|Ipswich Town 0 v 1 Oxford United|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 22nd February 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Town Out to Replicate Burton Display Against Oxford
Friday, 21st Feb 2020 13:45
Town boss Paul Lambert is looking for a repeat of last week’s excellent display against Burton Albion when Oxford United visit Portman Road on Saturday.
The Blues put in what he said afterwards was their best performance of his time at the club as they comfortably defeated the Brewers 4-1.
“If we can go and do that again then great, if we go and play the way we can. We’re in good spirits and we’re in good form,” Lambert said.
“As I’ve said, the home form will be the key and if we get that, then let's see what happens.”
He says his team need to be consistent as they go into the final 12 matches of the season, eight of which are at Portman Road.
“We started unbelievably consistently and came away from it and then got it back to an extent and then lost it again," he added.
"Hopefully last Saturday is going to be the key to it. We’re only five points off the top and, dear oh dear, there’s a hell of a lot of points to go.”
Why did he feel his team clicked to such a degree last weekend? “Do you know what. I was never under any real stress because the guys played well at Wimbledon, played really well at Sunderland in the first half I thought we should have got [in front].
“Peterborough and Rotherham we didn’t turn up. Other than that it wasn’t too far away, it was just a matter of the goals, that was all it was.”
Town and Oxford met at the Kassam Stadium last month when a game played in torrential rain with a first-half break to allow the surface to drain ended goalless.
“I thought we played well,” Lambert recalled. “I thought we played well in the conditions, we never really let the conditions bother us.
“I thought we should have had a penalty in that game [when James Norwood was hauled to the ground], I think we’ve been unlucky with certain aspects. I thought we should have had more penalties this season than we’ve had, but that one I thought should have been and we never got it. I thought we played a good game.
“The pitch was alright once the guys came on and forked it [during the break], I thought it was okay.
“I thought it was the wind that spoiled the game. But you’ve got to overcome that and you can’t make the weather an excuse, that’s what happens, you’ve got to go and try and play.”
With both teams looking to pass the ball, Saturday's match is likely to be a game which is easy on the eye.
“Hopefully, and we get a result,” Lambert continued. “It’s a tough game, but we’re playing well and I’m looking forward to the game and the atmosphere.
"We need everybody at the stadium to drive us on. And if we do that we’ve got a great chance.”
With Oxford 10th only three places and four points behind the Blues, Lambert knows it’s an important three points to claim on Saturday.
“That’s it, go and try and win, but we’re at home,” he said. “I’ve got total respect for Oxford and the players and the team no problem. But we have to focus on what we’re doing.”
He added: “We’re getting there, but there are still is a lot of games, we're five points from the top. I’m pretty sure everybody will be thinking nobody is running away with this.
“And that’s the same, you have to hunt what’s above you, and that’s what we will continue to do, hunt what’s above us and if we can do that let’s see where it takes us.
“As I said before, the home form is going to be the key. We need everybody at the stadium right behind it and let’s see where it goes.”
A number of the other teams in the promotion hunt have games in hand on the Blues but Lambert insists he’s focusing on Town’s own situation rather than assessing what might happen elsewhere.
“Do you know what, I don’t get caught up in it,” he said. “What’s going to happen is going to happen. I always concentrate on my own team and my own club, I don’t worry about anything else, you take care of your own job and nothing else really matters.
“There’s no point in saying 'Are they going to help us?', that’s not what football is about. Football is about doing your own job. Do your own job and you’ve got a good chance.”
Lambert insists the Blues are still in the automatic promotion hunt, and he believes plenty of other clubs, including Oxford, will feel the same.
“I’m pretty sure everybody thinks that,” he said. “Five points is nothing really when there are so many games and twists and turns still to go, so you have to hold your nerve and see where it goes.
“I think the top teams in the league will be looking over their shoulder as well because it’s five points, and that’s just to us, that’s not enough.”
And he expects the pressure at the top to grow as the end of the season draws nearer.
“Yes, it’s a different nerve that you’ve got to be able to hold,” he continued. “But if you get caught up in that, it’ll weigh heavy on you. But if you focus on the next game then let's see where it’s going to go.”
