It’s first v third as Lambert’s Blues take on Barton’s Cod Army... so is this Ipswich’s biggest test yet?
- Credit: Archant
Paul Lambert’s Ipswich Town travel to Highbury Stadium to take on Fleetwood this weekend. ANDY WARREN looks at the talking points heading into the game.
Is this weekend's visit to Fleetwood the biggest test yet for Ipswich Town?
Paul Lambert's men have already picked up draws against Sunderland and Peterborough, two teams fancied for promotion, but those games came when the season was fresh and green, against two sides finding their feet after summers of change.
In Fleetwood they face a battle-hardened League One side currently sitting third in the table, confident in what they do and well-drilled by manager Joey Barton.
They attack down the flanks, score goals (level with Ipswich on 20 in the league) and possess experienced campaigners such as Paul Coutts, Peter Clarke and Ched Evans.
Paddy Madden and Josh Morris have combined for 10 goals, just as Kayden Jackson and James Norwood have.
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Ipswich are unbeaten, of course, with seven wins and three draws in their opening 10 league games, but are yet to hit top gear.
It's been an excellent start, no debate there. But when you look at it, Shrewsbury (who sit 12th) are the highest-placed side Town have beaten this season with the other six conquered by Lambert's men sitting in the bottom half. For the record, Town's three draws have come against the sides sitting fifth, eighth and ninth.
Lambert has insisted he's going to Highbury Stadium to win and wouldn't settle for a draw, but his side may need to find their next gear to come away with three points this weekend.
Before we get to the battles on the field this weekend, the one getting the most attention will surely be the contest on the touchline between two high profile managers.
Barton, who is due in court next week to answer an ABH charge following an incident against Barnsley last season, was booked following 'an exchange of views' with the Shrewsbury bench during his side's 3-0 win a week ago and insists he will continue to protect his players.
Lambert will always have his players' backs, too.
The Town boss's altercation with the Norwich City staff in February will live long in the memory while his run-in with Gillingham manager Steve Evans just two weeks ago is set to be replayed on Tuesday when the two sides meet again.
Lambert has played down the chances of any antics involving him and Barton this weekend, though, insisting he expects things to be low-key.
Nailing it down
When asked whether players were beginning to nail down places in his starting XI, Lambert yesterday insisted he will continue to pick the side he thinks is 'best for the team, rather than the individual'.
He says he trusts every member of his squad, and that's a great position for the Town boss to be in, but some players are surely beginning to separate themselves when it comes to picking a first choice XI.
Tomas Holy, regardless of an error against Tranmere last weekend, has earned the Town boss's trust in goal while Kane Vincent-Young and Luke Garbutt are first-choice full-backs. Cole Skuse, whether as a ball-playing centre back of a lynchpin of midfield, is a vital member of the side. Flynn Downes has started the season excellently and you get every impression Jon Nolan is a player central to Lambert's plans. It's surely hard to leave either Norwood or Jackson out, especially if Lambert opts to go with a front two.
That leaves the revolving door that is the centre of defence, wide midfield positions and the No.10 role, if the formation requires them, as being up for grabs.
As ever, it will be interesting to see which way Lambert goes this weekend.
He's blessed with options.
What a difference a year makes
If you rewind 12 months, to the first Saturday in October and the build-up to the 13th game of the 2018/19 season, you'll find an Ipswich Town side yet to win a game under manager Paul Hurst.
That win did finally arrive at Swansea almost exactly a year ago, but as we now know the success in South Wales merely delayed the inevitability of Hurst's departure for a few days.
The mood 12 months on could not be more different. The 12 games played have yielded eight wins and three draws (let's forget about the Carabao Cup exit), as well as big Portman Road crowds and a strong bond between touchline and terrace.
Lambert has often referenced the 'morgue' that was Town's 2-0 home loss to Middlesbrough, on October 2, 2018, with the Scot watching at home on TV as a little more than 13,000 Ipswich fans saw their team fall to another limp defeat.
By contrast, more than 19,000 watched Ipswich beat Tranmere last Saturday in the corresponding game of this season, before the victorious home side saluted the crowd as one at full-time in a show of solidarity and unity.
There's been an awful lot of pain in the last 12 months, but the stark contrast in mood shows just how good a place the club is in right now.