Match preview: Paul's Padawan, KVY conundrum and Wigan's 20-4 losing record
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town take on relegation-battling Wigan at the DW Stadium this afternoon (3pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
NO ROOM FOR SENTIMENT
For the second successive weekend, Paul Cook returns to one of his former clubs.
The new Ipswich Town boss clearly built a strong emotional connection with all of the teams he's managed.
He was keen to speak very respectfully of Portsmouth, a club he led to a League Two title, and has done so again when reflecting on his time at the DW Stadium.
Cook led the Latics to the League One title in 2018 and then turned them into an upwardly mobile Championship outfit over the next two years. Then came a shock administration for the Lancashire club, something that ultimately led to their relegation back to the third-tier and a mass exodus of staff and players.
"It will be a really difficult day for me, if I’m being truthful," said Cook. "I think the Wigan Athletic fans know how close to my heart they and the club is."
Hopefully one day in the not so distant future, the Liverpudlian will be speaking in the same warm and fuzzy way about Ipswich.
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There's certainly no room for sentiment today. With the games starting to run out, Ipswich are in desperate need for wins to get themselves back in the play-off place, while Wigan are in the thick of a relegation battle.
Another reason why today will feel strange for Cook is that he is going head-to-head with Leam Richardson.
Richardson was 32 when he became caretaker manager of Accrington Stanley in 2012. Cook soon took over the reins, but was so impressed with Richardson that he appointed the young coach as his assistant when taking charge of Chesterfield later that year.
That was the start of a near eight-year double act that had great success. Richardson followed Cook to both Portsmouth and Wigan. They won league titles at all three clubs.
Richardson, by all accounts, is the calm and analytical foil to Cook's infectious passion and energy.
The duo became separated for the first time last summer. Richardson stayed on to become Wigan manager and has helped guide them through a turbulent spell.
Considering he barely had any staff or players at the start of the campaign, the former Bolton and Blackpool right-back has done a remarkable job of keeping the Lancashire club in with a shot of staying up entering the final run-in.
Now there's some light at the end of the tunnel for the 2013 FA Cup winners given a drawn out takeover saga is finally close to completion.
It's a situation which could see Richardson eventually be reunited with Cook at Portman Road this summer.
Speaking after Cook took charge of the Blues earlier this month, Richardson said: "He’s never stopped being on the phone and is very conscious of the situation here.
“Everybody has seen my commitment to Wigan at the minute. I think there’s a job to be done.
“I don’t think anybody can question anybody’s integrity. So we will see what happens.”
Cook said: "Watch this space. Leam Richardson’s been my assistant manager at every club. But, what I did feel alongside speaking with Leam, the reality of revisiting that situation when Wigan are in a relegation fight, when we both have a massive affinity to Wigan Athletic Football Club, is that I didn’t think that would be correct and proper enough to visit that situation now. So maybe we might revisit that situation at a later date."
Given Paul Lambert's struggles after his split with Ian Culverhouse, Town fans will be keen to see Cook reunited with his trusted sidekick further down the line.
IS KVY READY?
The big positive from last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth was to see Kane Vincent-Young making his long-awaited injury comeback.
Almost 17 months on from his previous competitive appearance, the 25-year-old came on to play the final 11 minutes at Fratton Park.
His dynamic style is exactly what Paul Cook wants from his full-backs, so there will be a big temptation to put him into the starting XI. But is he ready for that yet? Cook's response to that question earlier this week was to pull a face and say 'I'm not sure'.
WHO PLAYS CENTRE-HALF?
Town had the same back four - Luke Chambers, Toto Nsiala, James Wilson and Myles Kenlock - for eight games recently.
After the 2-0 loss at Fleetwood, Cook opted to give the previously in-form Kenlock a rest and play the experienced Stephen Ward at Portsmouth. It will be interesting to see which one of them gets the nod at left-back today.
There will definitely be a change at centre-back.
James Wilson has been ruled out with a knee injury, while Mark McGuinness played for Republic of Ireland's U21s yesterday.
If Vincent-Young does start, Chambers may move inside to partner Nsiala. If he doesn't, then Luke Woolfenden may get his first outing since the goalless home draw with Northampton back on February 16.
TWO UP TOP?
Only three teams have scored fewer League One goals than Ipswich this season - relegation-battling Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon and Northampton.
Cook has made it very clear that has to quickly improve if the Blues are going to stand ay chance of staying in the promotion mix.
After last weekend's loss, unprompted, he said he was tempted by the idea of pairing James Norwood and Kayden Jackson as a front two after those two finished the game on the field together.
Asked further about that in the build-up to today's game, he said: "I’ve always had success playing 4-2-3-1. It’s a formation I very much believe in.
"To come away from 4-2-3-1 and play two people up front, you have to change the whole ethos of your team. The ball must go forward quicker.
“For example, I don’t feel we put any crosses in during the game. But you want to put two up front. How can they survive if the ball’s not going forward quickly enough and we’re not putting enough crosses in?
"As you can imagine, we’re looking at that. We have an 11-game programme now and I will play any formation or I will do anything I believe can win us a game.”
Tottenham loanee Troy Parrott is unavailable as he is on international duty with the Republic of Ireland.
TIME'S RUNNING OUT
Ipswich dropped back to 10th in the table following the midweek results.
With the games rapidly running out, it's beginning to look like the Blues are in an 8/9 way battle for the bottom two play-off spots.
Some momentum needs to be built and quickly, especially as the likes of Blackpool and Gillingham are on the charge.
There's been little sign of a new manager bounce so far, but this will be Town's first game since Cook has had a full week on the training pitch with the players.
Let's hope three days of double sessions have had a positive impact.
It's true that Wigan are no pushovers. They've won three of their last seven - against Bristol Rovers, MK Dons and Plymouth - to give themselves a fighting chance of survival.
They have, however, also lost their last seven successive matches against current top-half sides by an aggregate score of 20-4.
This is a game Ipswich really need to win if they have any ambitions of doing something this season.