|Stoke City 2 v 0 Ipswich Town|
Saturday, 8th December 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Lambert Looking Forward to Return to Former Club Stoke With Blues
Friday, 7th Dec 2018 13:08
Town visit boss Paul Lambert’s former club Stoke City on Saturday looking for only their second win of the season and the first since the change of manager.
The Blues go into the game bottom of the table, seven points plus goal difference from safety on a eight-game winless run, the last five under Lambert.
The home side are 12th and are unbeaten in five, drawing four of those games, and have suffered only one defeat in their last 11, six of which were draws.
Lambert was in charge of the Potters between January and May this year with the club having been in freefall under previous boss Mark Hughes but couldn’t prevent them from dropping into the Championship, winning only his first and last games as they finished 19th in the Premier League, three points from safety.
“Brilliant, I absolutely loved it,” Lambert said when asked about his time at the bet365 Stadium. “Mr Coates [chairman Peter Coates] was absolutely brilliant, John [Coates, vice-chairman] really good, Tony [Scholes, chief executive], [technical director] Mark Cartwright there. I had an absolutely brilliant time.
“The lads gave me everything and we were so close, we were a penalty away from probably staying up, an own goal away from staying up.
“We went to Leicester and played ever so well and drew 1-1. West Ham was an incredible game, we drew 1-1 there and they scored in the last minute. We went to Anfield and got a really good draw.
“We just fell short but effort-wise, the players, Crouchy, wee Joe [Allen], Jack [Butland], I could go through them all, Bruno [Martins Indi], Erik [Pieters], they were all brilliant with me and it’s a really good club and I’m looking forward to going back. The fans as well, they were excellent.”
Lambert says relegation was difficult to take and believes that the Potters ought to be higher in the Championship than their current mid-table position given the squad they have.
“It was really tough because it’s a club I never thought in its time would ever go down but it just shows you it can happen,” he reflected.
“But the football club and infrastructure it’s got is second to none, that’s for sure. I think the fanbase it’s got is a terrific fanbase behind it.
“But I think with the squad that they’ve got at the football club at this moment in time it should be probably higher than they are.”
How does he compare the situations at Stoke last season and Town this year? “I love it here. I love working with the guys, young and enthusiastic guys, even the experienced guys they’ve been absolutely brilliant. Even the people here have been brilliant, at the training ground and the stadium.
“And the fanbase has been brilliant with me and, as I’ve said before, I’ll always do my best to try and turn it around but I get a sense that everybody wants to go in the one direction, that’s half the battle.”
Does he believe it’s going to be even more difficult to turn things around at Town given their present situation?
“I think every job’s tough, whether you’re top of the league, middle or bottom,” he said.
“Every job is hard, it’s not an easy thing to say it’s easy but one thing is to enjoy it and if you enjoy something and you have passion for it, you ultimately will turn it around. And we will turn it around if we get the players that we think we can get [in January].”
Turning to Stoke under his successor Gary Rowett, he added: “He’s kept a lot of the lads, that was a big thing that the club did really well was keeping a lot of the lads that have played in the Premier League for a long time. That was really good.
“They invested the way they did and I think them and West Brom were my tips to go up. Listen, they still might go in that top two but I think they probably thought they’d have been up there already.”
Asked whether he would take a draw if it was offered to him going into the match, Lambert was insistent: “No, I’d take a win. I know how hard it’s going to be but it’s a brilliant place to go and play football.
"The atmosphere is great, the pitch, everything about it is great but we’ll go there and I’ll do everything I can to try and win and I think everybody at Stoke will know that as well and I’m looking forward to seeing people.”
He hopes he’ll get a good reception from Potters supporters despite not keeping them up: “I think so, I think myself, Stewart [Taylor, assistant manager] and Jim [Henry, fitness coach], I think the crowd saw we gave everything and I don’t think anybody could close the door on us and say we never gave it a go.
“We came at a really hard time, especially in that league which is really unforgiving but we drew too many games, that was the bottom line. But I think everybody will be really good with us.”
Having made changes to his Town team for the first time at Nottingham Forest and with key midfielder Cole Skuse not available due to a knee injury, Lambert has selection decisions to make ahead of the visit to the Potteries.
He seems likely to stick with keeper Bartosz Bialkowski rather than recall Dean Gerken despite the Polish international having made errors in the last two games.
At the back, skipper Luke Chambers and Matthew Pennington will continue as the centre-halves, while Jonas Knudsen will be at left-back. Jordan Spence has started all five of Lambert’s games so far but Janoi Donacien could come into contention, despite the new boss seeing him more as a centre-half than a full-back.
