|Ipswich Town 0 v 1 Sheffield Wednesday|
Saturday, 2nd February 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Lambert: Owls Will Be Tough Opponents But We're Playing Well
Friday, 1st Feb 2019 11:09
Town boss Paul Lambert warns that Sheffield Wednesday will be far from easy opponents despite an inconsistent season which sees the Owls, who will have new manager Steve Bruce in charge for the first time, visit Portman Road sitting 17th in the Championship.
Their 1-0 home win over Wigan in their last league fixture ended a run of four games without a win, three of them draws.
Quizzed on whether he views the match against relative strugglers Wednesday as the type of home fixture the Blues definitely need to win if they’re going to stay up, he said: “Why especially Sheffield Wednesday? Two years ago Sheffield Wednesday were in the play-offs. They spent a helluva lot of money trying to do it and it didn’t materialise.
“They’ve maybe tailed off, they’ve been through a couple of managers since then, but Sheffield Wednesday are a big, big club, a huge club. It certainly went for it a couple of years ago.
“The important thing for us is that we’re playing well. We’ll do everything we can to try and win, we’ll create our own feeling in the game and hopefully go and get a good result.”
He added: “It’s be a really tough game, but I think that’s normal, any game in the Championship’s really tough.
“But we’re playing well, we’re at home with a great atmosphere there, so I’m looking forward to the game. But we’ll keep playing the way we are.”
The Blues manager says he’s not one to go through the fixture list pin-pointing winnable and less winnable matches.
“No, I don’t, I just go and try and win every game,” he insisted. “I always think I can win every game. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing against.
“But that’s me having been brought up that way, I’ve always been like that. I don’t look at games and think, “I’m not going to win that one, I’m going to lose that one’. No, I think I can win.
“As I said, we’re in the fight. Until somebody says we’re out of it you keep fighting for everything.
“Supporters expect it, I expect it, the players expect it, the football club expects it, so we’ll go and fight for everything. I don’t care who it is, home or away I don’t care, I’m up for the fight and I’ve got a group of lads who are up for the fight, brilliant.
“Supporters are certainly up for the fight, so I don’t look at one particular game and think to myself, ‘We can win this one or forget that one’. No, go and win.”
Despite the Blues losing both the back-to-back away games at Blackburn and Aston Villa, the gap to safety remains at seven points plus goal difference with the sides above them not able to pull away, while Lambert admits the 1-1 draw between Bolton and Reading in midweek was a boost for Town’s hopes of staying up.
“Absolutely, I think that’s the beauty of it, there’s nothing in it,” he said. “You’re going to go into games on a Saturday and Wednesday and if you can get a good week everything turns on its head.
“The pleasing thing for me is that we’re playing well enough. We’re going into games thinking we can win. I think that’s important. While you have that belief that we can go and do it, then you’ve a better chance of winning games.
“But I don’t get to the point where I think we need to win this one or that one, we’re just going to try and win every single game. And if we can get a few more wins under our belt, let’s see what happens.”
Similarly he is heartened by the likelihood that it will take one of the lowest-ever Championship points totals to stay up this season.
“One hundred per cent,” he said. “I think the big thing we’ve got, I think if you ask anybody, the feeling in the place is certainly not one of doom and gloom and depression thinking, ‘What we going to do?’ and the lads are coming in with their faces long.
“Far from it, this is really vibrant, the support’s incredibly vibrant. If we keep that, we’ve got a better chance, that’s the feeling and that’s how I know we’re in games because the feeling and the support’s with us. We’ve got big games coming up but we’ll certainly be in the fight, that’s for sure.”
Would he have expected Town to have made more progress towards reducing the gap by this point? “It’s a difficult question. The performances have been good. Some results have gone for us, some haven’t.
“But the level of the performances have been good. Sometimes the table can lie. People say it doesn’t, but it does at certain times, without a doubt, it does.
“We’ve deserved more than we’ve got. We’ve played really well. Do I think we’re a bottom three team? No, I don’t because of what we’ve seen and what we’ve given.
“There are lads in really good form, we just need to get that little break, which all football teams do. But we go into every game thinking we can win.”
He says it’s not easy taking on a team midway through a season and instilling a new style of play into a squad.
“It’s not normal,” he reflected. “But the lads have taken to it really, really well, it’s not normal the way they’re playing and dominating games in certain aspects.
“When you come in in mid-season at any time it’s difficult because it’s not your group of lads that you inherit. But once we get a right good hit at this hopefully it’ll be a different story.”
Does he believe 31 league matches - which is the number he will have been in charge of by the end of the season - is enough to turn things around at Town? “We’ll have to see, we’ll have to wait and see and hopefully it does. Whatever league this club’s in, then we’ll certainly rebuild it and make it better.”
He added: “The dressing room’s been brilliant, really good guys, we’re really fortunate to have that group the way they are with each other, I think they’re a really close-knit group, which is important because you need that at these moments, or at any moment to be fair, in a season you need the dressing room to be really strong.
