Strength test, chances to shine, the next wave and waiting for new faces - Town in EFL Trophy action tonight
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town face Gillingham in the EFL Trophy tonight. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the game at Portman Road.
Manager Paul Lambert has made it very clear what he thinks of this competition this season.
The Town boss has, unprompted, been discussing his desire to play the kids in this game for several weeks, stressing on Friday and after Saturday’s game at MK Dons that he thinks the competition should have been sacrificed during what is the most congested of seasons.
Lambert has insisted he will ‘take the fine’ (£5,000) that comes with breaking the competition’s selection rules, which compel sides to field four ‘qualifying’ outfield players in their starting XI. In truth the ‘qualifying player’ criteria is pretty broad, to the extent players only need to have made 40 career appearances to be eligible.
There are surely some senior players, glued to the bench so far in the league, in need of games – David Cornell, Janoi Donacien, Emyr Huws - while Myles Kenlock could maybe do with more minutes in the legs, given he could potentially be required in relief of Stephen Ward if the Irishman is out for any length of time through injury. Then again, Lambert may not want to risk him now he’s the frontline left-back.
Then there are the returning injured players such as Luke Woolfenden, Kayden Jackson and Alan Judge, who may possibly benefit from time on the pitch. The latter has made it clear he’d like to play.
It remains to be seen whether Lambert does indeed go for an entire team of youngsters, or if there’s a smattering of senior players who would help avoid a £5,000 fine.
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Two men we won’t get to see in an Ipswich shirt just yet are young loanees Mark McGuinness (Arsenal) and Keanan Bennetts (Gladbach).
McGuinness has been with Town for a fortnight now and, despite training ‘superbly’ and travelling to the MK Dons game with the team, is yet to make the bench.
He arrived at Town on the back of an impressive appearance for Arsenal’s Under 21s against Ipswich last month and, due to his involvement in that game, can’t play for his new side in the same competition. In any case, there’s a chance of a late call-up for Republic of Ireland duty.
Bennetts arrived at Town from Germany at the end of last week, with Lambert suggesting this game may come a little too soon for the winger.
There are a few leading youngsters who we will surely get to see in this game, who don’t count as ‘qualifying’ players.
Chief among them are defender Corrie Ndaba and wide players Armando Dobra and Jack Lankester. The first two have been told they can go out on loan but, for the latter, if he gets a start it will be a big occasion for a young man who has missed a large amount of football.
Ndaba and Dobra have both shown real flashes of their ability and will hopefully have big futures in blue, so they’ll be hoping to take their chance in this one and show Lambert what they can do and also impress any club hopeful of taking them on temporary deals.
This game really could prove to be a shop window for them.
The next wave
There’s a wave of young players with first-team experience but no squad number as things stand. They’re likely to be involved in this game.
That list is headed by midfielder Brett McGavin and striker Ben Folami, as well as right-back Barry Cotter who made an impact at Peterborough as he scored a winning penalty in last season’s competition.
All three of those are available for loan.
It’s likely the bench (and maybe even the starting XI) will also include some of the teenage players who took their first steps in the competition last season, including Tommy Hughes, Tommy Smith, Tyreece Simpson and Liam Gibbs.
Tawanda Chirewa became Town’s second-youngest player in club history at Colchester last season, coming on as a 15-year-old.
It’s not impossible we could see similar elevations for this game.
The positive view
While Lambert has made his stance on the competition clear, assistant boss Stuart Taylor has a slightly more positive view of the competition.
“It’s crucial that younger players get an opportunity to see what first-team football is like,” Taylor said.
“The competition was beneficial to us last year in that respect. We see the lads out training but it’s not the same as seeing them out there in a proper match.
“They need to show what they can do. The difference to last season is that there’s no crowd, but putting the shirt on will mean a lot to those players.
“We picked up a couple of injuries at the weekend as well so again there is even more of an opportunity for the younger lads.”
Let it go
When these two sides met in the Trophy a year ago (4-0 Town win), we were talking about a rematch between Lambert and Gills boss Steve Evans, who are not the best of friends following a war of words at Priestfield in League One last September.
They clashed on the touchline that day and both spoke of their dislike of each other in the lead-up to the Trophy meeting which came a few weeks later, with Lambert insisting he wouldn’t shake his fellow Scot’s hand. He didn’t.
That’s as far as the rematch went, with both staying out of the other’s way.
It’s likely to be the same again this time.
“Gillingham will be Gillingham” - says Taylor ahead of this game.
“They’ll go long, get balls into the box and be physical with a big aerial presence. They won’t bring any shocks so whoever is playing centre-back will have an aerial bombardment coming their way and will have to deal with it.”
That sums up just how big a test this might be for the young players thrown into action and is, perhaps, an argument for having some senior faces in the backline.
We’ll see come 6pm.
Defeat tonight would see the Blues close to exiting the competition and would book Gillingham’s passage into the knockout rounds.
Town can’t be knocked out tonight, even if they lose, given Crawley and Arsenal’s U21s don’t play until next week. An Ipswich loss and a Gunners win in that game would see Lambert’s men exit and ensure the trip to Crawley next month is the deadest of dead rubbers.
A win, though, would mean Town will be in a position to progress when they take on the Red Devils of Crawley.