A welcome return, difficult decisions and plenty of familiar faces - Town return to action against Swindon
- Credit: Pagepix/PA
Ipswich Town return to action this weekend when they kick-off 2021 with a home clash against Swindon Town. Andy Warren looks ahead to the game.
Back in the game
It’s 25 days since Ipswich Town were last in action – it's good to have them back.
As Town left the field following their 2-1 victory over Burton Albion they were fifth in the League One table, two points behind leaders Hull but having played a game more.
Fast forward 25 days and the Blues are seventh, nine points behind new leaders Lincoln but having played two games fewer.
The reason for Town’s absence is down to Covid, of course, with their last four games called off due to a string of positive tests in the Ipswich camp, bookended by outbreaks at scheduled opponents Peterborough and Fleetwood.
Eight players, along with manager Paul Lambert, general manager Lee O’Neill and academy chief Bryan Klug, all tested positive.
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Lambert is set to be in the dugout this afternoon having continued to suffer with symptoms of the disease in recent days while it’s understood those players who tested positive have all responded well since returning to training.
There was some rare good news yesterday when assistant manager Stuart Taylor revealed his side are close to having their full squad at their disposal having suffered with injuries for so long.
Freddie Sears is the most likely of the returnees to start this weekend, having been out since the loss to Hull on November 24 with a hamstring problem, given he was the first to return to full training and could well have been involved at Fleetwood on January 2 had that game gone ahead.
James Norwood and Flynn Downes have both worked with the first-team this week and are candidates for the bench, while Teddy Bishop, Jon Nolan, Keanan Bennetts, Kane Vincent-Young and Gwion Edwards are hopeful of training on Monday.
While this is all welcome news, Lambert is likely to have a similar group of players available to start as he did in the victory over Burton, with question marks coming in the final third given the backline (David Cornell, Luke Chambers, Luke Woolfenden, Mark McGuinness, Stephen Ward) and base of midfield (Andre Dozzell and Emyr Huws) probably picks itself.
He has Oli Hawkins, Kayden Jackson, Aaron Drinan, Alan Judge, Sears, Armando Dobra, Jack Lankester and the returning Idris El Mizouni to fit into a front four, with the Town boss starting the win over the Brewers with Jackson on the right of a 4-2-3-1 and ending it in a 4-4-2.
It will be interesting to see which way he goes after nearly a month off.
Tough to call
Ipswich are not sure what to expect from the Robins this weekend, who themselves haven’t played since the end of 2020, given they have been active in the transfer market.
They’ve lost players, with goalkeeper Matej Kovar recalled by Manchester United and Leeds bringing winger Jordan Stevens back and then loaning him straight to Bradford.
But Swindon have recalled players themselves with Scott Twine (Newport) and Matty Palmer (Wigan) called back and likely to be involved this afternoon. They’ve also recruited goalkeeper Mark Travers (Bournemouth), defender Kieron Freeman (free agent, last at Sheffield United) and Brentford right-back Com Thompson.
They, like Town, are set to play a variant of 4-3-3 but who fills those positions remains to be seen.
This is the first meeting between these two sides in more than a decade, going back to Town’s promotion season in 1999/00 when George Burley’s side did the double over the men from the Country Ground.
Though their paths haven’t crossed since there are plenty of familiar faces in this iteration of Swindon Town, most notably in the form of their director of football.
Paul Jewell was, of course, Town owner Marcus Evans’ second appointment after Roy Keane and was at the helm between 2011 and 2012, winning 30 of his 86 games in charge before being replaced by Mick McCarthy. He’s not managed since.
He plays a key role in the Wiltshire club’s recruitment and works closely with owner Lee Power but is unlikely to be at Portman Road given he doesn’t always travel to too many away games.
One man who will be in Suffolk is striker Brett Pitman who has four goals in 16 appearances during his first Swindon season but hasn’t been able to deliver what has been expected of him due to a lack of pre-season and a couple of knocks along the way.
Luke Woolfenden will be playing against the side he spent 2018/19 with on loan, though the Swindon squad looks very different to the one he played in.
A sad return and an omen
Sadly, after 2,000 fans were allowed into Portman Road for the games with Portsmouth and Burton, the Blues are back behind-closed-doors again this weekend.
It looks likely to be that way for the foreseeable future, too.
In a slight change to the usual routine, this game is on Sky Sports as well as iFollow for season ticket holders, meaning the eyes of the nation (this may be pushing it a little) will be on Ipswich for a couple of hours.
We all know Town have struggled terribly in televised games over the last couple of years but they beat Wigan on the opening day of the league season the last time they were on Sky.
Sheridan was the opposition manager that day. Let’s finish on a good omen.