Kieran McKenna would have been the most relieved man inside Portman Road when Ipswich Town got the better of Sunderland in a comeback 2-1 win last weekend, signalling to the rest of the Championship that the Tractor Boys are there to stay in the automatic promotion spots.
Yet, that was only the Suffolk side’s first win in their last five in the second tier and so McKenna could use the January transfer window as a way to strengthen his faltering promotion hopefuls.
With star striker George Hirst out for the foreseeable with a serious injury, the Tractor Boys will need to add reinforcements up top to stave off the likes of Leeds United and Southampton attempting to leapfrog them to second spot.
Here is what Ipswich’s dream XI could look like past January therefore, with two new additions potentially in through the door at Portman Road…
GK – Vaclav Hladky
McKenna will stick by his reliable Czech shot-stopper Vaclav Hladky for the rest of the campaign, hoping that the 33-year-old can continue to come in clutch in big games to come in net as he did against Stoke City on New Year’s Day.
Hladky would make four crucial saves against the Potters to ensure the underwhelming visitors at least returned to Suffolk with a point, Ipswich able to rely upon their dependable number 31 to keep a clean sheet and get a result over the line even when the rest of the team are having a collective off-day.
RB – Harry Clarke
Harry Clarke will also be kept in the first-team fold by McKenna despite the allure of the transfer window meaning he could bring in an upgrade, Ipswich’s number two solid throughout the dramatic Sunderland win.
Winning seven of his ten duels at Portman Road, on top of completing all six of his dribbles, Clarke will be a presence the Ipswich boss will want around when the going gets tough in the crunch months to come.
CB – Luke Woolfenden
Luke Woolfenden has also been an imposing presence in the back four at Ipswich this season, standing out during the goalless draw away at Stoke too.
Coming away from the draw with a 92% passing accuracy, Woolfenden’s calmness on the ball when playing out from the back is key to how Ipswich operate and he won’t be axed as a result.
CB – Charlie Hughes
The first new signing in through the door could well be Wigan Athletic centre-back Charlie Hughes, whose performances at League One level demand a big move away up to the Championship.
With Ipswich reportedly keen on the breakout Latics star this January, the 20-year-old would seamlessly fit into the set-up at Portman Road as an effective ball-playing defender – averaging 51 successful passes per game this season featuring for Wigan.
Cameron Burgess could see his spot in the starting XI sacrificed for the promising defender to come in, McKenna faced with tough selection decisions as push comes to shove in the Championship season.
LB – Leif Davis
Leif Davis is in no danger of losing his secure first-team spot, however, regardless of other possible outgoings and incomings in defence.
The former Leeds United left-back was back to his dangerous best going forward against the Black Cats, picking up his 12th assist already of the campaign when teeing up Conor Chaplin for the game-clinching goal.
CM – Sam Morsy
Not featuring last match against Sunderland, McKenna preferring to start new January recruit Lewis Travis ahead of his star Egyptian midfielder, Sam Morsy will more than likely come back into the side when games are balanced on a knife edge towards the tail-end of the season.
Wearing the captain’s armband for Ipswich this season, the experienced 32-year-old has been pivotal in steering the Tractor Boys to big wins off his own back – scoring the winning goal away at Watford in December to overcome the Hornets 2-1 at Vicarage Road.
CM – Massimo Luongo
Likewise, Massimo Luongo was absent from the Sunderland game last weekend but should come back into the first-team fold as another seasoned head who could lead by example in huge promotion-deciding games to come.
Scoring two goals and contributing further with a single assist when featuring this campaign to date, McKenna will know he can call upon his dependable holding midfielder when required.
RM – Wes Burns
Even with the new addition of Jeremy Sarmiento down the flanks at Portman Road throwing a spanner into the works surrounding McKenna’s team selection in attack, Wes Burns should be retained down the right wing.
Scoring three times this season when joining in with fast Ipswich breaks forward, including a goal against arch-rivals Norwich City in mid-December, the Welshman will hope he can net more crucial goals on the way to promotion glory.
CAM – Conor Chaplin
Conor Chaplin will also want to continue being a hero for Ipswich in their potential promotion story, the 26-year-old wearing the captain’s armband against Sunderland and scoring despite the immense pressure on his shoulders.
Onto nine strikes for the campaign after that goal against Michael Beale’s Black Cats, the ex-Portsmouth man will want to get into double figures soon with his side putting together a positive sequence of the results in the process to have some breathing distance over the chasing pack in Southampton and Leeds United directly below them.
LM – Nathan Broadhead
Nathan Broadhead’s powers have diminished in recent weeks for McKenna’s promotion hopefuls – not scoring in his last four games when played by the ex-Manchester United coach turned popular Ipswich boss – but he won’t be dropped or axed completely despite this drop-off in form.
The ten-time senior Wales international will be eager, much like attacking teammate Chaplin, to play his part in Ipswich gaining promotion to the Premier League whether that be through rolling up his sleeves and getting dirty or firing in the decisive goal that sees the Tractor Boys pull off the unthinkable and move up a division again.
ST – Jay Stansfield
With George Hirst’s injury issues troubling the Tractor Boys recently – although stand-in option Kayden Jackson did score on his reintroduction into the lineup versus Sunderland – Ipswich’s main aim this transfer window is bolstering the striker options at their disposal so as not to rely on the fringe striker week in week out.
Jay Stansfield is a name that has been linked with a switch to Suffolk recently, the Birmingham City loanee lighting up the second tier this season with vibrant attacking displays – the Blues attacker netting seven goals in the Championship so far, with new manager Tony Mowbray keen to keep him at St Andrew’s past this transfer window.
These goalscoring exploits were managed even under the rocky management spell of Wayne Rooney, with Birmingham fan pundit Mike Gibbs labelling Stansfield as “absolutely incredible” when he bagged two goals from his opening two games in his new surroundings.
McKenna will hope Stansfield can hit the ground running in similarly blistering fashion at Portman Road in the second half of the season, solving his unsettling selection dilemma up top.