It is, not for the first time I must admit, a thoroughly confusing time to support Plymouth Argyle. After putting in comfortably their worst performance of the season against West Bromwich Albion, the Greens put in arguably their best four days later to beat Middlesbrough away from home. Had Argyle beaten the Baggies and lost to Boro, things would feel quite normal. Isn’t it nice that it’s this way around and we’ve been able to dine out on the win at the Riverside all week?

Argyle could do with using the momentum generated from that victory, because one of the league’s high flyers in Ipswich Town are heading their way. Ipswich are, of course, another club in their first season back in the Championship. Their promotion season won them credit in many quarters, with some even calling Ipswich the ‘best team League One has ever seen’ following a heroic run that saw them secure the title of second place.

The Tractor Boys, to their credit, have built significantly on that success. Sitting third in the table, a return to the Premier League for the first time since 2002 is a distinct possibility. They have, however, lost on their last two visits to Home Park, and a rogue refereeing decision saved them from a likely defeat in the reverse fixture this season. What can we expect from them as they prepare to visit Devon again?

Style of play

Kieran McKenna turned to a system with three at the back for parts of last year’s promotion campaign. In the Championship though, he’s been confident enough to stick exclusively to his favoured 4-2-3-1. Harry Clarke at right back, who arrived at Portman Road in January 2023, has made this transition much easier. Axel Tuanzebe joining the ranks in September served to bolster those options.

The lineup will involve plenty of names familiar to Argyle fans who followed their main competitors last season. Leif Davis is key on the opposite side of defence to Clarke, whilst three players who were at Ipswich last season – George Edmundson, Luke Woolfenden and Cameron Burgess – will complete for two positions at centre back. There has been a change behind them; Vaclav Hladky won the gloves at the start of the season after an injury to Christian Walton, and has kept his place ever since.

A midfield of Sam Morsy and Massimo Luongo will provide some familiar bite, whilst further forward selections may be enforced. Wes Burns and Nathan Broadhead are missing through injury, so I’d expect to see Jeremy Sarmiento and Omari Hutchinson, on loan from Brighton and Chelsea respectively, in from the start. Kieffer Moore is a near-certain starter up front, and Conor Chaplin will be behind him if he’s recovered from a gash he picked up against Birmingham City last week. If not, Marcus Harness or winter signing Ali Al-Hamadi may take his place.

Ipswich are probably the most attacking side in the league. They’ve had more shots than any other Championship team, and 68% of them have been from inside the box – only three sides have taken a higher proportion of their shots from inside the penalty area. It shows that not only do they aim to get shots away with regularity, but they do so from threatening positions. You can’t post those numbers without being a highly functional attack-focused unit.

Chaplin is probably the main beneficiary of McKenna’s style. He’s had 112 shots this season, comfortably more than anyone else at Ipswich and second only to Morgan Whittaker (123) in the league as a whole. The style has also suited Moore – since joining in January he’s taken 3.72 shots per 90 minutes. Of all the players to have made as many starts as Moore (five) in the league, only five have shot more regularly (Chaplin and Whittaker included).

Moore has also added a new dimension to the attack since joining from Bournemouth in January. He’s won 6.65 aerial duels per 90 in the Championship, and this time no player to have made as many starts has won the ball in the air more regularly. It suggests that Ipswich can now opt for the direct route should the necessity arise, and whoever starts at the back for Argyle will have to keep a constant eye on Moore. Dan Scarr? It’s been debated.

Of course, being so focused on attack does expose the defence. Having to stop so many counter attacks is probably one of the reasons Morsy has more yellow cards than anyone else in the league. One of them, anyway. If you can turn the ball over and get it forward quickly, you’ll put the Ipswich defence, and indeed the midfield, under serious pressure.

Is it easier said than done? Sure. But that’ll be Argyle’s game plan this weekend.


It’s not going to shock you that most of the strengths I’ve been able to pick out come in Ipswich’s attack. Some of them are seriously eye-catching.

Their goalscoring numbers are an obvious place to start. They’ve failed to score in just four of their 34 league games this season, with only Leicester City and Southampton failing to score less often. And they’re particularly dangerous because so many of their players can contribute. 17 different players have scored for the Tractor Boys this season, a figure again beaten by only two Championship sides.

The sheer number of goals is perhaps the most impressive. Consider it this way: Ipswich’s total of 68 goals is already excellent, second only to Leicester in the league as a whole. But their number of goals from open play is even better, with a total of 53 enough to top the Foxes’ figure of 50. In means, therefore, that Ipswich are probably the most threatening side in the Championship at any given moment.

How do they make themselves so dangerous? For me, it lies in the fluidity of their shape, and the fact that so many players are competent going forward. There are no standout superstars in Ipswich’s side – rather than having an obvious target going forward such as Whittaker at Argyle, Sammie Szmodics at Blackburn Rovers or Jack Clarke at Sunderland, Ipswich trust every player in the side to attack decisively.

And it works. We’ve already mentioned the number of goalscorers in Ipswich’s ranks, but they’re also all capable creators. Against Birmingham last week for example, seven Ipswich players created at least one big chance. I don’t know this for sure, but I believe this may be the only occurrence of as many players creating a big chance in one game for a Championship side all season.

As fluid as the style is though, Davis at left back is one of the most crucial elements. He’s a highly likely candidate for the Championship team of the season in his position, and it’s his attacking output that sets him apart. Ipswich have completed 162 crosses this season, the third-highest figure in the league, and Davis is responsible for over 40% of those on his own. Even more remarkably, it’s contributed to him having 91 key passes to his name this season, more than any player in the league.

