Having won just about every honour and plaudit in the game as a player, he looked like he had the Midas touch as a manager when he took over at Sunderland three years ago and transformed them from foot of the table strugglers to Championship-winners in the same season. Now he faces a struggle at Ipswich, who are second from bottom of the table, with no victories and no confidence.
Saturday’s 4-0 demolition by Newcastle was greeted with glee by the travelling Toon Army, who mocked Keane with chants of “You’re getting sacked in the morning”.
They may be wrong in that respect – Keane enjoys solid support from his chairman Marcus Evans, who appointed him in April – but the way he walked out on Sunderland suggests he may put himself under pressure.
Keane admitted he was sorely disappointed by Ipswich’s poor start to a season in which much was expected of them, and does not spare himself in the inquest.
“I can look at my players, staff and everything else, but I have to look at myself. I do it after every game. ”
What he will have seen on Saturday is a team that lacks the confidence to shoot on sight but gives away soft goals to the opposition.
Kevin Nolan had a free header for the first of his hat-trick, in the 30th minute, slipped his marker too easily to make it 2-0 two minutes later and headed in from close range after another comedy of errors five minutes into the second half. Add to that Ryan Taylor’s 34th-minute free-kick, which flew too easily past Richard Wright in the Ipswich goal, and Keane has a lot of work to do defensively. No wonder he is interested in bringing in Sol Campbell, whenever the former England defender is allowed to move after having played for two clubs – Portsmouth and Notts County – already this year. Campbell has had talks with Keane, who admits the spine of his team is weak and in need of more experience.
Keane knows that it would need a miracle to effect the same transformation at Portman Road that he did at the Stadium of Light, and said: “Every club and challenge is different, so you can’t compare the situation at Sunderland with here – it’s like chalk and cheese.”
If that is the case, then perhaps the opposite is true for Chris Hughton. Hughton is back in charge of Newcastle, a year after being promoted to caretaker manager when Kevin Keegan walked out. That year saw Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer fail to prevent relegation, and despite the continued unrest around the club, Hughton has quietly gone about putting them back on course for the Premier League.
“What goes on off the pitch does not concern me,” he said. “My biggest concern and biggest thrill is winning games, and it is a wonderful feeling to be top.”
IPSWICH (4-5-1): Wright; Rosenior, Bruce (Smith 39), Balkestein, Delaney (Peters 60); Edwards, Trotter, Leadbitter, Colback, Walters; Priskin (Counago 61).
NEWCASTLE (4-1-3-2): Harper; Khizanishvili, S Taylor, Coloccini (Lovenkrands 68), Enrique; Smith; Nolan, Butt, R Taylor; Carroll, Ranger (Harewood 65).
Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire).