Ipswich have been tipped to replicate Sunderland in competing straight for the playoffs after promotion from League One - do supporters think this is possible?
Rich Woodward: Anything’s possible before a ball’s been kicked! A lot of pundits/analysts feel very positive about us – which is nice for a change - but I’d be fine with a season of mid-table consolidation.
I just want to make sure we’ve left League One well and truly behind and then build from there. To emulate Sunderland’s 22/23 season would be great though!
What are the key factors behind Kieran McKenna’s success?
RW: Methodical, adaptable, creative – McKenna has been a revelation at Portman Road from the moment he arrived.
Most key for this coming season - he’s always learning. If we have a tricky start, you’d be confident he’s formulating a plan to fix things.
For us supporters, aside from his obvious expertise as a coach and man-manager, one of the things we love is his insight in interviews.
He doesn’t spout cliches or patronise us, unlike so many of his “better qualified” predecessors.
Ipswich scored over 100 goals last season - do you think they can take that to Championship level?
RW: Chaplin has already played 78 games at Championship level so expectations are higher with him. His 22/23 campaign was exceptional, and the nature of the goals he scores means he should do some damage a level up too.
Freddie hasn’t got that experience but has a good knack for wanting to prove a point.
I wouldn’t be surprised if another forward comes in though which sees him fall down the pecking order.
Speaking of strikers, Sunderland know Nathan Broadhead far too well, how would you summarise his tenure so far at Ipswich?
RW: Game-changing! On our podcast (Blue Monday) we refer to the 22/23 season as ‘pre or post-Broadhead’ – such was his impact.
There was a point last season in December-January where teams just sat in against us and we didn’t have the guile to break them down.
Broadhead changed that when he signed in January, forming a strong partnership with Leif Davis as a left-sided attacker. The big shame is his injury record isn’t the best; he might be absent on Sunday.
Are fans happy with your transfer business so far?
RW: There’s a sense that more deals are needed (our CEO Mark Ashton has said similarly). I think we’ve been too guilty of competing for signings with top-end Championship/lower ranked PL sides so are missing out on our targets.
A left-sided centre back seems an essential recruit before the window is done. Another forward too – perhaps on loan. Whilst Taylor and Hutchinson are high potential players the permanent signing of George Hirst after his excellent loan spell was important too.
Leif Davis registered 14 assists last season from left-back, do you think exposing Patrick Roberts’ defending will be crucial to winning the game?
RW: It does feel like the game might be won or lost in the wide positions. Our central spine is pretty good, anchored around skipper Sam Morsy.
Out wide both sides have pace, and Davis overlapping is definitely part of that. He stepped up a gear when Broadhead came into the team, and has certainly evolved his game under McKenna’s coaching too.
Harry Clarke is suspended for the match, who is set to cover and do you think they’re capable of handling Jack Clarke?
RW: This is our major worry. Harry Clarke, another January recruit, has been crucial in evolving our style to be more incisive and aggressive playing out from defence.
His back-up is Janoi Donacien, a solid deputy but a full back that doesn’t offer the same level of intensity to compliment the marauding Wes Burns.
Which eleven players do you think McKenna will select and what style of play can Tony Mowbray’s side expect to encounter?
RW: As mentioned, we do have some injury issues. Keeper Christian Walton and Nathan Broadhead are probably the most notable. If Walton is unavailable Václav Hladký will come in. If needed, Marcus Harness would likely replace Broadhead.
Otherwise, the rest of the side and strategy will be similar to what got us out of League One (‘if it ain’t broke…’!): Walton/Hladký, Davis, Burgess, Woolfenden, Donacien, Morsy, Luongo, Broadhead/Harness, Chaplin, Burns, Hirst.
Sunderland fans were all buzzing to leave League One behind (hopefully forever) - what is the one thing you won’t miss the most?
RW: I know dark arts are common up and down the pyramid, but I will not miss the shameless match-spoiling tactics deployed by some clubs in League One.
In over 30 years of watching football, I’ve never witnessed goalkeepers getting cramp until the last few seasons! I will not miss that, nor the lack of effort by officials at that level to intervene to stop it.
What is your prediction for the final score?
RW: More than that, our overall record at the SoL is shocking! One win (in arguably your worst season in living memory in 17/18) and one draw is all we’ve mustered since you moved there in 1997 (twelve games in all comps).
Given both teams have question marks about them, and given neither will want to lose on the opening day, I’ll go for a 1-1 draw. If we had a fully fit first XI I might have been more confident though!