|Doncaster Rovers 4 v 1 Ipswich Town|
SkyBet League One
Tuesday, 20th October 2020 Kick-off 19:00
Lambert: It's Been Near Pitch Perfect But We've a Long Way to Go
Monday, 19th Oct 2020 15:33
Unbeaten Town travel to face Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium on Tuesday with manager Paul Lambert thoroughly enjoying watching the football which has taken his side to the top of League One (KO 7pm).
The Blues have won five and drawn one of their first six league games, a start last achieved at the beginning of the 1980/81 First Division campaign, widely viewed as the best season in the club’s history. They have netted 13 goals while conceding only twice.
“It’s gone as well as we might have hoped other than dropping two points at MK Dons and there we had 10 men for a long time,” Lambert said. “It’s been near pitch perfect, but we’ve a long way to go.”
Is he surprised how well things have gone off the back of the long break due to lockdown and the significant number of injuries his squad has suffered in the opening weeks?
“I was never sure what it was going to be like or what was going to happen,” he reflected. “I didn’t really know how any team would start because the pandemic was really tough for everybody, and still there are reservations about where football is going to end up at the minute. Six months off is unheard of really.”
Lambert has praise for his players: “They’re the ones that play the games. They’re the most important component in any club, them and the supporters. We’ve only got one of those components, the other component can’t come in and watch.
“It’s true what they say, football is like a game of golf, you give them the clubs and they’ve got to use the right club and then make the right pass. At this moment, they’re making the right passes.”
Lambert says he enjoys watching his team play their football: “I love it, I love the way they’re playing. Long term, nobody knows what’s going to happen but I love watching it. If people can go away saying ‘That team was excellent’, that’s important for me.”
Having employed a rotation policy last season and several formations over the course of the campaign, Lambert has stuck rigidly to a 4-3-3 system this season and a more settled line-up.
Quizzed on whether he believes that continuity has been a big factor in this season’s success, he said: “I don’t think it’s just the system, I think it’s understanding the system and understanding the moves and the movement, where I want them to go when things happen on the pitch - if the ball goes here, where would you go?
“Not being robotic because it’s only maybe 60 per cent what we tell them, 70 per cent, the rest [is them being] creative and [they] have to enjoy it and if we go away from here and people say they’ve enjoyed watching the team, that’s important for me.”
He says that style is something he wants replicated throughout the academy age groups: “I think it’s important, long after we’re away hopefully. You can set it in stone and let somebody carry the torch.
“The way we’re playing football-wise, even the kids when they played Gillingham the other week, is excellent.
“If we can get that filtering down, then hopefully in time [it will be instilled in the club], you need time. In the long term, you’ve got to have vision for the long term, you won’t always win but [you’ve got to have the vision for the] long term.”
Town kept their fourth clean sheet in their six League One games as they beat Accrington 2-0 on Saturday and Lambert has been delighted with central defensive pairing Toto Nsiala and James Wilson, the latter having been named in the divisional Team of the Week.
“Very good, really strong, better on the ball than last season without a doubt,” the Blues manager added.
“But again, they have to do it because that’s what I’m asking them to do and if they make a mistake it’s not their problem, it’s my problem.”
Nsiala in particular has grown in confidence since the start of this campaign having admitted that criticism got to him last season.
“I was asked a question the other day, guys go on social media, guys look at things, guys listen to stuff [the media] say or their opinion of them and sometimes it’s crazy when you listen to it,” Lambert continued. “Toto has to be strong in the head and I’m pretty sure this season he’s been a lot better.”
Is it easy to block out criticism if you’re a player? “Well, I did. It didn’t bother me whether I was getting criticised or whether people said I was good, I never listened to it.
“I’m mentally strong that way, I played with huge clubs that made me that way, my lifestyle growing up made me that way and you’re hoping the guys have that same mentality.”
On a similar note, he says he takes no notice of how Town are perceived from elsewhere: “I don’t really pay much attention to outside influences, what people think of us or whether they say we’re good, not good, we’ve not got this, we’ve not got that.
“It doesn’t matter to me as a manager, what only matters to me is what happens with the guys, what happens with the fans, they’re the only things that matter.”
Turning his attention to Tuesday’s opponents, Lambert was asked how big a game it is against Rovers, who are currently seventh, six points behind the Blues.
“As big as Accrington, as big as MK Dons, every game is tough, really tough,” he said. “As I’ve said, we’ll lose certain games but at this moment we’re playing really good.”
Does he see the division being very open this season? “I don’t know. I really don’t know, it’s a long, long time and getting through you’ve got to get games in in so many weeks and that’s incredible.
“And nobody knows whether we’ll have another national lockdown again, nobody knows. If a national lockdown comes in, then I don’t know, I really don’t know where football’s going to go at the minute.”
When does he believe the table starts to take shape? “People say 10 games, I’m never quite sure. We just have to concentrate game by game, hopefully keep winning more games than we don’t and the level we’re playing at this moment is really strong.”
