Importance of Chambers and the Sears wildcard option as Town head to fortress Fratton Park
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Ipswich Town take on Portsmouth, at Fratton Park, in a League One clash today. STUART WATSON takes a look at the talking points ahead of kick-off.
For the first time this season, Fratton Park is a 20,620 sell-out (Town fans having snapped up their 1,800 allocation).
Portsmouth are yet to lose on home soil in the league (D5 L5), while Ipswich are top of the away table with 23 points claimed from a possible 30 (W7 D2 L1).
Town may be second and Pompey placed 10th, but it's Kenny Jackett's team who are in the better form.
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Ipswich come into this match having claimed just one victory in their last 10 across all competitions (D6 L3). Six of those matches were cup ties though, while Town could also make a strong argument that they deserved more in the league games against Blackpool, Wycombe, Coventry and Bristol Rovers (ifs, buts and maybes, of course).
Portsmouth recently went on a 10-game unbeaten run (W7 D3), scoring 22 goals in the process, before losing 4-1 at Accrington last weekend. That hot streak did include victories against Southend, Harrogate, Altrincham and Northampton in the cups.
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Like Ipswich, Portsmouth have struggled for wins against current top half sides. Last month's 3-2 win against Rotherham is their only one, with draws against Coventry, Blackpool, Bristol Rovers, Oxford and Peterborough, as well as defeats to Shrewsbury, Sunderland and Wycombe.
There's been a lot of talk, understandably, about how Town have missed Kane Vincent-Young.
The right-back's arrival from Colchester late in the summer transfer window injected some dynamism to the team. The Blues' record when he plays reads W7 D1 L1 (and he was clearly not fully fit for that home defeat to Rotherham).
Both defensively and, in particular, offensively they look a weaker side for his absence. It's also meant Paul Lambert has not been able to settle on the wing-back system that was starting to bed in.
There is another player whose absence has coincided with the recent downturn in form though.
It shouldn't be underestimated that skipper Luke Chambers has sat out eight of the last 10 games with a troublesome back/neck problem.
Town have kept eight clean sheets in the 16 games he's started. There have been just three shut-outs in 13 (on the opening day at Burton, in the EFL Trophy thrashing of Gillingham and the FA Cup replay win at Lincoln) without his presence at the back.
Chambers has trained this week and will face a late fitness test. As good as Luke Woolfenden and James Wilson have been at times this season, they both benefit from the voice and never-say-die spirit of the club captain beside them.
Following nine months out with a cruciate knee ligament injury, Freddie Sears is back in action. The front man has played twice for the Under-23s (45 minutes last week and an hour this Monday) and declared himself good to go for the first team again.
Lambert insists he may have to temper that enthusiasm, but the Blues boss might still be tempted to stick him on the bench today - both as a timely confidence boost to the player and the fans.
The forward options certainly need strengthening. All three strikers - James Norwood, Kayden Jackson and Will Keane - started last weekend. None of them, really, could be classed as natural 'wide forwards' in the way Sears can.
There aren't exactly loads of winger options either. With Danny Rowe (knee) set for a spell on the sidelines, Alan Judge keen to play through the middle and Gwion Edwards short of top form, the quicker Sears is back the better.
Town could have done with playing Bristol Rovers (now without a manager) a week later and Portsmouth a week earlier.
With trusty centre-back Christian Burgess serving a one-game ban and full-backs Lee Brown and Brandon Haunstrup both sidelined through injury, Pompey boss Kenny Jackett had to name a makeshift back four (that included midfielder Tom Naylor) at Accrington. In addition, forward Oli Hawkins was unavailable after his partner gave birth.
The result was a 4-1 loss - the club's heaviest league defeat in almost six years.
Being able to partner Burgess and Norwich loanee Sean Raggett again at the back - by the far the club's best central defensive duo this season by all accounts - is a massive boost for them.
John Marquis may be the main man up top, but former Town strikers Ellis Harrison and Brett Pitman still have vital roles.
Harrison, a £500k summer signing, has started the last five league games. Pitman, now in his third season at Fratton Park, finds himself being used a substitute more often than not.