Time to trim, boosting the promotion push and contracts to consider... How busy will the January transfer window be for Ipswich Town?
The January transfer window is open... But will it be a busy one for Ipswich Town? STUART WATSON looks at some of the potential wheeling and dealing ahead for Paul Lambert.
Town have two major sellable assets right now in Luke Woolfenden and Flynn Downes, with Championship duo QPR and Fulham reportedly keeping close tabs on the homegrown duo's rapid progress.
Blues boss Paul Lambert has suggested he may have to sell to buy. General manager of football operations Lee O'Neill says the club 'wants to keep hold of our younger players as long as possible', but adds sales are 'something we will look at if it's right in a business sense'.
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Of course every player has a price, but (famous last words) it's hard to see that tipping point being reached with Woolfenden and Downes this month.
With both contracted until 2022, the Blues are in a strong negotiating position. Their values are only likely to go up over next six months and you'd imagine neither player will be itching to leave at this juncture with their boyhood club in the middle of a promotion push.
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Championship clubs are unlikely to make an offer that can't be refused in the middle of a season for a player that would be signed for potential rather than an immediate impact.
Of course, if Town don't go up then it perhaps becomes a different conversation next summer.
Bartosz Bialkowski is back at his best on loan at Millwall having made a string of eye-catching saves of late.
Ipswich agreed a price of £900k for the Pole in the summer, only for a medical dispute to change the terms of the deal. The Lions, or even a Championship rival, might stump up that cash now. Blackburn were interested back in the summer, while Neil Harris, the man who took Bialkowski to The Den, is now in charge of Cardiff.
Then there's the prospect of Will Norris being recalled. The 26-year-old has started 11 of the Blues' games thus far, with keepers very much part of Lambert's rotation policy. Parent club Wolves may want him to get more regular game time elsewhere.
If that happens, Lambert would have to decide whether to go with young duo Adam Przybek and Harry Wright as back-up (the latter is currently injured) or whether to bring in another custodian.
TRIMMING THE SQUAD
Town now have 43 players on professional contracts - that's too many. Expect the squad to be trimmed.
Jordan Roberts, who has played just one minute of league football this season, could well be let go given he's out of contract in the summer.
After that we're probably talking about youngsters going out on loan, especially as the Blues are out of the EFL Trophy.
Every manager always talks about senior football being far more beneficial for development than Under-23s action. Look how it benefitted Downes and Woolfenden.
It will probably depend on what level of interest Town can attract in their homegrown talent. You'd imagine the Blues would want Armando Dobra and Idris El Mizouni to go to a League Two club. Non-league could be deemed more appropriate for the likes of Barry Cotter, Brett McGavin, Bailey Clements, Aaron Drinan, Ben Folami, Ben Morris and Corrie Ndaba.
Of the players set to be out of contract this summer, Andre Dozzell is in the most interesting predicament.
Town's young England U20 international has found game time limited this season and, as a result, is unlikely to be in any rush to sign a new deal.
There was strong interest in the talented midfielder from rivals Norwich City last summer. Will that be renewed? The Blues may, reluctantly, be forced to take what they can get now. It's not as if Lambert is short of central midfield options.
If Town are in a sell to buy situation, and they want to keep hold of Woolfenden and Downes, then who else could they get some money for?
Gwion Edwards? He's out of contract at the end of the season. The Welshman has not provided the consistency we'd hoped for following a return to the division he starred in for Peterborough. Granted, it's not helped him having to fill in at wing-back and full-back.
Kayden Jackson? Peterborough thought they'd signed him before he joined Town from Accrington and made a loan bid back in January. If they cash in on star striker Ivan Toney then they might come knocking again. Selling a man who has scored seven goals and provided six assists to a promotion rival would, on the face of it, seem crazy. It would all depend on whether Lambert had another striker lined up.
Alan Judge? We had the whole QPR saga back in the summer. Since then, the Irishman hasn't had the impact we all hoped for in League One and Lambert seems reluctant to make the 31-year-old a fulcrum of the team.
Ipswich want to make Luke Garbutt's loan switch from Everton permanent, but can/should a deal be done this month?
