Pressure to win is high, but AFC Wimbledon are no pushovers at home... a look ahead to tonight's action
PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 February 2020
© Copyright Stephen Waller
Ipswich Town face AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow in a League One clash tonight. STUART WATSON previews what could be a pivotal match for the Blues.
With 14 games still to go, this is obviously - in the true sense of the term - not a 'must win' game for Ipswich Town. It feels pretty damn close to it though.
In the space of a fortnight, the Blues have slipped from top of the League One table to outside of the play-off places courtesy of successive defeats against promotion rivals Rotherham (1-0 away), Peterborough (4-1 at home) and Sunderland (1-0 away).
The three teams immediately above and seven below all have at least one game in hand to come. Town don't just need to halt this bad run, they need to start a good run of their own - and quick.
FIGHTING FOR THEIR LIVES
AFC Wimbledon aren't likely to roll over. One place and six points clear of the relegation zone, they're still fighting for their League One lives.
Their league record at the 4,850 capacity Kingsmeadow Stadium (W5 D6 L4 Pts 21) is actually better than Ipswich's at Portman Road (W5 D5 L3 Pts 20) this season. On their day, they've proved they are capable of beating the division's better sides on home soil - victories secured against Portsmouth (1-0 in October), Doncaster (2-1 in December) and Peterborough (1-0 in January).
Twelve of their 15 league defeats have come by a single goal margin, including the narrow 2-1 loss at Portman Road back in August. Town were made to sweat that day, battling back to win via late goals from James Norwood (81) and Kayden Jackson (90).
The Dons come into this match off the back of two very different defeats. Boss Glyn Hodges felt his side were well below-par in their 2-1 loss at Accrington Stanley less than a fortnight ago, but was delighted with his team's response in Saturday's 2-1 home loss to Fleetwood.
"The performance in the first-half was excellent, right from the first minute until the last," said Hodges. "If we play like that, home or away, we will be okay.
"A home game again next will be brilliant with Ipswich coming here. It's nice on a Tuesday night with a full house. The crowd will get behind us, as they did today.
"When we go to Rotherham and Oxford, we will give ourselves a chance by playing like that. I will be more than happy if we keep playing like that. They (Fleetwood) got the rub of the green today, but I was proud of the performance we produced and the reaction after last week.
"It's a tough one to take, but I think the response from the crowd in clapping the boys afterwards, shows that they understand the effort and the performance that we put in."
Paul Lambert's squad rotation policy was put on ice at the start of 2020 as he settled on a team and system in search of some consistency.
Off the back of two defeats, the Blues boss made five changes at the Stadium of Light - though two of those alterations were enforced.
Janoi Donacien looks certain to continue at right wing-back as Gwion Edwards serves the second part of a two-game ban. He'll be looking to build on a decent display in the north east which ultimately ended with him leaving the field due to cramp.
Who starts at left wing-back is a little less clear. Luke Garbutt remains sidelined with the thigh strain sustained against Peterborough. Myles Kenlock deputised for him at the weekend, but Josh Earl is another option for that role.
Earl, on loan from Preston, made his debut in the latter stages against Sunderland when replacing Donacien. That saw Luke Woolfenden move to right wing-back and Earl play on the left side of a back three. He can play wing-back himself though and, with the cheek injury he sustained in training having settled down, a full debut is not out of the question for the masked man.
The make-up of the midfield will be interesting. Flynn Downes looks the only certain starter.
Emyr Huws could return in place of Cole Skuse. After starting six league games on the spin, the Welshman sat out the Peterborough defeat with an ankle knock and then was introduced off the bench at the weekend.
What about the No.10 slot? Jon Nolan came in for the inconsistent Alan Judge at Sunderland and, in the first half, saw plenty of the ball.
Up front there's a three into two scenario. James Norwood may have missed some chances on his return to the team, but his energy - physical and verbal - does give Town a different edge. Will Lambert see this as a game better suited for Will Keane's link-up play or Kayden Jackson's high press and pace in behind? We'll see. One thing is for sure, the Blues need to get a striker firing.