“We’ve got a really good dressing room. The spirit is unbelievable, I’ve got to say that. Training is upbeat, there’s seriousness there when they go and do it. There’s laughter as well with it, which I think is important, but when it comes to working then they get right into it.”
Bruce will be taking charge of his first Wednesday match after a four-week hiatus having been appointed in which he recuperated from two operations and went on a family holiday to the Caribbean, previously booked as he sought to take a break after his Aston Villa sacking in October and following the death of both his parents. His assistants Steve Agnew and Stephen Clemence have been in interim charge.
“I’ve met Steve a few times, he’s a proper football guy,” Lambert said regarding his opposite number. “He had a great career himself.
"But it’s not about me and it’s not about Steve Bruce, it’s about the two teams that play and hopefully we can keep doing what we’re doing.”
Lambert wants to see a repeat of the atmosphere at the last home match against Rotherham as fans got behind their team as they held on valiantly for a vital 1-0 victory.
“Yes, and even Aston Villa, the support was brilliant at Aston Villa, it was fantastic,” he continued. “The supporters have been great. I was at a supporters thing on Tuesday night [in London] and it was really, really good.
“As I’ve said before, this club has a massive support behind it and as long as they see fight and good football and everybody really at it, they’ll go with it. That’s what I get. We just have to give them that back. We need their help and since we’ve been at the club it’s been great.”
Lambert says he enjoyed Tuesday’s ITFC On the Road event in London: “It was really good, we had a really good time. [Assistant manager] Stuart [Taylor] and Gilly [first-team coach Matt Gill] came with me and [general manager football operations] Lee O’Neill came as well.
“As I said before, the supporters are the most important people at the club. Without the support you don’t have a game and they’ve been brilliant.
“It was really nice, really good. The supporters are vital to us and we have to give them something back.
“When I got told about it a few weeks ago I said maybe a couple of the coaches could go but I changed my mind and said we’ll all go out and do it.
“That’s the way I do things. If I can't make it somebody from the football area will go. I won’t have anybody being neglected and do one for one and not for another. If we go, we all go, I think that’s important.”
Turning to his starting XI, he dismissed the suggestion that Collin Quaner’s impressive performance from the bench at Villa had given him a selection headache going into the Owls match.
“Not really no, it’s quite easy,” he said. “I know the team that will start, so I don’t have any problem. I never get caught up in any other situation other than what I see here [on the training ground] or what I see in the games. I know the team that will start.”
Bartosz Bialkowski seems certain to keep his place in goal having returned at Villa, but Lambert will have at least one decision to make in his backline, assuming everyone is over the "one or two little knocks from last weekend" which he reported at his pre-match press conference on Thursday.
The Blues boss seems likely to give deadline-day signing James Bree his Town debut at right-back with Matthew Pennington perhaps the unlucky sixth loanee left out of the matchday 18 with only five permitted in the squad.
Skipper Luke Chambers and James Collins look set to continue at the centre of the defence with Myles Kenlock probably getting the nod ahead of Callum Elder at left-back with the Australian another candidate to be the unfortunate left-out loanee.
Lambert may well return to the system employed during the victory over the Millers with Cole Skuse and Trevoh Chalobah in central midfield, Alan Judge on the left and Freddie Sears on the right and Will Keane just behind Quaner up front.
Alternatively, he could use the same 4-3-3 formation as at Villa with Flynn Downes joining Skuse and Chalobah in midfield and Judge and Sears either side of Keane - or perhaps Quaner - up front.
Sheffield Wednesday had a busy deadline day, making three signings including one familiar face for Town supporters.
Right-back Dominic Iorfa, who was on loan at Portman Road last season, joined on a permanent basis from Wolves, while Achraf Lazaar and Rolando Aarons signed on loan from Newcastle United.
On-loan Chelsea defender Michael Hector is available again having been ineligible for last week's 3-0 FA Cup defeat to his parent club, while striker Fernando Forestieri (hamstring) could return to league action for the first time since December.
Midfielder Josh Onomah (hamstring), who is on loan from Spurs, remains sidelined along with full-back Matt Penney (shoulder).
Owls boss Bruce took charge of his first training session on Thursday and says he felt refreshed after his break.
"At training, I was like a young kid," the 58-year-old told BBC Online. "There was that adrenalin that was still me with after all these years.
“I had to ask whether I have the enthusiasm, drive and the health to go again with what the job takes these days. But after getting myself fixed up I am OK.
"I didn't want to start the job and have a few personal issues that I have to attend to. There was nothing major but I just wanted to get fixed up and get back fit and healthy.”
He added: "I thought long and hard about if I wanted to get back into management and when I got the call from the chairman [Dejphon Chansiri] and met him, his enthusiasm about how he wants this club to be successful started the adrenalin going again.
”Physically and emotionally I am great and I am delighted to be the Wednesday manager. I told the chairman the issues I have and he was prepared to wait [for four weeks].”
The former Manchester United defender takes over at Hillsborough with the Owls in 17th, 11 points both from the relegation zone and the play-offs, while having to steer a careful path so as not to fall foul of the division’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.
