Lambert Era Begins With Huge Home Game Against Preston
Friday, 2nd Nov 2018 12:46
Town will be looking for their first home win in more than six months when the Paul Lambert era gets under way against Preston North End at Portman Road on Saturday, a match the new boss admits is huge in the fight to avoid the drop.
The bottom-of-the-table Blues are yet to win at home this season with their last victory on their own soil the 1-0 defeat of Barnsley in Mick McCarthy’s final fixture in charge in April, one of only two wins at Portman Road during 2018.
Lambert admits Saturday’s game against the Lilywhites, managed fellow ex-Norwich boss Alex Neil, and next weekend’s trip to Reading are significant in Town's battle to avoid relegation to the third tier for the first time in 62 years.
“The next two games are huge,” the 49-year-old said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Every game is huge in the league, whether you're trying to get out of the league or stay in it, every game is massive.
“This is a big football club with a really good fanbase behind it. If they can not judge us by what's happened before, if they come and get right behind us, it'll be a brilliant atmosphere.
“And I'm pretty sure they will, I don't have any fear or trepidation that they're not going to come out and support their team. They will.
“But we have to give them something as well, for 90, 95 minutes. They have to come to the stadium as well and enjoy their time, they pay a lot of money to come to the games, they pay money to come and see the team win.
“So when they're in that stadium, they can also have fun, they can enjoy it. But we have to give them something as well.”
He knows he’s not coming into his new role at an easy time but says all managerial positions are challenging.
“Every job is tough, whether you're Manchester City or United, Liverpool, every manager's got a challenge on their hands. It doesn't matter where a team is in the table, every job you go into, there's a challenge there,” he added.
“I'm really looking forward to it, that's for sure. I'm not frightened by it, I'm really looking forward to it. I know it's a huge club with a great history behind it, but we have to start somewhere.
“You respect the club because of the great players that have been here, but we can't be compared to years gone by. We have to try and do our own little bit.
“You respect the history because it's huge - the UEFA Cup, the great managers this club has had - but we have to have a start, or else we've no chance. We have to do it ourselves and if we do that, we'll do fine this year.”
Lambert was at last Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Millwall and says that the Blues’ confidence-lacking display was typical of a struggling team.
“It’s not just Saturday's game, there's been a few games,” he said. “That's normal when you're not winning, that can happen.
“As I said to them the other day, forget what's happened in the past, you have to look to the future now and what's going to happen. I'm sure we'll see a different team.
“Whether we win on Saturday, I don't know - nobody knows that - but I'm sure you'll see a different team.”
He knows there’s no magic formula for turning things around: “There’s no secret in the game of football. You just try and win games and that keeps everybody pretty happy.
“I think what we have to do here is create an atmosphere where we're going to have a lot of fun, we're going to try everything we can, and we're going to try and win games.
“If we do that, we've got a great chance, it'll be a better place to come and work when the atmosphere's a lot more upbeat. We'll try and generate that, and if we do that, we've got half a chance.”
Above all else Lambert wants everyone at Portman Road to be together as one: “We need everybody behind everybody. We need the staff, we need the players, we need the fans to be united. If we do that, as long as they see a team really fighting and playing a different way, they'll get right behind us.”
Since his Tuesday press conference Lambert has said he’s been pleased with what he has seen of the players in training - “I took the team yesterday and I was really pleased with them, with their effort and the way they went about it and tried to take things on board” - and believes they are ready for Saturday’s match.
“We’re ready for that, that’s for sure,” he said at Thursday’s Meet the Club event. “Nobody can predict the result, nobody can do that but I know 100 per cent they’ll be ready for it and we’ll do everything we can to try and win the game. It’s a tough game but we’re in a good place at the minute.”
Second-guessing Lambert’s first Town team is tough, however, he seems likely to start with Bartosz Bialkowski in goal ahead of Dean Gerken, his keeper during his time at Colchester.
Gerken is one of four players to have worked under Lambert before, Jordan Graham having been at Aston Villa and Wolves, Janoi Donacien at Villa and Tom Adeyemi at Norwich.
In defence, skipper Luke Chambers and Matthew Pennington are likely to be the centre-halves with Jonas Knudsen at left-back. Donacien, Jordan Spence or perhaps Grant Ward are in contention at right-back.
Lambert, who said there were one or two little knocks which would be assessed over the course of the week at Tuesday’s press conference, seems likely to line his team up in a system along the lines of 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 judging by his time in charge at Stoke in the second half of last season.
