Can Ipswich regain promotion to the Championship?
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After appointing Paul Lambert in October 2018, Ipswich Town faced the prospect of relegation to League One. The former Norwich man raised a few eyebrows when given the job after guiding Aston Villa and Stoke City to relegation from the Premier League in previous seasons.
Predecessor Paul Hurst's squad failed to spark in the Championship. New acquisitions brought in from lower leagues didn't impress fans after several high profile sales in the summer, including Adam Webster & Martyn Waghorn. Lambert inherited a problematic squad short on confidence, experience and quality. That said, the Tractor Boys settled in well to life in the third division, topping the pile six matches into the season.
Lambert's additions invigorated. New striker James Norwood found the target five times. Kane Vincent-Young arrived from Colchester as the new first-choice right-back. Will Keane returned upfront. Anthony Georgiou was loaned from Spurs to provide competition.
Hurst didn't get it all wrong, however. Lambert recognised Alan Judge's worth. The 30-year-old midfielder is a fan favourite. On his day, the Irishman can be the most influential player in the side.
Young players are a big focus. Flynn Downes' goal against Shrewsbury would make Pep Guardiola proud. Andre Dozzell, Tristan Nydam and Jack Lankester will also play their part over the course of the season.
The squad ranks among League One's strongest. They remain unbeaten in the division with the best defensive record after conceding only four times.
Lambert quickly found his preferred XI and the strength in depth gives him options. The Tractor Boys do have an unlucky time with injuries. As many as 10 first-team players were sidelined heading into Matchday One. To date, fitness appears the only obstacle to earning a playoff spot, if not direct promotion.
Ipswich may have caught a break when Huddersfield lured the Cowley brothers away from Lincoln City but their departure doesn’t necessarily weaken the Imps. The siblings leave behind a squad improved through quality loan additions, especially Tyler Walker's goal threat. Bringing a new man in when the engine purrs like a kitten is risky. Everyone wants to make their stamp and will be tempted to fix what isn't broken. It's a difficult situation in that regard because Lincoln don't have the option of allowing the assistant to take over.
Hearts broken in the playoffs, Sunderland struggle with consistency but possess talent in Aiden McGeady, Will Grigg and Chris Maguire. The fallen giants must sort their shaky form amid their transition to new owners. The football may settle once off-the-pitch matters are resolved. The key will be how the Black Cats cope without long-serving captain, Lee Cattermole, who left for VVV Venlo to scratch an itch to play abroad after a decade at the Stadium of Light.
Coventry City is another team battling at the top of the table. Mark Robins believes his Sky Blues are good enough for the step up after their recent victory over Blackpool. They remain among the few unbeaten sides left, Ipswich and Wycombe being the other two.
The Wanderers made a good start by beating Lincoln. Gareth Ainsworth turned the side from a mid-table team into playoff contenders. With an array of in-form attacking options, the Buckinghamshire lads punch above their weight. Younger players like Fred Onyedinma and Rolando Aarons take the pressure off burly 37-year-old Adebayo Akinfenwa.
Wycombe's form hasn't gone unnoticed. Ainsworth is linked to the Lincoln job. The gaffer’s strong ties to the side as a player may mean a move is on the cards but if he decides to remain at Wycombe, they are a promotion dark horse.