Top-scorers Norwood and Jackson are out, so who should Lambert go with up front in three vital games?
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town’s joint top-scorers, James Norwood and Kayden Jackson, are both sidelined for three vital games against Blackpool, Fleetwood and Coventry. STUART WATSON takes a look at the forward options at Paul Lambert’s disposal.
THOSE WHO ARE UNAVAILABLE
Ipswich Town have scored 45 league goals this season, with joint top-scorers James Norwood and Kayden Jackson contributing almost half of that total (11 each).
Norwood underwent his second lot of groin surgery of the season last week and isn't due back in action until April - that rules him out of the next five games at least.
Jackson, the team's leading goal creator with seven, will now be suspended for the next three matches - Blackpool (a), Fleetwood (h) and Coventry (h) - after the club decided not to appeal his red card for a stoppage-time stamp in Saturday's 1-0 home defeat to Oxford United.
Jordan Roberts (Gillingham), Ben Folami (Stevenage), Aaron Drinan (Ayr United) and Idris El Mizouni (Cambridge United) can't be recalled from their loan spells.
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- Keane and Sears as a front two
Both men look best suited to playing in a front two, so this would be the best in terms of fitting round pegs into round holes.
Would they be too similar? There's a chance both would be keen to drop deep. I do remember Sears working brilliantly with Brett Pitman's link-up play during the pre-season of 2015 though. This could be a similar partnership.
The problem here is whether Sears is ready to start. The 30-year-old only returned to the training field in November following an eight month lay-off with a knee ligament injury. Since then, he's played a total of 199 competitive minutes (a start at Exeter in the EFL Trophy, plus eight substitute appearances in the league).
Speaking just a fortnight ago, boss Paul Lambert said: "He's doing alright, but you've got to remember he was out for a year and there's not been one major tackle I've seen him go into and he's jumped up and gone again, even though he's had little hits. You've got to watch him. You can't just throw him in there and think he's going to stand a lot of kicking and things like that. But he's doing really well, and that's a bonus for us."
- Keane as the lone striker
He may be 6ft 2in tall, but Keane is far from a target man. If Town are to play him as a central striker, he'd need to be used the right way.
The Blues showed that is possible in the two quickfire away draws against Coventry back in early December - Keane scoring in both matches at St Andrew's.
Jon Nolan, Flynn Downes and Andre Dozzell played as a midfield three, with Danny Rowe/Gwion Edwards and Alan Judge on the flanks. That mix of personnel saw the Blues get the ball down and play some nice football through the thirds.
Keane's link-up play in those games was excellent. In the FA Cup meeting he finished off Alan Judge's cross from close-range. In the subsequent league clash, he scored a towering header and put another against the post.
A combination of Sears (who Lambert seems to view as a wide forward), Teddy Bishop, Alan Judge, Nolan and Edwards are available as the supporting cast if the Blues boss decides to go with a 4-3-3, 3-4-3, 4-2-3-1 type system.
- Pushing an attacking midfielder further forwards
Judge and Bishop have both been used as emergency strikers in similar circumstances before. It's not for me.
Back on October 20, when Norwood was injured, Lambert played Judge up top alongside Kayden Jackson at Accrington Stanley. Town simply couldn't make it stick in the final third and succumbed to a deserved 2-0 defeat.
Back in March last year, as the Blues slipped towards relegation, Bishop started as a makeshift front man alongside Collin Quaner in a 2-1 home loss to Reading. His instinct was always to drop off or drift wide in order to fully utilise his ability to glide past opponents and break the lines.
- The Dobra wildcard
Armando Dobra clearly has talent. Premier League club Brighton wouldn't have made multiple six-figure bids for his services on January transfer deadline day otherwise.
He scored on an impressive senior debut at Luton in the Carabao Cup last August, produced some lively displays in the EFL Trophy, but then was sent-off on his league debut at Accrington for a frustrated swing of the elbow. The 18-year-old certainly plays with an edge. He was sent-off again in a recent Under-23s game for two bookings.
The Alabanian youth international is a wildcard option. He'd certainly add some raw desire, skill and unpredictability to the team - something they've arguably lacked.
- Promote a youth team striker
Folami and Drinan may be out on loan, but there are still a couple of options if Lambert wants to dip into his Under-23s.
Ben Morris, 20, is a player who had been tipped for big things. The Colchester-born front man has been capped by England from U17 to U19 level. He made his senior debut for the Blues in August 2017 and was handed three league appearances towards the end of that campaign. He subsequently looked lively when coming off the bench in the 2018/19 season opener against Blackburn. That's three managers - Mick McCarthy, Bryan Klug and Paul Hurst - who have all given him a go in the first team.
A cruciate knee ligament injury set him back this time last year, but he returned to action in December and has scored twice for the U23s since then. The former Woking and Forest Green Rovers loanee is quick, direct and can provide as well as score.
Then there's Tyreece Simpson. The 18-year-old former rugby player is a real unit. His stock in trade is playing with his back to goal. He's been a regular for the U23s this season, scoring five times. Could provide a different option to anyone else.
Speaking after Simpson was handed his senior debut in the EFL Trophy against Peterborough, Blues assistant boss Stuart Taylor said: "We always speak closely with everybody at the academy and his was a name which kept coming through. I thought he did excellently, he was full of energy, showed his presence, held the ball up well and he was a threat."