Dave Gooderham: Let’s not kid ourselves – Town are fifth, but they are clearly a work in progress
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
It’s ironic that AFC Wimbledon are sponsored by Football Manager. Four games in and most Ipswich Town fans are still scratching their heads over what is our best starting line-up, writes Dave Gooderham.
Should Ipswich start with two upfront? Can we find a position for Alan Judge or indeed should we find a starting position for Alan Judge? Should Luke Chambers start? Is Myles Kenlock good enough? Where will Will Keane fit in? 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-1-2 - just what is the best formation?
And what about those midfield options…
It could easily be argued that this is a sign of some incredible competition and strength-in-depth and this level. Yet there is a nagging feeling that we have too many permutations for Paul Lambert to decide on.
Surely there are too many questions at this stage of the season when a settled league side is what is called for, while we acclimatise to life in League 1?
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Because make no bones about it, we are still acclimatising. I write this in the minutes after Ipswich put AFC Wimbledon to the sword thanks to late goals by James Norwood and Kayden Jackson.
In this infant league campaign, it was a pivotal moment with eight points from 12 a decent start. Had it been six, or indeed just five, there would have been even more questions.
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So let's celebrate three more points, a comeback, an unbeaten start, Luke Woolfenden's emergence as Town's best defender and an encouraging debut for Spurs loanee Anthony Georgiou. But let's also not kid ourselves. Ipswich might currently sit in fifth but they are clearly a work in progress.
AFC Wimbledon had rare moments, scored a decent goal, but were average at best. Rather than simply thinking they should be a walkover, we should be starting to realise the pitfalls of the third tier by the fact that we struggled and actually played pretty poor for most of the win under Tuesday night lights.
One look at the bench perfectly illustrates Lambert's embarrassment of riches with Messrs Huws, Judge, Chambers, Jackson and Edwards occupying those spots. Each, you could argue, good enough to be starting - but who do you drop?
Kane Vincent Young's arrival is welcome, as Janoi Donacien's confidence looks shot, but Will Keane's welcome return only adds to the selection posers, especially as Alan Judge's best position is surely a central one.
Playing one upfront can work but Judge needs to occupy a central spot behind the main striker, rather than Norwood feeding off the scraps, as he did for most of the midweek win.
It's easy to understand why Town fans are now clamouring for a settled 4-4-2 formation - and Jackson, for one, deserves a decent run in the team.
But who on earth do you pick across the midfield four? Huws remains, for me, arguably the most complete player in the Championship while Flynn Downes, along with Woolfenden, is the most impressive performer thus far. But where does that leave the cool head of Cole Skuse, the enigmatic Andre Dozzell and the soon-to-be returning Jon Nolan and Teddy Bishop?
That nagging feeling suggests we have too many central midfielders and that Lambert might, on occasions, be guilty of trying to fit too many in the starting line-up. How on earth can he keep them all happy? Yet more questions. It's making my brain hurt!
Of course, we shouldn't bemoan these decisions. Most League 1 sides would love to have the options on Lambert's whiteboard. It is now up to the manager to work out his best team and best formula while continuing to utilise a squad system. At the end of the day, that's what he gets paid for.
There are, of course, positive signs. Putting aside individual performers, you can't fault the way Lambert's men are playing to the very final whistle. When was the last time Ipswich snatched positive results in the dying minutes of two consecutive games? Renegade Statman, I'm looking at you....
The fans, on the road and inside Portman Road, continue to be the 12th man in incredible fashion and every Ipswich supporter deserves to be cheering a few wins after the dire last few years.
And they should be cheering a few more in the next week or two. Bolton on Saturday, assuming it goes ahead, should be an away banker. In one sense, Town fans shouldn't take too much pleasure in that with the Wanderers, and Bury, part of a much bigger problem infecting our beautiful game.
But all Ipswich Town can, and should do, is beat whoever is facing them. On a larger scale, the world of football - and football authorities - have much bigger questions to answer.