The pitch perfect battle of Prenton Park as the Lord returns to his manor - talking points as Town head to Tranmere
PUBLISHED: 17:09 17 January 2020 | UPDATED: 18:12 17 January 2020
Ipswich Town head to Tranmere Rovers to battle it out in difficult conditions. ANDY WARREN looks ahead to the League One clash at Prenton Park.
As things stand the game is on this weekend after real concerns the playing surface at Prenton Park would be unusable following Rovers' midweek postponement.
The club have brought in a tent and hot air blowers to try and solve the issues and they appear to have done their job, drying out the pitch despite ongoing rain on Merseyside.
But, even with those measures in place and the weather forecast dry, conditions are going to be treacherous.
The large mud patches which formed on Tuesday will likely be uncovered during the warm-up, with Paul Lambert fearing the surface will 'cut up within a minute' of kick-off.
Then it's about coping with the conditions.
Ipswich Town should really fancy their chances against a side sitting 21st in the table with just one league win to their name since the start of November.
But conditions will surely prove to be something of a leveller this weekend.
Battling qualities will come to the fore, as will ability to win 50/50 challenges and limit mistakes, and that's where Ipswich need to come out on top.
It's going to be difficult to get the ball down on the floor and play and we might have to accept we aren't going to see central defenders getting past the wide players to join in the attacks.
It's not going to be pretty. Any win will do.
The selection section
Lambert says he already knows his side to take on Tranmere, suggesting changes will be minimal.
The Town boss made just one in midweek for the draw at Oxford, with Kayden Jackson out with a hamstring injury and Will Keane coming in, and while Jackson is fit again for this one it's likely he will have to make do with a place on the bench.
Naturally you would think the likes of Emyr Huws, Teddy Bishop and Freddie Sears would be protected due to their long injury lay-offs, with Cole Skuse a possible midfield addition in place of Huws, but Lambert has stressed nobody will hide and if they're fit to play the condition of the pitch won't come into the equation.
Josh Earl's Ipswich Town debut will surely now need to wait another week, with the trio of Luke Woolfenden, Luke Chambers and Luke Woolfenden performing well at the start of 2020.
It's been nearly 20 years since Ipswich last went to Prenton Park, but the trip was a successful one.
Matt Holland and David Johnson scored the goals in a 2-0 victory on March 22, 2000 as George Burley's men took another step towards their ultimate promotion.
The pitch wasn't in great condition that night either, but it didn't stop Ipswich from securing three points.
Same again, please.
The return of the Lord
This game represents a homecoming for a true Tranmere hero.
James Norwood's goals propelled the men from Prenton Park from the non-league quagmire they found themselves in to the third tier of English football, with the Ipswich striker netting 93 goals in 180 games during an impressive four-season run.
Fifty of those goals came on the much-discussed Prenton Park pitch which he will readily admit is far from being a bowling green and, despite the poor conditions, he'll be looking forward to running out on it once again.
"You can see how much Nors is looking forward to going back to Prenton Park for the first time with Ipswich," goalkeeper Will Norris said. "To be honest we can't shut him up."
We can certainly believe that.
Norwood's described his relationship with his Tranmere team-mates as being like 'a band of brothers' as evidenced by their trip to Magaluf in the afterglow of promotion at Wembley in May.
He has Tranmere forward and close friend Connor Jennings' initials tattooed on his leg, but he won't let sentiment to get in the way of Norwood's quest for a goal. He's a winner who will be motivated even more than usual as he bids to show Tranmere what they're missing.
If he does find the net don't expect him to celebrate, wildly, though.
"Absolutely," Norwood said when asked whether he would mute any goal celebrations against Tranmere.
"I went back to Forest Green my first time and had muted celebrations but it didn't end well for them when they started booing me because I knocked them out of the play-offs.
"I react to things like that because I didn't feel I deserved to be booed and I don't think that will happen (against Tranmere) because the rapport there was brilliant. I had a lot of love for the fans so I wouldn't celebrate, no."
A win this weekend could take the Blues back to the top of League One, depending on results elsewhere.
Lambert's men first hit the summit following the 5-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers in August and have twice returned to the top, ahead of Coventry and then Peterborough, before losing their position as kingpins in mid-November.
They've been playing catch-up ever since, during a long winless run, but have generated momentum once again following positive results against Wycombe, Accrington Stanley and Oxford.
To return to the head of the queue the Blues would need a win at Tranmere and for Rotherham and Wycombe to both fail in their quests for three points against Bristol Rovers and Rochdale.