, Reed, Logan, Chard, Wilcox, McPherson, Bruce, Benjamin, Gilbert, Morley, McGoldrick
Ipswich: Hallworth, Yallop, Harbey, Cranson, Dozzell, Humes, Lowe, Brennan, d’Avray, Atkins, Stockwell
Is confidence a bad thing for games like these? It has no doubt been a nightmare week for the Blues (and I should know; I was there for all three games!) but surely they can muster up enough at the very worst to grind out a result against Northampton, even if it ends up being in extra time. If we don’t, I will be very concerned! Though I have generally been fairly indifferent towards this tournament given our poor record in recent years, and even though Tuesday night has that horrible banana-skin look to it, this tie really should offer us a great chance of progression to the quarter finals – and who would have seen that coming when the season started?
Prediction: I’m gonna go for a nervy affair. 1-1 after 90 minutes with Ipswich doing the business again in extra-time… (preferably not penalties, given Northampton’s record!)
30/10 FLC Millwall (H)
06/11 FLC Sheffield United (A)
09/11 FLC Derby County (H)