"My immediate priority is to be successful," Bruce added. “We have had a difficult time but we can put a run together. We have some good players at the club who have probably been underperforming so let's try to turn that around and see where that takes us.
"It might be a long road ahead. Everyone wants success instantly and that's what we will try to provide. There is a big job ahead but I look forward to the future.
"We are not alone in FFP. There are probably 10, 11 or 12 teams in the Championship in this restriction. The rules are difficult and we understand that. It will not be easy.
“The chairman has spent a lot of money and if you don't get up then it is very, very difficult. I am aware of that and have to get on with it and fix it if we can."
Turning to Town, Bruce added: "It is always difficult at Ipswich. They are fighting for their lives.
"They have put up a bit of a fight over the last few weeks and changed the team around from what it was three to four months ago. They have brought one or two players in.
"Ipswich are a another club with history, tradition and support. They have won European Cups and FA Cups but they find themselves at the wrong end of the Championship, which is sad.
"I have always said that the reason why players play in the Championship is that they go up and down a bit.
"You can see a good player play well one week and then you see them play the following week and think, 'now I'm not sure' and that's why they play at this level.
"The really top players stay at Premier League level and consistently perform.
"I don't think there is a given in the Championship at all. It will be a difficult game and when Lambert is in charge, you always know what you are going to get. You know teams are going to be up and at you and we will have to expect that."
Historically, Town have the edge having won 20 games (19 in the league), Wednesday 19 (18) and with 13 (12) matches having ended in draws.
At Hillsborough in August, Toto Nsiala scored his first Town goal but was later controversially sent off as the Blues were beaten 2-1 by Sheffield Wednesday, Lucas Joao netting twice for the Owls.
Joao headed the home side in front in the 16th minute, but Nsiala levelled on 44. The former Shrewsbury man was very harshly red-carded for a challenge on Fernando Forestieri in the 75th minute and two minutes later Joao won it for the South Yorkshireman.
Last time at Portman Road, in November 2017, Wednesday sub Atdhe Nuhiu headed an equaliser four minutes into injury time to grab a 2-2 draw.
Joe Garner put Town ahead on 48, Gary Hooper levelled via a 64th minute penalty after Jordan Spence had handballed, then Martyn Waghorn’s header on 70 looked to have won it for the Blues until Nuhiu’s late goal stole an undeserved point for the visitors.
Town striker David McGoldrick was forced off at half-time after suffering a bad gash to his groin after a high Glenn Loovens challenge in the opening minutes which went unpunished by referee Keith Stroud.
Former Town loanee Iorfa joined Wednesday on a free transfer on deadline day having made 22 starts and three sub appearances for the Blues last season, scoring his only senior goal.
Ex-Blues striker Jordan Rhodes - the nephew of new Wednesday assistant manager Steve Agnew - is still an Owls player but is on loan at Norwich, while defender Morgan Fox was a schoolboy at Town's Playford Road academy before being released at 11. Former Blues left-back Neil Thompson coaches their U23s.
Town loan striker Keane was with Wednesday for a spell from Manchester United between January and May 2015, scoring three goals in 12 starts and one sub appearance.
Saturday’s referee is Oliver Langford from the West Midlands, who has shown 76 yellow cards and five red in 24 games so far this season.
Langford's most recent Town match was the 3-2 victory at Swansea in October in which he booked Chalobah, Andre Dozzell and one Swan.
He also refereed last season’s game between the Blues and Wednesday at Hillsborough, which Town won 2-1 in March when he yellow-carded Chambers, Cameron Carter-Vickers and one Owl.
He was also in charge of the 2-1 home defeat to Derby at the end of December 2017 in which he cautioned only Adam Webster.
Prior to that he refereed the 3-1 defeat at Cardiff in October of the same year when he booked Tommy Smith and one home player.
He also took control of the 2-0 home victory over Brentford two months earlier in which he booked Kenlock and two Bees.
Langford officiated in the 2-1 win at Burton over Easter 2017, cautioning only Sears, and also refereed the 1-1 East Anglian derby draw at Carrow Road in February that year in which he again yellow-carded Sears as well as Spence.
Before that he was the man in the middle for the 2-0 home defeat to Fulham on Boxing Day 2016 in which he booked Tom Lawrence, David McGoldrick and one Cottager.
Langford also took control of the 2-0 home victory over Burton Albion in October of the same year in which he cautioned Skuse and two Brewers.
Before that he refereed the 0-0 home draw with Charlton in April 2016, in which he yellow-carded Jonas Knudsen and two Addicks, and the 2-1 home defeat to Leicester in November 2013, in which he booked only Chambers.
The only other Town game he has officiated in was the 2-0 defeat at Leeds in the preceding April when David Norris, by then with the Whites, was the only player cautioned.
Squad from: Gerken, Bialkowski, Bree, Pennington, Spence, Kenlock, Elder, Chambers (c), Collins, Nsiala, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Dozzell, Nolan, Bishop, Edwards, Dawkins, Judge, Sears, Keane, Quaner, Jackson, Harrison.
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