Sunderland travel to Portman Road tonight to face an Ipswich Town side currently sitting ninth in League One, just one point and two places behind Lee Johnson’s side.
Paul Lambert’s side have won just three of their last nine League One matches, a run of form that has seen them fall away from the automatic promotion picture.
When the two sides met in November, goals from Charlie Wyke and Grant Leadbitter clinched the three points for the Black Cats and, ahead of the return fixture, I spoke to Ipswich fan Rich Woodward from The Blue Monday Podcast, to discuss the uncertainty surrounding Lambert’s future, as well as what Sunderland fans can expect from the match.
MC: When the two sides met in early November Ipswich were sat in second, but since then Paul Lambert’s side have dropped to ninth. What has caused such a drastic downturn in form?
RW: Nothing new – these are the same failings that caused us to finish 11th last season (after being comfortably top in early November). An early positive start after a run of beating the ‘lesser’ teams in the division; chastening defeat to a top six rival, and everything falls apart.
Yes we’ve had injuries (a chronic issue at Ipswich), but our tactical setup is so poor regardless of personnel. It all stems from substandard coaching and management.
MC: It is well documented that Paul Lambert is early into a long-term contract at Ipswich. Given the financial climate do you think the club can afford to sack him?
RW: I hope so! I haven’t met a single Town fan who thought the contract extension for Lambert was a good idea. Either way, the owner is going to have to bear a cost. Lambert’s time here is surely up but if the owner doesn’t want to settle his contract, then supporters will force his hand. Season ticket cancellations have already started, and there will be an avalanche of them if Lambert is still in post at renewal time.
MC: Sunderland fans have witnessed first hand the financial damage that comes with failing to achieve promotion back to the Championship. Are Ipswich fans concerned for the club’s future financially if Lambert fails to deliver promotion?
RW: Absolutely – the levelling of the playing field against teams like Ipswich and Sunderland is why Town fans want the manager sacked so we can get the season back on track. If we were to stay down then it’s highly likely we’ll have to rebuild using our academy (no bad thing I guess) with lots of senior pros out of contract this summer. I doubt we’ll be challenging for promotion any time soon though if that’s the case.
MC: None of Ipswich’s strikers has scored more than one goal in League One so far this season. Are they being starved of service or are you just lacking quality in the final third?
RW: Definitely the former. I’ve already mentioned the poor tactical setup which completely isolates our lone forward. Injuries have played a part – our only real out-and-out striker James Norwood has barely played. When he has he’s looked decent. The rest just aren’t good enough to play the role alone, but nor do they get any support from players around them. Lambert won’t go two up top because we’re apparently ‘useless’ at it.
MC: Ipswich have a brilliant array of young up-and-coming talent within the team. Who are the players Sunderland should be wary of?
RW: The midfield trio of Andre Dozzell, Flynn Downes and Teddy Bishop are generally a cause for optimism; however we’re yet to get a performance where all three have contributed.
Bishop’s intelligent running is one of the few options we have to get the ball up the pitch. The next generation – Idris El Mizouni and Armando Dobra – who could give us something different, have been frozen out by Lambert after he made two recent loan signings.
MC: Those two loan signings were midfielders Josh Harrop from Preston and Luke Thomas from Barnsley. Are the type of players you can see making a crucial impact?
RW: Harrop immediately got COVID-19, so we won’t be seeing him for a bit. His injury record isn’t the best, so expectations on him aren’t high.
Thomas though has pace (which we lack) and is a direct runner too, so we’re hopeful he can make a contribution. I’d expect him to start against Sunderland.
MC: Former Ipswich midfielder Grant Leadbitter is enjoying his best season since returning to the Stadium of Light. Are you surprised to see him still playing an integral role aged 35?
RW: He has an eye for a pass and can take a set piece, so I guess its a case of ‘being able to do a job’ rather than being a key player for you at League One level. He’s remembered at ITFC for his corners, which never beat the first man in his three seasons with us.
MC: Who are the eleven Ipswich players you believe Lambert will select and what style of play can Johnson’s team expect to face?
RW: I don’t expect much rotation from the uninspiring Peterborough defeat – perhaps two or three changes. Thomas in for Judge is likely; perhaps a different forward option to the unfortunate Aaron Drinan. Andre Dozzell, as much as he’s highly rated, also goes missing in matches, so he may be replaced by Jon Nolan.
Expect us to try and keep the ball, mostly around the half way line, going sideways and backwards in a very deliberate manner trying to manufacture an opening (which will take a while). Our best bet is when the likes of Gwion Edwards, Teddy Bishop, or potentially Luke Thomas, get the ball and run at the opposition. If you sit deep and go on the counter attack we’ll likely give you a chance. Peterborough had 0 shots on target against us but won the game.
MC: A contentious penalty secured a 2-1 victory for Sunderland in November, what is your honest prediction of the score this time around?
RW: The supporters and local media are now all but done with Lambert – there are also hints at an unhappy dressing room too. Two players, including captain Luke Chambers, have done post match interviews at odds with what Lambert or his assistant Stuart Taylor have said. So Portman Road is not a happy place right now.
Knowing us, we’ll find a way to beat you (despite not beating a top 8 team all season)! More likely we’ll fall to inevitable single goal defeat and the clamour for Lambert to be sacked will increase.