The 26-year-old has spoken about wanting to settle at a club after a series of loan moves and it seems as though he's enjoying his time in Suffolk.
His five-year deal at Goodison Park expires this summer. Should Ipswich try and offer a transfer fee now in order to avoid a potential bun fight for a Bosman free transfer come the end of the campaign?
Garbutt might want to wait and assess his options. If Town don't go up, he might get more lucrative offers from the Championship. We'll see.
Town looked like they'd finally found the answer to a decade-long right-back issue when signing Kane Vincent-Young. After nine largely impressive displays he promptly got injured.
After two bouts of surgery on his groin/adductor, the 23-year-old has only just started some rehab work in gym. He's not due back in first team training until February and it may be a while after that before he's up to speed.
Town have really missed him, so do they need a short-term replacement? Someone like Josh Clarke, who Brentford have made available for loan, could fit the bill.
RETURN OF TOMMY SMITH
Only Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse started more games for Town than Tommy Smith (239) during the 2010s. Only three players (Daryl Murphy, David McGoldrick and Freddie Sears) scored more goals (23).
Now he's back training at the club following the expiration of his contract at Colorado Rapids.
Lambert says it's just a favour. Championship club Huddersfield have been linked. And there's every chance he'll negotiate a new deal with Colorado before the new MLS season starts at the end of February.
The chance to return and be a hero for his boyhood club would certainly tug at Tommy's heart strings though...
If Lambert intends on playing three at the back, does he need someone else to compete with Chambers, Woolfenden, James Wilson and Toto Nsiala? Possibly. Then again, Myles Kenlock and Janoi Donacien can play inside too.
Perhaps this is just a romantic notion. There's probably bigger priorities.
You get the feeling that, in an ideal world, Lambert wants to play 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3. Right now though he doesn't really have the wide forwards to do so.
Danny Rowe is injured after good start, Alan Judge clearly wants to be a No.10 and continually shown he doesn't have the positional discipline to play wide, Edwards has been inconsistent, Freddie Sears is only just back after a long lay-off and Jack Lankester is still out.
Lambert has sent Anthony Georgiou back to Tottenham, clearly doesn't see Jackson playing out on the flanks and Garbutt, rightly or wrongly, is being used as a left-back.
Perhaps we might see someone arrive on loan from a Premier League or Championship club to inject creative spark over next six months?
Norwood is mobile and alert in the box, Jackson provides pace and runs the channels, Sears is full of graft and direct-running, while Keane is all about his first touch and link-up play.
Town do, however, lack a target man option. With the pitches getting heavier and opposition sometimes defending deep, the Blues could maybe do with a battering ram option for certain occasions.
Lambert had Millwall's 6ft 4in striker Tom Elliott lined up in the summer, but that move fell through due to a failed medical. He's now injured. Might Town go out and look for someone of a similar ilk?
KEEPERS: Holy, Norris, Przybek, Wright (inj)
RIGHT-BACKS: Vincent-Young (inj), Donacien, Cotter, Andoh, Crowe
CENTRE-BACKS: Chambers, Woolfenden, Wilson, Nsiala, Ndaba
LEFT-BACKS: Garbutt, Kenlock, Clements
WINGERS: Sears, Edwards, Judge, Rowe (inj), Lankester (inj), Roberts, Dobra
CENTRE-MIDFIELDERS: Skuse, Downes, Nolan, Bishop, Huws, Dozzell, El Mizouni, McGavin, Nydam (inj)
STRIKERS: Norwood, Jackson, Keane, Drinan, Morris, Folami
TOWN CONTRACT EXPIRIES
Season loan: Norris, Garbutt
2020: Skuse, Edwards, Dozzell, Keane, Rowe, Roberts, McGavin, Dobra, Clements
2021: Chambers, Sears, Judge, Holy, Jackson, Bialkowski, Wilson, Nsiala, Nolan, Bishop, Donacien, Huws, El Mizouni, Cotter, Nydam, Folami, Morris, Drinan, Wright, Przybek, Andoh, Gibbs, Z.Brown, K.Brown
2022: Woolfenden, Downes, Norwood, Vincent-Young, Lankester, Kenlock, Ndaba, Crowe