Unchanged melody, the Norwood risk and is this now or never? Ipswich v Doncaster preview
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Ipswich Town host Doncaster Rovers in a League One top-half clash this afternoon. STUART WATSON previews the action.
In what was the first game after three January deadline day signings, a new-look Town team recorded an impressive 2-0 home win against Blackpool.
Paul Lambert then made four changes and switched systems (diamond and direct) for the subsequent 2-1 defeat at Peterborough.
After that, the Blues boss went back to what had previously worked (barring Josh Harrop for Alan Judge) for the subsequent match. This time, the same young team who had looked so energetic and carefree against Blackpool suddenly looked nervy and inexperienced during a lifeless goalless draw against struggling Northampton.
Cue seven changes to the team and another change in tack.
Luke Chambers, James Wilson and Toto Nsiala came into the defence, while Teddy Bishop, Alan Judge, Keanan Bennetts and James Norwood were introduced to the midfield and attack.
The Blues went back to basics. They went more direct. And they got joy.
After an encouraging goalless home draw with Oxford United, in which Town had the better chances, Lambert picked the same team three days later.
The result was an even better display, with the spirited Blues full value for their 1-0 win at high-flying Hull City on Tuesday night.
Will it be unchanged again today?
THE NORWOOD RISK
James Norwood was a talismanic figure at the KC Stadium. He scored, he held the ball up, he battled in the air and he ran the channels. Alongside teenage Tottenham loanee Troy Parrott, who also has a real competitive edge, Town have a dangerous strike partnership in the making.
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The hope is that, following a stop-start first 18 months at the club which have been badly affected by injuries, Norwood will finally be able to show what he's all about.
The fear is that injury could strike again at any moment.
Less than three weeks ago, we were told the 30-year-old was on a strict limit of 45-60 minutes. Yet he played 81 minutes against Oxford and then 82 minutes against Hull just four days later.
On both occasions he required treatment during the game. On both occasions he came off looking like there was nothing left in the tank.
Lambert has a real conundrum. He can't afford to break Norwood, who looks so pivotal for the weeks ahead, yet he can't really afford to be without him for these two very pivotal games either (Town travel to seventh-place Accrington on Tuesday).
Asking Norwood to go again would be a risk. But it's a risk Town will probably have to take.
Flynn Downes has been forced to sit out the last two games due to the controversial red card he was awarded in the aftermath of Darren Drysdale's moment of madness late on in the Northampton draw.
Without him, Teddy Bishop and Andre Dozzell have worked really well together in the middle of the pitch.
Dozzell is adding layers to his game. We all knew about the range of passing. Now we're seeing some driving runs, defensive awareness and a bit more controlled physicality.
Bishop, best known for his dribbling, showed he can do the dirty stuff in midweek too.
Whether the latter has got three games in a week in him remains to be seen. It's not impossible that Downes has to bide his time though.
The only other potential change, you would think, would be the fit-again Gwion Edwards coming in for Bennetts.
A DIFFERENT DONNY
Doncaster Rovers are one of the best teams Town have faced this season.
Back on October 20, the Blues were comprehensively beaten 4-1 in South Yorkshire. Just like in 2019/20, the first bump in the road would soon be followed by another (Lincoln away) and a slow puncture setting in.
Darren Moore's men lost their next two matches, but then went on to win 11 of their following 15 in the league to firmly embed themselves in the play-off places.
The £1.6m January sale of midfielder Ben Whiteman (who scored twice against Town) to Championship club Preston has proved a real big blow though.
Scott Robertson (Celtic, loan), John Bostock (Toulouse, free) and Omar Bogle (Charlton, free) all arrived to bulk up a loan heavy squad, but Rovers have been missing their star man.
Following three successive defeats - to Fleetwood (3-1 away), Sunderland (4-1 away) and Accrington (1-0 at home) - they battled back from 3-1 down to salvage a 3-3 home draw with Hull last weekend, 40-year-old James Coppinger stepping off the bench to bag a free-kick equaliser deep into stoppage-time.
Doncaster were scheduled to play at Blackpool in midweek, but that game was called off due to a waterlogged pitch.
NOW OR NEVER
For weeks, we heard noises to the affect of 'there's still a long, long way to go' as Ipswich's poor form continued.
Well, we're now down to 18 games left. Three more and there will only be a third of the campaign left.
Realistically, the Blues need to win at least 10 of those 18 games to finish inside the top six.
Fail to win one of these next two against top-10 sides and it would be hard to see them finding 10 wins from 16.
The time is now.