Lambert: Strong Team Facing Bristol Rovers Despite Injuries
Friday, 4th Sep 2020 18:00
Town boss Paul Lambert says he’ll field his strongest available team in Saturday’s behind-closed-doors Carabao Cup first round tie against Bristol Rovers at Portman Road.
The Blues have a few knocks and niggles going into their season opener, as well as a couple of players away on international duty,, but, in what looks to be the shape of things this season, the Blues boss will use the best team available to him, something which hasn’t often been the case in cup competitions at Town under the last few managers.
“It’s the strongest team at the minute because we’ve got a few injuries but it’s a strong team that wants to get through,” he said when asked about the side he plans to line up against the Gas, who finished 14th in League One last season.
“There are guys not in the team because they’re carrying little knocks, but the ones that are playing are the ones that have been playing well, and let’s see how they get on,” he said.
Following Saturday’s match, the Blues face Arsenal’s U21s in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday before the League One season gets under way with the live Sky game against Wigan Athletic at Portman Road on Sunday 13th September.
Lambert dismissed the suggestion that he might treat the two cup matches as additional pre-season friendlies.
“They’re competitive games,” he said. “We’ll try our best to get through. These are competitive games. I know the league is a week on Sunday but we’ll try and get through these games.
“As I said before, you’re into the unknown, it’s our first competitive game in five months, which is a long, long time without playing competitive football.
“But it’s the same for everybody. No fans, everything has been affected by this pandemic. We’re in the same boat as everybody else. We want to try and get through, that’s for sure.”
Lambert, whose team will have gone 182 days without a competitive game, seems likely to start Tomas Holy in goal with David Cornell a bit behind on training having joined the Blues last month after leaving Northampton.
At right-back, Janoi Donacien seems likely to start if he’s fit having suffered a knock in the friendly defeat at Cambridge last weekend.
Gwion Edwards, who is also a doubt with a groin problem, would probably get the nod if he's fit and Donacien isn’t, or perhaps Cole Skuse.
Otherwise one of the centre-halves may have to move to right-back. James Wilson filled in there in the second half at the Abbey Stadium but is short on fitness having missed much of pre-season with a calf problem so seems unlikely to start, while Luke Woolfenden has played the role on plenty of occasions during his development and when on loan at Bromley.
Woolfenden would prefer to be at the centre of the defence where skipper Luke Chambers and Toto Nsiala are the other candidates for starting roles. Stephen Ward will be the left-back.
In midfield, Lambert has plenty of options but may have been looking to start the three players who impressed in the first half of the friendly against West Ham - Andre Dozzell, Flynn Downes and Teddy Bishop.
However, Downes has since been given a few days off following the transfer interest from Crystal Palace which could see Emyr Huws, Jon Nolan, Alan Judge or Skuse come into the line-up.
In the front three, Lambert could opt to put Judge or Jack Lankester on the right with Freddie Sears on the left with Oli Hawkins perhaps starting down the middle with James Norwood and Kayden Jackson both not involved due to their lack of fitness.
Hawkins, who is short on training himself following his signing after his Portsmouth exit, seems likely to play only an hour at most, so Aaron Drinan could well be called upon at some point to make his senior debut.
Bristol Rovers manager Ben Garner says that despite what’s already likely to be a hectic schedule, he wants his team to progress in the Carabao Cup.
“We want to do well in every competition that we’re involved in,” he told Bristol Live. “For every manager and every club, the league is the priority but we want to do well in every competition.
“We’ve tried to develop that mentality within the squad and have competition for places so we can field strong teams in each competition and we obviously want to win every game we’re involved in.
“We’re looking forward to Ipswich and then Walsall on Tuesday night before we start in the league at Sunderland.”
Regarding Town, he added: “Obviously it’s a huge football club with great tradition and some very big names of the past are associated with that club. A very experienced manager in Paul Lambert, a big squad with lots of quality players.
“They had a really strong start to last season and probably didn’t finish the way they wanted to so I’m sure they’ll be determined to put that right.
“We know what good players they’ve got within the squad and we’ve watched them over pre-season as best we can and looked back on them last season to try to gain as much knowledge and analyse what we think they will do tomorrow.
“We know they’re a good side, we’re ready for it and we’re very much looking forward to going there tomorrow.”
The Gas have made eight summer signings, centre-halves Jack Baldwin, Max Ehmer - who has been named captain - Josh Grant and Pablo Martinez, left-back David Tutonda and winger Sam Nicholson have all signed on free transfers, while midfielder Zain Westbrooke was signed from Coventry City and striker Jonah Ayunga from Havant & Waterlooville.
There have also been 14 departures, most notably striker Jonson Clarke-Harris, who joined Peterborough United for a reported £1.25 million having been speculatively linked with the Blues earlier in the summer.
The Pirates have had the better of the games between the clubs overall, winning 16 (16 in the league), drawing nine (seven) and with Town victorious on 13 (eight) occasions.
In December last year, Rovers recorded their first victory at Portman Road since Boxing Day 1958 as the Blues were beaten 2-1 by the 10-man Pirates, their third League One defeat of the 2019/20 season.
Tyler Smith and Tom Nichols gave the visitors a 2-0 lead before James Norwood pulled one back in the 37th minute and the Blues were unable to find a second even after visitors’ skipper Ollie Clarke was dismissed for a two bookable offences on 77.
The game at the Memorial Stadium was due to be played the day after football was suspended due to the coronavirus crisis.
The sides’ only previous meeting in the League Cup came on the opening day of the 2012/13 season when the Blues won a first round tie 3-1 at Portman Road.
Jason Scotland, Aaron Cresswell and Tommy Smith scored for Town and Michael Smith for the visitors, whose line-up included current Blues first-team coach Matt Gill.
The teams also met on the opening day of a campaign at Twerton Park in Town’s Second Division title-winning 1991/92 season when Rovers came from 3-0 down to draw 3-3.
Jason Dozzell, Paul Goddard and Mick Stockwell scored for the Blues, before 18-year-old debutant Marcus Stewart, later to become a Town legend, and a Devon White brace levelled the scores.
Rovers midfielder Ed Upson was a Blues academy player and famously scored the winning goal in Town’s 2005 FA Youth Cup triumph while still a schoolboy. Upson made two League Cup sub appearances for the Blues before being released in 2010
Town midfielder Skuse was with Rovers as a schoolboy, while Blues first-team coach Gill was a Pirates player between June 2011 and May 2014.
If the game is level at full-time the tie will go straight to a penalty shoot-out.
The draws for the second and third round of the Carabao Cup will be made live on Sky Sports on Sunday 6th September following the Brentford-Wycombe tie.
The second round draw will be regionalised on a north-south basis with the 13 Premier League teams not in Europe coming into the competition.
Each tie will be given a number which will be used in the draw for the third round so clubs can see their potential path.
Saturday’s referee is Will Finnie from Luton, who will be taking charge of his first Town match.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Donacien, Edwards, Ward, Smith, Chambers, Woolfenden, Nsiala, Wilson, Ndaba, Skuse, Dozzell, Bishop, Huws, Nolan, Judge, El Mizouni, Lankester, Sears, Hawkins, Drinan, Folami.
Photo: Matchday Images
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