And so the curtain falls on 2010/11 as Ipswich Town travel to face Leicester City ahead of their summer holidays – and things are sure to be rather different from their last meeting…
Few could forget the day Ipswich hosted Leicester in December 2010, when a deluge of snow made it look like Portman Road had started staging ice hockey. However, fresh from 6 straight defeats, Roy Keane’s Blues braved the blizzard and raced to a 3-0 half-time lead against playoff-chasing Leicester. Despite the best efforts of Sven-Goran Eriksson and his players to persuade referee Stuart Attwell to call off the match, Town played on for a vital win in their bid to stop the rot.
Flash forward to May 2011 and that cold winter’s night seems a world away. The weather isn’t the only thing that has changed; postponed Christmas fixtures put paid to any hopes of momentum from that victory as Ipswich soon dispensed of Keane, with Paul Jewell arriving to pull the Blues clear of danger. Meanwhile undeterred, Sven’s men surged towards the playoff places with the help of some big signings, but just 3 wins in their last 13 has ultimately left the Foxes in 11th; one place and two points above Town.
It’s a matter of mid-table honour therefore at the Walkers Stadium on Saturday, but it shouldn’t be a dull affair. To this day some Leicester fans still feel aggrieved at being forced to play out December’s farce, and with spring offering fairer conditions this time, the Foxes will want to demonstrate why they are possible contenders for the very top next year. However, Ipswich will also be eager to prove that they too are destined for greater things next season (and to prove that they don’t need snow to win!) Indeed, though both sides will finish their work on the pitch after 90 minutes on Saturday, the hard work off of it will be just beginning.
Looking ahead to his team’s last game of the season, Ipswich manager Paul Jewell expects that Leicester will be a big test; not just this weekend, but next season as well. The Blues boss anticipates some big spending by the Foxes this summer and predicts they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2011/12.
‘I see them as strong favourites to go up,’ Jewell told the Ipswich Town Official Website. ‘It doesn’t always work out like that, that the ones that spend the big money go up but they already have good players and I can see them adding to the squad with not just Championship players but Premier League players as well.’
Meanwhile Leicester City’s Paul Gallagher has fired a tongue-in-cheek warning to Ipswich ahead of Saturday’s clash. December’s debacle was snow joke (sorry!) for the Foxes, and this time the former Blackburn Rovers man is looking forward to waging battle on the green grass of the Walkers Stadium.
‘It will be good to see how they play on grass,’ Gallagher quipped in an interview with the Leicester Mercury. ‘It was disappointing that game went ahead. They were on a bad run at the time and went two goals ahead early on, and the manager at the time, Roy Keane, was probably in the referee’s ear so he had no chance to call it off’.
‘They are a good team with some good players, but we want to finish the season on a high. It will be three games unbeaten, so if we win on Saturday it will give the fans something to cheer.’
‘We want to put in a good performance and score a few goals, and make the fans excited about next season.’
Leicester City Team News:
Leicester City could be boosted by the return of Player Of The Year Richie Wellens for the visit of Ipswich. The midfielder was unable to collect his award on Tuesday due to tonsillitis but is expected to recover in time. Captain Matt Oakley may also be fit to play having missed the Foxes’ last two matches with a groin injury, while Aleksandar Tunchev could yet make an appearance in defence after a long layoff. On-loan Portuguese keeper Ricardo is sidelined with a shoulder injury so Chris Weale is expected to keep his place in goal, whilst defender Sol Bamba and striker Martyn Waghorn are also out.
Player to watch: Ayegbeni Yakubu
The Yak is back. Ipswich fans may well remember Ayegbeni Yakubu’s former days at this level with Portsmouth, where he helped fire the Fratton Park side to the Division One title in 2003 before going on to forge a career as a prolific goalscorer in the Premier League, with 77 goals in eight seasons for Pompey, Middlesbrough and Everton. Injuries have restricted him in recent seasons but the Nigerian international has enjoyed a revival since joining Leicester on loan from the Toffees in January. With 10 goals in 19 appearances – including three in his last three games – Yakubu is sure to be a threat on Saturday and could well prove a real terror for Championship defences next season if the Foxes are able to seal a permanent deal.
Ipswich Town Team News:
Players’ Player Of The Year David Norris and defender Gareth McAuley could play their last games for Ipswich at Leicester with both set to be out-of-contract once the season is over. On-loan midfielder Jimmy Bullard, who won the Supporters’ Player Of The Year award, may also be making his last appearance for Town, depending on whether the Blues are able to negotiate a deal with Hull City this summer. Defender Darren O’Dea has already played his last game for the club having returned to parent club Celtic with an ankle injury, though midfielder Lee Martin is available after serving his suspension and Brian Murphy may make his first start of 2011 in goal. Connor Wickham, who is set to link up with the England U21 squad over the summer, could also return up front.
Player to watch: Gareth McAuley
Plenty has been said about David Norris leaving the club this summer, but Gareth McAuley could well be heading out of the door as well. Even though the club have agreed to his terms, the Northern Ireland international has still not put pen to paper on his new contract, with Rangers thought to be waiting to snap him up on a free in the summer. It would be a sad loss for the Blues after an excellent spell at Portman Road for McAuley, who followed last year’s Player Of The Year award with the Away Match Passport Holder’s Player Of The Year award this season after consistently impressive displays and 3 goals to boot. If he does indeed leave, Saturday’s game could prove quite a poignant occasion for the 31-year-old, who may play his final game for the club against the team from which he first joined the Blues, having arrived from Leicester City in the summer of 2008. Whether Mac will be back in Town’s defence next season remains to be seen, but if not, he will likely be sorely missed.
Match Facts & Stats
FLC – (18th) Ipswich 3-0 Leicester (13th)
18 December 2010
(Click here for Match Report)
Ipswich: Norris 6, Scotland 27, 39
Ipswich: Fulop, O’Connor (Edwards 77), Delaney, Smith, Zuiverloon, Leadbitter, Norris, Colback, Kennedy, Scotland (Livermore 69), Fallon (Wickham 62)
Leicester: Kirkland, Miguel Vitor, Naughton, Davies (Hobbs 70), King, Dyer (Howard 28), Wellens, Abe, Cunningham, Gallagher (Fryatt 65), Vassell
I’ll be making my way to the Walkers Stadium on Saturday and as much as I’m looking forward to the occasion, I cannot say I am optimistic of a good result for Town. Leicester might be rather out of form, but they’ve scored 4 in two of their last three home matches and have made the Walkers a tough place for visiting teams ever since their promotion from League One two years ago. What’s more, they will likely be a far better side than they were on the snow in December, when the conditions likely stifled their free-flowing style of football. Their defence is not as solid as it might be so we might find a way through, but I fear we shall be punished at the other end. Still, hopefully there will be plenty to look forward to next season – at least that’s what we must keep telling ourselves…!
Prediction: All good things must come to an end. Thankfully, so do bad things. Leicester 3-1 Ipswich.
Make your prediction for this match by joining the Vital Ipswich Prediction League! Click here for details or here to post your entry for this week’s fixtures. (Entries must be posted by 12:30pm on Saturday.)
(Please see the Ipswich Town Official Website for details of pre-season fixtures this summer.)
For more build-up to the game, why not take a look at our interview with Vital Leicester in ‘From the Other Side‘.
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