Who will replace Chambers at the heart of the Ipswich defence against Forest?
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
With Ipswich Town captain Luke Chambers suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season at Derby on Tuesday night, manager Mick McCarthy has a decision to make in the centre of his defence. ANDY WARREN looks at the boss’s options.
If fit, the natural choice to fill Chambers’ boots against Forest would be specialist centre-half Tommy Smith.
But the New Zealand international is currently dealing with a calf problem picked up while away for his side’s World Cup play-off clashes with Peru and has played just one game for the Blues since the opening game of the season.
Manager Mick McCarthy said earlier this week that he and his staff are currently holding Smith back, despite the defender believing he is ready to be out training with the team, in a bid to avoid any aggravation to the injury.
He didn’t travel to Derby on Tuesday night and posted an image of himself at home wearing a pair of recovery boots, which are used to help increase blood flow in the legs and reduce recovery times.
There is a chance the absence of Chambers will push Smith into action.
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The former West Ham youngster looks to have a grip on the starting right-back spot but has arguably played his best football of the season at centre back.
He played centrally throughout much of the early part of the season due to injuries to Chambers, Smith and Adam Webster, performing well as part of a makeshift backline which at times was made up entirely of recognised full-backs.
He has also proved to be something of a goal threat and is the only defender to have found the net for the Blues this season, with his three strikes against Millwall, Sunderland and Hull all proving vital.
But he has said himself he believes he is a more natural full-back, with McCarthy seeming to have settled on the 27-year-old as his preferred option on the right.
Dominic Iorfa would be the man to come in at right-back if Spence is moved inside, but the Wolves loanee struggled at Aston Villa and this could come into McCarthy’s thinking.
The Dane is another full-back who has been called into emergency action in the middle of defence already this season, playing his part centrally in both a back four and a back five.
And he did it well, with his aggression in the air and on the ground coming to the fore in the victory over Brentford in particular, during a consistent run from the 25-year-old.
Moving Knudsen inside would open the door for Myles Kenlock, who has done well whenever called upon and gained praise from McCarthy as he deputised for the suspended Dane in the draw with Sheffield Wednesday.
Speaking earlier in the season, Knudsen insisted he was happy at centre-half and was happy to do so again if required. That time could be now.
Connolly or Iorfa
Another option in the middle of defence is Everton loanee Callum Connolly, who has proved his versatility for the Blues already this season.
Having arrived as a right-back, he has made a midfield spot his own with a series of all-action displays in a deep role in front of the back four.
He is certainly capable of dropping into the back line, but would McCarthy want to lose his tenacity in midfield? Switching Connolly would also create a need for a reshuffle elsewhere on the pitch.
Iorfa is seen long-term as a centre-half but has played the majority of his career to date as a full-back. He has found things tough in recent weeks and made errors for both goals at Villa Park on Saturday.
Connolly is also capable of playing centre-half too, so he could be Chambers’ direct replacement. That would open the door for a midfielder like Teddy Bishop or Tristan Nydam.
Switch to a back five
McCarthy has had some success with this system already this season and, with Chambers unavailable, a move to a back five once again is an outside possibility if Smith is unable to play.
That would see both Spence and Knudsen come inside to join Webster, with the full-back options in this scenario likely to be Iorfa and Kenlock.
A back five would provide some solidity to the side in the absence of its captain and allow the two full-backs to get forward at will.
However, the Blues’ attack-minded formation of four forwards has stuck in recent weeks after some great success, so you get the impression McCarthy would be reluctant to move away from his 4-2-3-1 system.
The absence of one key player is unlikely to see the whole formation change.