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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cup Half Empty

Semi-finalists in the League Cup but struggling in the Championship, Nobes looks at the situation facing Roy Keane and Ipswich Town ahead of this weekend's game at rock-bottom Preston.

Under fire: Roy Keane's Ipswich have lost their last five league matches

The longest run of league defeats in 15 years or reaching the last four of the League Cup? Deciding whether you're a happy Ipswich fan or not probably depends on whether you're the sort of person whose cup is half empty or half full.

Last weekend's defeat to Swansea saw Town slump to their fifth loss in succession and eighth in ten games overall. It's a run which has left them in 17th - just four points above the relegation zone.

It followed hot on the heels of a crushing 4-1 loss at local rivals Norwich, the heaviest defeat they'd ever suffered in a game against their East Anglian neighbours.

However, sandwiched in between was
last week's win over West Brom which secured a League Cup semi final tie against Arsenal - with a trip to Wembley potentially just 180 minutes away.

It's the first time
the Suffolk club have made the last four in nine years, and only the fourth occasion in total in a competition they've never won.

As daunting as taking on the Gunners over two legs may be, boss Roy Keane is just three matches away from securing Ipswich's first major trophy since the UEFA Cup nearly 30 years ago.

Of course, back then Town were hosting top flight matches and welcomed Europe's finest thanks to the management of the legendary Sir Bobby Robson.

The way things are going at the moment though, the latest incumbent of the Town dugout won't be remembered anywhere near as fondly. Keane is a man under increasing pressure.

Flailing in the bottom half certainly wasn't part of the plan when the Irishman arrived at the tail end of the 2008/9 campaign. Elusive owner Marcus Evans recruited Keane to replace Jim Magilton with the aim of a return to the Premier League.

However, a nightmare start to last term that saw the team without a win after 14 games scuppered any hopes of promotion and an eventual finishing position of 15th was well below pre-season expectations.

Evans and chief executive Simon Clegg stood by their man over the summer - patience which appeared to have been rewarded with Keane's side nestled in the top six with just a single defeat after their first eight games.

Which is why their current slide down the Championship standings is a major cause for concern on both the terraces and in the boardroom at Portman Road. How much longer do Evans and Clegg give Keane to get things right?

Half full: Town players celebrate reaching the last four of the League Cup

It had seemed that, after much re-shaping and movement in and out of the club last term, the boss was now reaping the benefits of a more settled squad and a team he could call his own.

Recent defeats suggest the opposite, with fans becoming increasingly restless with Keane's 4-5-1 tactics and, prior to his injury, a refusal to play promising youngster Connor Wickham.

Certainly injuries to players like Wickham and defender Gareth McAuley have not helped the manager, and it's difficult to blame him for the kind of individual defensive errors which contributed to the defeats at Carrow Road and against Swansea.

However, his apparent inability to stem a run of poor results has echoes of the form which led to his voluntary departure as Sunderland boss in 2008. The question must be asked: does the former Manchester United midfielder know how to turn things around?

Keane, one of the finest midfielders of his generation, established his managerial credentials largely thanks to the kind of winning run reminiscent of Sir Alex Ferguson's sides in the second half of a campaign.

It propelled Sunderland from the bottom three of the Championship to take the title on the final day of the 2006/7 season. The Black Cats won 16 and lost just one of their last 20 games that term, making Keane an instant hero on Wearside.

While such a run is highly impressive, it's not unheard of. A group of talented players high on confidence and full of momentum can become almost unstoppable - as Keane experienced at United.

Just as winning can become a habit though, so can losing - one much more difficult to kick and one largely alien to a man who almost exclusively tasted glory during his playing days.

Some critics suggest that could be Keane's greatest weakness. Just as other talented players have found when stepping into management - working with inferior players can range from infuriating to nigh on impossible.

Does the 39-year-old, renowned for his fiery temperament, also possess the required man-management and motivational skills needed to turn around a dressing room low on confidence and morale?

If so, then Saturday's match at bottom of the table Preston, seemingly bound for League One, provides Ipswich with the perfect opportunity to get their Championship campaign back on track.

Defeat to Darren Ferguson's strugglers, and it could be the manager's time at Town - rather than the side's poor form - which comes to an end.

A win though, and Keane may be around long enough to focus on plotting an unlikely Cup upset - securing his place in Ipswich history and a few more doubters over to the half full side.


  1. Roy has had to play many young players in the past two months because of injuries, players who were in the youth team last season. Individual errors from naive players have led to very costly goals.

    Connor Wickham was never going to start many games this season - he is only 17 and Keane has said the team cannot rely on him. Also, when he has played, he has not been great, whereas Priskin and Scotland deserve their places ahead of him in the striker pecking order.

  2. Sounds like you're firmly behind the manager still then, RKG.

    Question is, does your recondite owner share your belief?