The right wing back confronting Davis will clearly be a key position for Argyle this weekend. Matthew Sorinola impressed in Middlesbrough last week, but could this game be more suited to the experience of Joe Edwards in dealing with a specific threat?

Away from the attack, I just want to touch on aerial duel proficiency. Ipswich have won 53% of their aerial duels this season, the fourth-best figure in the Championship. That’s already decent enough in its own right, but becomes even more significant when we consider a couple of factors. The first will be obvious to regular readers of these previews – Ipswich’s relative success in the air puts them at odds with Argyle. The Greens still have the third-worst aerial duel success rate in the league, and cannot allow this game to descend into a battle for aerial dominance.

I’d also point to the fact that much of the Tractor Boys’ aerial duel success is concentrated in the most important area for this particular metric: centre back. All three of Ipswich’s primary centre back options have been good in the air this season – Edmundson has won 63% of his duels, Woolfenden 61%, and Burgess an excellent 72%. Whoever gets the nod to start will be confident of beating any Argyle forward to high balls.

Finally, I’ve been hugely impressed by Ipswich’s mentality all season. The fact much of the team is carried over from their days in League One has obviously helped cultivate a happy atmosphere, and I honestly believe mentality is one of the main reasons for Ipswich finding themselves so far up the league table.

McKenna’s side have the perfect blend of being excellent frontrunners and dangerous when trailing. They’ve won 25 points from losing positions this season, comfortably more than anyone else in the league. That paints a picture of a side playing an open, expansive game with goals likely at both ends. That may be true, but it makes the fact that they’ve only dropped seven points from winning positions, a better figure than only two sides in the Championship, even more remarkable. Ipswich don’t know when they’re beaten, but they can hold onto a lead as well as anyone.

As they did in the reverse fixture, Argyle may fancy their chances of scoring first. But as ever between these sides, the first goal may not prove decisive.


Ipswich attack as well as anyone. It may be captivating to watch, but if it was that easy to create a successful side that gets people on the edge of their seats, everyone would be doing it. What McKenna gains in his side’s attacking brilliance has to be balanced by what he loses in defensive security.

I praised the centre backs earlier for their ability in the air, and I certainly stand by that point. Nonetheless, it’s been trouble at the back that has led to Ipswich dropping points on occasion, particularly during a dodgy run at the turn of the year. Yes, the style does play a large role in exposing the defenders, but it’s undeniable that Ipswich haven’t quite got the basics right at times this term.

Their tackling is a clear example. This season, Ipswich have posted a tackle success figure of 65%, with only four Championship sides tackling less successfully. And that stretches right across the team – again looking at players who have made five or more starts, forwards Hutchinson and Harness feature in the top four across the league for the number of times they’re dribbled past per 90. At least one is practically certain to start this weekend.

It’s the sort of game you’d expect to suit Bali Mumba, should Ian Foster find a way of squeezing him into the side. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Mumba has had success against this particular opposition…


Ipswich’s poor tackling contributes heavily to a substandard ground duel success rate. For a team performing so well, their figure of 48% stands out significantly, with it being the second-worst success rate in the Championship. The only team to win a lower proportion of their ground duels? Middlesbrough.

Tackling and ground duels, linked as they are, are just one example of Ipswich’s defensive frailties. There are more figures I can throw at you to demonstrate how questionable defending has followed Ipswich around all season.

For example, no team has scored more own goals than Ipswich’s six. Davis is one of only two players, alongside Watford’s Wesley Hoedt, to have scored more than one own goal in the Championship this year. Ipswich have also made a league-high nine mistakes leading directly to a shot this season. With just one mistake leading directly to a goal, the Tractor Boys are perhaps fortunate that poor finishing has spared them from being punished from many of their errors.

Goalkeeper Hladky is responsible for four of those mistakes – nobody in the league has made more individually – and he’s the final player I want to mention. At the start of the season he was outstanding. That’s unquestionable. Many will remember his supreme show of shot stopping in the reverse fixture at Portman Road, and it’s was through such performances that he kept his place in the side even when Walton made his return from injury.

The game against Argyle marked a tipping point, however. In the 13 games up to and including September’s fixture, Hladky outperformed the post-shot xG he faced by a significant margin. Since then, it’s been the exact opposite. In fact, since the start of October, he’s been statistically one of the worst shot stoppers in the league. It’s slightly caveated by the fact that Ipswich score plenty of own goals, which always count as 0 post-shot xG against the ‘keeper, but the trend is clear.

Vaclav Hladky First 13 games Last 21 games
xGOT Faced 19.81 20.85
Goals Conceded 15 30
Goals Prevented 4.81 -9.15
Prevented Rate 1.32 0.70


Hladky has a distinct saving technique, where he’ll dive early and try to anticipate the ball’s destination. When it works, it means he can make saves when few goalkeepers can even get close. But I just get the impression that some teams have found him out in recent weeks, and clever finishing could be crucial to unlocking the Ipswich door. Mr Hardie, I’m looking at you.


In writing this piece, I’ve been struck by how similar Ipswich are to Middlesbrough. They use the same formation, and have very similar strengths and weaknesses to a side Argyle played off the park a few days ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean a similar result is on the cards. Ipswich are a better side than Boro, and surely won’t be as bad as Michael Carrick’s side were on Saturday, particularly in the first half.

Still, their style should suit Argyle going forward, and the Greens could seriously hurt their visitors if they maintain their league-leading shot accuracy. I’d expect to see goals at both ends, so let’s go for something specific: 2-2, with both sides leading at some stage.