|Ipswich Town 4 v 1 Tranmere Rovers|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 28th September 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Town Host Tranmere Aiming to Extend Lead and Set Clean Sheet Record
Friday, 27th Sep 2019 10:08
Town host striker James Norwood’s former club Tranmere Rovers on Saturday aiming to extend their lead at the top of League One and targeting a club record sixth successive league clean sheet.
Last week's 1-0 victory at Gillingham saw the Blues climb two points ahead of previous leaders Coventry, who weren’t in action, both sides having played nine games. The Sky Blues host seventh-placed Doncaster Rovers tomorrow, while Wycombe, in third on goal difference having played one more match, are at Rochdale.
The win at the Priestfield Stadium saw Town keep their fifth successive league clean sheet, a record last achieved in March and April 2013 and also at a similar period of 1996/97. They have now gone 499 minutes without conceding a goal and stretching that period to 548 minutes on Saturday will set another new club record.
Town also took their league unbeaten run to 10 games stretching back to the final day of last season. A win or draw on Saturday will match a run of 11 games without a defeat last achieved during November and December 2014.
Much of the pre-match attention has focused on striker Norwood, whose goals helped Tranmere climb from the Vanarama National League, into League Two and then League One in successive seasons before he departed for Portman Road in the summer.
However, manager Paul Lambert doesn’t anticipate the 29-year-old’s performance being particularly affected by facing his old club for the first time.
“I never really buy into that, you do the job, you’re a professional, you do the job that you’re meant to do, you’re not there to be all pals with your ex-team-mates,” the Blues boss said.
“You can do all that stuff after the game but you do the job. If you do the job, it’s not a problem.”
He added: “He’s been great for us since he came to the club. He’s been really, really productive with what he’s done. I’m delighted with him and how he’s performed.”
Reflecting on recruiting Norwood, he added: “He was a major part of their team last year. I went to watch him on a Friday night for Tranmere last season and came away thinking we need to try and sign him. It only took one take.”
Lambert says Norwood’s groin, which forced him off in the 1-0 win away against the MK Dons just over a week ago, isn’t particularly hampering him, even if it does have to be monitored.
“He’s alright, obviously we’ve got to watch him for the next couple of weeks,” he said. “We’re going to have an international break again, it looks that way, so we’ll see how he is up until then. But so far he’s not too bad.”
Asked whether he feels Tranmere’s ambition this season will stretch little further than staying up, Lambert said: “I don’t know, you’d have to ask [Rovers boss] Micky Mellon what his aspirations are, we can only focus on us.
“If we play the way we have and continue to keep this feeling and the way we're playing, it’ll be a difficult game for both teams, but we’re certainly playing well enough to win again.”
Lambert says Tranmere’s success over the last couple of seasons illustrates how far momentum can help to carry a team.
“It does, it’s a big thing,” he added. “As I said before, if you have momentum it can take you a helluva long way.
“Tranmere did really well, James was part of that, but the difference with us is that we’re playing really well, the fanbase is right behind us and however we play it will be a hard game for us, but equally so it’s going to be a hard game for them.”
Tomas Holy will continue in goal aiming to claim that successive sixth clean sheet, but Lambert will have decisions to make about his backline.
The Blues boss may well opt to stick with the three centre-half system he employed against Gillingham with Tranmere having started in a 3-5-2 formation in their last two games, although that could potentially change this weekend as Rovers have a number of defenders injured.
Town starting with three at the back again would see Luke Woolfenden and James Wilson either side of skipper Luke Chambers with Kane Vincent-Young at right wing-back.
Luke Garbutt will probably return at left wing-back having played another hour for the U23s on Monday after making his comeback from his knee injury by playing the full 90 minutes away against the MK Dons.
Lambert has an embarrassment of riches in central midfield but with Cole Skuse appearing a certain starter. Flynn Downes has been a regular this season - and has already amassed four bookings with a fifth leading to a one-match ban - but was subbed at half-time against Gillingham and may be given a rest.
