|Ipswich Town 2 v 3 Swindon Town|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 9th January 2021 Kick-off 17:30
Town Return to Action Against Second-Bottom Swindon
Friday, 8th Jan 2021 14:36
Town return to action after an unexpected 25-day mid-season break when second-bottom Swindon visit Portman Road for a live Sky game (KO 5.30pm).
The Blues, who were last in action on December 15th when they beat Burton Albion 2-1 at Portman Road, are eighth following Accrington's 2-0 Friday evening win at Charlton. Town are behind Peterborough in sixth and Charlton in seventh on goal difference with a game in hand on the Addicks.
Since then the games against Peterborough away, Northampton at home and at AFC Wimbledon and Fleetwood have been postponed due to positive Covid-19 tests either among the Blues or the opposition club.
Eleven members of the Town first-team squad and staff tested positive just before Christmas but all eight players are now back in training, while manager Paul Lambert is set to take charge of tomorrow’s match despite having been affected more than his players.
General manager Lee O’Neill was also among those to be hit more severely but is also on the mend and working again. Academy head of coaching and player development Bryan Klug also caught the virus but was less badly impacted.
All squad and staff were tested again on Tuesday with everyone negative.
The Blues will be looking to record back-to-back wins for the first time since October having been in stuttering form prior to their unplanned hiatus. In a form table based on clubs’ last six matches Town are 17th.
Swindon, who were promoted back to League One as last season’s League Two champions, are 23rd in the table and are without a win in six, losing five.
Their last game, on December 29th, was a 4-1 loss at home to the MK Dons, although prior to that they had drawn 2-2 with Charlton, also at the County Ground.
Since then manager John Sheridan, who took over as manager in November having previously been in charge of Wigan, coincidentally Town’s other live Sky opponents this season, has tweaked his squad and Blues assistant manager Stuart Taylor says that will make the Robins more unpredictable.
“It’s a difficult one because I don’t think they’re going to be the same team that’s played in the last three or four weeks,” he reflected.
“They’ve added three new signings and they’ve brought in another two that they’ve recalled from loan, so that’s five new players coming in.
“I think we’ll see a different team to what they’ve been for the last couple of weeks. Certainly we know they’ve got strength when they’re attacking. They’ve got good players that are creative and we need to be aware of that.
“But it’s really about what we do. It’s our game plan, it’s how we want to go and work and do our stuff in possession and out of possession. We’ll stick to that, we’ll have that belief and hopefully go and try and win the game.”
Taylor believes the Blues will be a lot better prepared for Saturday than they would have been for the Fleetwood fixture, which was scheduled for Monday until positive Covid tests among the Cod Army led to its postponement.
“We tried to build up to the Fleetwood game which was tricky in terms of not doing too much and trying to save as much energy for that game as possible, he said.
“But once we got word of that being off it just let us open up and prepare for the Swindon game, which has been ideal.
“The training time has been really good and they’re going into this game tomorrow in good shape.
“We’re more match ready that we would have been if we were going into the Fleetwood game, that’s 100 per cent sure. I think personally that would have been far too early to go and put lads [who had had Covid] in, after all they’d only been back training for less than a week.
“But the demands were put on us that we had to go and play the game and we were doing as we were told, whether we agreed with it or not we had to go and do it.
“But thankfully Fleetwood called it off, not thankfully that they’ve got cases, but thankfully they called it off so it gave us more time to prepare for the Swindon game.”
Predicting Lambert’s team is no easy matter with Freddie Sears ready for a return and James Norwood and Flynn Downes closing in on involvement and perhaps in line for inclusion in the squad, although it would seem most likely among the subs.
Five more players - Keanan Bennetts, Kane Vincent-Young, Gwion Edwards, Teddy Bishop and Jon Nolan - are set to return to training with the rest of the squad on Monday.
Dai Cornell is likely to be in goal with the centre-backs again probably ex-Swindon loanee Luke Woolfenden and Mark McGuinness with skipper Luke Chambers and Stephen Ward the full-backs.
