Pressure’s on, the need to box clever and the return of ‘Joniesta’ – Talking points ahead of Ipswich Town v Charlton
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town take on Charlton Athletic, at Portman Road, in another League One top-six clash this afternoon. ANDY WARREN previews the action.
It’s fair to say the pressure on manager Paul Lambert, from outside at least, has moved up a level over the course of the last few days.
He and his team have taken three points from what was billed as a big week for the Blues, with a less-than-convincing victory over Shrewsbury followed up by the flattest of flat losses to Hull, preceding a Charlton clash which represents the final stand of Town’s home trilogy.
That Hull defeat extended a worrying narrative which has seen Town fail against promotion contenders time and time again. It also prompted the Blue Action supporters group to call for the manager’s exit by the medium of 25-foot banner, left tied to the gate of their club’s training ground on Wednesday night. In normal times that banner would have been displayed inside the stadium today.
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Charlton are a side with real promotion ambitions and an abundance of players with extensive Championship experience. In many ways this is the toughest of the three home games.
This contest now represents a chance for Lambert to relieve at least some of the pressure building with a victory or darken the clouds with another loss.
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While certainly not speaking for all Ipswich fans, Blue Action have brought the online thoughts of many into the real world at a time when supporters can’t show their feelings in the traditional way with games played out in front of empty stands.
Owner Marcus Evans is known to place real value on the mood music inside Portman Road when it comes to making the big decisions. Without that barometer, it would be fascinating to know what the Town owner is thinking right now.
It’s a story we’ve watched unfold over the course of the last two years – Ipswich Town need to be better in both boxes.
It was true when the Blues were playing some decent football under Lambert in the Championship but couldn’t score when it really mattered, meaning the added pressure on the Blues’ defence ultimately saw them buckle.
It was true last season when things became sticky and then stuck during the winter months, with Ipswich only scoring more than one goal in games on three occasions during the final 24 matches of the season.
And it’s true now, with Lambert’s Ipswich averaging 58% possession over their last seven league games, losing four, winning three but not managing notable spells of relentless pressure in any. That run has also included four penalties conceded and a handful of other errors leading to goals.
That theme was in evidence again on Tuesday night as Town conceded three avoidable goals to a Hull side who spent little time out of second gear, while the hosts again lacked bite when they did eventually reach the final third.
It’s got to be better in this game.
The cavalry isn’t coming over the hill any time soon, sadly.
The issue is particularly troublesome in midfield where Flynn Downes, Cole Skuse, Teddy Bishop and Jon Nolan are all ruled out, robbing Lambert of plenty of potential starters.
There is some good news, though, with Andre Dozzell returning from suspension and surely becoming a certain starter with Brett McGavin perhaps moving forward into a slightly more advanced role. They could be joined by Emyr Huws or one of Jack Lankester or Alan Judge.
One of those may be needed wide, though, with Freddie Sears the latest to join the injury list. Armando Dobra is another option there, though Lambert has shown little willingness to use the youngster as part of his first-team.
Striker James Norwood was one of the better performers on Tuesday night but, as made abundantly clear by Lambert after the game, it’s unlikely he will have a strike partner given the Town boss said he thinks his side are ‘useless’ when operating with a front two.
One other change of note could potentially come in goal, where David Cornell coming in for Tomas Holy shouldn’t be discounted.
It’s been more than four years since Jonny Williams last turned out at Portman Road but the Welshman, playfully nicknamed ‘Joniesta’, will always be fondly remembered by Ipswich fans.
He only made 28 appearances for Town over four loan spells in three separate seasons. Those spells were all hit by injury but, in amongst the bumps and bruises were some sparkling performances and creative moments often lacking from Mick McCarthy’s sides.
The move to Charlton appears to have done the midfielder the world of good as he finally left Crystal Palace and, clutching the nearest piece of wood, has helped him leave injuries behind.
He’s made 55 appearances since joining the Addicks in January 2019 – more than a quarter of his career appearances over the last decade.
The 27-year-old has been in-and-out of the side of late but, following an appearance from the bench at Burton on Tuesday, is in line for a start.
Had fans been in the stadium for this game, he would no doubt have received a good reception.
Ipswich Town fans certainly didn’t see the best of Lee Bowyer the midfielder during his time at Portman Road, but many will get a first look at Bowyer the manager when they tune in this afternoon.
He wasn’t the same player who had made a real impact in the Champions League with Leeds or performed at the top end of the Premier League at Newcastle, ultimately ending his playing career at Ipswich in 2012 following a single season in Town blue.
Six years later his management career began, perhaps grudgingly at first, where he lost a play-off semi-final to Paul Hurst’s Shrewsbury in 2018 before winning the third-tier final in his first full campaign in charge.
Relegation from the Championship followed but Bowyer’s approval rating remains intact, given how professionally he dealt with continued drama behind-the-scenes as the club was faced with months of takeover confusion.
Things appear to be calmer now, with Thomas Sandgaard in charge, and the Addicks have responded to that well with an excellent run to send them shooting up the League One table.