Lambert is hopeful that Stephen Ward, who has missed the last two matches with an achilles problem, won’t be out for too long and didn’t rule out his involvement against Rovers or Lincoln on Saturday.
“He’s doing really well, Wardy, I’m really pleased with how he’s coming on. Hopefully he’s not too far away,” he said.
“Myles Kenlock is doing ever so well as well, but Wardy’s presence around about the place is huge.”
Tuesday’s match is the second of eight in 25 days and Lambert knows he’ll need his squad, particularly with the treatment room still very busy.
“Yes, and we have Downes, Skuse, Jackson, Norwood, Hawkins, Drinan, Kane Vincent-Young, so many, seven or eight of them out, which is too many,” he said.
Lambert could well look to rest one or two players over the course of the next two games but perhaps more likely at Sincil Bank rather than the Keepmoat Stadium.
Tomas Holy, also named in the Team of the Week, will be in goal with skipper Luke Chambers again at right-back and Nsiala and Wilson the centre-halves.
Ward will return at left-back if fit, however, Town are unlikely to take any risks with the veteran Irishman and he seems more likely to be involved at Lincoln.
In midfield, Andre Dozzell, Emyr Huws and Teddy Bishop appear set to continue, although Jon Nolan will probably start one of the two games over the next five days.
Assuming Oli Hawkins isn’t back from his groin problem then Lambert is likely to go with the same front three as Saturday with Kayden Jackson having tested positive for Covid-19 and James Norwood (hamstring) and Aaron Drinan (thigh) still sidelined.
However, he may opt to start them as they lined up in the second half on Saturday with Freddie Sears down the middle, Gwion Edwards, League One’s top scorer with five goals, on the left and Alan Judge on the right.
The Town squad are travelling by coach to Doncaster on the morning of the game rather than making the trip the day before as is usually the case, a new policy for midweek away matches this season.
When they stay in hotels ahead of Saturday matches, the players are staying in single rooms rather than sharing due to minimise Covid-19 concerns.
Doncaster manager Darren Moore is expecting a well-contested encounter.
“They’re a good team, an experienced manager, strong team at this level,” he told the Rovers official website.
“They’ve started the season very, very strongly and I’m sure that from their perspective they’ll be looking to have another strong season this year.
“They’ve started really well, they’re in the ascendancy, I’d imagine confidence is high in the camp. It’ll be two good teams which lock horns and contest it.
“It’s going to be a good game tomorrow night because you’ve got both teams in good form and have had solid starts to the season.
“They’ve still got talented players and intelligent players that recognise that whatever shape or system the manager asks of them they can perform it, and they’ve shown they can perform it because they’ve got good results.
“Whatever team Paul puts out against us it will be a game in which we know at the Rovers we’re going to have to be on top of our game because we’re playing a team in good form.”
Historically, Town have had the better of Rovers, winning eight games between the teams (seven in the league), drawing five (five) and losing four (three).
Rovers, who won 1-0 away at Portsmouth at the weekend, have won one and drawn one at home in the league so far this season.
The teams last met in September last year when they drew 0-0 at Portman Road. The visitors went closest to breaking the deadlock when Ben Sheaf hit the post in the second half.
The away fixture was among those not to be played at the end of 2019/20 due to the season being curtailed.
The last time the teams met at the Keepmoat Stadium was in a Capital One Cup tie in August 2015 when extra-time goals from David McGoldrick, debutant sub James Alabi, playing what would ultimately prove to be his only game for the club, and Ryan Fraser saw the Blues to a 4-1 victory and into the third round for the first time in five years.
In normal time Andy Williams had put the home side in front in the 23rd minute with Brett Pitman equalising for Town on 58.
Town's last league game at the Keepmoat Stadium was on Boxing Day 2013 when the Blues ran out 3-0 victors - goals from McGoldrick (2) and Chambers - with Rovers on their way to relegation from the Championship.
No one in either squad has played for the opposition but Doncaster’s veteran midfielder James Coppinger was targeted by former Town boss Paul Jewell on several occasions during his time in charge of the Blues.
Tuesday’s referee is Scott Oldham from Poulton-le-Fylde who has shown 11 yellow cards and no red in six games so far this season.
Oldham’s last Town match was the 1-0 home defeat to Oxford in February in which he red-carded Jackson for a stamp on visitors’ defender Rob Dickie in the final minute and booked Luke Woolfenden, Luke Garbutt and one U’s player.
Prior to that he was in charge of the 1-0 win at Rochdale in November last year in which he yellow-carded only Norwood.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Chambers (c), Donacien, Ward, Kenlock, Nsiala, Wilson, McGuinness, Woolfenden, Dozzell, Bishop, Huws, Nolan, Judge, Lankester, Edwards, Bennetts, Sears, Simpson.
Photo: Matchday Images
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