|Tranmere Rovers 1 v 2 Ipswich Town|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 18th January 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Town Aiming for First Double and Return to the Top at Tranmere
Friday, 17th Jan 2020 13:31
Town visit Prenton Park on Saturday aiming to replicate their September victory over Tranmere Rovers, although in very different conditions, and hoping to return to the top of League One.
Back in September the Blues defeated the Birkenhead side 4-1 on a lush early-season Portman Road pitch in bright Suffolk sunshine.
This weekend’s conditions couldn’t be more different with Tranmere battling to avoid a second Prenton Park postponement in five days due to their pitch having turned into mud bath.
Looking back to the Portman Road fixture, Blues manager Paul Lambert felt it was one of his team’s best performances with Town top of League One at that stage.
“The scoreline suggests is was, whether it was the best one or not, I’m not so sure,” he said. “But that was sunny weather and a nice pitch. Quite a contrast. It’ll be a totally different game on Saturday.”
Lambert says that given the likely conditions on Saturday his team may have to make adjustments from their usual passing game.
“You might. The pitch will play a good part of where we’re going to be and what it’s going to be like. If it is the way I think it’s going to be, after a minute that will cut up, that’s for sure.”
He added: “There’s no point in saying the pitch was like that or had water on it or whatever, you have to play the conditions and, to be fair, the Oxford groundsmen, they went out there when the stoppage happened and did a good job. It was heavy, yes, but I don’t think it was as bad as it will be on Saturday.”
Town go into the game having ended their downturn which saw the fail to win in eight League One matches with the performances in the last three league games - the draws at high-flying Wycombe and Oxford and the 4-1 defeat of Accrington - having shown a significant improvement on previous displays.
Lambert was reminded of the hour-long dressing room chat at Lincoln prior to those three games, a discussion which appears to have paid dividends.
“There had to be a reaction from the guys, from the team,” Lambert reflected. “As I said before, we’ve only lost [five] games in the league, it’s amazing that, only [five] games we’ve lost in the league.
“The draws, you don’t want draws. You have to go and try and win but you couldn’t ask any more effort from the guys, they’ve given us absolutely everything.”
A feature of the last two games has been the midfield trio of Flynn Downes and Emyr Huws behind Alan Judge, which Lambert says is working well.
“They’ve been really good, the guys. I couldn’t ask any more of them, how they’re playing the game,” he said.
“They seem to have a good understanding with each other. I’m happy with the way the team is going at the minute.”
Regarding Huws, who is starting to look his old self after knee injury problems which stretch back to the visit to Middlesbrough in December 2017, Lambert said: “He’s been a big plus. I’ve always known he’s a good player but, as everybody knows here better than I do, the injuries have kept him back.
“But the way he’s playing and his confidence, I think the big thing for me was him playing three games on the bounce. I don’t know when the last time he did that was, but that was really pleasing.”
While the Blues are third and could go top if they beat Rovers and results elsewhere go in their favour - leaders Rotherham host Bristol Rovers and second-placed Wycombe are at home to Rochdale - Tranmere are third-bottom having won just once in their last nine league games. At home they have won three, drawn five and lost four in League One this season.
The Wirral club, who have been managed by Micky Mellon since October 2016, won their second promotion in two years via the play-offs in May.
“Great, he’s doing really, really well,” Lambert said when asked about his Tranmere counterpart. “He got them up, which was great. They’re finding it a little bit different with the level but overall he’s done really, really well.”
Tranmere weren’t helped by losing last season’s 32-goal top scorer James Norwood to the Blues in the summer and Lambert sees parallels with Town last season.
“It’s like here when this club lost [David] McGoldrick, [Martyn] Waghorn and [Joe] Garner, you lose 45 goals out of your team and you’re always going to find it hard to replace them,” he said.
“Look at McGoldrick, dear oh dear, he’s playing unbelievably at Sheffield United. You lose your best players it’s obviously going to have an adverse affect on you.”
Lambert has said he has already picked the team he is going to play on Saturday, suggesting that it’s unlikely to be too different to the side which drew 0-0 at Oxford.
