Changes, debuts and a long-awaited return - what to expect as Arsenal visit Town tonight
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town begin their EFL Trophy campaign with a visit from Arsenal’s Under 21s this evening. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the game at Portman Road.
Speaking after Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Bristol Rovers, manager Paul Lambert revealed he already knows the team which will take to the field against Arsenal’s Under 21s this evening.
The Town boss has insisted his players ‘will keep the shirt’ if they perform for him on the pitch and, following an impressive start, it would be hard to argue any of Lambert’s starting XI from Saturday deserve to drop out of the side under those rules.
But, while an unchanged side shouldn’t be completely ruled out, it seems likely there will be a small number of changes for the visit of the Gunners’ youngsters. We need to remember the EFL Trophy’s place in the pecking order.
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All seven of Lambert’s substitutes (David Cornell, James Wilson, Corrie Ndaba, Gwion Edwards, Emyr Huws, Jack Lankester, Oli Hawkins) from the weekend would be hopeful of starting, while there is a small army of players nursing knocks who could use the minutes should they be fit enough to get their seasons up and running.
Flynn Downes was one of those not involved, having been given time to clear his head after putting in a transfer request amid interest from Crystal Palace, but he’s unlikely to return before the league opener with Wigan on Sunday.
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Kane Vincent-Young (Achilles), James Norwood (hip), Cole Skuse (knee), Myles Kenlock (thigh), Kayden Jackson (groin) and Janoi Donacien all missed the weekend win and, should they not be involved tonight, it’s hard to imagine them starting the league opener.
Armando Dobra, who would have hoped to have played after lighting up the game with Tottenham’s youngsters a year ago, will not be involved given he’s on Albania Under 21 duty, while Idris El Mizouni could come into the 18.
Fighting it out
One change which seems almost certain is that David Cornell will take Tomas Holy’s place between the sticks for his Ipswich Town debut.
The Welshman arrived in August and is only now getting up to speed after joining training late, with his pre-season beginning in disappointing fashion as he conceded three at Tottenham on his first appearance for the Blues.
But it would certainly be unfair to write the former Northampton man off on the basis of one pre-season game, even if he was directly at fault for one of the goals, and he’s been solid enough during his time on the field against both West Ham and then Cambridge United.
Holy didn’t do an awful lot wrong against Rovers, making one good save but having a hit-and-miss day with his kicking, so it would be wrong to assume he’s sewn up the No.1 spot. He’s still not fully over a shoulder injury, either, so you have to feel the shirt is there to be won.
This is Cornell’s first real chance to do that.
Hawkins and Ndaba both made their Ipswich debuts from the bench at the weekend, but could they now make their first starts?
Hawkins is needing minutes, that much is certain, with the former Portsmouth man currently the most likely challenger to Aaron Drinan for a starting spot.
A long wait
Of all the players hoping to be involved tonight, surely Lankester will be the most eager.
The youngster has not played a competitive game since January 2019, with his road to recovery over the last 20 months a long one after two operations on a troublesome back programme which stalled his career just as it was getting going.
But he’s fit and raring to go and, by all accounts, is looking like the player who made such a fast start once given his professional debut by Paul Hurst.
His positive play and willingness to drive inside off the right wing on his left foot could be a real asset to the Blues.
The Blues will be facing a team of players aged 21 and under this evening, in what could be a tricky evening for Lambert’s senior players.
They have experience of this, though, having dealt well with Tottenham’s Under 21s last season.
Ipswich went behind in that game but a side including Huws, Jon Nolan, Donacien and Luke Woolfenden were actually always in control of the contest as they came back to win 2-1. They were physically superior to their young opposition and, while not having everything their own way, used their experience to keep Spurs at arms’ length.
The Gunners entered the tournament last season, drawing twice (winning and losing a shootout at the end of those games) while also going down to Peterborough as they went out in the group stages.
They’re managed by former Gunners defender Steve Bould, who won two First Division titles, a Premier League title, two FA Cups and the European Cup Winners Cup as an Arsenal player.
Rules and regulations
It’s worth remembering Lambert is governed by a unique set of selection rules in the Trophy but, in truth, none of these will actually have any impact on the side the Scot ultimately selects.
EFL regulations state that each club must field their ‘full available strength’ in Trophy games, meaning at least four players must reach the ‘qualifying player’ threshold.
To be a qualifying player, individuals must either have started the previous game, go on to start the next game, have made over 40 senior appearances during their career or be in the club’s top-10 appearance makers this season.
Basically, Lambert can pick any player he wants, with only Corrie Ndaba, Dobra, Tristan Nydam (injured) and Idris El Mizouni not ‘qualifying’ of those given squad numbers for the season.
Should Lambert somehow not have four qualifying players on the field, the club could be fined £5,000.
The winners of tonight’s game take £10,000 while that amount is split should it go to penalties, which will happen in the event of a draw inside 90 minutes. In that scenario, the winner of the shootout will take an extra point, in addition to the one they would earn for a draw.
Group J also includes Gillingham and Crawley Town, with the four sides playing one another once and the top two advancing to the knockout stages.
Let’s not forget, there’s a Wembley final at the end of this long road.
Just one more thing, there’s currently no holder of this competiton, with last season’s final yet to be be played.
Salford and Portsmouth (who won it in 2019) were due to meet on April 5 but the game was of course cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s still no det for the final to be played, with it being delayed to allow as many fans as possible to attend it.