A 1-1 draw last week at Sunderland keeps our season locked in a state of being both impressive yet lacking momentum. That one big result to really set the season alight eludes us, however, a record of two defeats from 18 league games makes it hard to argue that we’re not a good team.
This upcoming double-header against Ipswich Town provides an opportunity to see how we match up against one of the very best in the division, with this FA Cup meeting acting as light sparring before the main event next Saturday.
While Ipswich Town have the luxury of being able to change things up between the two fixtures with relatively little drop-off in quality, Mark Robins is unlikely to alter his line-up too much – especially with an EFL Trophy tie on Tuesday night to contend with.
Maxime Biamou’s return from suspension is welcome after Amadou Bakayoko’s struggles in front of goal in recent games, while Jordy Hiwula is likely to be short of fitness. Biamou’s return to the starting XI isn’t assured, based on Mark Robins’ comments earlier in the week, however, a hat-trick in the EFL Trophy and goals at under-23 level during his suspension makes him the form striker in a team otherwise lacking a goalscorer.
With greater availability of attacking options, it will be interesting to see whether Mark Robins sticks with the 3-4-2-2-1 shape – with Jordan Shipley and Zain Westbrooke supporting the attack – that has proven effective over recent weeks. In terms of individual performances, the system has shown that Zain Westbrooke and Jordan Shipley can impact games in an advanced role, but it has collectively left us short of a goal threat and attacking penetration. Having a slightly higher-quality striker up top in Maxime Biamou may help matters, but sacrificing either Shipley or Westbrooke to play a front two may well be worth considering.
Last Time We Met
It has been some time since we’ve last taken on Ipswich Town, with the last clash occurring at the Ricoh Arena in 2012 during our Championship relegation season under Andy Thorn. With time starting to run out in our survival bid, a 2-1 half-time lead – thanks goals from Gary Deegan and a certain sideways passing midfielder – seemed to have us on our way to a crucial victory, however, two goals from the Championship goal machine that was Michael Chopra earned the Tractorboys a win that helped keep them away from danger.
Manager – Paul Lambert
Having made his name as a manager at arch-rivals Norwich City, Paul Lambert has proven a surprisingly popular figure at Ipswich Town, despite presiding over the majority of a miserable previous season that saw the club finish rock-bottom of the Championship, building a strong rapport with the fans via some improved performances and smart PR.
Importantly, Lambert has used the free-hit he managed to give himself last year to assess what would be needed to get the club out of League One at the first time of asking, which has seen Ipswich start the season strongly to sit second in the division.
Who To Look Out For?
With Ipswich’s priority on winning promotion this season, expect a heavily-rotated side for this game. However, Ipswich’s strength in depth means that even though this will likely be a weaker team than next week’s league game, it will still be a strong enough side to arguably still be considered favourites.
Suspended for the league game, Ipswich’s chief attacking presence, James Norwood, is likely to start this game. A powerful and aggressive striker, Norwood has taken a little time to settle down into his new environment but has been a key figurehead for Ipswich to build around and should challenge the top-scorers at this level once he hits his stride.
With an almost ludicrous level of strength in depth in midfield, there is plenty of creativity even in a second-string Ipswich side for Norwood to thrive upon. The experienced winger Alan Judge’s intelligence and delivery from open play and set-pieces will be difficult for us to deal with, while the industrious Danny Rowe offers a more direct threat from the other side.
Academy product Andre Dozzell is a central midfielder of immense talent who can carry the ball forward, pick a pass or contribute goals himself and is likely to see this game as an opportunity to make a bid for more regular first-team football. Just who plays with him will depend on whether Paul Lambert wants to risk more established starters such as Flynn Downes and Cole Skuse ahead of next week’s league game.
Areas To Exploit
Given that Paul Lambert is likely to name a team that will have had little time together on the pitch before this fixture, that lack of collective understanding feels a key area to target. Although there will be players involved that will want to earn a place in the first-choice XI, it can be hard for individuals to shine when they don’t have established reference points within their team to build upon.
With Ipswich giving this game a low priority in their season, if we can start strong and take the lead, they are unlikely to be overly concerned with getting back into the game. While this remains a test against a strong side, next week’s league game will provide a better indication of how we match up against the division’s second-place side.