“We’ll see how they are this morning, see how the guys feel and if there are any knocks then I’ll look at it but I know the team that will start,” he said.
Will Norris will continue in goal with the back three ahead of him Luke Woolfenden, skipper Luke Chambers and James Wilson, while Gwion Edwards and Luke Garbutt are again set to be the wing-backs.
In midfield, Lambert may well opt to stick with Huws, Downes and Judge with the Welshman appearing the most likely to be rested. Cole Skuse, Jon Nolan or Andre Dozzell would take over that being the case.
Up front, the Blues boss is likely to bring Kayden Jackson back into his team for Will Keane after his minor hamstring problem with Norwood certain to start alongside him against his former club.
Tranmere boss Micky Mellon refused to be drawn on the state of the Prenton Park pitch at his Thursday press conference.
After Tuesday’s FA Cup replay against Watford was postponed and pictures of the surface emerged, chairman Mark Palios and vice-chairman Nicola Palios issued a statement explaining how it had ended up in such a poor condition.
“I haven’t seen the statement, so I don’t know about that,” Mellon said. “I’m just the football manager.
“We all know the situation with the pitch but it is what it is. We’ve just got to accept it and be prepared to go and try and be better than whoever we’re playing on it. Just like I say in any conditions. Will it give us an advantage because we know how to play it?
“I think you have to play in a way that is conducive to winning football [matches] on it. It’s like if you were playing on 4G, you would have to adjust to playing on 4G. It’s just the way it is.”
Regarding ex-Rovers striker Norwood’s return to Prenton Park, Mellon says his players will know what to expect from their old team-mate: “I think it must help because you know somebody’s qualities, but he’s playing for another team now with different players, but his raw attributes are still there.
“He’s a terrific lad and we’ll speak to him after the game, but he’s nothing to us before the game. We’re Tranmere and we want to try and win. After the game, it will be great to see him.
“We’re pleased that he’s doing so well, and we’re really happy for him. There were a lot of hours spent here on his development and reigniting his ambitions.”
Regarding Town, he added: “Ipswich have got some unbelievable talent in their group, for this level, and should be right be right at the top end of the league.
"But we must make sure we bring what we’re good at to the game, because we have a lot of threats and good players.”
Keeper and skipper Scott Davies is back after a calf problem, along with midfielder Connor Jennings, who was subbed in last Saturday's goalless draw at Southend after colliding with the Shrimpers’ keeper.
Forward Rushian Hepburn-Murphy has returned to training and may be on the bench, while defender Liam Ridehalgh and midfielder Ollie Banks could be back in the starting XI.
Defender Calum Woods isn’t yet ready to return, while striker Morgan Ferrier is expected to start despite having a foot injury. Defenders Mark Ellis and Evan Gumbs remain sidelined.
Historically, the Blues have won eight (six in the league), drawn three (three) and lost six (four) against the Birkenhead club.
The teams last met at Portman Road in September when the top-of-the-table Blues beat Rovers 4-1 via goals from Garbutt, Jackson, Nolan and Kane Vincent-Young.
Garbutt’s superb freekick gave the Blues the lead on 35 but Stefan Payne deservedly levelled for Rovers four minutes later.
However, after Jackson had rebounded another Garbutt freekick three minutes into the second half, Nolan nodded in the third and Vincent-Young sealed the victory for Town with a brilliant solo goal.
Prior to that, the teams had previously met in Town’s 1999/00 promotion season. The sides drew 0-0 at Portman Road in the November before the Blues won 2-0 at Prenton Park in March 2000 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.
Town 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 John Busby from Oxfordshire, who has shown 101 yellow cards and five red in 26 games so far this season.
Busby was in charge of the Blues’ 2-0 defeat to Rotherham at Portman Road in October, his only Town match, when he booked Edwards and three Millers.
Squad from: Norris, Holy, Edwards, Donacien, Garbutt, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Wilson, Woolfenden, Earl, Skuse, Dozzell, Downes, Huws, Judge, Bishop, Nolan, Jackson, Keane, Norwood, Sears.
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