After losing 2-0 away against Portsmouth last Saturday, Sunderland face League One promotion rivals Ipswich Town at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
The defeat saw Phil Parkinson’s men move out of the play-offs, but back to back home games against Ipswich and Rochdale provides the team with a great opportunity to put our promotion hopes back on track.
On the other hand, Paul Lambert’s Ipswich have been on a dreadful run of form winning just three of their last 14 league games. The Tractor Boys topped the league earlier in the season, but like Wycombe their poor form has put the automatic promotion race wide open.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Ipswich fan Rich Woodward from the Blue Monday Podcast to discuss what he thinks of their dreadful run of form, as well as if he thinks his team will be promoted.
MC: After being in the automatic promotion places for a large proportion of the season, Ipswich now find themselves 4th in League One after winning just 3 of their last 14 games - what has caused the wheels to fall off the wagon for Paul Lambert?
RW: A winless run in November-December really sapped the momentum from our positive early season form. That period coincided with Lambert seemingly picking his line-ups and formations by rolling a dice.
After some ‘home truths’ were apparently shared at full time after a thumping at Lincoln, a period of tactical consistency has led to better results in January. That is until we come up against top 6-8 teams, who we just can’t beat. We were schooled by both Rotherham and Peterborough this past week, so can’t wait to play you lot!
MC: Similarly to Sunderland, Ipswich had not been in the third tier for a long period of time. Although you have won more points, seen different grounds, played different teams, do you feel as though the novelty of League One has worn off for Ipswich fans?
RW: After all the fun and variety of new away grounds to visit and increased likelihood of seeing wins, reality is beginning to dawn on folk. Promotion is by no means a given for us (it wasn’t in August either) and the thought of a prolonged stay here has lots of people starting to worry.
For example, most Town fans are already coming to terms with saying goodbye to two of our brightest academy products in the summer. If we’re still League One it’ll be for a fraction of the price we could have expected a level up, and that will be a big reality check for those who think we can still call the shots.
MC: Although some fans were calling for him to be sacked, Paul Lambert signed a new 5-year-deal in January - do you feel that was the right decision considering the team’s questionable run of form?
RW: Short answer, no! Longer answer - the duration of the contract and the timing (after our terrible run of form in Nov-Dec) make the decision baffling. Lambert has certainly won the PR war in Suffolk and deserves credit for initially united the fan base and challenging the owner to do more off the field.
On the pitch though, the jury is still out. Many Town fans (myself included) would have used the league table in May as a guide to see whether a new contract had been earned, before entering negotiations.
MC: Both Kayden Jackson and James Norwood have scored goals consistently for Ipswich this season, a big worry for Sunderland fans this year has been not having a reliable goal scorer - how important have those two been to your team this year?
RW: The good thing with both of them is that it’s not just about their goals. As hoped, Jackson has kicked on this season after a difficult first year in the Championship. His pace is one of our biggest threats, and actually his assists are probably just as crucial for us.
Norwood has been out of the team of late, but always seems to make something happen when he plays - even off the bench. He could have had more goals (if you can believe that) but it’s also the constant menace he is for opposition defenders which makes things happen (especially as we’re a bit soft!).
MC: Ipswich signed two new goalkeepers in the summer, Tomas Holy from Gillingham and Luke Norris on loan from Wolves. The duo have been swapped around during this season, do you think this was beneficial or detrimental to the team as Sunderland had a similar predicament with Jon McLaughlin and Lee Burge?
RW: Lambert has made life really difficult on this issue and ultimately it’s a sideshow we could do without. Most Town fans appreciate Norris’ ability, but he isn’t our player and has had some high profile mishaps (not least last week against Peterborough) which have directly led to goals that have cost us points.
The consensus is that Holy should be playing, and if he doesn’t come in against Sunderland, Norris’ performance will inevitably come under scrutiny. That just makes life unnecessarily difficult for both him and Lambert.
MC: Ipswich had a very quiet January transfer window with their sole signing being Preston left-back Josh Earl on loan - were you frustrated that Marcus Evans did not do more to strengthen the first-team squad?
RW: Yeah – to me it sends the message that we’re not serious about promotion, and/or that we think we’re better than we are. It also confirms that our owner is unwilling to spend and learn his lessons. In 2014/15 we were 2nd in the Championship going into January and signed bargain basement players and ended up 6th(losing out in the playoffs).
Most were hoping Evans would never make that mistake again, but here we are five years later in the same situation. To make it worse, we now have a squad depleted by injuries and suspensions. Same old Ipswich…
MC: Ipswich were knocked out of both the EFL Trophy and the FA Cup, are you pleased the team can focus on the league rather than build up fixtures or were you perhaps angry that the club missed out on the chance to win a trophy and build confidence?
RW: We’ve never given a crap about the FA Cup under our current owner (which is a disgrace really) so there were no surprises there - albeit at least we got through ‘a’ round of it for once.
After sneaking through the early rounds of the EFL trophy, we had our hearts set on Wembley (we’ve not been to the new one yet). It was also great to give our u23s competitive football.
To go out like we did with a strong first team against lower league opponents just raised more doubts about our credentials. At least we don’t have any distractions/excuses now though.
MC: Who do you expect Paul Lambert to select against Sunderland and what style of play can Phil Parkinson expect to face?
RW: After going with 3-5-2 rigidly for weeks, injuries to Luke Garbutt (who has been excellent), Teddy Bishop and probably Emyr Huws; along with suspension for Gwion Edwards; will likely lead to a reshuffle.
I’d expect a 4-4-2 and we’ll probably go more direct too. I’d hope that Holy and Norwood start – but am not holding my breath. Other than that, there are limited options for Lambert to do something positive after we did naff all in the January window.
MC: The two sides drew 1-1 at Portman Road earlier in the season - what is your honest prediction of the final score at the Stadium of Light on Saturday?
RW: I’d expect a stalemate again, perhaps 0-0. I get the sense that neither team will want to lose, especially us given our top 6 hoodoo right now.