As it stands: Ipswich 16-10–4–2 (2nd, 34 pts, GD 15) | Wycombe 18-11–6–1 (1st, 39 pts, GD 14)
Form: Ipswich LLWWD | Wycombe DWWWW
Last time out: Ipswich 2-2 Blackpool | Wycombe 1-0 Doncaster
Setting the Scene
‘Ipswich Town welcome league leaders Wycombe Wanderers to Portman Road’
Imagine that on the Sky Sports synopsis. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But our whole season so far has been ridiculous in the best possible way. It’s almost December and we’re eight points clear of third – and five clear of the pre-season title favourites as we travel to play them for the first time. So what if they have two games in hand? They won’t be able to catch us if we win.
Town’s unbeaten home run came to a halt when Rotherham dominated to win 2-0 late last month, but they’ve still not exactly been formidable otherwise, losing and drawing three apiece, putting three past Shrewsbury and four past Tranmere but keeping only two clean sheets. We’ve conceded one in our last four on the road and only four in eight away trips all season, scoring seven in those four and eight in eight altogether. We can go there and get a result.
Last season: 24th in Championship (relegated)
Manager: Paul Lambert (appointed October 2018)
Top scorers: James Norwood (ST), Kayden Jackson (ST) – 7
Most assists: Kayden Jackson – 5
Style of play: Possession-based, create from wide, try to control game in opponents’ half
A Deeper Look
These days, you can usually get a basic idea of what a team is like by looking at the right numbers, doing a bit of reading, and watching their recent highlights. With Ipswich, I have to admit that’s proved trickier. Town fan Rich even says in the Opposition View that they don’t even really know themselves what their style is. Nevertheless, I’ll try my best to unpick them.
In basic terms, they like to keep the ball (nothing new there), vary their passing, and get balls from the wings into the front two (or lately one). They’re a different side without Norwood, their marquee signing this summer. If he’s fit – he wasn’t in the squad on Saturday – he’ll be the biggest pain in the arse we’ve faced this season (I mean that as a compliment).
The 29-year-old is a born goal-scorer, capable of banging them in from anywhere and in all manners, showing clever and ultimately damaging movement into and within the box. He uses his physicality to his advantage as well – perhaps overstepping the mark on occasion, judging by three yellow cards in his last five games. Don’t be too encouraged by the fact his only two goals in the last eight came against Southend; he’s racked up over 100 in the last five years for Tranmere and Forest Green.
There’s a limit to what you can do to stop a striker like Norwood when he’s in the zone, but our supreme defensive organisation and resolve will go a long way in the event. We know what our boys at the back can do and trust them every step of the way. We’ve built our promotion challenge on those foundations and only one team have given us real problems since the ‘turning point’, the loss at Gillingham: Peterborough (and remember we started with a back three that day). A month or two ago, you might have said we’d need to go to a place like Ipswich and set up more defensively than normal; now it just comes naturally to us anyway.
Rotherham – arguably the most stylistically similar team to us in the division – went and really did a job on Town in their win, frustrating them with their physicality and reaping the rewards of their directness and counter-attacking. Then we went and taught the Millers a lesson on their patch three days later. Go on the Ipswich forum and you’ll see their fans are apprehensive about Wycombe because we’re such a “horrible, physical, streetwise” team. We’re not horrible, but we are the other things, which is fine – and don’t think for a minute that we’ll change our ways.
With 22 cards in total, we’re actually the most most disciplined team in League One. Even if we say red cards count double, we’d only rise one place in that table.
Might we see a return of the 4-3-1-2 (and the inverted trapezium) from our win at the New York Stadium? Sadly for tactics entusiasists and nerds, probably not. Ipswich have been playing a 4-2-3-1 similar to Doncaster’s of late (see the preview of Saturday’s game for we might combat that) but should revert to a 4-4-2 if Norwood is available. We’ve handled Donny and Lincoln’s similar systems expertly with a 4-3-3 and pressing man to man in the right areas.
Paul Smyth should start on the left again after his lively showing the other day, and he could be up against former Wanderers loanee Janoi Donacien, who saw no fewer than 100 touches of the ball last time out (on-loan Everton left-back Luke Garbutt enjoyed 107). Regardless of whether the Northern Irish Messi lines up on that side of a front three or a midfield four, a thrilling one-on-one contest awaits. While one expects he’ll be on the bench again, Rolando Aarons may be fit enough to start – and what better time to truly make his mark in the quarters?
I don’t know what it is, but I sense those two and Adebayo Akinfenwa – a challenge like no other many of these Ipswich players will ever have faced – having season-defining nights. We might need to find a way through from open play anyway; set-piece masters though we are, Ipswich have conceded one goal all season from one. Bring it on.
Norwood depending, Paul Lambert could pick the same 11 which started on Saturday.
If there was any doubt about Darius Charles’ ability to start two games in four days, he’d have sat out Saturday. Matt Bloomfield was withdrawn early after another spell in the wars but will surely start against his boyhood club almost 15 years after leaving, while Dom Gape should be refreshed and extra raring to go. David Wheeler looks in great nick at the moment and could drop to the right of midfield should we need to switch to a 4-4-2 early.
In the Middle: Alan Young
Taking charge of his second Wycombe game of 2019/20, Young was also in the middle for that drabbest of stalemates away at AFC Wimbledon in August. He’s brandished 76 yellows and two reds in 18 games this season. His last appointment came at Gillingham as they knocked Sunderland out of the FA Cup last week.