When Oxford United and Ipswich Town meet at the Kassam on Tuesday evening, it will be the first meeting between the teams since February 1999, writes RICHARD WOODALL.

Oxford – despite their setback to Rotherham at the weekend – appear to be on an upward curve.

For Ipswich, things are more complicated.

Having been given what was essentially a ‘free hit’ at keeping Ipswich in the Championship last season, Paul Lambert always knew that he would be under the microscope in 2019/20. Certainly the fans knew this.

Most Ipswich fans, this writer included, went into the season not knowing quite what to expect.

A solid start saw the Tractor Boys top the league, but what followed a win at Rochdale on November 5 was a failure to win a league game for more than two months. Respite came with Saturday’s 4-1 win over Accrington Stanley.

During this sustained period of struggle – coupled with regular baffling decisions over formation and personnel – a significant part of the fanbase surmised that Lambert’s days at the club might be limited.

Even the most ardent Lambert fan would not have expected to see Ipswich owner Marcus Evans award the Scot with a four-year extension to his contract on New Year’s Day.

Also read: Matty Taylor hoping Oxford United can take step forward in time for Ipswich clash

For Ipswich, it’s not just the results which have raised questions, but rather a failure by Lambert to put his finger on a settled team or formation.

Most Blues fans believed that the slapdash approach to team selection left when former manager Paul Hurst exited the building. How wrong they were.

For a manager to not know his best system or preferred style of play more than a year into the job is damning, and while there is no concerted campaign to oust Lambert, prior to Saturday’s win Ipswich had registered just 11 points from ten games. In comparison, Oxford mustered 20 points during the same period.

While Karl Robinson seems to have a settled tactical system with the odd tweak or change, Lambert has tried several formations throughout the season. In the last three games – including an EFL Trophy loss at Exeter – he has chosen a 3-4-1-2 system.

Having seen how late Oxford left it to guarantee their League One safety last year, I’ve been impressed with the charge of the U’s towards the top end of the table so far this season.

What’s more, Robinson’s strengthening of the team (four new additions) leads me to think Oxford will achieve a play-off place at least, if not more.

Oxford fans will be familiar with Luke Garbutt – Ipswich’s on loan left-back – from last season.

Banbury Cake:

  • Luke Garbutt scored four goals on loan at Oxford United last season  Picture: David Fleming

Having netted in both of his first two league games for the Tractor Boys, he has followed that up with three more league goals – including a sweetly struck free-kick in the 5-3 debacle away to Lincoln.

With six goals in total, Garbutt seems to have settled into the left-back role – something Ipswich fans had reservations initially about as word of his performances at full-back for Oxford reached us soon after he arrived.

Garbutt has a significant role in Ipswich’s attack, but Coventry showed in December that if you shut down Ipswich’s full-backs successfully, you stand a good chance of nullifying their attacking play.

Also read: Cameron Brannagan to miss Ipswich Town clash as Oxford United seek pain remedy

Interestingly, both sides have questions over the right-back slot. Ipswich are missing the injured Kane Vincent-Young with reserve right-back Janoi Donacien working himself back to full fitness, while Oxford’s Chris Cadden has returned to parent club Columbus Crew.

To begin to show consistency of selection will be the greatest hope for Tractor Boy fans.

The game against Accrington saw Lambert name an unchanged team for the first time this season. Fans will want to see more of that, as well as evidence that the team can put more in complete performances across ninety minutes.

Oxford, of course, will want to return to winning ways at home after losing against Rotherham for the first time in the league at the Kassam since August.

League One is still new territory for Ipswich. Prior to this season, the club had not played outside the top two divisions for 62 years.

If there's a low point in the rich history of the Suffolk club, it's now. Time will tell whether this season marks the start of a recovery.

Words by Richard Woodall – a Tractor Boy living in Oxfordshire.

Twitter: @mrrwoodall