Better needed, two returning full-backs and mounting injuries - Town host leaders Hull this evening
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich Town take on table-topping Hull City at Portman Road this evening. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the visit of the Blues’ promotion rivals.
Must do better
Paul Lambert was asked following Saturday’s victory over Shrewsbury whether his side needed to be better if they were to take anything from tonight’s game with Hull.
The Town boss seemed a little offended by the question and suggested onlookers should have a more positive outlook following a dramatic victory, but the simple answer to that question, is ‘yes’.
Jack Lankester’s 97th-minute winner secured three points at Portman Road on day where the Blues lacked drive, invention and creativity for the vast majority of the contest against a side rooted into League One’s relegation zone. They found a way to win in the end, certainly something to be applauded, but it didn’t truly mask the deficiencies of the performance.
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The leaders are in town tonight, presenting the Blues with an opportunity to write one of the greatest wrongs from their hugely disappointing 2019/20 campaign.
Lambert’s Blues have struggled against promotion-contenders throughout their time in the third tier, winning just two of their 18 games against the 10 sides who ultimately finished above them last season. Those victories came early against Gillingham and Fleetwood, with the remaining 16 games split evenly between draws and defeats.
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It’s not been great on that front this season, either, with one win and four losses to top half sides in league and cups.
Lambert and this group of players came into this season with plenty of questions to answer to convince those watching of their promotion credentials, after they fell away during the last campaign.
The result of this, as well as fifth-placed Charlton’s visit on Saturday, will help us answer one of the key ones.
Lifting the gloom
There’s a full programme of League One fixtures this evening and there’s a chance the Blues could leave it top of the pile once again.
Victory would take Lambert’s men above Hull and, should Peterborough not beat Plymouth, the Blues would be above them too with a game in hand.
Optimism levels are not as high as outsiders looking in might expect, given Ipswich have won all six home games, conceded just once and are basking in the glory of a dramatic late win. There are genuine concerns over performance levels and worrying parallels to last season which might confuse the neutral.
But there are also reasons to be positive. It’s up to Town to bring those to the fore on a big night.
Much of Lambert’s team-selection this evening will be dictated to him by an ever-growing injury list which has robbed him of an entire starting midfield.
Andre Dozzell serves the final game of a three-match ban, adding to Lambert’s woes after Teddy Bishop and Jon Nolan both left Saturday’s victories with injuries. They now join Flynn Downes and Cole Skuse in the midfield treatment room. Brett McGavin, who hasn’t let anyone down during his first-team outings to date, is surely a certain starter alongside Emyr Huws, with the third and final position likely to be either Alan Judge or Jack Lankester.
Whichever of those two doesn’t play centrally could move into the wide areas, with Keanan Bennetts another possible starter.
James Norwood could start through the middle while Luke Woolfenden is a contender to come into the heart of the Ipswich Town defence in place of either Toto Nsiala or Mark McGuinness.
Young guns for hire
James Wilson, Gwion Edwards and Kane Vincent-Young are also out of action at the moment, further thinning Lambert’s options, while Oli Hawkins also missed the weekend win through injury.
That’s nine first-team player sidelined, leaving just 18 fit senior players at Lambert’s disposal.
It means Armando Dobra is likely to return to the bench, having missed out on chances to play in the cup competitions recently, while there could also be a call-up for the likes of teenage midfielder Liam Gibbs, given the lack of bodies in that area of the field.
There will be two familiar faces at full-back for the visiting Tigers this evening.
On the right is Josh Emmanuel, an Ipswich academy graduate who, after bursting onto the scene at the start of the 2015/16 season under Mick McCarthy, looked like he could have a bright future with the club.
We saw a physically gifted defender who was positive on the ball and looked to get forward, though there were plenty of rough edges needing smoothing.
Sadly, though, he drifted a little and ultimately moved on after loan spells with Rotherham and Shrewsbury in League One.
He’s found himself at Hull now, following a year at Bolton, and by all accounts is doing well.
Callum Elder’s on the left, with the Aussie only featuring a handful of times for the Blues as they were relegated from League One.
He has promotion credentials in this league, though, having been part of the Wigan side to go up in 2017/18 and is searching for a second.
Both provided assists for big striker Josh Magennis during the 3-1 win at MK Dons at the weekend and could provide a threat from deep.