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Preview: Ipswich Town vs. Cardiff City

Sports Mole previews Saturday afternoon's Championship clash between Ipswich Town and Cardiff City at Portman Road.

Ipswich Town play host to Cardiff City at Portman Road on Saturday afternoon looking to get their season back on track.

It has been a disappointing opening quarter to the campaign for the Tractor Boys, who head into the game sitting four points adrift of their eighth-placed opponents.

Ipswich Town

Manager of Ipswich Town Mick McCarthy looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Ipswich Town at Griffin Park on August 8, 2015© Getty Images

Not since Mick McCarthy took charge at Portman Road in 2012, ushering in what was supposed to be a new era at the club, has the experienced boss suffered such testing times.

Whichever way you look at it - no win in six, one win in nine - Ipswich are in desperate need of a kick-start at this moment in time before their playoff hopes dissolve away before the new year begins.

The bottom line is simple - Town have four points from a possible 18 since the middle of September, seeing them currently occupy a position in mid-table that is equal distance to both the playoffs and the relegation zone.

It makes this weekend's meeting with Cardiff all the more important, knowing that victory can lift the club up into the top half and win back the support of those in the stands.

More dropped points, on the other hand, and all of a sudden the Blues will find themselves in a position where they are looking over their shoulder with back-to-back games against strugglers Bolton Wanderers and Rotherham United to come.

The barren run so nearly came to an end last time out, only for debutant Liam Trotter to stab home in the fifth minute of added time to rescue Nottingham Forest a late point at the City Ground.

Home comforts are a thing of the past for the Tractor Boys, too, with just the two wins in East Anglia this season and none since the opening weeks of the term.

One issue that appears to have been overcome in recent times is the inability to keep teams out in the opening 15 minutes of games, having conceded a league-high five goals in that timeframe so far, but they must now break through the psychological barrier of picking up three points.

Recent form in Championship: DDLDLD
Recent form (all competitions): LDLDLD

Cardiff City

Joe Mason of Cardiff City celebrates his sides first goal with Sean Morrison of Cardiff City as he deflected the ball onto George Friend of Middlesbrough for an own goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Cardiff City and Middlesbrough at the C© Getty Images

As harsh as it may seem, and the manager will certainly argue otherwise, it appears to be a case of one step forward and two steps back for Russell Slade at Cardiff this season.

For all of last season's disappointments, it was very much the bland style of play that forced many to stay away come the closing months of the campaign.

Slade has certainly improved things slightly this time around, implementing his own spin on things after reaching a year in charge, but displays like the one witnessed against Bristol City on Monday night underline the fact that far more is still needed.

The Severnside derby is one of the Bluebirds' big fixtures of the season in the absence of Swansea City, yet the goalless draw would no doubt have led to many inside the Cardiff City Stadium questioning exactly why they had bothered to turn up.

In many ways the club's current form comes down to the mindset of each individual supporter. On one hand, it is five games without defeat and three clean sheets on the bounce.

Alternatively, it could also be argued that only one goal has been scored in three games - a comical own goal at that - and points have been dropped against strugglers Preston North End and Bristol City over the past three games.

Yet the recent victory over Middlesbrough, as fortunate as it may have been, provides Slade with reasonable grounds to argue that he is making Cardiff into competitive playoff chasers despite the limited funds.

The ex-Leyton Orient chief's job is certainly not under threat, so with a five-game unbeaten run behind him, Slade will be hoping to keep his side there or thereabouts until the transfer window reopens.

Recent form in Championship: LWDDWD

Team News

Joe Ralls (C) of Cardiff celebrates with Craig Noone (R) after scoring the opening goal during the FA Cup Third Round match against Colchester United on December 2, 2014© Getty Images

Cardiff's streak of three games without conceding is their best such run since January 2013, which is largely down to the work of David Marshall between the sticks.

The Bluebirds can call on their captain once more this weekend, as well as the regular back four, while Joe Ralls may now be ready to start again in midfield after recovering from a minor injury.

There will be no Kenwyne Jones at Portman Road, however, as he is still a few days away from overcoming the shin injury picked up on international duty.

As far as the hosts are concerned, Jonas Knudsen is a major doubt after damaging his hamstring in the draw against Forest, but Cole Skuse is likely to be available.

Luke Hyam, Ryan Fraser and Jay Tabb are all still sidelined, meanwhile, as too is Teddy Bishop who made a return to action with the development side earlier this week.

Last season's top scorer Daryl Murphy has yet to get off the mark this term, yet he has four goals in six appearances against Cardiff - including strikes in both fixtures last term - which stands him in good stead to earn a starting spot.

Ipswich Town possible starting lineup:
Gerken; Chambers, Smith, Berra, Parr; Maitland-Niles, Skuse, Douglas, Sears; Murphy, McGoldrick

Cardiff City possible starting lineup:
Marshall; Peltier, Morrison, Connolly, Fabio; Pilkington, Whittingham, Dikgacoi, Ralls; Mason, Revell

Head To Head

Ipswich boast an impressive home record against the Bluebirds in recent times, having won four of the last five meetings in East Anglia.

Cardiff have conceded at least once in each of their last 12 visits to Portman Road in a run stretching back to 1966.

These sides shared a 3-1 victory apiece on home soil last season, while City took four points two years prior on their way to the Championship title.

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We say: Ipswich Town 2-1 Cardiff City

Ipswich have not won in six while opponents Cardiff are unbeaten in five, but Portman Road has proved to be a tough ground to visit for the Welsh outfit. McCarthy's men will finally get back to winning ways at the weekend by claiming a slender home victory against the Bluebirds.

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David Marshall of Cardiff celebrates after Peter Whittingham scores his team's opening goal of the game during the Premier League match between Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion at Cardiff City Stadium on December 14, 2013
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