Assessing Lambert’s Ipswich Town squad and where he might need help in January
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Paul Lambert has already admitted he needs to spend in January, with a striker a top priority. ANDY WARREN takes at the other areas of the squad needing help.
The obvious hole
Let’s get this one out of the way first.
It’s plain for all to see that Ipswich Town need some serious help when it comes to scoring goals.
The Blues have managed just 12 in the league this season (only Bolton have managed less with 11) with strikers contributing just two of these thanks to Kayden Jackson’s header against Brentford and Freddie Sears’ penalty in Saturday’s draw with Preston.
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Injuries to Jon Walters and Ellis Harrison, who is on the comeback trail, have certainly not helped matters but Ipswich simply must carry more of a goal threat if they are to fight their way out of the bottom three.
Lambert, who started winger Jordan Roberts as a makeshift striker on Saturday, has already stated the need for reinforcements at the top end of the pitch but knows he must get the most out of what he has at his disposal before January comes around.
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Verdict: The obvious area of need that is sure to be addressed when the transfer window opens, if not before. The free agent market is worryingly thin, though.
It’s an even split – eight starts each for Bartosz Bialkowski and Dean Gerken in the Championship this season.
But it’s Bialkowski who is back between the sticks right now.
The Pole has been the supporters’ player-of-the-year in each of the last three seasons and the hope must be that he regains the form which, in the opinion of captain Luke Chambers, made him ‘a god-like figure’ with the club’s fans.
The arrival of new goalkeeping coach Jimmy Walker should help, with Bialkowski’s drop in form coming following the departure of long-time mentor Malcolm Webster in the summer.
Verdict: Nothing needed here, with Gerken proving he is a more-than-able back-up to Bialkowski.
Janoi Donacien, Jordan Spence and Matthew Pennington have shared right-back duties this season, continuing the theme of Ipswich Town managers being unable to settle on a regular in that position.
While Spence put in a good display in Lambert’s opening game against Preston, neither he nor Donacien have been able to claim the shirt during the campaign so far, with Pennington much more comfortable in the middle, and it’s entirely possible Lambert may have his own ideas in this regard.
Jonas Knudsen appears to have the left-back slot sewn up, but his future is uncertain given his contract expires next summer and there has so far been no talk of an extension. There was summer interest in the Danish World Cup player, both in this country and on the continent, which is expected to come again when the window opens. Myles Kenlock is an able deputy in this position.
Verdict: Unless Donacien or Spence, or even Barry Cotter, can nail the right-back spot over the next two months, you have to think Lambert might want to address this position. Left-back will only be a priority should Knudsen’s future become a real issue.
Paul Hurst had already identified that some added experience was needed in the middle of his defence, with a move for free agent James Collins ultimately not coming to fruition. He remains on the open market but has been struggling with injury.
It must be said captain Chambers and Pennington (he of the point-saving tackle against Preston) have shown promise in their minutes on the field together and look to be the partnership going forward – until January at least.
But beyond that, Toto Nsiala is the only other senior central defensive specialist in the squad. He has not been involved in either of the two games since Hurst’s departure and played for the Under 23s against Cardiff on Monday.
Verdict: An area of need, even if just for cover to push Chambers and Pennington for a starting spot.
Heading into the season there was much discussion regarding the midfield strength possessed by Ipswich Town.
The list of players is impressive: Cole Skuse, Flynn Downes, Tristan Nydam, Andre Dozzell, Teddy Bishop, Emyr Huws, Tom Adeyemi, Jon Nolan, Trevoh Chalobah, Tayo Edun.
But it hasn’t quite worked like that, with injuries keeping Dozzell, Bishop, Huws and Adeyemi off the field, Nydam loaned to Scotland, Downes used sparingly, Chalobah and Edun showing undoubted talent and raw edges in equal measure and Nolan taking time to adapt.
Skuse remains a calming influence in a midfield three but there’s a definite argument for the need for another experienced ball player ahead of him.
Verdict: If, and this is a big if, Huws and Bishop can get and then stay fit, they will add a much-needed new dimension to the Ipswich midfield. But, sadly, relying on this would perhaps be naïve.
Given the lack of goals coming from the forward line, an experienced, creative, goal-scoring midfielder must surely be on Lambert’s shopping list. They don’t grow on trees – Ipswich have been after one of these for the best part of a decade – but it’s arguably needed now more than ever.
The wide boys
Gwion Edwards has been the biggest hit among Paul Hurst’s summer signings, but even he has his off days.
A major characteristic of Lambert’s first game in charge was to see the wide players pressing high, pressurising full-backs and looking to win possession back.
It’s a role Edwards looks suited for, given his tenacious approach and the fact Stoke’s Joe Allen is the only player to have attempted more tackles than the Welshman this season. Sears showed he may just be the best option available as he once again performed well in a wide position he has become used to in recent seasons.
Grant Ward and Danny Rowe have roles to play here too, with the latter introduced to good effect at the weekend, while youngster Jack Lankester may just bring a youthful enthusiasm and a technical ability to the role if called upon regularly. He’s certainly a confident young man.
If Lambert is able to bring in his desired forwards, Roberts has shown enough to suggest he has a role to play in his more-familiar wide position, too.
Verdict: If Lambert can get the best out of Edwards on a consistent basis and the wide men can reproduce the intensity of the weekend draw with Preston week in, week out, then he should be well-stocked here. Big ifs, though.
The wide areas need to offer a goal threat and, if the current group are not able to do that by January, this may be another area for recruitment.
It’s clear the Ipswich squad needs help beyond the obvious need to bring in a striker or two.
It may be a fanciful list, given how difficult recruitment in January can be even when you’re not trying to convince players to join sides in the thick of a relegation battle, but Lambert could well be looking for starters at a number of positions.
While right-back, central defence and central midfield look to be positions of need at this stage, the current squad have nine games to stake a claim. Conversely, further concerns may emerge, including wide areas if the current group are not able to offer a goal threat.
Lambert has already stated that he can’t look too far ahead with nine more games to play before his first opportunity to spend, with his job between now and then being to get the most out of what he’s got.
But if he can keep his current group in touch until that window opens, what he is able to do in January may just be the difference between a successful battle against the drop and the unthinkable happening.