Cook's recipe, an aerial master and a shot at four... Preview of Gillingham v Ipswich
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Paul Cook takes charge of Ipswich Town for the first time at Gillingham this lunchtime (1pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
BACK TO PRIESTFIELD
How long ago does Ipswich Town's last trip to Kent seem?
Back on a sunny day in September 2019, the Blues triumphed 1-0 and fans celebrated wildly in the packed, open air away end. The 'League One tour' was up and running.
That was game two of a four game winning streak.
The run had started with a hard-fought 1-0 at MK Dons, continued with a 4-1 home triumph against Tranmere and concluded with a 1-0 victory at Fleetwood.
Those were the days of Kane Vincent-Young rampaging up the right, Luke Garbutt's wicked free-kicks, Paul Lambert fist-pumps and hand-holding team celebrations.
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It was, sadly, all downhill from there.
Positive momentum proved impossible to find. Only twice, after that flying start, did the Blues manage back-to-back wins. The exact same narrative unfolded again this season too.
Now Ipswich, having played Gillingham four times in a row at Portman Road - two wins in the EFL Trophy, plus a win and a draw in the league - finally return to Priestfield again (last season's fixture was a victim of the Covid call-off).
Following a change in manager, there's a renewed sense of optimism.
And there's an opportunity to make it four straight wins for the first time since those heady days of 2019.
NEW INGREDIENTS FOR COOK?
New boss Paul Cook watched from the stands on Tuesday night as Town made hard work of a 2-1 comeback win against 10-man Accrington Stanley.
There will be loads that he will have liked and parts that he'll want to see improve.
The ex Wigan and Portsmouth boss is unlikely to try and change too much, too soon though. Following successive wins against Hull, Doncaster and Accrington it may be a case of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.
Could the same team be named for a fifth straight match? It's not impossible.
The back five will almost certainly be the same after some rock-solid displays, while James Norwood and Troy Parrott are forming a good all-action partnership up top .
Might Gwion Edwards replace Keanan Bennetts on the wing? Could Flynn Downes come in for Teddy Bishop? They are the only two potential changes you would imagine.
Kayden Jackson and Jon Nolan had been exiled to the Under-23s by Lambert.
Sadly, Nolan has just suffered a season-ending knee injury just as a new boss arrives to provide a clean slate. Thankfully, centre-midfield is not an area the Blues are short in.
Jackson, however, could well be on the bench today.
And the 27-year-old's pace and pressing could prove useful against tiring legs.
He'll certainly be fired up to prove a point when he gets his next chance.
We've seen enough of Gillingham by now to know they are a direct, physical side.
Last season, they had Brandon Hanlon battling away up top. This season, it's Vadaine Oliver.
The 29-year-old had played National League and League Two football for Lincoln, Mansfield, York City, Notts County, Morecambe and Northampton over a six-year period before Steve Evans came calling last summer.
Back in the third-tier, where he started with Crewe, he's proving a real handful.
The 6ft 2in target man has contested 540 aerial challenges this season (almost twice as many as anyone else) and he's won 286 of those.
For context, Mark McGuinness is Ipswich's highest ranked player in the League One headers won list (117 from 168 contests).
The good news is that Town central defensive duo Toto Nsiala and James Wilson are bang in form and are well equipped for an aerial bombardment.
They handled Colby Bishop at Accrington on a cold Tuesday night. They'll need to go to war again this lunchtime.
ANOTHER TOUGH NUT
Gillingham finished mid-table last season and, with a new-look side, appear very much a mid-table side again this time around. Steve Evans may not be everyone's cup of tea, but his sides are always competitive.
Their form since the turn of the year is patchy. They've beaten Accrington, Crewe, Charlton, Bristol Rovers and MK Dons, plus claimed decent draws at Sunderland and Portsmouth. They have, however, also lost to Northampton, Burton, Lincoln, Peterborough and AFC Wimbledon.
This is a game that could go either way.
A win could move Ipswich back in the play-off places for the first time since the middle of December.
That would certainly be a huge psychological boost ahead of a midweek home clash with high-flying Lincoln.