Ipswich's block booking finally arrives... but will Town's 'midfield of the future'? - talking points as Blues host Rovers
PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 December 2019
Ipswich Town begin a run of five successive league games when Bristol Rovers visit tomorrow. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the game at Portman Road.
For only the second time this season, Ipswich are about to embark on a run of five successive League One games.
Six of the Blues' last nine outings have come in cup competitions, which has played a major part in a disjointed feeling which has swept over a campaign which had previously been building nicely.
The last time Paul Lambert's men enjoyed such a run was from the middle of September, with the momentum generated in that spell bringing four wins and a draw, which solidified the club's position at the top of the table.
It's been a different story since then, of course, with Ipswich heading into tomorrow's game with Bristol Rovers on a run of just one win in nine.
The three league games in that spell have all produced draws against teams in the thick of the promotion battle (Wycombe, Blackpool and Coventry), with this weekend's with Bristol Rovers bringing another against the side in fifth.
It feels like a big period for Ipswich, with games against Portsmouth (a), Gillingham (h), Lincoln (a) and leaders Wycombe (a) to come.
For all the talk of Lambert's rotation policy, which has seen a total of 45 changes made to his starting line-up during the last six games, we knew that level of turnover was coming for cup football.
So that's what makes it even more intriguing to see how the Town boss plays things now the league is in full focus.
Will a preferred starting XI, or even a formation, begin to emerge or will the rotation wheel continue to spin?
A run similar to the successful five-game run mentioned above will do wonders for the mood around Portman Road and put Lambert's men into an incredibly strong position heading into 2020.
But should they stutter and produce the mixed bag of displays we've seen over the last few weeks, more questions than answers will be raised.
Changes are surely coming once again tomorrow afternoon.
Ipswich were lacklustre in every area during Tuesday's FA Cup loss to Coventry, a few days on from producing a Jekyll and Hyde display in the league meeting between the two sides.
The first half was as good as Ipswich have played this season before that performance fell off a cliff in the second, with Coventry's display playing a big part in that.
Almost the entire spine of that side dipped out for Tuesday's replay, with Will Norris, James Wilson, Flynn Downes, Andre Dozzell, Jon Nolan and central striker Will Keane all dropping to the bench.
Their display was the best example of using a single striker Ipswich have managed to produce under Lambert, with Keane's link-up play with the attacking unit behind him a perfect example of how that system should work.
It will be interesting to see whether it's given another opportunity, which, if it is, would mean the strike pairing of Kayden Jackson and James Norwood dropping to the bench.
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That would have seemed unthinkable back in September.
Of all the players mentioned in the previous section, the centre of Ipswich Town's midfield fascinates me the most.
The first two games with Coventry saw Downes (wearing the armband no less) and Dozzell line up together in the centre of midfield. If you cast your mind back to the final pre-season friendly of Paul Hurst's one Ipswich summer, those two lined up together and performed well, seemingly whetting the appetite for the future.
It's not worked out that way. Not yet, anyway. They never started together under Hurst and started only three league games together under Lambert last season, with Dozzell used as a wide option during those.
Saturday's game was just their third start together this season, too, and a first since September. They clearly know each other's game, having grown up together in youth football and seem to bring the best out of each other. That's particularly true in Dozzell's case, who thrives when team-mates are on his wavelength and when a side is set up to play like they did during Saturday's opening period.
The influence of Cole Skuse mustn't be underestimated - he and Jackson are the only two players to have played in all 18 league games - but if this young duo are given the nod this weekend, we could finally be getting a real look at the future which so excited us 18 months ago.
On the spot
If Ipswich Town win a penalty this weekend, you can expect Luke Garbutt to be the man standing over it.
Norwood, Jackson and Garbutt have all taken spot kicks for the Blues this season (with a few more stepping up in the EFL Trophy shootout at Peterborough) but both have also missed, with Norwood seeing a league penalty kept out at London Road in August and Jackson missing the target at Fleetwood.
But with Garbutt slotting home, cool as you like, against Blackpool, the Everton loanee has been 'put up on the board' of the Blues' set piece takers, adding penalties to his responsibility at corners and free-kicks.
Ipswich will be without winger Gwion Edwards this weekend as he serves a one-game ban after picking up his fifth League One booking of the season for his part in a brawl at Coventry on Sunday. Both sides have been charged with failing to control their players as a result.
Norwood and Downes are the only Ipswich players to have served bans for picking up five bookings this season.
Given this weekend's game is the final match in which players can be suspended after reaching five cautions, and that no Town players are sitting on four bookings, Ipswich won't have cumulative suspensions to worry about until any player reaches 10 yellows for the season.
We've spoken about recent games with Wycombe, Blackpool and Coventry as being battles between promotion contenders, but this one has maybe snuck up on the rails.
Bristol Rovers sit fifth, perhaps surprisingly, having won five of their nine games during an unbeaten run which stretches back to the middle of October.
So they can't be taken lightly in what is another tough game for Paul Lambert's side.