Trending Town, second-guessing Cook and an opponent not to underestimate - Town face Plymouth
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Ipswich Town host Plymouth Argyle this afternoon as Paul Cook bids to get his first win in charge at Portman Road. Andy Warren looks ahead to the game.
This is attempt number three for Paul Cook as the new boss searches for his first win as Ipswich Town manager.
It’s trending in the right direction, with defeat at Gillingham followed by a draw with Lincoln. The next logical step is victory over Plymouth, right?
Tuesday’s draw was certainly an improvement on the Priestfield loss, with signs of Cook’s influence growing, but there’s still a way to go.
We know what Cook wants - he’s made that very clear from the touchline.
He wants players to be brave on the ball, show for possession off it, push up the pitch and attack with freedom and drive.
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Training opportunities have been at a premium, given the hectic schedule, but this afternoon’s game is another step on the road.
Win and in
If Cook is able to pick up his first three points, he’ll take the Blues back into the play-off places for the first time in 2021.
That’s because Portsmouth, who sit a place and a point above Town in the table, are otherwise engaged this afternoon. They’re finally playing the postponed 2020 final of the Papa John’s Trophy against Salford City, bidding to retain the prize they still hold from 2019. They’ll only have possession of it for a few hours, though, given the 2021 final is being played between Sunderland and Tranmere tomorrow.
A win for Town will take them above Pompey, with the game also serving as the Blues’ game in hand on the men from Fratton Park.
The same is true of Sunderland, though three points against Plymouth would still leave Cook’s men six shy of the Black Cats.
Yes, Plymouth have lost their last three games and yes, top scorer Luke Jephcott hasn’t added to his 16 league goals in his last eight matches. Yes, they are 15th in League One.
But don’t underestimate the threat Ipswich will face this afternoon.
We saw at Home Park in December just how good a side the Pilgrims are and it’s clear Ryan Lowe is a young manager who is going places over the next few years.
Town won 2-1 in Devon three months ago but struck lucky that afternoon, with Danny Mayor’s red card following by two goals in a minute from Jon Nolan and Kayden Jackson as the game was turned on its head.
Had that red card not come, Paul Lambert could well have seen his side’s winless and scoreless records extend into a fourth game.
Plymouth caused Ipswich trouble down the flanks all afternoon, with full-backs overlapping, getting beyond the Town defence and stretching it to breaking point. That’s how Jephcott’s goal came.
Make no mistake, this afternoon’s game will be a difficult one.
We’re still getting a handle on how Cook looks at this Ipswich team. It’s probably fair to say the Town boss is still getting a handle on the players at his disposal, too.
So, for that reason, it’s difficult to predict how he’ll play this one.
The back five – Tomas Holy, Luke Chambers, Toto Nsiala, James Wilson and Myles Kenlock – is likely to remain intact, but there are question marks in front of them.
Flynn Downes, Teddy Bishop and Andre Dozzell started as the central midfield three on Tuesday night. Could either of the latter two use a rest? Dozzell in particular has played a huge amount of football this season, making more league starts in 2020/21 than he has during the rest of his career combined.
One of those two dropping out could open a door for Troy Parrott to return, slightly behind James Norwood, while Alan Judge will be pushing to end an extremely difficult week with a start against his former club. He can play wide or centrally.
Norwood is likely to start through the middle again but will drop out of the side on Tuesday night as he attends court on a drink-drive charge. Cook’s said Kayden Jackson will play plenty of football over the next few days so don’t entirely rule out a start for him in this game.
We’ll find out at 2pm.
Cook teased us prior to Tuesday’s game by dangling the fact a player would come into the starting line-up who hadn’t even made the 18 at Gillingham a few days earlier. It proved to be Jack Lankester.
Luke Woolfenden, Mark McGuinness, Luke Matheson, Freddie Sears, Luke Thomas, Aaron Drinan and Armando Dobra are all fit and training but were absent on Tuesday, while Cole Skuse is getting closer to being involved once again having not kicked a ball all season.
Of those, the only player who could conceivably jump straight into the starting XI is Woolfenden, who fits what Cook wants from a central defender in terms of his ability on the ball. But even then it seems unlikely he would split up the partnership of Nsiala and Wilson just yet.
The rest could potentially hope to sneak onto the bench.