The case for the defence, a first start and another game against 'bottom-half fodder' - Ipswich face Shrews
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town travel to Shropshire this weekend to take on Shrewsbury Town. Andy Warren takes a look ahead to the League One clash.
This section of our match previews has generally been used to send a reminder of Town’s awful form against League One promotion contenders.
But, on the face of things, this weekend’s opponents are the kind of fodder Paul Lambert’s side enjoy gobbling up.
The stats paint the picture. The 13 games Town have played against sides above them have yielded just eight points, while the 12 against the sides below them have contributed 31. That’s a record of 10 wins, one draw and a solitary loss to Swindon last month. To complete the picture, 38 of Town’s 52 points last season came against teams below them, too.
But Shrewsbury are a different, dangerous, animal. They’re certainly no ‘fodder’.
The Blues beat Salop 2-1 at Portman Road in November, just. They needed Jack Lankester’s goal, deep into stoppage time, to secure a come-from-behind victory to send visiting boss Sam Ricketts heading towards the sack.
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And since Ricketts’ departure there has been a complete turnaround at New Meadow.
They may only sit 17th but the Shrews are one of League One’s form teams under Steve Cotterill, with victories over Hull, Peterborough and Sunderland in the meantime. These are results Ipswich can only dream of at the moment.
It’s all come at a time when boss Cotterill has been in hospital for 40 days as he battles coronavirus. He won’t be on the touchline this afternoon but will still be heavily involved, playing a major role in tactics, build-up and even giving team talks from his hospital bed in Bristol.
Make no mistake, this is going to be a difficult game for Ipswich.
The case for the defence
All eyes will be on the Ipswich Town defence when the team’s revealed at 2pm.
The Blues had success against Blackpool with a young backline of Luke Woolfenden and Mark McGuinness, flanked by Luke Matheson and Myles Kenlock. Then there was a switch at Peterborough as veterans Luke Chambers and Stephen Ward returned at the full-back positions.
So which way does Paul Lambert go this weekend? All signs are pointing towards a return to the Blackpool line-up, where the extra energy at full-back gave Town an attacking threat they have lacked for several weeks.
But could Luke Chambers move inside and disrupt the partnership of Woolfenden and McGuinness who, while clearly possessing plenty of talent, has also shown raw edges during their 12 starts together?
We asked the same question last weekend, with Lambert’s answer leaving captain Chambers sat amongst the substitutes.
We’ll see which way he goes this weekend.
Are diamonds forever?
The answer to the above question is ‘probably not’.
As well as the full-back switch, Tuesday’s loss to Peterborough was notable for the change to a diamond midfield behind two strikers.
It was a break from the norm, owing largely to difficult conditions, with manager Lambert sticking steadfastly to a 4-3-3 system throughout the campaign to date.
Chances are the Blues will go back to the latter, having ended the night at London Road that way, meaning a central midfielder and a striker will drop out in order to accommodate two wide players.
Injury concerns over James Norwood, who the Town staff say is only capable of 45-60 minutes at present due to hamstring worries, could potentially make way as Troy Parrott starts again.
Norwood is fit and in the squad, though, meaning he can still prove to be a deadly weapon for Town from the bench.
Kayden Jackson is back from suspension but is extremely unlikely to start.
A first start?
Josh Harrop’s first month as an Ipswich player did not go according to plan.
He was all set for a debut against Peterborough on January 23 before testing positive for coronavirus and then facing 10 days in isolation, then returning to Playford Road and needing to build up his fitness.
He’s had two substitute appearances now and has shown flashes of ability. Now could be his chance to really show what he can do.
The Preston loanee wants to play centrally, with the point of the diamond the most likely role should Town stick with that system. He could also play as the more advanced of the central three or even wide, should the Blues go back to 4-3-3.
The League One table could look a little different for Ipswich Town come 5pm.
A win could move Lambert’s men up as high as seventh in the table, a point from the play-offs, while defeat could see them drop to 12th.
With Peterborough and Portsmouth not playing due to frozen pitches, Town’s game at Shrewsbury now serves as their game in hand on the two promotion chasers.
A win would close the gap to seven and six points respectively, with the sides having all played 26 games by the close of play today.
A rare outing
In trivial news, we should get our second sighting of Town's away kit this afternoon. It was previously worn at Oxford.