Business as usual, atmosphere on a knife-edge, a daunting task and a small ray of hope - talking points as Coventry visit
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town host Coventry City in what appears to be a daunting fixture this weekend. ANDY WARREN looks at the talking points heading into the game
We go again
It's business as usual heading into this weekend's visit of table-topping Coventry.
Tuesday night's defeat at the hands of Fleetwood Town felt like a new low for Paul Lambert who, having previously unified the fanbase and renewed the relationship between the club and its supporters, saw the atmosphere inside Portman Road turn.
He would have heard chants of 'sacked in the morning' and 'five more years, you're having a laugh' during the disappointing 1-0 loss on home soil, with owner Marcus Evans also the subject of Town fans' frustrations as they vocalised their displeasure at a slow decline which has seen the club slide from Premier League promotion contenders to the middle of League One under his ownership.
The results, as well as the stark change in mood, was followed by further speculation that Lambert's job is under threat just two months after he signed a new five-year deal, but any talk of an imminent departure or links to veteran boss Neil Warnock are understood to be firmly wide of the mark.
That means Lambert will lead the Blues into the game against the Sky Blues as planned, with the Ipswich boss set to hold his usual pre-match press conference later this morning.
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The atmosphere inside Portman Road was muted from the start of the Tuesday night defeat before supporters' frustrations boiled over as the game went on, with the Blues offering very little to lift fans who have had enough.
It's worth noting the crowd of 15,678 was the lowest of the league season at Portman Road but it will certainly be higher than that this weekend, not least because Coventry will bring significantly more than the 88 supporters Fleetwood brought to Suffolk.
But it's clear the onus will be on Lambert and his players to set the tone in this game. If they come out firing with the intensity, drive and desire so lacking on Tuesday night, they may just enthuse supporters and earn their backing for 90 minutes.
If they don't, it's likely the players, Lambert and Evans will be told in no uncertain terms just how supporters are feeling once again.
Reasons to be fearful
The one team you probably don't want visiting to Portman Road following the events of this week is the one topping the table, unbeaten in 2020 and with just three league defeats to their name all season.
But that's exactly what Ipswich are facing this weekend.
Mark Robins' Sky Blues are unbeaten in 17 and have won five of their last six games, beating Portsmouth and Sunderland as well as drawing with Rotherham during that run.
Reasons to be hopeful
On the face of it it's hard to predict anything other than a defeat for Ipswich in this game but, if we cast our minds back to the first week of December, we can maybe find a couple of positives.
At that time it felt like Ipswich v Coventry was the only match-up we ever had the fortune to witness, as the two sides met three times in 10 days.
Two of those were played at St Andrew's in Birmingham, Coventry's temporary home, and both games saw the Blues produce good technical performances as they played the ball around nicely and used lone striker Will Keane intelligently and effectively. He scored in both games.
The same scenario will present itself this weekend, with Keane potentially playing alone through the middle due to the unavailability of James Norwood (injured) and Kayden Jackson (suspended). Andre Dozzell started in midfield for both of those games and played well, just as he did against Fleetwood on Tuesday night, and could start again.
Sadly, despite the Blues' efforts, those two games in Birmingham ended 1-1, with Coventry finding equalisers on both occasions. But if they can produce the same performance levels three months on, Ipswich may just give themselves a fighting chance.
The selection section
So what does Lambert do with his side for this game?
Clearly, it needs an injection of something following Tuesday night's loss but what the Town boss is actually able to do will be governed in many areas by the players he has available.
As previously mentioned, Jackson and Norwood are unavailable while Cole Skuse (gash to shin) and Emyr Huws (toe) both missed the Fleetwood loss. If neither of those are fit to return, Brett McGavin could again start in the more defensive midfield role, with Flynn Downes still suspended.
Freddie Sears and Teddy Bishop both dropped to the bench after making their first league starts of the season at Blackpool a week ago but, having had a few days to recover, they will surely be ready to start once again.
The Blues looked more comfortable using the back four deployed at Blackpool rather than the back three and wing-backs used against Fleetwood, so Lambert will have a decision to make there, too.
It was a 4-3-3 at Bloomfield Road and a variation of that was used in both games at Coventry (sorry, Birmingham) in December. That's where my money would go this time around, for what it's worth.
That could, finally, open the door for Armando Dobra to start for Ipswich while it's not impossible this game might mark the return of Kane Vincent-Young.
Too little, too late, perhaps, but it will be good to see him back on the pitch.