Oxford United face a tough test this weekend as they come face-to-face with Paul Cook’s Ipswich Town on Saturday afternoon, arguably the toughest team they will face on paper this season.
Winning their last four competitive games though, Karl Robinson’s men will be full of confidence coming into this tie, strengthening considerably during the summer to mitigate the effects of high-profile departures but still having more stability than Ipswich during the previous transfer window, with the latter transforming their squad completely.
Despite these additions at the Kassam Stadium, existing squad members Matty Taylor and James Henry have been the two key architects of the U’s impressive results this term, sitting in sixth place despite the calibre of other teams in the third tier, scoring 12 league goals between them during 2021/22 so far and looking threatening going forward.
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Their opponents this weekend have gone unbeaten in four of their previous five League One matches, establishing themselves as credible top-six contenders after failing to win any of their opening six league games of the campaign, even dropping down into the relegation zone because of this.
But with their squad now gelling together, they will be full of confidence and will still be buzzing from their 4-1 away win at Wycombe Wanderers last weekend, a real statement of intent from the Tractor Boys to the rest of the division.
This will be a taller order for the U’s to come away with all three points then, especially with this tie taking place at Portman Road, but which starting 11 will manager Robinson select to take on this tough test?
We have provided our prediction ahead of this one.
Simon Eastwood starts between the sticks again in place of Jack Stevens, who is still recovering from glandular fever and won’t be rushed with the former being an experienced enough option to stand in well for the latter.
The back four also picks itself, with Steve Seddon, Jordan Thorniley, Elliott Moore and Sam Long all starting in defence, although they will be concerned by the fact they conceded twice against League Two side Bristol Rovers last weekend. This is something they need to put behind them with this weekend’s opponents in fine goalscoring form.
Things get a little trickier in the midfield, with Ryan Williams and Marcus McGuane potentially expecting a start in Alex Gorrin’s absence. The latter is expected to be out for the foreseeable future with his ACL injury, a major blow to the U’s but a big opportunity for someone to stake their claim for a starting spot in midfield.
However, it’s Herbie Kane who comes in to do a job in a deeper midfield role, giving Cameron Brannagan and the prolific Henry license to get forward and support the front three. The latter has been consistently excellent for the third-tier side since his arrival in 2017 – and could be crucial again at Portman Road.
Many people will be calling for the return of Nathan Holland after seeing him miss out last weekend, but Gavin Whyte performed well enough against Bristol Rovers to retain his place alongside Matty Taylor and Mark Sykes.
Unfortunately, Whyte is currently away on international duty with Northern Ireland, so the West Ham loanee makes his way into the starting lineup.
Taylor will be buoyed by his goal against his former club last time out – and you certainly wouldn’t rule him out getting on the scoresheet once again in what could be a crucial match for Oxford’s top-six prospects.