Acid test, speed demons and will size matter? - Talking points ahead of Town's top-two clash at Rotherham
PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 January 2020
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Ipswich Town take on Rotherham United in a top two League One clash at the New York Stadium tonight. STUART WATSON previews the action.
Following the Lincoln lock-in, in which Blues players and staff held an hour-long honest exchange of views following that 5-3 defeat, things have really improved. A five-game unbeaten run (W3 D2) has elevated Town back to top spot for the first time since mid-November.
Paul Lambert has settled on a 3-5-2 system and, bar the odd tweak, has pretty much stuck with the same starting XI too. It's looking more like a cohesive team with a clear playing style.
Several players have admitted that maybe a bit of complacency crept in during that extended December sticky spell. In the 1-1 draw at Wycombe on New Year's Day the intensity returned. Ruthlessness was shown in the first half dismantling of Accrington Stanley (4-1). Spirit was required in tricky conditions at Oxford (0-0) and Tranmere (2-1), while Saturday's 1-0 victory against Lincoln was all about control and focus.
The difference in those two performances against the Imps shows you how much Town have improved in just four weeks.
It's been an encouraging start to 2020, highly encouraging, but three successive games against promotion rivals - Rotherham (a), Peterborough (h) and Sunderland (a) - will really show us what Ipswich Town are made of. Town haven't yet managed a win against any of the teams currently in the top eight (D6 L2).
TOP TWO CLASH
Rotherham were the team that Town toppled from the summit at the weekend. They slipped courtesy of a 2-1 defeat at Peterborough.
Prior to that, the Millers had won five on the spin - Shrewsbury (2-1 away), Peterborough (4-0 at home), Blackpool (2-1 at home), Oxford (3-1 away) and Bristol Rovers (3-0 at home). Having previously played out 2-2 draws against Southend (a) and Fleetwood (h), the seven-game unbeaten streak saw them score, on average, three a game.
"We didn't have any guile to create something different," said manager Paul Warne, who was without key attacking duo Kyle Vassell and Matt Crooks at London Road. "We had too many people below par. It's disappointing because we've been on a really good run. When you're top of the league teams are always going to raise their game against you.
"When they asked us a lot of questions in the second half we didn't have good enough answers. We didn't play at our best."
WE'RE THE MILLERS
We've seen first hand what Rotherham are all about - big, strong, physical.
How the Millers lost 1-0 at Portman Road back last January remains a mystery following their constant aerial bombardment. James Collins was a colossus in that Championship relegation scrap.
Then it was big front duo of Michael Smith (6ft 3in) and Matt Crooks (6ft 4in) who proved a real handful when Town suffered a 2-0 home loss back in October's League One clash.
Crooks played just off Smith that day. In December, boss Warne switched to a more traditional 4-4-2, moving Crooks back into midfield and playing former injury-hit winger Kyle Vassell up front. That's when their form really caught fire.
Vassell, an unpredictable talent, bagged five in five - four of them spectacular. He subsequently sat out Saturday's game with a slight calf problem but should be fit to replace Freddie Ladapo tonight.
Crooks missed that game in sad circumstances. He darted away from Peterborough on Saturday morning to be at the bed side of his critically ill best friend Jordan Sinnott, the non-league footballer subsequently dying from the injuries he sustained after being attacked on a night out. Whether he feels ready to play remains to be seen.
DEVISING A GAME PLAN
"We get criticised all the time for the way we supposedly play but I don't think Peterborough were footballing geniuses," said Warne.
"They just kept turning us all the time. We found it hard to deal with their pace up front. They kept us pegged back quite a lot. I just felt our play was too 'straight-lined'."
Blues boss Lambert, previewing tonight's match, said: "It's another hard game, a different type of game. I thought they'd be up there. They kept quite a few of their players after coming down, physically they are very, very strong, at set plays they are really good and we're not the tallest side. We have to try and come up with some way of combatting that.
"The stadium is good, the field will be good. We have to come up with a game plan where we can go there and win."
Kayden Jackson can hopefully peg back and turn the Rotherham defence with his speed and aggression leaving plenty of pockets of space for others to exploit. Three versus two in midfield could also allow Emyr Huws and Flynn Downes to control possession.
That's where Town could win this game. Where they could lose it is down the flanks. Work hard, quickly get it wide and get balls into the box will be the home game plan.
Chiedoze Ogbene has been dubbed 'the fastest man in football' with a 100m sprint time clocked at 10.7 seconds. With the attack-minded Matthew Olusunde in support down the right, that'll be an overload that could bring joy.
Luke Garbutt and Dan Barlaser are both excellent set-piece takers. Dead ball deliveries may well have a big say in the outcome of this one.