Great expectations, pressure from the off and two returning favourites - Town ready for league start
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town begin their League One season against Wigan Athletic this afternoon. Andy Warren looks ahead to the televised game at Portman Road.
Here we go
After two dress rehearsals – one flawless and another raising a few questions – we’re ready for the real business to begin.
In what is a truncated schedule due to the late kick-off this season, there is no doubting priorities A, B and C – get promoted out of League One.
Last season’s stunning start faded away into extreme disappointment but there’s a freshness about this season, with manager Paul Lambert keen to learn from his and his players’ mistakes and a real effort made to implement a consistent style of play.
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The game will of course be played in front of empty stands but, while Lambert’s tweaks have been generally well-received, that doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure on Lambert to get things right and to do so quickly. Thousands of Town fans (4,000 signed up to watch the Bristol Rovers cup win) will be watching from home and expecting much better than ultimately proved to be last season’s effort.
A good start is vital but, as we saw last season, the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
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Just as it was last season, the start of the League One season will be impacted by injuries for the Blues.
A little over a year ago, 10 players were missing due to a succession of knocks and, while things aren’t quite as bad this time around, it’s a similar story.
Kane Vincent-Young is perhaps chief among them, with the flying full-back out with a ‘dangerous’ Achilles problem, while Cole Skuse, Janoi Donacien, Corrie Ndaba and Kayden Jackson are all likely to miss out.
James Norwood and Oli Hawkins are undercooked due to a lack of minutes, meaning Aaron Drinan is in line for a league debut, while Flynn Downes has been away from the squad as he considers his future following his transfer request. He’s almost certain not to start and there’s every chance he won’t be involved at all.
Lambert has been consistent in his insistence that players will ‘keep the shirt’ if they continue to perform, meaning we’re likely to see the same side which beat Bristol Rovers in the Carabao Cup a week ago.
MORE: ‘He’s there on merit’ - Nsiala set for Wigan start but Vincent-Young still absent through injuryThat will see Tomas Holy start in goal, veterans Luke Chambers and Stephen Ward named at full-back, with Toto Nsiala and Luke Woolfenden inside them. The midfield trio of Andre Dozzell, Teddy Bishop and Jon Nolan have impressed, with Alan Judge and Freddie Sears likely to flank Drinan.
If they perform, those on the outside looking in may have to be patient.
A team in turmoil
Being completely cold about things, this is probably a good time to be playing the Latics, just as it was to take on Bolton a little more than a year ago.
This isn’t quite the same as facing a Wanderers side full of teenagers, in a game Town won 5-0, but the newly-relegated Latics’ preparation for this season has been far from ideal.
They remain in administration and are looking for a buyer while, as recently as Thursday, there were officials at Ipswich not completely sure whether they would have a game this weekend. Thankfully they were given permission to play.
The likes of Kieffer Moore (Cardiff), Jamal Lowe (Swansea), Josh Windass (Sheffield Wednesday), Antonee Robinson (Fulham) and Joe Williams (Bristol City) and Nathan Byrne (Derby) have all departed in cut-price deals, along with a few more of the club’s rising stars, leaving a shell of the side which ripped up the Championship during the first half of 2020 prior to their points deduction and cruel relegation. Captain Sam Morsy is the most recent departure, following his move to Middlesbrough.
The likes of Lee Evans and Kal Naismith remain, but further departures are likely.
They do at least have a manager, now, with former Oldham and Chesterfield boss John Sheridan taking the job this weekend.
Despite all the departures, a number of familiar faces remain in the Wigan side.
Most notable is former Town striker Joe Garner, who was sold to the DW Stadium club on deadline day in the summer of 2018 for a fee of more than £1million.
The niggly forward scored 10 goals during his one season with the Blues, scoring the same number in the league during his two campaigns in the north west. He’s not always been a regular starter, with injuries an issue, but at the moment he’s the main man and netted twice at Fleetwood in the Carabao Cup last weekend.
Will Keane, released by Ipswich this summer, has played for Wigan as a trialist but has not signed yet.
Then there’s old stager Gary Roberts, who had played under Cook for the last seven years at Chesterfield, Portsmouth and then Wigan. He was a winger at Ipswich but now operates as a No.10.
Another former Ipswich link is Pat Webber, a young defender who joined Wigan last year. He’s yet to make his debut but was on the bench at the weekend.
This game is live on Sky Sports (12pm ko), bringing the Blues’ poor televised record back into focus once again.
And it’s not good reading. Last season Lambert’s men lost at Accrington (2-0) and drew 1-1 at Wycombe in front of the Sky cameras, with the Blues winning just two of their last 30 televised matches going back to Noel Hunt’s dramatic late winner at Charlton in 2014.