Vast improvement needed, a mood swing and plenty of changes - Town head to basement boys Burton
- Credit: PA
Paul Lambert's Ipswich Town travel to the Pirelli Stadium to take on League One's bottom side, Burton Albion this afternoon. Here, Andy Warren takes a look ahead to a big game for the Blues.
Must do better
Town came out of their 25-day break from action in miserable fashion as they went down 3-2 at home to relegation-threatened Swindon a week ago.
And that’s heaped more pressure on Paul Lambert at a time when the Blues’ manager was already under intense scrutiny due to the stuttering nature of his side’s promotion bid.
Much of Town’s struggles have centred around an inability to beat promotion contenders (two wins, a draw and seven losses against top half sides so far this season, two wins against last season’s top 10 in 18 attempts), with a loss to the team in 23rd now raising different, but just as worrying, alarm bells.
It’s the basement boys this weekend as Lambert’s men take on a Burton Albion side they beat unconvincingly two games ago, with the Brewers certainly providing a banana skin for a team still recovering from their most recent slip.
Much better is needed, that’s for sure. Town need to start faster, play harder, attack better and defend more resolutely. All very simplistic but all true. Ipswich should (and are) be more than capable of winning this game fairly comfortably but, if they don’t improve, defeat to the league’s bottom two in back-to-back weeks is a real possibility.
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Lambert is thought to retain the backing of owner Marcus Evans, as Town’s injured army return, but defeat at Burton would surely be a blow for the Town boss’s job security.
A win, however convincing, would do little to change the mood among supporters.
The contrast in feeling if you look back to Town’s last visit to Burton is pretty striking.
August 3, 2019 was the day Ipswich took a voyage into the unknown as they began their first third-tier season since the 1950s, with a mix of excitement, nerves, optimism and trepidation in the air before kick-off. You could feel it.
Town were freshly relegated but, perversely, Lambert had generated a feel-good factor behind the club and it would be revisionist to suggest anything other than the Scot and his side had the fans behind him.
Luke Garbutt’s debut goal won a nervy game which ended with suspended skipper Luke Chambers letting off a trademark fist pump to a packed away end. It was a signal that better times were ahead. Sadly, it’s not worked out that way.
That away end will of course be empty this weekend and, it’s sad to say, at least some of those who would ordinarily have been packed into the East Terrace may be willing their side to lose if it brings about change.
It feels like changes are on the way.
James Norwood and Flynn Downes could well start after breathing life into Town at half-time against Swindon, as they replaced Aaron Drinan and Emyr Huws, even if neither is fully fit. There’s no doubting they give Ipswich an extra edge.
Lambert could choose to bring Toto Nsiala into his side in place of either Luke Woolfenden or Mark McGuinness in the middle of of what has been a youthful defence, while he must also decide whether or not to continue with Kayden Jackson and Armando Dobra in the wide areas.
Freddie Sears and Gwion Edwards are potential options there, with the latter only just back in training, while Teddy Bishop and Jon Nolan resumed work with the first-team this week and could potentially make the bench.
Lambert’s steadfastly stuck to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 system this season and it seems unlikely that will change.
Could there even be a change in goal? David Cornell has been solid enough since taking the gloves, but we’ve seen Lambert make a change between the sticks during times of crisis in the past.
Town have played just once since they beat Burton in December, with plenty changing for the Brewers since that day.
Jake Buxton was fired just before the turn of the year and, in his place, is former Chelsea and Leeds striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as the Dutchman returns to the club he led to the League Two title in 2015.
He’s brought in defender Hayden Carter from Blackburn and Oxford midfielder Sean Clare to bolster the ranks as they look to move away from the drop zone.
His impact was instant, recording a 1-0 victory at Gillingham which snapped a five-game losing streak which saw 19 goals conceded, while the clean sheet at Priestfield was the club’s first in 36 matches.
The performance was far from a classic one, taking the lead and hanging on in the second half, but it was the boost the Brewers needed.
Town will be hoping their new manager bounce is already on its way back down to earth this weekend.
Town could find themselves as low as ninth by kick-off, if Sunderland beat Wimbledon in the lunchtime game, but such is the tight nature of League One’s top 10, they could be as high as fourth by full-time should they win at the Pirelli Stadium and results go their way.
The Blues have played two more than some sides and two less than others, with this Covid-hit season still having plenty of twists and turns left to navigate.