Right-side headache, fortress Adams Park and a style shift
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Ipswich Town take on Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park tonight (7.45pm ko). STUART WATSON previews the action.
CHANGE THE NARRATIVE
In 2019/20, Town ended up 11th in League One. Their record against the 10 teams who finished above them read W3 D7 L9.
Last season, Town ended up ninth. Their record against the eight teams who finished above them read W3 D4 L9.
And so far this campaign that narrative has not changed.
Sitting 11th in the standings, Paul Cook's men have so far played five games against teams currently above them. They've drawn twice (against MK Dons and Sheffield Wednesday at home) and lost at Burton, Accrington and Plymouth.
Saturday's game at Home Park was entertaining and finely-balanced, but ultimately it was another result Town fell the wrong side of.
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It goes without saying that the Blues will need to start beating some of the teams above them if they are to undo some early season damage and get themselves into the promotion picture.
Tonight, they take on third-place Wycombe at Adams Park. Then, after cup fixtures against Oldham and Colchester are out the way, it's games against sixth-place Oxford United (h), fifth-place Sunderland (a) and fourth-place Rotherham (h).
"It's better to be the hunter than the hunted," former Blues boss Paul Lambert once proclaimed. Let's see if that proves to be the case this time around.
A new rivalry between Ipswich and Wycombe grew organically in 2019/20.
Referee Alan Young and linesman Aaron Farmer inexplicably chalked off a perfectly legitimate Luke Chambers goal in the 0-0 draw at Portman Road.
The reverse fixture on New Year's Day (played hours after news of Lambert's surprise five-year contract) ended 1-1 in Buckinghamshire.
The Chairboys were eighth in the table when Covid called a halt to proceedings. The points-per-game method used to determine final placings meant Gareth Ainsworth's men sneaked into the play-offs and were able to secure an unlikely promotion by beating Fleetwood in the semis and Oxford in the final.
With a small squad and tight budget, Wycombe produced a valiant effort in the Championship. Winning six of their final 11 games was not quite enough to see them avoid relegation on a dramatic final day.
Many pundits wondered whether a club punching above its weight would now run out of steam. Ainsworth has confounded such doubts so far though.
The likes of Jack Grimmer, Joe Jacobsen, Anthony Stewart, Curtis Thompson, Jason McCarthy and Adebayo Akinfenwa remain from the promotion campaign. David Stockdale, Garath McCleary, Ryan Tafazolli and Daryl Horgan stayed on following relegation. And the likes of Josh Scowen, Sullay Kaikai, Brandon Hanlan and Sam Vokes were all added this summer.
FORTRESS ADAMS PARK
Wycombe have won all six of their home league games played this season (Accrington, Lincoln, Charlton, Morecambe, Gillingham, Crewe). They've actually won eight straight league games at Adams Park if you include the end of season Championship victories against Bristol City and Bournemouth.
Such a run, coupled with the fact that Ipswich's magnificent support quickly snapped up the 1,800 away allocation, means they are expecting their biggest midweek attendance (close to the 9,500 capacity) in almost 20 years tonight.
It should be a fantastic atmosphere under the lights.
DIFFERENT TYPE OF TEST
This is likely to be a completely different game to Saturday's. Plymouth are a technical side whereas Wycombe are far more direct and physical.
Jacobsen is a threat from set-pieces. Thompson can put a long throw in the box. Scowen is tenacious in midfield. Vokes and Akinfenwa are strong up top.
Can Town stand up to that better than they did at Burton, Chetenham and Accrington? They do look to have come on leaps and bounds with that side of the game in recent weeks.
The Blues, lest we forget, have won five of their last nine.
Ainsworth admitted some of his players looked a little 'leggy' at the weekend as a 3-1 lead was surrendered on a heavy pitch at Fleetwood. The game finished 3-3 with Fleetwood pushing for a winner. So Wycombe aren't invincible.
WHO WILL BE FIT?
Following back-to-back wins against Portsmouth and Fleetwood, Cook was forced to make changes to his team at Home Park.
In-form right-sided duo Janoi Donacien (ill) and Sone Aluko (groin) were both ruled, as was the man who could have replaced either, Wes Burns (also ill).
Luke Woolfenden and Hayden Coulson were both subsequently called upon to play out of position with a fair amount of ring rust. It was hardly ideal preparations for a game at the league-leaders.
Donacien will be the one Town will want back the most today. His one-v-one defending would be very handy against experienced Welsh international Vokes, who played wide left in a 4-4-2 at the weekend. If he's not fit, then could Kane Vincent-Young return to the fold? Or will it be Woolfenden again?
It's unlikely that Coulson will play right-wing again. Will he be preferred to Matt Penney at left-back or is two games in four days off the back of a near two month thigh injury absence too big an ask? We'll see.
Kyle Edwards shifted across to the right and Bersant Celina came on to play on the left at the weekend. Will that be how Town start tonight? If Burns isn't ready, quite possibly.
Two teams low on juice following long weekend trips and the potential for an attritional scrap before any football breaks out. This is likely to be a fine margins affair which could very well be settled by tactical tweaks and timely substitutions.
Ainsworth has played a mixture of systems this season. It was 3-4-1-2 in the 2-1 home win against Crewe, then he switched to 4-4-2 for the 3-3 draw at Fleetwood on Saturday. With Vokes on the left and Horgan on the right, it was described as a 4-2-4 by one reporter. Whether wing-backs McCarthy and Jordan Obita return tonight remains to be seen. Akinfenwa, at the age of 39, rarely starts back-to-back games.
"It's good to have other formations in the bag," said Ainsworth. "I think we are an unknown with what we're going to do in games and I think that's a strength."
Cook, as we know, is very much a 4-2-3-1 man who has repeatedly said it's all about what his side does and not the opposition.
Rekeem Harper could be used as an extra midfielder in more of a 4-3-3, while Joe Pigott could be used alongside Bonne at some stage to make it more of a traditional 4-4-2.