Weblog: The football punter

Baggies can put pressure on promotion rivals

Sky Bet Championship
Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 7.45pm Friday

Ipswich have had far too many dark days in the Sky Bet Championshipthis season and their struggles could continue with a Black Friday defeat to West Brom at Portman Road.

Playing on Friday gives both teams a chance to put pressure on their divisional rivals but Ipswich know they will still be rooted to the foot of the table by the end of the weekend.

The Tractor Boys have responded positively to the appointment of Paul Lambert - drawing 1-1 at home to Preston and 2-2 at Reading.

In both matches they started with a lot more energy and intent and got their noses in front but were unable to maintain the tempo.

A lack of fitness may be an issue but it is more likely that Ipswich's players have simply forgotten the winning habit. They have won just one of 17 league fixtures this year and are still waiting for their first home win of the campaign.

Investment in better players is essential to give them a decent chance of survival but the success of any January recruitment drive may hinge picking up some better results before the end of the year.

Good players will not want to join a team destined for the drop and Ipswich's prospects look bleak with five points separating them from second-bottom Bolton.

At the moment they look ill-equipped to compete with many of the teams around them and are certainly at a massive disadvantage against West Brom, who retained many Premier League players and added a few others with top-flight pedigree.

Their better quality players are in attacking areas. Dwight Gayle, Jay Rodriguez, Harvey Barnes and Matt Phillips have contributed goal tallies of nine, eight, six and five and their combined total (28) is the same as leaders Norwich.

West Brom's 37-goal tally is nine more than Leeds (the second highest scorers), although the balance of the team has not been quite right and far too many points have been frittered away by poor defending.

The Baggies have the worst defence among the top 15 and, after a dismal 1-0 loss to Hull on their last road trip, manager Darren Moore decided something needed to change.

He settled on a change of system - switching from a back three to a back four - and it paid dividends as West Brom triumphed 4-1 at home to promotion rivals Leeds.

It was a much-improved performance from the Baggies, who spent a lot of time defending - their share of possession was 28 per cent - but counter-attacked with devastating pace and precision.

There are a few more options for Moore, who has midfielders Gareth Barry and Chris Brunt back in contention, but he is likely to stick with a winning side.

His team may have to weather an early storm from an honest Ipswich side but their extra quality should shine through, allowing them to justify odds-on favouritism.

West Brom



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Aston Villa have lost just two of their last 15 matches and valid excuses can be made for both defeats. Dean Smith made wholesale changes with the playoffs in mind for their 2-1 loss to champions Norwich on the final day, while they lost the second leg of semi-final at West Brom despite having 73 per cent possession and winning the shot count 24 to ten. They are full of confidence and should be more determined than ever after last season’s playoff final heartbreak.