Home struggles, skipper suspended and Gillingham’s upturn in form – Town talking points ahead of Boxing Day action
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town host Gillingham in a League One clash tomorrow afternoon. STUART WATSON previews the Boxing Day action at Portman Road.
Town are placed 17th in the League One home form table with a record of three wins (AFC Wimbledon, Shrewsbury and Tranmere), four draws (Sunderland, Doncaster, Blackpool and Wycombe) and two defeats (Rotherham and Bristol Rovers).
Lambert has said from day one that the Blues would have a target on their backs and opponents would raise their games at Portman Road - a bigger stadium and crowd than most are used to playing in front of at this level.
Town's last victory in front of their own fans seems a long time ago now. It was, in fact, against Gillingham - 4-0 in the EFL Trophy - on October 8.
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Town's last home league win? That was against Tranmere - Luke Garbutt's sensational free-kick and Kane Vincent-Young's super solo goal bookending a 4-1 victory - back on September 28 (90 days ago).
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This may be a third versus 12th clash, but it's a different story when you study the form table.
Gillingham have claimed 10 points from their last five league games - beating Lincoln (1-0), Sunderland (1-0) and MK Dons (3-1) at Priestfield and also drawing at Fleetwood (1-1) - to climb into the top half.
They've also seen off Sunderland and Doncaster in the FA Cup to set up a third round tie with West Ham in the new year.
Ipswich, by contrast, come into this game on the back of three straight defeats and eight without a win in all competitions.
You can't read too much into Town's 4-0 thrashing of Gillingham in the EFL Trophy back in October. Of the players who started for the Gills that day, only two - Connor Ogilvie and Mikael Mandron - lined up in their last league game.
The Blues did win 1-0 at Priestfield in the first league meeting between the sides on September 21 though. Vincent-Young popped up at the far post to score in the 32nd minute, with Town then defending like lions against a direct and physical outfit.
Town's triumph in Kent sparked a post-match war of words between the managers. A fired up Steve Evans refused to shake Lambert's hands at the end of a feisty game.
Lambert slammed his counter-part for a lack of etiquette and added that he was 'a real Glasgow man'. Evans accused Lambert of 'saying something alarming' during their touchline spat and calling one of his young players 'rubbish'. Lambert labelled those claims as 'disgraceful and a load of lies'.
When the pair met again at Portman Road 17 days later, Lambert was true to his word and completely blanked Evans. He insists it will be exactly the same tomorrow.
Evans said: "They will have their biggest attendance of the season and I have enormous respect for them as a club.
"I was very fortunate to go there when Sir Bobby was around and the same with George Burley, people who had Ipswich through the middle of them.
"If you look at the resources available to the management team it is incredible.
"They have a brilliant owner and it will be extremely tough because, for me, they have a Championship squad.
"But we will go there and try and win a game."
Luke Chambers, having only just returned following a five-game absence with a neck injury, is back on the sidelines again. The skipper will serve a one-game ban for his double yellow card dismissal at Portsmouth last weekend.
So what will Paul Lambert do with his ever-changing defence on this occasion? At Fratton Park we saw a back three. Toto Nsiala was substituted in the 38th minute having walked a tightrope with the referee following an early caution.
If it's to be a back three again then James Wilson for Chambers would be the obvious change, but it's not out of the question that Cole Skuse drops into defence again either.
Or maybe we'll see a return to a back four and Janoi Donacien back at right-back.
Lambert has made 61 changes to his team over the last nine games. With this the second of five games in a busy two-week schedule, the rotation game will almost certainly continue.
Will Norris produced a man-of-the-match display at Portsmouth, but there's no guarantee that will see him retain his spot given the constant swapping of the men between the sticks.
Donacien, Wilson, Emyr Huws, Andre Dozzell, Alan Judge and Kayden Jackson were all on bench at Portsmouth and come into contention. Might we even see Armando Dobra, Idris El Mizouni or Anthony Georgiou - all of whom travelled to the south coast - come into the reckoning?