Keane’s annus horribilis

ONE YEAR ago today, the Roy Keane whirlwind blew into Ipswich Town targeting promotion to the Premier League in the first season of his two-year contract.

But the reality of the Cork man’s first 12 months at Portman Road has proven very different with the Tractor Boys finishing the season firmly in mid-table, having spent much of the campaign languishing in the relegation zone.

Despite spending a fair amount of money by Championship standards and with supporters’ expectations higher than for several years, the season began disastrously with the Blues failing to win in their first 14 games, a run which gave the club little chance of reaching even the play-offs.

A 1-0 win against Derby County at the end of October finally saw the Tractor Boys get three points and the form since then would see Keane’s side into the top six if replicated over a full season.

Keane admits that the dreadful early streak, which included several draws snatched from the jaws of victory, gave his squad an impossible task.

He said: “The start to the season we had set us back. Not winning for the first two or three months gave us a massive mountain to climb and we’ve not been able to do it.

“The second half of the season has been much better, as you’d have hoped and expected.”

Looking back, the former Irish skipper says he ought to have made more additions to the squad he inherited from Jim Magilton.

He added: “I probably should have made more changes last summer, believe it or not. I’ll defend my players to the hilt, but I just think we lacked experienced players through the spine of the team.”

Keane will look to rectify that error this summer with ‘four or five’ players already targeted. The poor early run led to autumn speculation that Keane’s job was on the line, while reports more recently have again claimed that the 38-year-old has been close to the sack.

Each time, chief executive Simon Clegg, speaking for reclusive owner Marcus Evans, has given his backing, while for the most part supporters have remained patient.

Keane himself has shown no signs of repeating his Sunderland walk-out.

Ipswich have a tradition of giving new managers time – Bobby Robson had a similarly tough start – but Colin Kreidewolf from the Ipswich Town Independent Supporters Trust says that the quality of football needs to improve if the Portman Road faithful is to remain on-side.

Kreidewolf said: “I believe most fans are supporting him at least for another year but the entertainment level has to improve markedly. After the start very much put us behind the eight ball, Keane has made the defence more resolute, however, this has been at the cost of setting us up so narrowly that we cannot attack with any width or purpose.

“I think he is learning, he is realistic but we have to be more expansive next season.”

Dismissing recent links with the Celtic job, the Manchester United legend says he’s very much committed to Ipswich, having recently bought a plush home in the small market town of Woodbridge, eight miles from Ipswich. He said: “My new house is nearly ready and I’m focused on my job here. It’s dangerous to even comment on other jobs, but I’m very happy here and my family are, we’re moving into a new house. I’ve got staff who have moved to the area, they have committed along with their families. I came here to do a job and I’m determined to do it and, please God, I get that opportunity.”

Keane has been in charge of Ipswich for 50 games and his statistics very much tell the story of his time in Suffolk so far: won 15, lost 15 and drawn 20 – 19 of those in the league, a club record for a season. Turning those draws into wins next season will be the main challenge if the Blues are to be in with a chance of a return to the Premier League after an eight-year absence.

Keane admits 2009/10 has been well below par, but typically is already looking forward to his second year in charge. “There have been ups and downs this season, and there have obviously been more downs than ups, so we’ve got to reverse that next year,’’ he said.

“We’ve got big plans for next year, I want us to be competing and I want us to be competing in the top six.”

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