Handling expectation, picking a goalkeeper and Keane's time to shine - talking points as Town host Accrington
PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 January 2020
Ipswich Town are in League One action against Accrington Stanley this weekend. Andy Warren looks ahead to the game at Portman Road.
How big a game is this for Ipswich Town and manager Paul Lambert?
You could certainly argue it's the biggest since the opening day win at Burton and possibly even the biggest of his time in charge of the Blues.
The Town boss would respond by saying the next game is always the biggest and he has a point. But this one feels vital.
It comes with his side on a run of just one win in 15 and without a success in the league since November 5. The Blues are 21st in the League One form table since that win at Rochdale and, while there were signs of life in the draw at leaders Wycombe last time out, they have got themselves into quite the rut.
Their promotion bid has faltered and they've dropped from the top of the table to fifth, with the league compressed around them as sides jostle for position.
The game is the first at Portman Road since news of Lambert's long-term contract extension, which in itself has brought an added level of scrutiny to the run Ipswich currently find themselves on.
Yet there remains a feeling that the healing process will come quickly if they are able to secure a vital victory. We've been saying that for a while, though.
Much of the Portman Road faithful haven't seen a home win since the end of September so there's potential for edginess, both on the pitch and in the stands, but Lambert is hopeful the crowd will stay with his side.
"Everybody makes mistakes, not just the young guys," the Town boss said. "They need everybody's support. If they have that then the fear factor will leave them.
"There's a weight of 'we must, we must, we must, we must'. That's what they have to live with. You have to live with that as a footballer at a big club trying to have success.
"Football is a lot in the mind. It's about the mental toughness of getting through it. If you can get through it then your ability is always there.
"It's about being brave enough to take the ball. That was the pleasing thing about Wycombe, they took the ball.
"I don't care if you're in a phone box, you take the ball. Take the ball at every opportunity you can."
On paper the visit of Accrington Stanley (their first ever to Portman Road) presents Ipswich with a game they really should win, but there are some hidden issues.
Not least the fact things haven't exactly gone according to plan when the two sides have met previously. Ipswich's all-time record against Stanley reads two games, two defeats following the FA Cup humbling of a year ago and the televised 2-0 league loss in October.
The same worrying form table in which Ipswich sit 21st also sees Accrington occupy third place, following a good run of their own.
Their last league game ended in defeat by Rochdale but, prior to that, the men from the Wham Stadium had won five of their previous seven games in all competitions.
They are without their captain after Sean McConville was ruled out for the season after suffering an Achilles injury, while 10-goal leading scorer Colby Bishop has missed the last four games with a back injury.
He scored twice when the two sides met in Lancashire earlier in the season and would be a big miss were he not able to play in the return.
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A switch in goal?
Since the defeat at Accrington, Tomas Holy has started just three league games for the Blues, with Will Norris making his eight League One appearances in the weeks since.
The Wolves loanee has played the last four league games and appears to have established himself as Lambert's first choice. But should the Town boss be thinking of making a change this weekend?
After a man-of-the-match display at Portsmouth, Norris's last three games have been far from convincing with a shaky performance against Gillingham on Boxing Day and two errors leading to goals at Lincoln and Wycombe respectively.
Holy, meanwhile, has done little wrong when called upon in league and cup since losing his place as undisputed first choice.
There's still the potential for Norris to be recalled by Wolves should the Premier League club be unhappy with his level of game time, so it will be interesting to see who gets the nod in this game.
Striker Will Keane has been going about his business quietly this season as he works his way back to fitness following a hamstring injury.
But with two goals in his last three games, is it time for him to play a more prominent role?
James Norwood and Kayden Jackson have largely been the preferred pair when it comes to league action, with Keane starting just four times there this season, but he offers a greater element of control and the ability to bring others into play.
He could partner either Norwood or Jackson or play alone ahead of a No.10 and support from the flanks, with the former Manchester United showing his finishing ability of late as well.
Whether he gets the opportunity to lead the line remains to be seen.