Oxford thrashed AFC Wimbledon 5-0 on Tuesday after a poor run of only one win in their previous eight in League One.
“Wimbledon have had a hard few games,” Lambert reflected. “They had us [the game ending 0-0] and then they had Rotherham [2-2], and then they had to go again, and that’s tough to do that.
“And it’s a bit different for Oxford. It’s a different game Oxford versus Wimbledon or Oxford versus Ipswich, it’s a totally different game. I think they’ll know that themselves, we’re at home and we go and do what we can to win.”
Lambert says he has watched the Oxford-Wimbledon game on tape and is aware of the threat from the wings.
“Yes, but as I’ve said before, we have to impose our game as well, we have to play our way, we try and cause them problems as well.
“If we go there and think, ‘Well, we need to nullify that and just worry about them’ then it deflects from our game plan.
“I know the way we’ll play, I know the system we’ll play and we go and try and play the way we can. And if we do that, then we’ve got a good chance of winning.”
While Oxford were hammering the Dons, Town had a rare midweek off which Lambert says gave time to work on the training ground, although he also highlighted the importance of rest.
“It does to an extent, but the guys know how we play and how we work now,” he said. “They also need some time for recovery, a rest, a break or whatever you want to call it because it’s a helluva long season.
“So it’s not just always about training, it’s a mindset thing with days you get off and things like that. But the guys are in good spirits, never are there times where I think the place is really low.”
Lambert seems unlikely to make many changes after last week’s impressive victory and performance.
Tomas Holy will continue in goal behind a back three of, from the right, Luke Woolfenden, skipper Luke Chambers and Josh Earl. Gwion Edwards and Luke Garbutt will be the wing-backs.
In midfield, Flynn Downes again could well again be partnered by Jon Nolan - although Emyr Huws may return - with Alan Judge ahead of them behind strike pair Will Keane and Kayden Jackson.
Teddy Bishop and Freddie Sears are likely to play a part from the bench, while Ben Morris could be drafted into the 20-man squad as potential striker cover, with Norwood out due to his groin operation, if not necessarily included in the 18.
Oxford will be without skipper John Mousinho due to a knee injury, while midfielder Liam Kelly, who joined on loan from Feyenoord in the transfer window, remains sidelined following a nerve issue.
Central midfielder Alex Gorrin is back after suspension but may not go straight back into the team.
“It’s a special place to go and play,” manager Karl Robinson told iFollow Oxford reflecting on the visit to Portman Road. “I said to the players this morning that you won’t play at many ground with traditions like this one.
“It’s always a club you know is waiting to kick off again and they are still in a good position in the league and we will have to be at our very best to get anything.”
“No, I think the only thing I took from it was that we are two very honest teams and somehow we put on some sort of display for the people who came to the stadium,” he added.
“We’ll be fine- we just trained today in an absolute downpour as well so we’re getting used to it!”
Historically, the Blues have had the better of the U’s, winning eight (six in the league) of the games between the teams, drawing six (six) and losing five (five). Town are unbeaten in five against the U’s.
In that January game in monsoon conditions, Town and Oxford drew 0-0 at the Kassam Stadium, play having been interrupted for 15 minutes in the first half.
Once the game had resumed the Blues were the better side for the most part but were unable to turn their superiority into goals with Norwood having a very good shout for a first-half penalty turned down.
The teams last met at Portman Road in February 1999 when Matt Holland put the Blues ahead in the sixth minute, Mark Venus added the second from the penalty spot two minutes later before Christophe Remy pulled one back for the visitors two minutes before the break.
Town loan left-back Garbutt spent last season on loan at Oxford making 28 starts and eight sub appearances, scoring four times.
Saturday's referee is Scott Oldham from Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire, who has shown 81 yellow cards and four red in 29 games so far this season.
Oldham’s only previous Town game was the 1-0 win at Rochdale in November in which he yellow-carded only Norwood.
Squad from: Holy, Norris, Edwards, Donacien, Garbutt, Kenlock, Earl, Chambers (c), Wilson, Woolfenden, Skuse, Dozzell, Downes, Huws, Judge, Bishop, Nolan, Dobra, Jackson, Keane, Sears, Morris.
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