North Stander: Christmas Dinner hopes, challenges ahead and close your eyes.... It's Lincoln away!
PUBLISHED: 17:00 17 November 2019
© Copyright Stephen Waller
North Stander Terry Hunt is hoping his Christmas turkey tastes nice with Town still top two!
We will all learn a huge amount about Ipswich Town's promotion credentials during the run-up to Christmas.
In the next few weeks, we take on three teams who look likely to be among our main challengers for an automatic promotion place.
If Town are still in the top two as we settle down for our Christmas lunch, then I reckon we can all be pretty confident of an instant return to the Championship.
If we've slipped into the play-off places, then the second half of the season might be rather trickier. Either way, I do believe Marcus Evans will have to open his wallet in January. I'll come back to that.
So, before Christmas, we face Blackpool, Wycombe, and Coventry. All of them have serious promotion ambitions. All of them will provide a stern test for a Town team which has been getting results without being hugely impressive.
I think these matches will demand something from our players which they haven't achieved yet this season - a 90-minute performance. We've tended to be impressive for 45 minutes - usually in the second half.
That's been good enough to see off some of the utterly hopeless outfits in this division. I don't know about you, but I've been surprised by how poor the standard is in League One, especially when you come up against a team which is mid-table or lower. Really, really poor.
That won't apply to Blackpool, Wycombe and Coventry. They are decent teams. We will need to be at our best for the whole 90 minutes to get results.
It will be something of a relief to get back to a run of league games - the proper business of this season - after playing only four in five weeks.
There's been a good deal of discussion about Paul Lambert's selections in the cup games - especially the FA Cup game against Lincoln.
If we blow Blackpool away at Portman Road next Saturday, then the debate about Lambert's selections will die away. If, however, we struggle, then there will inevitably be questions about why regular first-team players didn't play in the Lincoln game. I suspect the word "rusty" would be quite prominent.
As I said earlier, our results between now and the festive period will tell us a great deal. We will know whether we are the "real deal" when it comes to getting automatic promotion.
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How we do against our promotion rivals will also tell Lambert how much strengthening we need in the January transfer window.
It will be fascinating to see how much - if anything - we invest. The track record isn't encouraging. To this day, I remain utterly convinced that the recent history of our club would have been dramatically different if Evans had spent more at the beginning of 2015.
I went to Brentford on Boxing Day 2014, to watch us rampage past the Bees to go top for a couple of hours. I left Griffin Park convinced that, if we spent money in the forthcoming window, we would go up.
But the spending was limited, and we ultimately stumbled into the play-offs, where Norwich beat us. The Premier League has never been within our sights since, and it's barely visible in the far distance these days.
I really hope we don't see anything like a repeat of that sequence of events. It was a huge wasted opportunity.
Even if we are still in the top two at Christmas, I would want us to strengthen the squad. I've said before I believe we have the best squad in League One, but that certainly isn't a reason for any kind of complacency. I'm pretty sure our rivals will strengthen their squads.
Before we get back to the league, we have the trip to Lincoln. As we all know, the FA Cup is a competition which increasingly clubs view as just getting in the way and working as a distraction from the main business of the season.
No doubt Lambert will play a team full of fringe players at Sincil Bank, and I expect we will lose, thereby continuing our utterly grim recent record in this once-proud competition.
Of course, a full-strength Town would probably see off Lincoln, who have nosedived since the Cowley brothers left. But I fear that won't happen, which is a great shame for a number of reasons - not least because the fantastic travelling Town fans deserve a reward for making that long trip to Lincoln on a cold November night.
Anyway - back to the main business - getting out of League One - and the visit of Blackpool on Saturday. Like us, Blackpool have a proud history and now find themselves in rather reduced circumstances.
They will be tough opponents, and the same certainly applies to Wycombe who come to Portman Road three days later. As I said earlier, we will know a good deal more about our own team after those games.