New faces, questions answered, a reunion and absences - Town are back in action tonight
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town are in pre-season action against Colchester United tonight. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the action at the Jobserve Community Stadium
It’s been a long old wait – 164 days to be precise – but Ipswich Town are finally taking to the football pitch tonight.
The 1-0 home loss to Coventry City on March 7 seems a lifetime ago now, with so much happening in all our lives in the five months since.
The return of the Premier League in June brought back a semblance of normality for many, but we at Ipswich have had to wait that little bit longer, with last season finished by drawn-out voting sagas to decide the final standings and then discussions over new financial rules.
It may only be a pre-season run-out and the absence of fans will leave the start of the campaign feeling like a shell of what it should have been, but tonight at 6pm Ipswich Town will be back in action.
How will it work?
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A game against Colchester a stone’s throw from the A12 is a familiar prospect for the Blues, but this game, or games, will be a little different to the usual pre-season fare.
The two sides will play two separate 75-minute games, at 6pm and then 8pm, giving Paul Lambert the opportunity to get a two-and-a-half hour look at where his squad is at.
It’s likely the Scot will field two separate teams, with a few subs straddling both, as he assesses just where his players are at given they had four months off and have just a few weeks of socially distanced training in their legs.
The new boys
Town had a busy day in the transfer market yesterday, adding not one, not two but three new players to the squad.
And there’s every chance all three will make their first appearances in an Ipswich shirt this evening.
Stephen Ward has been training with the club for a week now and looks set to be the first-choice left back heading into the new season, while Cornell looks to have a fair chance of claiming he No.1 shirt as he battles Tomas Holy for a start.
Then there’s Oli Hawkins, who can play as both a striker and a centre-half. It will be interesting to see which position he’s used in tonight. My money’s on striker, for now.
Oh, and we may just get a first look at Town’s new away kit too.
We’ve had a five-month break from what had become a regular prediction game – guessing the system Ipswich manager Paul Lambert will use.
But the way the Scot goes in this game could be telling.
We saw 4-4-2, 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 last season as Lambert mixed, matched, chopped and changed as he looked for a winning formula, but all the signs are pointing towards a more settled approach this time around.
We’ve all learnt by now not to read too much into pre-season football, a way of thinking especially true in this most unusual of summers. But the system used by Lambert tonight, and whether it’s the same in both games, really could be telling.
The Ipswich played an 11v11 in-house game at Playford Road on Saturday morning and the suggestion is the two teams were ‘mix and match’ and certainly not a representation of what Lambert’s starting XI can be.
The same is likely tonight.
Injured players return
Two men especially excited for tonight’s game will be Jack Lankester and Kane Vincent-Young, who have both been out since 2019.
Lankester’s last competitive appearance came in January 2019 at Blackburn and he’s endured 18-months of injury pain since. A brief return from a back injury last summer was over before it started as he headed for surgery again, but he’s been good to go since April and, by all accounts, has been impressing on the training field over the last two weeks.
His beautiful left foot and his ability to cut inside onto it from the right flank will be a real asset to the Blues and it’s exciting to dream of what a partnership down the Ipswich right with Vincent-Young can be.
The full-back is back from groin surgery and, following his nine-game preview at the start of last season, we all know what he can add to this team.
Patience will be required with both but their return is certainly a plus.
There’s also the prospect of Tristan Nydam making his first appearance for a year following surgery on a nasty broken ankle. He’s been back training at Playford Road but it’s not yet clear whether he’s ready for game action.
A little more time
While injured players are returning, there are a few faces we may not see this evening.
Goalkeeper Holy is known to have been struggling with a shoulder injury – an issue he was dealing with last season – during the lockdown period and there’s a chance his return this summer could be delayed a little.
Then there’s James Norwood, who is a few weeks behind the rest of the group as he continues to rehab following groin surgery in February. The lockdown meant he wasn’t able to progress as well as he and the Town medical staff will have liked, but he’s not far away. He’s been working with the club’s fitness staff at Playford Road every day and there is hope he could be involved for a few minutes at the end of Town’s friendly with West Ham next week.
Ipswich announced Alan Judge’s season was over on March 11 due to a metatarsal injury, though at the time we didn’t know the Blues’ campaign was already done and dusted too. He should be good to go tonight, though, having played in Saturday’s training ground game.
Gwion Edwards is understood to have had a hip problem which may keep him out.
A homegrown reunion
It’s not unusual to see a former Ipswich player line up for Colchester.
This time around there’s goalkeeper Dean Gerken, defender Tom Eastman, utility man Omar Sowumni and also Diaz Wright, son of former Town man Jermaine.
But then there’s also the prospect of Tommy Smith playing against the Blues, with the New Zealand international on trial with the League Two side and featuring in their game with Gillingham at the weekend.
He’s a free agent after leaving Sunderland and, with Town known to want a left-sided centre-half, his name is regularly discussed in relation to a return to the club where he began his career.
Lambert has regularly distanced himself for the prospect and, though the 30-year-old has trained with Ipswich since returning from MLS and would no doubt love to return full-time, all the signs are it isn’t going to happen.
How to watch
Sadly there will be no fans (or external media) present inside the Community Stadium tonight, meaning this evening’s game will be a far cry from the scenes a year ago when Ipswich packed out the stand behind the goal as the Blues romped to a 5-0 success. Anyone remember just how optimistic we were all feeling following Norwood’s hat-trick that night?
The stands may be empty but that doesn’t mean you can’t watch the game. The U’s are streaming the contest live at the cost of £5.
Word of warning, though, they’ve already made it clear the game will be filmed using a wide-angled lens – a set-up usually used by analysts to track formations and patterns of play.
Still, after the wait we’ve had, anything’s better than nothing.