Faced with a relentless schedule, will Lambert change a winning side at rebooted Rovers?
- Credit: PA
Table-topping Ipswich Town take on seventh-placed Doncaster Rovers at Keepmoat Stadium tonight (7pm). STUART WATSON previews the action.
It’s often said that tables start to take shape after 10 games.
Ipswich’s six-game unbeaten start (W5 D1 F13 A2) has been impressive, but there is still a long, long way to go yet. Paul Lambert’s men did, of course, make an 11-game unbeaten start to last year’s League One campaign (W8 D3).
This feels different, given the nature of the performances and the clear game plan, but the next few games – Doncaster (a), Lincoln (a), Gillingham (h), Crewe (h) and Sunderland (a) – will tell us a lot more.
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Those five teams have won 15 games between them so far this season.
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This is certainly the point where the schedule truly starts to get testing.
Ipswich have had three blank midweeks so far and played seven of their opening 10 games at home. There will now be just one, possibly two (if knocked out the EFL Trophy), more midweek breathers before the start of 2021.
Saturday’s 2-0 home win against Accrington Stanley marked the start of a run of seven games in 22 days.
After the long Tuesday night trip to Sunderland on November 3 comes a welcome 11-day respite (where the Blackpool away game was originally scheduled). Then the relentless Tuesday-Saturday action resumes.
It will be at least 11 games in 43 days, culminating at Fleetwood on January 2. If there’s progress in the EFL Trophy and FA Cup you can add two more matches to that pre-Christmas fixture list (making it a game every three days on average).
Doncaster looked a tidy possession-based team under the management of Darren Moore last season.
Whether they can improve on a ninth-place finish with their latest crop of borrowed talent remains to be seen.
First-choice keeper Seny Dieng, midfield star Ben Sheaf and front man Niall Ennis all went back to their parent clubs during the summer, while 12-goal winger Kieran Sadlier turned down a new deal to join newly-promoted Championship club Rotherham.
The South Yorkshire club once again turned to the loan market for replacements. Last Friday’s deadline day additions of winger Josh Sims (Southampton) and midfielder Matt Smith (Man City) took their number of Premier League and Championship loanees to seven, following on from the additions of keeper Josef Bursik (Stoke), midfielder Taylor Richards (Brighton), plus forwards Tyreece John-Jules (Arsenal), Rayhaan Tulloch (West Brom) and Mallik Wilks (Leeds).
It makes for a young side. Eight of the 14 players who featured for them at the weekend were aged 24 or younger.
And then you’ve got the evergreen James Coppinger – Mr Doncaster – playing the No.10 role as his 40th birthday fast-approaches in January.
Judging by reports, they didn’t have everything their own way in victories against Charlton (3-1 away), Bristol Rovers (4-1 at home) and Portsmouth (1-0 away) – all were described as ‘hard fought’. There’s also been a 1-1 draw at MK Dons and a 1-0 loss at Wigan.
Stopping Ben Whiteman and Madger Gomes pulling the strings in midfield will be key for Town.
CHANGE A WINNING SIDE?
With Kayden Jackson and Oli Hawkins still unavailable, the front three is likely to be as it lined up at the start of Saturday’s much-improved second half display against Accrington Stanley. That’s Freddie Sears as the central striker, with the in-form Gwion Edwards on his favoured left and Alan Judge playing a roaming role on the right.
There’s every chance that Keanan Bennetts and/or Jack Lankester will be required off the bench at some point though.
It sounds like Stephen Ward is not too far off a return to action from a slight Achilles issue. Would he come straight back into the team at the expense of Myles Kenlock if fit? It would arguably be harsh on the latter after a couple of assured displays at left-back. Ward was outstanding prior to his set-back though.
Midfield is another area of the team where there could possibly be a change, with Jon Nolan for Emyr Huws the most likely alteration to a winning side. The former was in fine form before a calf strain struck and he looked sharp when stepping off the bench against Accrington.