Shape shifting, battling omens and teasing a reaction from the home crowd - talking points as Town head to Sunderland
PUBLISHED: 06:00 08 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:09 08 February 2020
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Ipswich Town take on Sunderland this weekend in a meeting of two League One big guns. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the game at the Stadium of Light.
Let's try again
Ahead of the recent games with Rotherham and Peterborough we spoke of the time being right for Ipswich Town to make a statement and flex their muscles against one of League One's big boys.
Both times things fell flat, meaning the wait for victory against a promotion contender continues.
Still the only member of League One's top 10 to have been beaten this season is Fleetwood, in 10th, with Ipswich's record against the other eight sides reading W0 D7 L4.
They should really have beaten Sunderland when the two sides first met in August, in a game which ended in a 1-1 draw, but they now search for that elusive 'statement' victory against a side who have found some form after a sticky spell which cost Jack Ross his job.
Fifteen games remain and Ipswich boss Paul Lambert is right when he says 'we can't see the finish line yet', but to be in with a chance of winning the race when the chequered flag does come into view the Blues are going to have to prove their worth against a contender rather than simply picking off back markers.
Paul Lambert will be without his two best wing-backs when the Blues visit Sunderland this afternoon, so will that ultimately lead to a change of system? It's certainly not impossible.
The absence of Kane Vincent-Young has been a real blow after he underwent the second of two groin operations in November, with the former Colchester man ruled out until the end of this month at the earliest.
Gwion Edwards and Janoi Donacien have deputised and, with the former suspended, the latter is likely to get the start.
Luke Garbutt's out too with a thigh injury with Myles Kenlock or Josh Earl, who could potentially be wearing a mask to protect his injured cheek, his likely deputies.
But none of those potential starters are natural wing-backs, with all three more at home in traditional full-back roles.
That could potentially lead to a shift to a back four, meaning one of Luke Chambers, Luke Woolfenden and James Wilson could drop out of the side.
What that would mean for the rest of the side remains to be seen. Lambert used a 4-4-2 early on this season having preferred a 4-3-3 system throughout his time in charge in 2018/19. Both of those would be possibilities.
Or he could stick with the wing-back system used throughout 2020 to date and back Donacien and either Kenlock or Earl to adapt.
Predicting a Lambert side has proved to be extremely difficult this season. We'll find out at 2pm.
A big call
There will certainly be plenty of scrutiny on the decision Lambert makes when it comes to his goalkeepers this afternoon.
Speaking yesterday, he said he already knows who will start between the sticks with the chosen man finding out this morning.
Lambert admitted Holy 'may now think he has a chance to play' after patiently waiting behind Norris in every league game since the start of December, with the Czech stopper doing little wrong during his 19 appearances.
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Norris's error which gifted Peterborough's second goal on Sunday opens that door of course, but it remains to be seen if Lambert allows Holy to step through it.
Stadium of Bite
Sunderland have already sold more than 30,000 tickets for this game, with plenty more fans expected for what is a battle of two of League One's biggest club.
Should the crowd exceed more than 31,000 it would be the first time the Blues have played in front of a crowd that large since the visit to Leeds United's Elland Road in September 2017 (3-2 loss, 34,002).
Ipswich have played in front of crowds of more than 30,000 just twice since, at Wolverhampton Wanderers in December of 2017 (30,218) and at Sheffield United on the day the Blades effectively secured their Premier League place in April of last year (30,140).
A reminder that there's life outside the top two divisions.
But with a big crowd comes big expectations. Ipswich Town know that as well as anybody, with the Blues often struggling to put on a show in front of boosted Portman Road attendances.
Sunderland's home crowd are as passionate as they come but that passion can sometimes turn to frustration if things aren't going their way. Tease that frustration out early, both on the pitch and in the stands, and Ipswich might just be able to turn things in their favour with their hosts' backs up against the wall.
"It's 30,000 in a 50,000-seater stadium so there will be a lot of sparse areas I'm guessing," Lambert said.
"In years gone by that stadium was brilliant to go and play in when it's full.
"They have the majority of the support but if we can try and frustrate them then they have the expectancy level we have here.
"If we can do that, great. But Sunderland will have a hard game too."
Sunderland's Phil Parkinson is League One's manager of the month for January, after the Black Cats won four and drew two of their six games.
That comes with it's own dangers for Sunderland, of course.
The 'manager of the month curse' has seen less than one in three managers win their next League One game over the last three years, so there's room for some Ipswich optimism there.
Lambert won the August award following Ipswich's strong start but Ipswich subsequently drew Doncaster, but three of the other four previous winners this season have won their next games.
Ultimately, as Lambert himself stated at the time of winning his award, these 'curses' probably don't mean an awful lot.