Dealing with great expectations, unleashing new boys and putting it right under the lights - looking ahead to Town v Dons
PUBLISHED: 06:00 20 August 2019
Ipswich Town take on AFC Wimbledon for the first time in their history this evening. Andy Warren looks ahead to the contest under lights at Portman Road.
When was the last time Ipswich Town entered a game with this level of expectancy?
On paper at least, Town v AFC Wimbledon is a mismatch in the Blues' favour.
Ipswich were beginning their 17-year stay in the Championship when the Dons were founded in 2002, starting life in the Combined Counties League Premier Division with a squad assembled following trials on Wimbledon Common.
For them to be meeting as equals now would have been unthinkable back then.
To that end, nothing but a win is expected from Paul Lambert's men this evening.
They've been favourites going into games plenty of times in recent months but never has the weight of expectation been this heavy. Fans will arrive at Portman Road expecting Lambert's side to flex their muscles.
Plenty of Championship games were approached with optimism of victory without a high level of expectancy, while cup games against lower-league opposition were regarded as banana skins thanks to the evidence of recent years. The first three games of this season were all regarded as 'tricky' when the schedule was released in June.
I'd argue the last time Ipswich were truly expected to beat a team was Burton's visit to Portman Road in February 2018. Mick McCarthy's men barely laid a glove on the side bottom of the second tier on that occasion during an extremely dull 0-0 draw.
This expectancy level is something Ipswich must now get used to. They will be expected to beat Bolton's youth team next weekend, Shrewsbury at the end of August and Rochdale in September's first league game, too.
You have to feel the way they deal with this new pressure will shape their season from this point.
Lambert has two new pieces on the board.
The signing of Kane Vincent-Young from Colchester gives the Town boss a new weapon at full-back who offers something different to the options previously at his disposal.
He's mobile, athletic, driven and attacking, while also knowing his defensive responsibility.
Winger Anthony Georgiou has also joined from Tottenham and, while he has no league experience in this country to speak of, he is full of pace, direct and happy to take on his man.
But will they be thrown straight in?
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Well, Vincent-Young sat out Colchester's victory over Swindon last Tuesday with a stubbed toe, which Lambert said the 23-year-old is still dealing with.
If he's good to go, and you have to feel he might have recovered in time, there must be a temptation to use him straight away.
Georgiou trained with his new team-mates for the first time yesterday, so it's likely his Ipswich career will begin from the bench.
We've been talking about the Blues' formation heading into each of their four games so far this season.
Lambert's used a 4-4-2 in all three league games while operating a 4-2-3-1 in the cup loss at Luton.
The feeling is the latter is his preferred approach long-term, but does he have the personnel to pull it off right now?
Alan Judge, the natural No.10 in the latter formation, is not at top speed by any stretch of the imagination but there will come a time when the urge to start him becomes too strong.
We've seen a glimpse of what the Irishman and James Norwood can do as a pair in the final pre-season game at Cambridge but that would mean sacrificing Kayden Jackson who, while performing well in his first four games and offering a real threat using his pace and hard-running, has had few true sights of goal.
Flynn Downes and Cole Skuse have impressed at the start of the campaign but, while offering a good base for Lambert's side, they perhaps don't bring invention in the middle of the pitch.
Judge is the obvious option to rectify those issues, if Lambert believes he can play himself into form, while Emyr Huws is another option if the Town boss decides to add central reinforcements.
We'll find out come 6.45pm.
It's been a long old time since Ipswich Town won an evening game.
Paul Hurst didn't manage it and Lambert hasn't either, yet.
You have to go back to April 2018 for the last victory under the lights - an evening that will always be remembered for the dramatic exit of McCarthy.
The Blues beat Barnsley 1-0 that night thanks to Jonas Knudsen's header, before McCarthy thumped his desk, rattled his tea cup and exited stage left with four games left of the season.
Ipswich have tried to win midweek games on 11 occasions since and have a record of zero wins, three draws and six defeats in the league while also recording two first-round League Cup exits.