Reaching the summit, striking combinations and a former Blue returns - talking points as Town host Lincoln
PUBLISHED: 06:00 24 January 2020 | UPDATED: 11:42 24 January 2020
Ipswich Town return to Portman Road this weekend to take on Lincoln City. Here we look at the key talking points heading into the League One game.
Following a slide down the league table from top to as low as fifth, the third-placed Blues have a chance to return to League One's summit for the first time since mid-November this weekend.
To do it they will need to beat Lincoln and hope leaders Rotherham lose away at Peterborough, with second-placed Wycombe not in action due to the fact scheduled opponents Coventry City remain in the FA Cup.
Even if it doesn't take them back to the top of the pile, victory over a Lincoln side which comprehensively beat them 5-3 on December 29 would act as a real statement for the Blues as they prepare for a run of three games against promotion rivals in the form of Rotherham, Peterborough and Sunderland.
Victory would also ensure Tuesday night' visit to Rotherham will be a battle of the top two.
The hour-long 'Lincoln Lock In' looks to have been something of a catalyst for a turnaround in form which has cleared the air and helped the Blues start 2020 well, with a four-game unbeaten run in the league, but this next run of games will be a real sign of the progress they've made.
It's unlikely Ipswich Town will play back-to-back games in as difficult conditions as they faced at Oxford and Tranmere any time soon.
But now they return to Portman Road which, while certainly not perfect given the time of year, number of games played and wintery weather, is much more conducive to playing good football.
That's exactly what Ipswich produced in the 4-1 dismantling of Accrington Stanley, as they jumped on the throats of their visitors with good passages of play, attacking centre-backs on the overlap and clinical finishing.
This game will surely present a step up in difficulty from that but, after two games where any win would do, given the difficulty of conditions, there will be an expectation that the Blues produce a good display against a side slap, bang in the middle of the League One table.
Barring injury, Lambert will surely stick with goalkeeper Will Norris, a central defensive three of Luke Chambers, James Wilson and Luke Woolfenden, with Gwion Edwards and Luke Garbutt in the wide positions and Emyr Huws alongside Flynn Downes in the middle of the pitch.
Then it gets interesting.
Alan Judge has performed well at the start of 2020 after finally being given an extended run in the No.10 position, which allows him to roam the field in search of possession without leaving a hole behind him. The Irishman has certainly taken his chance with some good displays and a first league goal for the Blues in their last home game.
But nipping at his heels is Teddy Bishop, who sparkled at Exeter in the EFL Trophy and opened up the game for the Blues at Tranmere last weekend. A first league start may still be a stretch at this stage, given he was out for five months, but it can't be too far away for a player who offers something different to the Ipswich Town attack.
The last three league games have seen James Norwood, Kayden Jackson and Will Keane play in all three combinations, with the trio all netting during that time.
It will be interesting to see which way Lambert goes this weekend when it comes to his front two.
It's been a busy January so far for Michael Appleton's side, who will look a little different to the one which Lambert's men faced three times in quick succession in November and December.
They've lost a key man, with left-back Harry Toffolo departing to link up with former boss Danny Cowley once again at Huddersfield, while Bruno Andrade and Michael O'Connor have joined Salford City.
Tyreece John-Jules has arrived on loan from Arsenal and has already found the net, the winner in last weekend's victory over Blackpool, while Max Melbourne (West Brom, undisclosed fee) and Connor Coventry (West Ham, loan) have both settled in well.
Lincoln's other January addition will be hoping to make his second start for his new club in familiar surroundings.
Tayo Edun was one of an army of Paul Hurst signings during the latter's brief tenure at Portman Road, with the newly-signed Lincoln midfielder's three previous appearances in Suffolk certainly eventful ones.
The former Fulham loanee's first saw him grab a dramatic equaliser for the Blues on the opening day against Blackburn, before his second ended in a red card after just 37 minutes following his second booking against Aston Villa.
His third and final appearance for the Blues was his best in an Ipswich shirt as he offered real spark off the bench in a draw with Bolton, before an eye injury ended his time in Suffolk early and ultimately saw his loan spell terminated by Lambert.
He'll be hoping to show his former club what they're missing.