In midfield, Cole Skuse is a doubt with the ankle injury he suffered at Leeds and then aggravated at Millwall but is thought likely to be OK to start in his usual holding role. None of the other players recently sidelined with injury are expected back in the squad this weekend.
Trevoh Chalobah, Andre Dozzell, Jon Nolan, Tayo Edun and Flynn Downes are all in contention for the other central midfield positions and Ward, Graham, Gwion Edwards and Danny Rowe for the wide roles, while Freddie Sears and Kayden Jackson are the candidates to start as lone striker.
Preston will be without long-term absentees Billy Bodin and Josh Harrop, who are both out with knee injuries, but have no new concerns going into the game, while Brandon Barker (groin) and Ryan Ledson (knee) are both expected to return to the squad.
Lilywhites boss Alex Neil, whose team are unbeaten in five, is pleased to go into the match having had no midweek fixture: “It’s good to have a few days ahead of the game. In the Championship you don’t always get a lot of time to recover.
“Performing well and winning games breeds confidence. You can’t just hand somebody confidence.
“We will perform better the higher we move up the table because there’s less pressure. But we have to win games to do that.
“The next two games [Town and a visit to Bristol City next weekend] are vital for us to keep up the progress we’ve made.”
Reflecting on Saturday’s match, Neil says he’s looking for his team - 20th, five points ahead of the Blues - to put some space between them and Town.
“There’s an element of the unknown because there is a new manager but one thing is for sure is the players will have a point to prove,” he added.
“If we can try and create a distance between ourselves and Ipswich that would be crucial. The Championship is the tightest it’s ever been. Everyone is having a go.”
Preston midfielder Ben Pringle, who is currently on loan at Grimsby, joined the Lilywhites from Fulham in the summer of 2016 having been on loan with the Blues towards the end of the previous season, scoring two goals in nine starts and one sub appearance.
Keeper Michael Crowe joined Preston in the summer after his release by the Blues. The Wales U21 international is yet to make an appearance for the Lilywhites.
New Town assistant boss Stuart Taylor, who watched Preston’s 4-3 home victory over Brentford a week ago on Wednesday, worked with Lilywhites manager Neil at Hamilton Academical.
Historically, results are very balanced, Town having won 13 games (12 in the league) between the sides while Preston have been victorious on 13 (11) occasions and 10 (nine) matches have ended in draws. The Blues are currently unbeaten in seven against the Lilywhites.
The teams last met at Deepdale in February when Mustapha Carayol’s full debut goal saw Town to a 1-0 victory, only the then-play-off-chasing home side’s second defeat in 18 league games.
The Blues might have led by more after the first half, the January signing netting what proved to be the winner on 21, before comfortably seeing out the second half, their match-winner, who had been ill earlier in the week, having been subbed at the break.
At Portman Road in November last year, goals from Martyn Waghorn, David McGoldrick and Bersant Celina saw the Blues to a 3-0 home victory over North End.
Waghorn curled home a freekick in first-half injury time, McGoldrick headed the second four minutes after the break and Celina sealed what in the end was a very comfortable Town victory with a superb strike on 64.
Saturday’s referee is Andy Woolmer from Northamptonshire, who has shown 14 yellow cards and two red in five games so far this season.
Woolmer’s last Town match was the 3-0 victory over QPR in November 2016 in which he booked Tom Lawrence and three visiting players.
Before that he was in charge of the pre-season friendly at Cambridge United in July the same year and the 1-0 home victory over Nottingham Forest in the Championship in the previous March in which he booked Luke Hyam and four of the visitors.
Two months earlier he had taken control of the 2-1 FA Cup replay defeat at Portsmouth in which he red-carded Piotr Malarczyk for two bookable offences - the only yellow cards of the night - and also awarded a penalty against the Polish defender.
Before that he took control of the 2-1 win at Wigan in September 2014 in which he booked only Tyrone Mings and Christophe Berra.
Woolmer also refereed the 3-3 pre-season friendly draw at Notts County in July 2013 and the 3-0 victory over Bristol City at Portman Road in the Championship in March 2012 in which he booked three Town players and four Robins.
Squad from: Gerken, Bialkowski, Donacien, Pennington, Spence, Knudsen, Chambers (c), Nsiala, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Dozzell, Edun, Edwards, Ward, Graham, Nolan, Sears, Jackson, Lankester.
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