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Ipswich Town are back on home soil this evening as they host Bristol Rovers in the first round of the Carabao Cup. Alex Jones previews the action.

Town will play on the new pitch at Portman Road for the first time tonight (Image: Ross Halls)

A triumphant return to Portman Road

Carabao Cup ties usually bring in quite low attendances, especially in the early rounds, but Ipswich are expecting a large crowd for their first game at Portman Road since securing promotion with a 6-0 win against Exeter City on April 29th.

The Blues have had to play all of their ten pre-season friendly matches away from home as the installation of a new pitch has taken most of the summer. They also had to request that their first Championship match be on the road, making tonight’s game against Bristol Rovers the first one to take place on the new surface.

The players trained at the stadium yesterday ahead of the tie, but it’ll be a different experience when thousands of fans are packed in for the first time this season. It should be a pretty special atmosphere.

Town exited the Carabao Cup in the first round last season after losing 1-0 to Colchester United (Image: PA)

Are Town really up for the cup?

While few managers will openly admit it, the Carabao Cup can provide a distraction from the league campaign. The financial gain is low compared to the FA Cup, and midweek games can become strenuous so early on in the season when teams are still getting back into the swing of travelling long distances.

With Town still adapting to life in the Championship, it could be argued that the Carabao Cup complicates the step-up. At the same time, winning breeds confidence, and heading into Saturday’s clash with Stoke City on the back of victories against Sunderland and Bristol Rovers would certainly be a boost.

It remains to be seen as to how Ipswich will approach the game and the competition as a whole, but the preference will clearly be to progress as far as they can. That being said, they may end up regretting it if they’re drawn against Plymouth Argyle or Swansea City in the second round, which would take place between home games against Leeds United and Cardiff City.

They have only progressed past the first round once since 2018/19.

Bristol Rovers have been tipped as outsiders to secure promotion to the Championship this season (Image: PA Images)

A familiar foe

Ipswich have met Bristol Rovers six times since they were relegated to League One in 2019. They’ve lost just one of those games.

Funnily enough, that defeat was at Portman Road in their first clash since 2012. James Norwood’s strike wasn’t enough to cancel out goals from Tyler Smith and Tom Nichols, seeing Town fall 2-1 in just their third loss of the season. They sat second in the league at the time, but ending up finishing in 11th.

They’ve won four games against the Gas since then but drew 0-0 in their most recent match, which took place on Valentine’s Day. That result kickstarted the Blues’ astonishing run where they dropped just four points in 15 games on the way to securing automatic promotion from League One.

The state of play has changed since then, with Ipswich now playing in a higher position.

Bristol Rovers have improved a lot as well, however, with many tipping them as outsiders for a top-six finish. They’re 13/4 to accomplish that, according to William Hill.

Joey Barton has admitted that he’ll need to improve his discipline this season (Image: PA Images)

Barton’s ban continues

Joey Barton won’t be at Portman Road this evening after receiving a three-match stadium ban for using ‘abusive, insulting and improper words to a match official in the tunnel and officials’ changing room’ after his side’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday on April 18th.

While the former Manchester City and Newcastle United midfielder has a habit of picking up red cards as both a player and a manager, his absence from the touchline will be a huge blow for Bristol City, who drew 1-1 against Portsmouth at Fratton Park on the opening day of the season.

Nonetheless, the 40-year-old spoke to the media ahead of the Gas’ trip to Suffolk, stressing the importance of competing across the three different cup competitions to maintain match fitness in his squad.

“We’ve got to build that secondary group,” he told Bristol Live. “To get a promotion out of League One, I think you need 18 to 22 players capable. Certainly when we’re playing 46 league games, League Cup, FA Cup and Papa John’s [Trophy] now.

“So I do think there’s games there, certainly in the early part of the season, to grow a kind of secondary group. Certainly Ryan Jones, Harvey Greenslade, Jerry Lawrence have benefitted from that.

“But again, I think if we want to do well in those competitions, and I think we do this season, we certainly want to try and get to Wembley if we can, why not? It would be great to take our fanbase there.”

Elkan Baggott will be named in the squad for tonight’s Carabao Cup tie (Image: Ross Halls)

Rotation expected

Town’s assistant manager, Martyn Pert, has said that he expects McKenna to rotate his squad for tonight’s game after Sunday’s demanding clash on Wearside.

Lee Evans and Jack Taylor were both unused substitutes, while George Edmundson, Sone Aluko, Kyle Edwards and Cameron Humphreys were all left out of the squad entirely. All of them are likely to play at Portman Road this evening alongside Elkan Baggott, who McKenna has said will be involved as the club continues to assess whether or not to send him out on loan.

There are other obvious selection decisions to be made as well, barring any late fitness issues.

Dom Ball, Greg Leigh, Omari Hutchinson, Marcus Harness and Freddie Ladapo were given cameo appearances at the Stadium of Light, but all of them are expected to play again in the Carabao Cup.

Harry Clarke is also available after recovering from his Achilles injury and serving his one-match suspension against Sunderland.

The starting lineup will be competitive, but McKenna could easily end up making wholesale changes to the side that played over the weekend.