After ‘nae normal’ start, now it’s crunch time for Ipswich Town
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town take on Bristol Rovers in their first away game of the new League One season this afternoon (3pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
The start of this season, to use a Paul Lambertism, has been ‘nae normal’.
Including friendlies, Ipswich Town have faced Premier League opposition in three of their opening seven matches.
All four of their opening competitive fixtures have been played at an empty Portman Road. And three of those games were cup ties.
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Playing their League One opener on a Sunday lunchtime added to a sense of discombobulation too.
Now, finally, the Blues have a break from midweek action and can churn out three successive Saturday league games – Bristol Rovers (a), Rochdale (h), then MK Dons (a).
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No doubt about it, these are all clashes that Ipswich, quite rightly, will go into as strong favourites.
All the preparation has led to this point. It’s crunch time.
Town have, of course, already faced Bristol Rovers.
Three weeks ago, the Blues ran out comfortable 3-0 winners in a Carabao Cup first round tie at Portman Road.
It’s highly unlikely that the South West side will be as poor again.
Last weekend, Ben Garner’s new-look team bounced back with a 1-1 draw at Sunderland. The Gas led through an early Luke Leahy penalty, but were on the ropes for much of the second half. Chris Maguire eventually fired home an 82nd minute equaliser and the visitors were left clinging on for a point. The Black Cats finished the game with 72% possession, 25 shots and 11 corners to their name.
“We worked hard in the week on our defensive shape,” said Garner. “We had to really grind in that second half, so it was a really pleasing point at certainly one of the most difficult places to go to in League One.
“Defensively, if we’re as solid as that in games this season we’re going to pick up a lot of points away from home.”
Crucially, since their trip to Suffolk, Bristol Rovers have added a recognised central striker to their ranks.
Brandon Hanlan has been recruited from Gillingham and inherits the No.9 shirt vacated by big summer departure Jonson Clarke-Harris.
He made a big difference last weekend and it’s no coincidence that Rovers found things tougher after the powerful 23-year-old went off early in the second half with cramp.
There’s also the fact that Bristol Rovers have had a full week to prepare against a team making a long trip off the back of a Wednesday night game to consider too.
SHOULD DOWNES START?
Flynn Downes returned to action against Fulham for the first time since handing in a transfer request and provided a reminder of just how good he is with a lively half hour cameo. The question is, should he start today?
He’s the best midfielder Town have got, but putting him straight back in the side would be harsh in the extreme on whoever dropped out.
Jon Nolan was man-of-the-match against Wigan last weekend, Teddy Bishop scored and could easily have got two, while Andre Dozzell has been pulling the strings from deep.
Lambert has rammed home the message that players will keep the shirt this season if they play well and said in midweek that Downes knows he’s got a fight on his hands to get back in the side.
All signs point towards the 21-year-old being on the bench again.
Town will have a freshness down the flanks, with veteran full-backs Luke Chambers and Stephen Ward, plus wide men Alan Judge and Freddie Sears, having all been rested in midweek.
That could spell danger for Rovers given how their wing-backs were overrun at Portman Road recently.
Town’s selection question marks are at opposite ends of the field.
Have David Cornell’s impressive saves against Fulham catapulted him ahead of Tomas Holy? The latter had done little wrong to lose his league place though and looks likely to play again.
And who will play up top? Aaron Drinan is out for two months with a thigh problem. That means there’s every chance that a raring to go James Norwood will be handed his first start following on from four substitute appearances.