A tale of two goalkeepers - Lambert’s major selection headache between the Ipswich Town sticks
- Credit: Archant
Paul Lambert biggest selection headache arguably comes between the sticks.
The Town boss's plans for the opening game at Burton have been complicated by a lengthy injury list, with the broken ankle suffered by Tristan Nydam on Tuesday night extending the number of wounded to 10.
You could argue that seven of those (Gwion Edwards, Alan Judge, Jack Lankester, Jon Nolan, Toto Nsiala, Teddy Bishop and Freddie Sears) would be nailed on starters if they were fit but all could conceivably be absent at the Pirelli Stadium.
Their absence makes it a case of needs must for Lambert in many positions, with some areas of the pitch selecting themselves unless there are additions to the squad in the coming days.
But it's a different story in goal, with Tomas Holy and Bartosz Bialkowski in a genuine battle for the starting spot.
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In one corner you have the three-time player-of-the-year who was at the 2018 World Cup with Poland before suffering a drop-off in form during a season in which Town were relegated. In the other you have the 6ft 9inch new signing who has played 100 games in League One and is a hand-picked Lambert signing.
Holy represents a clean slate between the sticks after more than half a decade of continuity, with his pre-season showing impressive so far - especially when it comes to claiming high balls into the box.
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We know Bialkowski's upside - he's still the goalkeeper who won so many points on his own during a three-year period - but it's a question of finding that form again. If he does, the Blues would undoubtedly possess the best goalkeeper in the division.
He's had a difficult summer as a move to Millwall broke down over the results of a medical, which highlighted some lasting effects of a knee injury he suffered a decade ago while a Southampton player. It must be said has barely missed a single game through injury during his Ipswich career.
Until recently there was a sense that the move to The Den could be rekindled, perhaps with the £900,000 deal structured slightly differently with Millwall hoping to pay instalments once appearance milestones were hit, but it's now understood to be dead in the water.
That, as well as the fact all Championship goalkeeping vacancies now appear to be filled, means the Pole will now almost certainly be at Portman Road until January at least.
While Holy is a Lambert signing, the Town boss inherited Bialkowski. While those who have watched Ipswich regularly during the Pole's time at the club know exactly what he can do, he hasn't been able to replicate that form for his current boss.
Even still, the possibility that the 32-year-old could find himself on the bench in the third tier represents a remarkable turn of events when you consider his standing at Ipswich just a year ago.
Tomorrow's game with Cambridge is the final opportunity for the pair to impress before the big kick-off at Burton on August 3.
The two goalkeepers have split gametime during the summer, each playing two lots of 45 minutes in Germany and then a full 90 minutes in England.
If one or other plays the majority of tomorrow's game then they are surely the chosen one for the season-opener, though Lambert has stressed not to read too much into his selection for the final friendly.
Whoever misses out at Burton will then have to bide their time, remain patient and take their chance if and when it comes. That may mean the unlucky goalkeeper coming into the side for the Carabao Cup game at Luton and the three EFL Trophy group games.
That situation would be far from ideal for either Bialkowski or Holy, given that scenario would represent just one game a month for them to push their case.
Bialkowski, who we must remember is one of the club's top earners, needs minutes if he is to get back to his best, while Holy didn't turn down moves elsewhere and at higher levels just to sit on the bench.
While both are model professionals, surely neither will be a contented back-up and will feel they deserve to start.
Lambert will be hoping for consistency from his starting goalkeeper this season, with both Bialkowski and the now-departed Dean Gerken being dropped twice as they struggled behind a poor defence last season.
You would assume the leash will be short for whoever does get the nod to start in League One, given the quality of the back-up.
For Lambert, having two good goalkeepers is a luxury he would like to replicate in other areas of the pitch.
It'll be fascinating to see which way he turns