Finally Ipswich Town are back in League One action... but can the returning cavalry hit the ground running in two big games?
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town return to League One action this weekend when Blackpool visit. ANDY WARREN looks at the talking points heading into the contest.
Back once again
Finally, league football returns. It seems an age since the Blues won 1-0 at Rochdale in their most-recent League One game, with the long break since being filled with a trio of cup contests.
Ipswich's season has been stop-start, due to international postponements, cup obligations and Bury's expulsion from the league, which has halted momentum and frustrated supporters.
But now Paul Lambert and his team enjoy their first home stand of the campaign, with two games in four days against Blackpool and Wycombe sides in the thick of the promotion race.
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Lambert's men have only beaten two top half sides so far this season, Fleetwood and Shrewsbury, with this pair of games offering his side the chance to make a real statement and regain the top spot they have lost to Wycombe.
Risk of rust
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Before, during and after the Blues' two cup dates with Lincoln, the hot topic of conversation was Lambert's decision to rest the majority of his frontline players.
The decision means Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse, Luke Woolfenden, Luke Garbutt, Kayden Jackson and Jon Nolan will all have gone 17 days without a game when they take to the field against Blackpool, while James Norwood only saw four minutes of action during the first game with Lincoln.
You can certainly see the logic in it. Keep your leading men fresh for the league, priorities number one, two, three and four (you get picture) this season, while ensuring those on the fringes are fit and firing should they need to be called upon.
But with that comes the danger of your leading players losing an edge and taking time to get back up to full speed. When you're gunning to win a title, you don't necessarily have that time to lose.
Lambert and his staff will have covered every base when devising this strategy, with assistant Stuart Taylor insisting the players are more than capable of handling their break due to the intensity of training and high levels of professionalism.
Come out the traps flying against Blackpool and it will be a decision vindicated, but if Ipswich find the going tough against two good sides the debate will be wide open once again.
Between the sticks
Who is Ipswich Town's No.1 goalkeeper?
Tomas Holy played the first 13 league games before dipping out of the side at Southend, with Will Norris impressing during his three-game run between the sticks.
Holy was back at Lincoln on Wednesday evening and produced his best display of the season, making a string of good saves to keep Ipswich's clean sheet intact before Alan Judge's dramatic winner.
Norris was left at home for the FA Cup trip along with the likes of Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse and strikers Kayden Jackson and James Norwood, perhaps suggesting he is the man to start this weekend, but Holy's display will surely have pushed his case. He will certainly be justified in feeling unlucky if he is riding the bench this weekend.
But whichever way Lambert goes, Ipswich appear to be in safe hands between the posts.
A welcome return?
The Blues' run of cup games has limited the amount of league time missed by star full-back Kane Vincent-Young.
The former Colchester man has been sidelined after undergoing a minor groin operation, with the defender stating his belief he could be fit to return for this weekend's game.
He's the best all-round right-back at the club, combining defensive solidity with attacking threat, but it was clear his groin problem was hampering him before action was taken to sort it.
Striker Norwood, who underwent a similar procedure in October, made his return from the bench before quickly being restored to the starting line-up.
It remains to be seen if Vincent-Young follows the same trajectory.
A chance well-taken?
The cup interval has given a string of fringe players the chance to push their cases, but did any of them take their opportunities?
Perhaps the man to benefit most was Janoi Donacien. Things were looking ominous for the right-back when Gwion Edwards, a winger, was selected in his position ahead of him for the win at Rochdale, but Donacien has done himself no harm at all with his displays over the last fortnight.
He was one of Ipswich's best performers at Lincoln on Wednesday, a display which surely puts him in line to start this weekend should Vincent-Young not be good to go.
Toto Nsiala and Myles Kenlock are still behind the likes of Chambers, Woolfenden, James Wilson and Garbutt respectively, while Skuse and Downes are probably still the first-choice midfield pairing despite the efforts of Andre Dozzell and Emyr Huws.
Up front Will Keane will need to show more to oust Jackson and/or Norwood, though it must be said the former Hull man has not had his strengths played to during the two games with Lincoln.
As usual, it will be fascinating to see which side Lambert opts to use in both of these upcoming games.