‘Easy’ team selection, decisions to make and sadness in the stands - Town out to extend 100% start
- Credit: Archant
Rochdale are the visitors this weekend as Ipswich Town look to extend their 100% start in League One, ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the game.
Fans being cut out
The cardboard cut-outs which currently occupy the lower tiers of Portman Road will look that little bit sadder this weekend.
This was the game that was supposed to mark the return of supporters to the home of Ipswich Town, with the Blues passing all the tests necessary and given permission to apply to host a thousand supporters as part of pilot scheme to return fans to ground. Greater numbers would then have followed in the coming weeks.
But, as we now know, the government’s response to escalating virus cases means the weeks and months of work from those at Portman Road has come to nothing, with supporter having thoughts of a return dashed.
We now face the real prospect of empty stands for the next six months and the harsh financial reality will come with it.
This afternoon’s game, as with all the others so far this season, will be missing the most vital of ingredients once again and will serve as a real reminder of what the sport has lost without the people who make it the game it is.
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Three more points?
Two games, two wins, two goals in each – that’s Ipswich Town’s League One record so far.
They are hot favourites to make that three wins from three this weekend and strengthen their lead at the top of the table, against a Rochdale side which have suffered from the financial fall-out of Covid-19 more than most.
A host of senior players have departed, included long-time talisman Ian Henderson, midfielder Callum Camps and giant forward Aaron Wilbraham.
Replacements have been few and far between, with Dale’s opening two games yielding just a single point.
Town haven’t always found games like these the easiest, with an expectant home crowd hoping for a dominant display, so maybe, just maybe, the Blues may benefit from the swathes of blue seats staring back at them from the stands.
This preview column spent what felt like the entirety of last season trying to guess the system and personnel the Blues would use in their next game, but things are a lot simpler these days.
For now, at least, the 4-3-3 system is here to stay and, as long as the Blues keep winning, the starting XI is too.
Manager Paul Lambert described picking a team as ‘easy’ at the moment, perhaps pointing to an unchanged side from last weekend’s victory at Bristol Rovers.
Town’s three substitutes that day – Jack Lankester, Oli Hawkins and Flynn Downes – made a difference and they are surely the three players, if any, who may jolt Lambert’s thinking were he to make a change.
There’s every indication Lankester will be reintroduced slowly, while Hawkins is perhaps still a little short of the fitness required to start games following a disjointed summer. That may mean Freddie Sears and James Norwood get another chance to impress.
Then there’s Downes.
The influential midfielder is still arguably the Blues’ best player and has performed well in his two substitute appearances. A start will come, as long as he’s still at the club amid interest from Crystal Palace, it’s just a question of when.
If it’s this game, Teddy Bishop is the man likely to make way, though he would rightly feel a little aggrieved should he drop out of the team following a bright start to the campaign.
We’ve dealt with the starting XI, but Lambert has decisions to make on the bench, too.
Luke Woolfenden, Alan Judge, Cole Skuse and Kayden Jackson were all back in training this week and were always in the matchday 18 when fit last season, while Mark McGuinness has arrived on loan.
But there are only seven places available on the bench.
This game may come a little too early for the injured players but, before long, there will be some very accomplished players sitting in the stands.
Standing in the way
Town will be hoping Rochdale goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu isn’t in the same inspired form he was last weekend, as he helped his side secure a 0-0 draw with Portsmouth.
The visitors had 24 shots on Bazunu’s goal at Spotland but the Irish teenager, on loan from Manchester City, kept every one out.
His exploits earned him a place in the League One team of the week.
Ipswich will need to make any chances they create count.
“It’s a tough game, but it’s a tough game for Rochdale,” the Town boss said of this game.
“If we play the way we have been playing and keep that momentum up then hopefully we can get a good result.
“You’ve got to earn everything in football, it doesn’t just come to you really easily. We know the task, we know how hard it will be, we know what we want to do and we’ll go and try and get the result.”