In midfield, Andre Dozzell is likely to be in his usual deeper-lying role with Emyr Huws and Alan Judge perhaps also continuing as part of the three.
If considered ready, Downes may well play a part from the bench having suffered his knee injury away against the MK Dons on October 3rd.
Lambert may again opt to use Kayden Jackson wide on the right, having been pleased with the striker's display against Burton, with Sears perhaps in line for a return on the left.
In the lone central striking role, Lambert will choose from Aaron Drinan, Oli Hawkins and Norwood, if the former Tranmere man is considered fit enough for a start.
The Blues finally vanquished their Sky hoodoo when they beat Wigan 2-0 on the opening day of their League One season, ending a run of 16 matches without a win in front of Sky's cameras going back to December 2015.
Former Sheffield United full-back Kieron Freeman has joined Swindon on a deal to the end of the season in a busy few days at the County Ground in terms of comings and goings.
Left-back Dominic Thompson signed on loan from Brentford earlier in the week and midfielder Matty Palmer is back from a loan spell at Wigan.
The Robins have brought in goalkeeper Mark Travers on loan from AFC Bournemouth to replace Matej Kovar, who had been recalled by Manchester United.
Midfielder Scott Twine has been recalled from Newport County, while another midfielder, Jordan Stevens, has himself been recalled by Leeds United.
Keeper Joe Fryer and midfielder Toby Holland have both left the club this week at the end of their contracts and defender Luke Haines has rejoined Hereford for a loan spell.
Full-back Rob Hunt is suspended following his red card in the defeat to the MK Dons, while two other full-backs, Ellis Iandolo and Jonathan Grounds, remain injured. Jonny Smith and Hallam Hope are both available again.
The entire Swindon squad and staff were tested for Covid-19 on Tuesday with all results coming back negative.
Historically, Town have won 27 games between the sides (24 in the league), Swindon 14 (13) with eight (seven) having been draws.
Town and Swindon last faced one another in the Blues’ 1999/00 promotion season from what was then the First Division (now Championship) in which the Robins were relegated to the third tier having finished 13 points from safety at the bottom of the table.
The teams met at Portman Road in the January when two goals from Richard Naylor added to a strike from Mick Stockwell on an afternoon when Town never really over-exerted themselves as they won 3-0.
Earlier in the season at the County Ground, in a game also shown live on Sky Sports, the Blues had won 4-1 with David Johnson and Richard Naylor scoring twice each after Giuliano Grazioli have given the home side the lead.
Town central defender Woolfenden spent 2018/19 on loan at Swindon making 36 starts and scoring two goals.
Robins striker Brett Pitman was with the Blues between June 2015 and July 2017, scoring 15 goals in 42 starts and 28 sub appearances. The 32-year-old moved to the County Ground in September having left Portsmouth at the end of last season.
Swindon full-back Zeki Fryers spent a brief spell on loan with the Blues from Crystal Palace towards the end of the 2014/15 season making two starts and one sub appearance.
Ex-Town manager Paul Jewell is the director of football at Swindon. Jewell was in charge at Portman Road between January 2011 and October 2012.
Fans were present for the Blues' last three matches prior to their unexpected break, including the last two at Portman Road, but games are once again now behind closed doors.
Saturday’s referee is Sebastian Stockbridge from Tyne and Wear, who has shown 51 yellow cards and two red in 15 games so far this season.
Stockbridge’s only previous Town match was another live Sky game, the 2-0 defeat at Accrington in October 2019 in which he red-carded Armando Dobra and Stanley defender Ross Sykes for an off the ball clash and booked Nolan, Edwards, Toto Nsiala and two home players.
He awarded a penalty against Nsiala which Colby Bishop netted and ruled out what looked a Woolfenden effort which had appeared to have crossed well behind the line.
Squad from: Cornell, Holy, Chambers (c), Donacien, Ward, Kenlock, McGuinness, Woolfenden, Nsiala, Dozzell, Downes, Judge, Huws, Lankester, Dobra, Sears, Hawkins, Jackson, Drinan, Norwood.
Photo: Matchday Images
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