Ipswich Town travel to Portsmouth this afternoon in what is a crucial game for both sides in the race for the play-off positions and a game that both sides need to secure all three points.
Paul Cook’s side head into the game needing to show an instant response to their 2-0 defeat against Fleetwood Town in midweek, which saw them deliver a performance that highlighted some of the issues that he needs to address at Portman Road. The loss saw them drop out of the top-six and leaves them needing to get back to winning ways swiftly.
That will not be easy against a Portsmouth side whose players will now be aiming to impress a new manager after Kenny Jackett’s departure from the club at the start of the week. It is a game that could have significant ramifications for whether either of these two sides can break into the play-off places before the end of the campaign. While it also sees Cook come up against one of his former clubs.
Ahead of the game, we take a look at some of the key decisions facing Cook and Ipswich…
Whether to bring James Norwood straight back into the side
One of the key absentees for Ipswich in their last two matches has been forward James Norwood, who missed out on the 1-0 win against Plymouth Argyle due to an issue with his back and then also missed the defeat at Fleetwood. The Tractor Boys had turned to Kayden Jackson in his absence, but he has failed to score in both of those games.
Cook speaking to the media ahead of the game suggested that Norwood’s return to involvement is a ‘massive boost’ and hinted that he would be likely to come straight back into the side against Portsmouth. It is a decision that he needs to get right because the Tractor Boys need more of a focal point and more of a threat in the final third if they are to pick up all three points.
Norwood needs to get himself back firing in front of goal as soon as possible and he will likely be crucial to any hopes that Ipswich have of getting themselves into the play-off places come the end of the campaign. This game against Portsmouth could represent a real chance for him to re-find his form and get his campaign back on track.
Whether to rest Cole Skuse following injury return
Another major decision that Cook will be faced with heading into the game is whether or not to risk midfielder Cole Skuse from the start for a second successive game. The experienced midfield general has only just returned from a lengthy injury lay-off in the past two matches and he made his first start since his return in the defeat at Fleetwood in midweek.
Flynn Downes’ injury issues sort of rushed Cook somewhat into playing Skuse from the start against Fleetwood, but as he alluded to speaking to the media ahead of the game it might be too much to ask of him to play two games in such quick succession. Therefore, the Tractor Boys boss will have to be very sure he is able to start again to select him against Portsmouth.
The last thing that Ipswich need is for the midfielder to pick up another injury, with them needing him now with Downes out for around six weeks. You would expect Cook to proceed with caution and maybe hand the 34-year-old a well-earned rest for this fixture.
Whether to hand chances to players yet to feature under his reign
Cook’s squad will be stretched during the end-of-season run-in and he could be required to consider using some of the options available to him in his squad a little more than he has been doing so far. The likes of Emyr Huws, Luke Matheson, Mark McGuinness and Luke Thomas have yet to play a single minute of football since the former Wigan boss took over from Paul Lambert.
You would not expect any of these players to come straight into the starting line-up for this game against Portsmouth, but Cook does need to decide whether any of them are worthy of making the bench and potentially coming on to add something extra to the side.