I expected Ipswich to challenge for the playoffs this season, but I think it’s safe to say they’ve exceeded expectations so far!
What have been the key factors behind your great start?
Following the defeat to Oxford in January 2023 (or ‘the farce in the fog’!), we won fifteen, drew five and lost no further games, scoring fifty two goals and conceding only seven.
From that, we built so much confidence on and off the field.
Securing promotion with consecutive 3-0 away wins at top six sides (Peterborough and Barnsley) also instilled a ‘no-fear’ quality which helped us to move up a level, visit places like Sunderland, and look to win.
Earlier this season, you described Kieran McKenna as a ‘revelation’ at Ipswich.
He’s really thrived since making the step up to manager after previously being an assistant, hasn’t he?
We’re so lucky.
It’s a ‘lightning in a bottle’ moment for us and a lot of credit needs to go to our CEO Mark Ashton for identifying McKenna and then convincing him to drop down two levels!
You could tell instantly that he was detail-oriented and tactically astute, and that was seen in how rapidly he fixed a misfiring Paul Cook side.
What most neutrals are unaware of is how he established a culture of personal development/improvement at the club, and this has been crucial to us in making the step up.
McKenna’s name is starting to be linked with potential Premier League jobs, so is that a worry for Ipswich fans at all, given how key he’s been to your progress?
Of course, but most Town fans are also pragmatic enough to talk about ‘enjoying the ride’.
If we can progress through the leagues together, that would be ideal, but we know how the game works.
I think under previous ownership regimes, I’d have been worried about succession planning, but I’m confident we’ll be as prepared as we can be this time. Hopefully though, we won’t have to worry about this for a while.
Having discussed so many positives, Ipswich have gone five matches without a win, drawing four of those, so is this the best time for Sunderland to play you?
Maybe! We have a strong starting XI but suspensions and injuries are severely testing the depth of our squad, which is essentially the same as last season in League One.
We’ll be without George Hirst (who you’ll no doubt remember from opening day!) and skipper Sam Morsy, who’s the heartbeat of our side.
However, we’ve made some sensible loan signings since the transfer window opened, so McKenna has two new options to call upon.
I can’t lie: it pains me to see Nathan Broadhead doing seemingly so well in a non-red and white shirt, so has he developed into an established Championship player now?
Our recent winless run (mainly featuring draws) has coincided with Broadhead not being at his early season best.
He’s certainly capable of being a game-changer on his own, because he’s so smart at finding pockets of space to unlock defences and is also our joint-top scorer.
Opponents have figured out his importance for us and are trying to double up on him, but what better time to rediscover your confidence than against a former club!
Ipswich left back Leif Davis already has eleven assists this season, one of which came against Sunderland during a game in which he also got Trai Hume sent off.
Is he the key creative player to stop?
Another player signed when we were in League One with the clear intention of eventually feeling at home at Championship level, Leif is an absolute assists monster! He’s also an injury doubt, so it would be great to have him available.
Whilst his is the most tried and tested route to goal, I wouldn’t want to face Harry Clarke and Wes Burns at full speed down our right hand side, either!
At the start of the season, I remember seeing Václav Hladky starting despite rarely featuring in your League One promotion campaign. Were you surprised to see him step up and keep the number one jersey?
There was a lot of concern that we’d miss first choice goalkeeper Christian Walton at the start of the season, but Hladky hasn’t let anyone down and if anything, our approach of building out from the back has been enhanced by having him in the side.
If I was being critical, I think there have been a few goals conceded where Walton might’ve done better, but it’s Hladky’s jersey to lose now and for that, he deserves massive credit.
Ipswich have already made two signings, with Jeremy Sarmiento and Lewis Travis joining on loan. What are you expecting from them and do you think you’ll sign a striker to replace the injured George Hirst?
Like most teams in the country (including Sunderland), we’re definitely on the hunt for a striker.
The moves we’ve already made were a bit of a surprise, albeit for different reasons.
Sarmiento coming in perhaps suggests that Broadhead might play a more central role, because he provides something ‘a bit different’, and adds pace to our attacking options.
Blackburn fans were a bit perplexed when they allowed their captain join us on loan (as were we), but he’ll bring energy and leadership to our midfield, which we lack whenever Sam Morsy is absent.
Aside from the players mentioned above, who should Sunderland be wary of?
Conor Chaplin can score goals from pretty much anywhere in and around the penalty area, and he has eight so far with six assists.
He was the League One Golden Boot winner last season, from the number ten position!
How do you expect McKenna to set up tactically, and which eleven players will he select?
It’ll be a 4-2-3-1 or a subtle variation of that.
For the first time maybe in a year or so, there’s real uncertainty on the starting line up due to injuries and suspensions, so my best guess is the following:
Hladky, Humphreys, Edmundson; Woolfenden, Clarke, Travis: Luongo, Broadhead, Chaplin; Burns, Jackson
Sunderland are unbeaten in their last three visits to Portman Road, so what’s your prediction for the final score?
I fancy us at home against anyone these days.
On another day, we could’ve beaten the juggernaut that is Leicester City at Portman Road a few weeks back, and the only league defeat we’ve had so far was to Leeds.
Sunderland are quite miserly on the road though, and I’m not expecting goals, so my head says 1-1 and my heart says 1-0 to Ipswich.