Lambert takes the theory test and has big decisions to make as Ipswich visit Rochdale for first time
PUBLISHED: 06:00 05 November 2019
Ipswich Town travel to Spotland for the first time this evening when they take on Rochdale. ANDY WARREN looks at the talking points heading into the game.
There's been much debate this season as to whether calling games off due to international call-ups is the right decision.
Manager Paul Lambert has stuck to his guns (and will continue to) whenever questioned on this subject, insisting he doesn't want to go into any fight with anything less than his full arsenal available to him.
Personally, I think the call has been right all along, but this game offers the first quantifiable test of that logic.
The match was due to be played on a Saturday at the start of September but was pushed back until this Bonfire Night. It was the first to be postponed and the first to be played once rearranged, with the game with Wycombe coming later this month and a visit to Oxford likely needing to be rescheduled once it's inevitably postponed in the coming days.
Win and Lambert's approach will be vindicated. Anything less and the debate will be blown open again.
Next man up
Kane Vincent-Young is injured and Ipswich Town don't have a natural replacement.
So who takes his place at Rochdale?
The candidates are Janoi Donacien, Gwion Edwards and Luke Woolfenden. All have their positives, all come with negatives but none of them possess the full package brought to the table by Vincent-Young.
Donacien's a pure defender, comfortable enough in one-on-one battles but overawed when it comes to attacking situations. He hasn't played a league game since the middle of August and would be coming in from the cold.
Edwards is a winger, happiest going forward but lacking when it comes to positioning in defensive situations. He's been Vincent-Young's most-recent deputy when Ipswich continue with a wing-back system but hasn't entirely convinced.
Woolfenden has been a consistent performer in the centre of defence, his preferred position, but is a comfortable right-back as proven at Southend last time out. He played there during his loan spell at Swindon, too.
He's the most competent Ipswich central defender on the ball but operating as an out-and-out wing-back is surely beyond him.
So if Lambert wants to go with wing-backs, it's Edwards. A back four and Woolfenden is surely the pick to the right of Luke Chambers, James Wilson and Luke Garbutt.
The above heading has been used a few times in our match previews this season, with Lambert chopping and changing when it comes to on-field formations. I make no apology for doing so again.
We've had 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, a diamond midfield, a 3-5-2 with wing-backs and plenty more subtlety in between, with Lambert always insisting it's players, rather than systems, which win you games.
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So could we see a tweak again this evening?
Colleague Stuart Watson has just leaned over our desk and suggested this is an easy Ipswich Town side to pick and I have to say on first thought I agree with him. There's a nagging doubt, though.
Assuming the back four is as mentioned above and Lambert again goes with a 4-4-2, the likely absence of Cole Skuse (groin injury) and Flynn Downes' suspension means a pairing of Jon Nolan and Emyr Huws will almost certainly start in midfield.
The strike pairing of James Norwood and Kayden Jackson pick themselves, with two from Edwards, Alan Judge, Danny Rowe and Anthony Georgiou taking the wide roles. I'd lean towards Judge and Georgiou, with the former impressing off the bench at Southend and the latter still waiting patiently for a first start.
The only concern there is that Rochdale, who have mostly used three central midfielders this season, could potentially overrun the Blues in the middle of the pitch.
Having Skuse fit and available would open up the possibility of playing three in the middle and potentially an attacking front three, as was favoured for much of last season (albeit with little success). His fitness could also put the 3-5-2 wing-back formation back on the table, with Edwards again filling in for Vincent-Young.
There's a chance the Blues won't have that luxury, though, meaning Skuse's status could force the Town boss's hand. A lot rides on him.
There's been plenty to ponder heading into Ipswich games so far this season and that intrigue shows no sign of vanishing.
Fortunately, though, Lambert's assertion that players will define your results, rather than the formation they play in, has largely been proved correct this season.
Stick or twist?
That leaves one big decision - who starts between the sticks?
Tomas Holy was an ever-present in the league before dropping to the bench at Southend.
Lambert said that decision was based on the need for Will Norris to experience league football for the first time with Ipswich, having previously been limited to three cup outings following his loan from Wolves.
This was perhaps harsh on Holy, who had done little wrong despite insisting he could have done better in the loss at Accrington, but you can see Lambert's logic on this one.
Two cup games follow the visit to Spotland, which could become three should the league visit to Oxford be postponed and the Lincoln FA Cup tie require a replay, meaning both men will have ample opportunity in the coming days.
The Town boss says he knows who he will pick for the Rochdale game. We'll find out at 6.45pm.
For the third time in 2019, Ipswich Town will be gracing a new ground for the first time in their history.
The Blues' first visit to Accrington in January (and subsequent league trip a few weeks) ago, ended in disaster before securing three points on their Fleetwood debut last month.
Spotland's next, with first visits to Wycombe and AFC Wimbledon still to come this season.