In midfield, Trevoh Chalobah appears most likely to take up the deeper role usually occupied by Skuse with Teddy Bishop and Flynn Downes probably ahead of him, although Jack Lankester, who made his full debut at Forest, is another option along with Andre Dozzell and Jon Nolan.
In the wide roles, Grant Ward or Gwion Edwards, who is over the sore ankle which ruled him out last week, will be on the right with Freddie Sears on the left.
Jordan Roberts may get the nod ahead of Kayden Jackson as the central striker with Ellis Harrison probably among the subs as he continues his comeback from injury.
Stoke have a doubt over James McClean, who has an infection in his foot, while defender Erik Pieters, who was subbed in last Saturday's 2-2 draw at Reading due to a hamstring problem, has missed training until today.
Midfielder Peter Etebo is suspended having been red-carded in the 2-1 home victory over Derby on the previous Wednesday.
Manager Rowett says his side need to turn more of their draws into victories and have to begin Saturday's game positively.
"Winning games enhances and builds spirit, so of we can get the wins we are all after then that will only go from strength to strength," he said.
"It is important to start well on Saturday, we need to be on the front foot and take the game to Ipswich.
"We saw against Derby County how the fans respond to us when we are doing the right things, and we need that to continue."
He added: "I’ve spoken to the players about Ipswich showing endeavour, desire and quality in some spells, like at Forest in their last game, and although results haven’t been as forthcoming as they would like, they are going to come out and play with energy.
"We’ve had enough warnings from earlier in the season about games we should supposedly win comfortably, so if we don’t do certain things well we will be on the back foot ourselves.
“We have the quality, but must show the endeavour to go with it. There are certain things we will have to do really well to cause them problems, but it is a home game, and we believe we have the ability to win. We need to make sure we do that."
Historically, things are evenly balanced with Town having won 28 games (26 in the league) between the sides, Stoke 28 (24) and with 20 (18) having ended in draws.
Town have never won at the bet365 Stadium with their last victory on Stoke turf having been a 1-0 win at their old Victoria Ground back in March 1997 when Mauricio Taricco scored the goal.
The teams last met in February 2008 at what was then known as the Britannia Stadium when Liam Lawrence's fine 25-yard strike gave Stoke a 1-0 victory.
The Blues were the better side before the break but fell away in a second half in which manager Jim Magilton was sent to the stand.
A month earlier at Portman Road, Town extended their home league unbeaten run to 18 matches as Stoke City battled their way to a 1-1 draw.
Danny Haynes put the Blues in front on 18 with former Town loanee Ricardo Fuller netting the equaliser 14 minutes later.
No current member of either squad has played for Saturday’s opposition, aside from Jon Walters, who is technically still on loan to the Blues although having returned to Burnley after suffering an achilles injury.
Walters, who was playing for Town last time they faced the Potters, joined Stoke from Town for £2.75 million plus top-ups in August 2010 and spent seven successful seasons there, scoring 62 goals in 221 starts and 48 sub appearances.
Blues boss Paul Lambert’s record during his short spell at Stoke reads played 17, won two, drawn seven, lost seven.
Saturday’s referee is Geoff Eltringham, who has shown 52 yellow cards and three red in 17 games so far this season.
The County Durham-based official’s last Town match was the 2-0 home defeat to QPR in October in which he booked just one visiting player.
Prior to that he took the whistle for the second half of the 2-0 defeat at Middlesbrough in December last year when he replaced Robert Jones at the break and booked Bersant Celina and one Teessider.
Eltringham refereed the 3-2 defeat at Leeds last September, when he booked Knudsen, Skuse, Spence and one home player, and was also in charge of the 2-1 win at Barnsley the previous month in which he booked Dominic Iorfa, Knudsen and one Tyke.
Prior to that he was the referee for the 3-1 loss at Fulham in April last year in which he booked three home players and Blues captain Chambers.
He also took control of the 2-2 draw with Reading at Portman Road two months earlier in which he cautioned Knudsen and two of the visitors and the 0-0 draw at Blackburn in October 2016 in which he booked only one home player.
Eltringham also refereed the 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday in April 2013 when he kept his cards in his pockets throughout.
His first Blues match was against Leeds at Elland Road in January 2012, which ended 3-1, in which he red-carded on-loan Town keeper Alex McCarthy for handling outside the area thereby denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity and booked Luke Hyam and one Whites player.
Squad from: Bialkowski, Gerken, Spence, Knudsen, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Pennington, Nsiala, Donacien, Chalobah, Downes, Dozzell, Nolan, Bishop, Edwards, Ward, Lankester, Rowe, Roberts, Sears, Jackson, Harrison.
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