A full debut? Keeper switch? Will the diamond be polished? - Ipswich v Northampton preview
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller www.ste
Ipswich Town host Northampton Town in a League One clash at Portman Road tonight (7pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
Keith Curle worked a minor miracle getting Northampton Town promoted from League Two via the play-offs last season. Financial pressures then meant that team was quickly dismantled.
Little more than six months on, Curle was sacked following a lengthy spell of poor form. Last week, he was replaced in the hot seat by youth boss Jon Brady on a caretaker basis.
At the weekend, Brady switched to a back four and asked a previously direct team to get the ball down and attack the only team below them in the table, Burton Albion.
However, after first half chances went begging, the Cobblers conceded in the 77th minute when an indirect free-kick was controversially awarded for an alleged back pass. Michael Bostwick smashed home from close-range and then a late second was conceded on the counter.
It means Northampton have lost eight of their last 12 league games. And they’ve failed to score in nine of those.
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Not that long ago, Paul Lambert could barely scrape together an 18-man squad due to a lengthy injury list. Now, he has options - and plenty of them.
Flynn Downes, James Norwood, Gwion Edwards, Teddy Bishop and Freddie Sears are all building up again after medium/long-term absences.
January recruits Josh Harrop, Luke Thomas, Luke Matheson and Troy Parrott are in the mix.
And Kayden Jackson is available again after serving a three-game ban for the red card he was shown against Sunderland.
With 24 bone fide first team players available for selection tonight, six of them will have to sit in the stands.
If recent matchday squads are anything to go by, the likes of Jon Nolan, Emyr Huws, Jack Lankester and Armando Dobra are very much down the pecking order.
And that, bear in mind, is with the likes of Toto Nsiala, James Wilson, Cole Skuse, Keanan Bennetts, Oli Hawkins and Kane Vincent-Young all still to return to action in the coming weeks.
POLISH THE DIAMOND?
Lambert made it clear last summer that he would stop the chopping and changing, stick to a system and develop a playing philosophy.
Possession-based football in a 4-3-3 formation looked to be very much set in stone, then everything changed at Peterborough last Tuesday night.
Suddenly, we saw 4-4-2 – with a narrow diamond midfield – and a very direct approach. It brought early joy, Norwood scoring, but Posh soon worked out they could push their wing-backs on and, at half-time, Lambert switched back to 4-3-3.
It was a game plan devised with a poor playing surface in mind. Many will, therefore, be expecting Lambert to go back to the team and set-up that worked well in the impressive 2-0 home win against Blackpool 10 days ago.
Maybe he will, but don’t rule out him trying to polish the diamond with a more suitable set of personnel.
The youthful energy of Matheson and Kenlock in the full-back slots, rather than the ageing Luke Chambers and Stephen Ward, could be the key to this formation clicking.
There will be a strong temptation to give it another try seeing as it allows Lambert to fit both Parrott and Norwood into the team, plus two out of the attacking midfield trio of Harrop, Judge and Bishop. Preston loanee Harrop has produced a couple of encouraging performances and could well be in line for his full debut.
The one player who it wouldn’t accommodate, of course, is five-goal top scorer Edwards. He's still recovering from the minor calf injury sustained at Crewe though.
Lambert has shown on several occasions that he is not afraid to change his goalkeeper.
Last season, Tomas Holy and Will Norris interchanged. This season, Holy started the first 13 league matches, then David Cornell had six games, with Holy returning to play the most recent six.
It’s not impossible that we see another switch between the sticks tonight.
Holy had an erratic evening against Peterborough last week, either staying rooted to his line or charging wildly off of it. And although there were some solid stops, there were also question marks over his inability to keep out Joe Ward’s free-kick winner.
Cornell was a key part of Northampton’s promotion from League Two last season, keeping 12 clean sheets, and could well be called upon to face his former club.
Saturday’s postponement at Shrewsbury means Ipswich should come into this game fresher than Northampton.
Lambert, as stated, has plenty of options.
And, despite fans’ protests disrupting yesterday’s training session, there will be no pressure from the stands during yet another behind-closed-doors game.
Northampton haven’t scored in more than 450 minutes of football.
Ipswich, with tougher tests on the close horizon, simply have to win this game if they are going to build some momentum and begin a climb up the table.