That could see Jon Nolan start, while Emyr Huws and Andre Dozzell, who impressed his manager against the Gills, are the options for the other central role
Up front, Lambert could decide to start Norwood against his old club with Alan Judge in the role just off the main striker he occupied at Gillingham with Kayden Jackson rested.
Tranmere boss Mellon, whose 18th-placed team have drawn one and lost three of their four away games so far this season, scoring just once, says Saturday's match will be a big test of his players.
“We know it is going to be a really difficult game,” he admitted. “We know they have really talented players but that is the challenge ahead. This is what it is all about, we want to go and test ourselves in this type of environment.
“This is what we expect from the players, we expect them to go there with no fear. I am really looking forward to seeing where we are up to, I am looking forward to the journey and the game.
“As a group, we will embrace Saturday and the exam will finish at 4.45pm when the referee blows his final whistle and we will see where we need to improve and where we don’t need to improve.
“Saturday is the next stage for this developing group and football club that is trying to get back to where it should be.
“That is all that is in my mind is to keep developing and trying to improve and honestly, Saturday is just another step forward for us to see where we are up to.”
Regarding his former player Norwood, Mellon added: “I love James Norwood, but he does not know his methods. He’s an instinctive player, and we had a way of playing here that suited his style of play.
“He makes runs instinctively, there is no real pattern to the types of runs he makes. We had a way of playing to supplement that. From the games we’ve watched recently of him, we can see he is still playing along the same lines.
“You have to make sure you don’t knock off and go looking for the orthodox. If you were coaching strikers, they would make a certain run at a certain time and you would be able to get your body position right for that.
“A lot of the time he doesn’t make an orthodox run, so you’ve got to be on your toes and making sure that you know he is relentless.
“We also know the other side of how to handle that, because we had him for a long time and know him very, very well.
“That doesn’t mean to say he’s any less of a threat, we know what a good player he is, we know how hard Ipswich tried to get him because he’s a good player; they wanted to pay very good money for a very good player.
“We now come up against that and look forward to the challenge of playing against that.
"The players know him very well, and the players know what we’re going to have to be good at, and that’s being vigilant at all times and to expect the unexpected. He will keep going and will stay in the game.”
Rovers right-back Jake Caprice could be back in the squad after playing for the reserves on Tuesday having suffered an ankle injury in pre-season.
However, midfielder David Perkins will miss out due to a hamstring injury, while winger Corey Blackett-Taylor could also be unavailable due to a groin problem.
Central defender George Ray was subbed at half-time in last weekend’s 2-1 home victory over Burton Albion and is considered a doubt.
Defenders Calum Woods (calf), Kane Wilson, Mark Ellis and Evan Gumbs (all knee) all remain sidelined, while on-loan midfielder Jacob Maddox has returned to parent club Chelsea for treatment, again on a knee problem.
Strikers Ishmael Miller, who has a hamstring injury, and Morgan Ferrier, who has a knee problem, are also unavailable.
Historically, the Blues have won seven (five in the league), drawn three (three) and lost six (four) against the Birkenhead club.
The teams last met in Town’s 1999/00 season. The sides drew 0-0 at Portman Road in the November before the Blues won 2-0 at Prenton Park with goals in either half from Matt Holland and David Johnson claiming the points.
Blues striker Norwood was with Tranmere until last summer having scored 93 goals in 168 starts and 12 sub appearances.
Defender Janoi Donacien had two loan spells at Prenton Park between August 2014 and January 2015 and March and May 2015, making 37 starts.
Saturday’s referee is Ben Toner from Lancashire, who has shown 19 yellow cards and one red in seven games so far this season.
Toner’s only previous Town match was the 1-0 FA Cup replay defeat at Lincoln City in January 2017 in which he booked Jonathan Douglas and two home players.
Squad from: Holy, Norris, Vincent-Young, Donacien, Garbutt, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Wilson, Woolfenden, Nsiala, Skuse, Downes, Dozzell, Huws, Nolan, Judge, Edwards, Rowe, Georgiou, Jackson, Norwood, Keane.
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