Three wins to Wembley, shows of strength, two ‘new signings’ and a long-awaited debut - Talking points ahead of Town v Exeter
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town head into today’s EFL Trophy clash with Exeter just three wins from a Wembley final. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the cup contest.
One more step
And then there were three.
That's how many wins Ipswich Town need to secure if they are to make their first appearance at the new Wembley Stadium.
It's been trotted out before each of Ipswich's four EFL Trophy games this season but the Blues are one of only eight clubs in the top four divisions of English football not to have played under the famous arch since the stadium was opened in 2007.
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The others are Accrington Stanley, Blackburn Rovers, Colchester United, Crawley, Nottingham Forest, Oldham Athletic and Port Vale.
Standing between Ipswich and the quarter-finals is an Exeter side currently sitting second in the League Two table and on a run of 14 games without defeat in all competitions.
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Like Ipswich, though, manager Matt Taylor has made changes for the EFL Trophy, giving fringe and youth players a chance, and is set to do so again today.
Strong or not strong?
Manager Paul Lambert has already insisted the Blues will 'go strong' at St James Park but there will, of course, be a few changes.
Tomas Holy, Myles Kenlock, Toto Nsiala, Andre Dozzell, Will Keane, Idris El Mizouni and Armando Dobra will all be hoping to come into the side, while there are hopes Cole Skuse (neck), Jon Nolan (heel) and Janoi Donacien (dead leg) could all be available again after injury.
Jordan Roberts has played just one minute of League One football this season but has three goals to his name in the Trophy, so will hope to be involved as his Ipswich contract ticks into its final six months.
Then there are the likes of Barry Cotter, Brett McGavin and Tommy Hughes who have already been involved in Trophy games this season but may have to make do with spots on the bench at best in this one.
Whatever combination of players Lambert puts out in this game, they should surely be capable of guiding the Blues through to the next round.
Two 'new signings'
It's a cliché, of course, but the returns of Freddie Sears and Teddy Bishop really are like new signings for Ipswich Town.
Sears is a likely starter in this game following two substitute appearances in December, with the forward's intelligence and drive towards goal offering Lambert a wide option he didn't really have in his squad prior to his injury return.
Bishop played the final two minutes at Wycombe on New Year's Day but should be involved again in this one, with his dribbling ability through the middle of the pitch again offering the Town boss something he was previously missing.
Both will require patience as they return from long spells out with knee injuries but both will be well worth the wait if they can make big contributions between now and the end of the season.
Another potential returnee is striker Ben Morris, who damaged his knee ligaments in February and ultimately required surgery. He's played in the Under 23s of late but hasn't represented the senior side since the opening day of last season, when he impressed off the bench when introduced by Paul Hurst.
He's full of pace, tricky and direct and, if he is given a chance, there's no reason he can't make an impact.
A long-awaited debut?
The last-32 victory at Peterborough was sealed by the boot of Cotter, as the Irishman struck his penalty into the bottom corner to celebrate his return to the side after 585 days and his 21st birthday in style.
Now this game could see another forgotten Irishman returning to action.
Aaron Drinan's arrival in January 2018 was heralded by both Mick McCarthy and Luke Chambers, who noted the striker's tenacity, work rate and performances in training.
But, after five unused substitute appearances before McCarthy's departure, he drifted into the background and was loaned out to Sutton United and GAIS in Sweden by Pauls Hurst and Lambert respectively.
But now he's back and, having been ineligible from all match action due to red tape after returning from Scandinavia in November, he's available once again.
He's thought to have impressed in training and, two years on from signing, he could be back on the bench with the potential of a long-awaited Ipswich debut.
On the subject of strikers, there's every chance James Norwood will sit this one out.
But he would surely want to play against the club where he began his professional career.
His Exeter career consisted of just five appearances, all of which came in the same side as Ipswich icon Marcus Stewart, before he was released and dropped into non-league.
He's spoken previously about not getting the chances he thought he deserved at St James Park, with the striker likely to be keen to show his former employers what they're missing, just as he did in March when he scored Tranmere's winner at his old stomping ground.
The bigger picture
While a trip to Wembley would be a real boost to all at Ipswich Town, there's no doubting the top priority for the Blues this season.
Lambert's men are currently fifth in League One, with the promotion picture bunching up of late to the extent the Blues cushion over seventh place is now just two points.
That won't change this weekend, given only one game is taking place in the league due to postponements for FA Cup games, but if sleeping giants Sunderland can beat Lincoln that would move the Black Cats to within three points of the Blues.
Ipswich are back in league action against Accrington Stanley next weekend.